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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

From Wiped to Wired: How to be More Productive After Work

With winter and the holidays creeping around the corner, there seems to be fewer play hours in the day, extra obligations piling up, and more to do on the job. And returning home after a long day’s work can feel increasingly daunting with household chores, bills, and errands. So what’s a girl to do with more tasks and less time?

If only we had the energy we did in college. Remember? You’d come home late, completely wiped from studying or an exam (in my case, it was usually a volleyball match) and despite your exhaustion, you were somehow able to rally yourself for the evening’s social activities. Who could resist another 80s party, right?

While I’ll confess I haven’t found that energy again (and while neon spandex and side ponies will always be more enticing than balancing the checkbook), I have found a few ways to rally after work just the same. These steps have made a noticeable difference for me in making my post-work hours the productive (or social) time I want them to be.

Address Your Needs

This may seem totally out of place in an article about getting a lot done after work, but hear me out. While it's very important to make the most of your time, the only way you will have enough energy to do so is by first attending to your basic needs. Making time for sleeping, eating, and relaxing is critical to making this all work. By addressing these needs, you allow yourself the quintessential element to productivity: sustainability.

A few weeks ago, I had a serious moment of panic. Feeling completely overwhelmed by everything on my plate, I lost my cool. After re-gathering myself, I had an idea that has been incredibly effective ever since: a sanity list. On it, I captured all the things I needed to keep myself feeling reasonably sane throughout the course of the week. It included things like doing daily yoga, consuming 64 oz. of water, and having snuggle sessions with my husband. On the days that I accomplish everything on my list, I feel like a million bucks—and I’m energized to do even more.

After a long day of work, most of us need time to switch gears and give ourselves a mental break before we try to accomplish anything else. Whether that’s plopping in front of the TV to catch up on the day’s news or going for a jog to take the edge off, take a moment and consider what you need to feel recharged during the week, and keep it on your sanity list.

Dirty Work First

It’s time I come clean about something: My husband and I hate doing laundry. We hate it so much we will put it off as long possible—which, for my husband, means until he’s close to his last pair of underwear. The worst part about this is that the longer the laundry gets put off, the more monstrous of a chore it becomes—exponentially increasing our loathing. It’s a vicious cycle. (If you hate laundry as much as we do, check out LifeHacker’s how-to on speeding it up.)

What I’ve learned, though, is that by doing my least favorite chore at the beginning of each week, it feels entirely more manageable, not to mention frees me of the burden throughout the rest of my week. The feeling of work burnout tends to increase as the week moves forward, so by frontloading your work week evenings with your least favorite tasks, you can reserve the more enjoyable work night activities for the end of the week. Monday is for laundry, Tuesday is for vacuuming and bills, Wednesday is for dry cleaning, Thursday is for a DVR marathon. And so on.

Another trick I’ve adopted is shortcutting chores before the week starts. One application of this is planning recipes for the week and doing all the prep work (mostly chopping and bagging vegetables) on Sunday evening. This saves a considerable amount of time and effort, especially on nights that I’m totally out of gas.

Be Realistic

Finally, let’s be realistic about the limited amount of time you have: According to the 2009 Census, the average American’s commute is 25 minutes and the Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012 found that the average work day was about 7.5 hours. Let's also assume you are getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep each night and take about 30 minutes to get ready for work. By this math, you will spend roughly 18.5 hours of each weekday on all that is needed to do your job. This leaves you with 5.5 hours to cram in whatever you like after work.

So, think about it: In those 5.5 hours, maintaining an immaculate home, staying on top of all chores, keeping up with a killer workout regimen, regularly meeting girlfriends for cocktails, and getting time to recharge each day sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? That’s because it is. Now, I will advise you to take one lingering last look at that image, accept its impossibility, and get over it.

At the end of the day, I’ve found that the true key to after work efficiency is realistic expectations. Do what you can and leave it at that.

Photo of tired woman courtesy of Shutterstock.