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How to Stop Working at the End of the Day

Although I love to study productivity and have picked up some good habits, I’m not entirely immune to terrible habits like pulling all-nighters. Though they’re less frequent than they were in my college days, not long ago, I found myself tapping at my computer keys well past midnight (until 5 a.m., to be exact).

Ever since I became a mom, the never-ending workday has become even more of a problem. It’s impossible to get everything done during the day with a little one underfoot, but there’s a limit to how early a girl can get up—and 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. is my limit. And if I get in bed past 11 p.m., you can forget about it until around 7 a.m. I’ve had to learn to accept that I will never be able to do everything that’s on my “Wish I Could Do” list.

The thing is, we have to put an end to the never-ending workdays. We can’t do it all, and we shouldn’t exhaust ourselves trying.

I recently read a post on Conversion Diary that helped me immensely with feeling overwhelmed by everything I had to do. In back-and-forth messages with a priest who used to work with Mother Teresa, the blogger (Jennifer Fulwiler) asked him what Mother Teresa used to do when she had more work than she could handle. His response to Jennifer now hangs over my own desk and reads:

The [work she could not get to] she did not think twice about, nor should you or I, since God is not asking you to do what he does not give you the time (or health, or resources) to do. So be at peace.

If you’re having trouble punching out at your proverbial time clock, try these tips for shutting down at the end of the day. You may not cross off every item on your agenda, but you can be at peace with what you’ve done.

1. Tackle the Important Things First

I’ve learned the hard way that I shouldn’t assume that I’ll have time later in the day for important tasks. I’m a freelance writer. I provide content for several clients, and I have to finish a certain amount of work every day to stay on track. Although I’d like to relax with a good book or clean without being disturbed before the rest of the family gets up in the mornings, it’s prime work time. The house is quiet, and I can think clearly.

So, instead of doing what I’d rather do first thing in the morning, I try to get my work out of the way. On a good day, I can finish with my writing by 12 as long as the kiddo sleeps until 8 a.m. or so. If he wakes up early, as he sometimes does, I at least have the really important assignments out of the way by the time he wakes up. This has helped me tremendously, especially during periods of teething and growth spurts when his wake/sleep schedule is sporadic.

Whatever your priorities are—the most important tasks on your to do list—do them first. You never know what kind of curve ball life will throw at you later in the day.

2. Learn to Say No

This is still a hard one for me, but it bears mentioning: Say no sometimes. I hate letting people down, and I’m sure you do, too. It’s especially hard to turn down a project that sounds interesting even if it’s not a good fit for my schedule.

Everything has a trade-off, though. For every hour spent working, we have one less hour with our families. That means we have to maximize the time that we do spend on projects to minimize the time our families don’t have our attention. In order to do that, we have to say no to projects that, although they seem interesting, are not worth the trade-off they require.

3. Give Yourself a Cutoff Time

This is a work in progress for me, too. I can be a real workaholic when I’m working on or researching a topic that interests me. Even after I’ve finished working for the day, I tend to find myself back at the computer again. It’s one of the problems of being connected 24/7.

My family and I are much happier when I walk away from the computer for good several hours before bedtime. I can’t do it every day, but it feels great when it is possible.

If you’re used to getting your screen time in late at night, try finishing your work at least a couple of hours before bed. Turn off the notifications on your phone, and be present with your family. You may just find that you sleep easier and wake up better rested and in a great mood when you’re not looking at a glowing screen right before you turn in.

For the WAHM, trying all these tips at once may seem too extreme. Honestly, sometimes you just have to work with the cards you’re dealt. Screaming babies may keep you up at night, leaving you feeling like a zombie while you work the next day. You may occasionally have a brilliant idea that keeps you up at night.

But if, for the most part, you try to get a better handle on your time by tackling what’s important first, learning to say no, and establishing a cutoff time, you’ll be happier and more productive with your schedule.


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Monday 6th of April 2015

Those are great tips. I use all three of them and what helps me be successful at the cut off time is prioritizing right from the start.

Donella Crigger

Tuesday 7th of April 2015

I agree!