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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

6 Time Management Strategies That'll Help You Break Out of Your 9-to-5 Rut

woman working flexible hours

Have you ever heard someone’s work ethic measured by the amount of time she spends in the office? “She’s the first one here in the morning, and the last one out at night,” a proud manager might say of his honored protégé.

To keep up appearances, some employees put in marathon days, arriving early in the morning before the boss does, and staying late at night, not daring to leave before her. But they might be spending many of those extended hours watching cat videos and updating their Facebook feeds. I think we all know that long hours do not necessarily mean you’re working harder, smarter, or more productively.

I mean, sure, if you were taking widgets off assembly lines and putting them in boxes, you would need to be at your workstation in order to finish the job. But the assembly line gigs are few and far between. Today over 80% of employers now offer some kind of flexible work options. Instead of mastering the art of long hours, you need to master the art of managing a flexible work life. Typically within certain parameters, if your organization doesn’t enforce a rigid schedule, you determine when you come in and when you leave. You make the decision about what needs to happen during primetime work hours, and what you can do in off-peak times.

Even though you may not be working the typical 9-to-5 workday of yore, here are six strategies to keep in mind as you plan your work life, get your projects completed, and strive for a sense of true work-life balance.

1. Know the Rules

Even in a flexible environment, you may have some rules. It could be that you’re given free rein in terms of when you arrive and when you leave. Or, there may be ranges of time when your employer expects you to be in, say between 8:30 and 10 AM. With this scenario, you’d want to avoid sauntering in at 10:15 on the regular if everyone else has made it a point to be on task by 10. When you know the rules, and abide by them, your work ethic will never be questioned.

2. Commit to the Non-Negotiable Work Stuff

When you don’t begin and end your day like clockwork, some work expectations may not be so flex. If your manager wants a face-to-face team meeting on Wednesdays at 11 AM, plop that in your calendar, and consider it a firm commitment. Doctor’s appointments, networking coffee meetings, and teeth cleanings must always be scheduled around the non-negotiables.

3. Know Your Deliverables

One key to being the master of your daily domain is making sure you know what you’re expected to deliver and when. Enjoying the freedom of self-scheduling works best when you assure your boss the work will get done, on time and as committed. Then keep her updated and meet your deadlines every single time (unless something out of your control prevents you from doing so). This way, you’ll never have anyone wondering what you’re doing when you’re not visibly in the office.

4. Think About When You Do Your Best Work

The wonderful thing about accommodating work hours is that you can use the time you have the most energy to do your most important, challenging stuff. You’ll get things done more quickly and efficiently when you do. So, if you’re an early bird, you might be the first one in the office but more than ready to pack it up by late afternoon when you’re ready to unwind at the gym. You (and your manager) know you’ll check your email later and respond to anything that can’t wait until the next morning. Whether early bird or night owl, if you have the option, schedule your workdays to leverage your peak energy time.

5. Get Into a Rhythm

Others on the team will undoubtedly need to know when you’re coming or going. Maybe Tuesdays you’re in early and out early, and Thursdays you arrive later than usual to get an early morning workout in. Make it easy for your team, and let them know when they can expect to drop by your desk and chat about the latest project. Not every day has to be exactly the same, but it will help your team if they know what your workday patterns are.

6. Beware the Morning Bias

Benjamin Franklin famously said, "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Turns out a lot of managers believe this too!

As you manage your own flexible schedule, be aware that most managers
associate early morning work with more productive, conscientious employees. Of course that’s far more perception than reality. Leave no room for error, though. When you’re not the early bird, take an extra step to tell your boss what’s going on, update her on goals, and make sure you’re both aligned about your specific deliverables. No need to have her making up stories while you’re not in sight.

So many things have changed for the better where workplaces are concerned. And the flexibility to design your days and weeks is one of them. The reality is you have a lot of hours to manage outside of your office hours. And a non-rigid work schedule gives you a happier, healthier balance between the two. Plan accordingly and always keep people in the loop. Follow these tips and you’ll work the right number of hours to put your best career foot forward.