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Wish you could work fewer hours? Here are five practical tips to get you started

First published 19 November 2015

Consider this: as a country, we’re donating $1.1 billion in unpaid overtime to our employers every single year.

And it’s getting worse. Six years ago, around 45 percent of workers weren’t paid for the extra hours they worked. By 2013 that figure had jumped to a whopping 60 percent.

That’s the word from The Australia Institute, a progressive think tank that’s urging Australians to take back control over their work-life balance through their Go Home on Time Day initiative. Back for its seventh year this Wednesday, Go Home on Time Day was established as a light-hearted way to start the dialogue about the far-reaching impacts of working long hours.

Working overtime is now considered the norm in many Australian workplaces. In fact, Australians work among the longest hours in the developed world, according to the OECD.

Why? In our increasingly connected society, the line between home and work life is more blurred than ever. Job insecurity, inflexible management and excessive workloads just compound the pressure to work long hours. As a result, our health, relationships and social lives take a back seat, eventually leading to more serious problems like mental health issues, obesity and heart disease.

Inspired to start leaving work on time? Here are five practical tips to help you get out the door by five on Wednesday:

1. Decide you’re leaving on time – before you start your day

Knowing you only have until 5pm to tackle your to-do list means you can put the right structures in place to ensure you complete your most urgent tasks.

2. Be strategic

Plan out a loose schedule, build in some time buffers in anticipation of the unexpected, and ask your boss to flag any urgent jobs if they’re not immediately clear.

3. Eat lunch away from your desk

It may sound counterintuitive, but taking even 10 minutes to step away from your workspace for lunch can re-energise you enough to boost productivity. Even better? Taking your lunch out to a park for some fresh air. Research shows exposure to natural greenery lowers stress and boosts cognitive performance, meaning you’ll be better equipped to tackle your post-lunch workload.

4. Schedule activities after work

An after-work commitment will essentially force you to leave on time, so arrange to meet a friend for dinner, book an appointment or schedule an exercise class. Bonus points for the exercise, which will alleviate stress and offset the sedentary nature of your day!

5. Make it a habit

It’s positive reinforcement: the more frequently you go home on time, the better you’ll feel, and the more you’ll want to go home on time. Start out small and try it once a month – the routine will mean you’re more likely to follow through.

Bonus tip: Refer your boss to the Go Home On Time Day website. It’s a fun, gentle way to get your whole workplace on board with the idea – even if it’s just for one day!

As the late ad executive Linds Redding so eloquently wrote in his viral blog post about the emptiness of working long hours: “Lock it up and go home and kiss your wife and kids”.

And once you’re home, put down your phone and close your laptop – the point is to switch off and gain back time for yourself, not to pick up where you left off in the office.

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