Mad Men's Joan is an organised kind of lady. You can't imagine her leaving the office all in a flurry, with her coat tucked into her knickers and paperwork still liberally strewn across her desk. No, Ms Holloway will finish off everything in cool, collected fashion before sashaying out the door with her trademark sway.
However tempting it may be to dash out the door come 6pm, it's important to structure the end of your working day just as you would the beginning. This is a time to tie up loose ends, to prep for the next day and crucially, to make sure you walk out the door in a calm and relaxed state of mind, rather than beneath a frenzied cloud of stress.
Not only will this set you up for the rest of the week, it will also establish a sense of routine - so you can leave work on-time and to schedule each and every day (a golden prospect, we think you'll agree).
“How you finish the workday is very important,” says Michael Kerr, author of You Can't Be Serious! Putting Humor to Work. “It can set your mood for the rest of your day; it may impact your personal relationships, overall level of happiness, and how well you sleep that night; and it will set the stage for the next day.”
Here are five key ways to leave work in style:
1. Plan out the day ahead
There's no worse feeling than missing a breakfast meeting at the beginning of the day, or forgetting about that physiotherapy appointment you've spent the past three months setting up.
Take five minutes come home time to glance over your schedule and see what you have coming up. This will help you visualise how the next day will unfold, and anything you may need to bring in or wear (more formal clothes for a pitch, for example, or heels for an after-work event). It's also a good time to make note of any potential clashes or over-runs and move things around accordingly.
“Some people like to visualize, make a mental or physical note of what is on their schedule first thing the next day,” says careers expert David Shindler. “Think about one thing you are most looking forward to tomorrow. It will help you leave behind what’s happened today, enrich your current mood and help to put a full stop to your working day.”
2. Update your to-do list
Make a note of what you've done and what still needs to be done while it's all still fresh in your head. That way you don't have it hanging over you and you'll be able to hit the ground running the following day - rather than wasting 10 minutes come 9am trying to recap all the previous day's comings and goings.
“The last 10 minutes is when successful people check their final progress against that day's objectives,” says workplace specialist Lynn Taylor. “They revise their final list accordingly while in the moment, rather than abruptly leave and hoping they'll remember all the nuances of that day in the morning.”
This is also a good time to look back on the day you've had and think about what you've achieved.
“Shut off your computer and review your day,” says leadership expert Peter Bregman. “What worked? Where did you focus? Where did you get distracted? What did you learn that will help you be more productive tomorrow?”
3. Clear your inbox
Just as you would (hopefully) chuck away that Diet Coke can littering your desk come home time, you should also rid yourself of the virtual clutter clogging up your inbox. If you really want control over your email, it's important to make this a discipline and stick to it. Clear out your sent items and deleted items and run through your inbox. Be ruthless about it - only keep strictly necessary messages that you are midday through dealing with.
“The first step is to sort your messages out by sender [using the tab at the top of the messages]. You know who sends you rubbish, so you can quickly delete their messages in blocks,” says email consultant Bob Hallewell. “That breaks your emails down into conversations. With any luck, the latest email should have the full history of the whole conversation, and you can delete the previous messages. Deal with those that are most important to you – or somebody important to you, such as your boss.”
Make sure you tackle anything outstanding before you leave, like that tricky email you've been avoiding or leftover filing, so you don't carry it as mental baggage.
It's also an idea to put your phone on silent and emails on out-of-office for the first hour of the following day, to give yourself some breathing space.
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4. Check in with your boss and colleagues
Don't just slope off at the end of the day, especially if there's something you still need to address or explain with your team.
Check in with those around you to see where you're at in terms of group progress, and to catch any emerging issues or problems before they take seed. As this is usually the quietest time of day, it's also the time when people will be most open and willing to chat - in other words, a good time to review. Also clock off with your boss if you can; check they're happy with everything and take the opportunity to bring up anything that's worrying you, or that you don't understand.
This only needs to take a few moments, but it's key to leaving a good impression and ending the day on a positive note. Say thank yous, give recognition and remind yourself and your team of what you've achieved - that way you leave feeling more energised.
“We tend to think about the importance of checking in and saying good morning to kick off the day, but we forget that it can be just as important, and make us feel good as well, to say a friendly and proper good bye to everyone rather than just silently drift off into the night,” says Kerr. “This is triply important if you are the supervisor.”
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5. Set a cut-off time and stick to it
Finally, it's time to clock off and out. Leaving work on time every day takes effort and you'll have to work to cultivate it into a habit. But setting a fixed cut-off time will force you to work within the time constraints given, making you more organised and productive.
“The notion of staying longer after work to be more productive is a fallacy that will keep you chasing the clock,” says careers coach Jeff Davidson. “To be most productive, you need to leave work on time.”
If you allow tasks to drag on at the end of the day, you may appear more dedicated; but you'll also end up demotivated and lacking in energy.
“Staying around for no good reason will limit your level of energy and success when you need it tomorrow,” says Taylor.
If you can, turn off your work emails and consciously shrug off the weight off the day so that you're fully relaxed for the evening ahead.
Photos: Getty Images and Rex Features