If working until stupid o’clock every day has left you exhausted, restore some balance in your life with these tips from the productivity experts

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Working late - we’ve all been there. It sometimes unavoidable if you have an urgent deadline. However, when it becomes a daily habit, it can leave you drained physically and mentally. It’s a cycle that can be hard to break, but by changing up how you plan your day and creating subtle shifts in your mindset, you can build healthier boundaries to help you thrive in the workplace. Here’s what the pros recommend.

1. Plan your day around your energy levels

Some of us are morning people and some of us feel most energetic in the afternoon. So it therefore makes sense to tap into the times when we’re most productive to increase the likelihood that we’ll leave work on time. “Know yourself, listen to your energy levels and tune in to where your head is at during certain times of the day,” says Anna Newton, author of life organisation manual, An Edited Life  (Quadrille, £16.99).

Everyone’s wired differently, so in order to find out what works best for you, she recommends recording the times in your working week when you:

  • Feel most energised about tackling those important tasks that demand brainpower.
  • Feel full of creativity and inspiration.
  • Are most likely to procrastinate/when your attention dips.
  • Feel like cancelling all of your social plans because you’re so tired.

These findings will then help you work out how to schedule your work in the most productive way. “If you’re not a morning person, then ease yourself in with bite-sized tasks that are easy to get through and don’t require intense concentration, saving your meatier tasks for later in the day,” suggests Anna. “If you find yourself brimming with new ideas and feeling revived by your lunch break, then plan in any creative activities for when you get back to your desk. Do you struggle to keep your eyes open over dinner with your mates on a weeknight? Then pencil in your catch-ups for the weekend instead.” Be aware of peaks and troughs throughout the week too. “This dialogue between yourself, your attention and your energy levels will help you create plans for your day, week or month ahead with the highest chance of successfully executing them.”

2. Pause before you agree to take on a task

With work increasingly fast-paced, it rarely allows us time to really consider what we’re actually agreeing to during the day. Our brains seem to be operating at a speed that our bodies can’t keep up with. As a result, many of us can end up doing more than our fair share.

“Pause before you commit to doing something so that you can be clear on whether you are the person who should be doing it, exactly what is needed, when it is needed by and where it fits in your list of priorities,” advises executive and careers coach, Anna Percy-Davis . “Too often we take on responsibility for things that we shouldn’t be doing or, even worse, we don’t check exactly what is required or where it falls in the list of things we already have to do.”

There are times when it’s great to hit the ground running, but when you’re doing that for everything, it’s a sure-fire way to get stressed, lose perspective and overlook your existing deadlines.

3. Follow the ‘3x a day’ inbox rule

Can’t finish a task because your inbox is constantly pinging with notifications? If checking and re-checking it every few minutes is making it impossible to focus, follow the ‘three times a day’ rule to regain control of your emails. “Check your inbox once in the morning and reply to anything that has come in the previous evening or overnight, then once around lunchtime to do a tidy-up of any urgent morning messages, then do one final check just before you clock off for the day to reply to whatever is left,” says Anna Newton. “This is how I personally like to approach my inbox. By checking it three times a day I’m able to keep on top of it, and I don’t feel like it ever gets too overwhelming. Short and sharp bursts work better for me, plus I’m able to catch anything in the net that’s urgent in a timely fashion.”

4. See self-care as a daily essential

When you’re caught in a cycle of working late every day, a bit of self-care is often put on the back burner. However, it plays a pivotal role in helping you break the habit. “If we don’t look after ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally, our ability to get our work done is compromised as is our ability to be strategic and ensure we are getting the right work done,” says Anna Percy-Davis. So practice self-care in three ways:

* Physical self-care: practice SWEEBing - get enough Sleep, drink enough Water, Eat well and healthily, Exercise as often as you possibly can and practice mindful Breathing).

* Emotional self-care: work on managing your negative self-talk and adopting a positive perspective

* Mental self-care: give yourself the best chance to get your best work done by asking good questions to ensure you are doing exactly what is expected of you and that you are clear on when it is needed.”

View it as an essential part of your day rather than a reward or luxury. “If you practice all these aspects of self-care, you will have the confidence, the clarity of thought and the strength to leave the office at a reasonable hour and not treat everything on your to-do list as a life or death situation.”

5. Use the language of good boundaries

If the lines between work and life are constantly getting blurred, instigating some stronger professional boundaries can help make them more defined. Don’t buy into the office work-late culture, says psychotherapist, relationship expert and co-author of Boundaries , Jennie Miller. “Your boss may work late, but they are being paid more and if you are the boss, what example are you setting your staff?” she says.

Communication is key. “Reframe ‘leaving work early ‘to ‘leaving work on time’, language is important in resetting our boundaries.” This can also help establish a new norm. “Showing that you are doing the work you are contracted for will help others realise there is no need to be staying after hours - the culture of working late is often just a culture that everyone has got used to and doesn’t question.” Don’t feel the need to over-explain yourself. “Holding a boundary is about being firm and not justifying yourself.”

6. Don't be a ‘rescuer’

Do you think that you’re working late because a colleague or even a boss isn’t pulling their weight? If so, it can be one of the more awkward situations to try and resolve. However, as a starting point, Jennie recommends questioning if their behaviour is really impacting you or whether it’s just annoying. “If the latter, get your head down and focus on yourself and your work,” she recommends. “If there is an impact, monitor it - are they going through a tough time so actually it won’t go on forever, or are you being impacted and having to do more? If this is the case, is there a line manager you can talk to? Overall keep to your boundaries and don’t rescue them by doing more than your share, this will only begin to build resentment. Eventually, the reality will emerge. Focus on you.”

7. The more you leave on time, the easier it will become

If you’ve become used to going home when it’s dark, it’ll feel a little strange at first when you start leaving on time. Almost like you’re playing hooky. However, once you start seeing the benefits of it, it will help you maintain the new habit. “Like healthy eating or exercise, the more you do it the easier it becomes,” says Jennie. “It will get to the point when you will notice more when your boundaries slip than when you are holding them.”

Read more: 10 tips for being more assertive

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