At the start of my training contract, one of the biggest challenges I had to overcome quickly was having the confidence to leave the office on time (obviously during quieter periods) without feeling guilty.
Even on the odd days when I’d completed all my urgent tasks and felt completely zonked out, I felt powerless when attempting to head for the exit whilst my supervisor was still hard at it out of fear that I’d be labelled as work shy. It got so bad that on occasions I’d leave my blazer hanging on the back of my office chair before sneaking off. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But I certainly wasn’t alone in deploying this tactic in a desperate bid to fool colleagues into thinking I was still at work.
Indeed, with the big return to the office now in full swing I’ve recently spoken to several trainee solicitors who are now finding themselves grappling with the same challenge. One even jokingly told me that she’s going to try the jacket behind the chair technique.
In a profession where your performance is measured against billing targets the pressure to work way beyond contracted hours is palpable. Therefore, it’s small wonder that trainee solicitors feel afraid or at best awkward being the first person to log off for the day.
I’ll tackle the pros and cons of billable hours targets in a future post as I want to use this blog to offer trainee and junior solicitors my top five tips on how to leave work on time without feeling bad about it.
- Get organised. Planning and learning to prioritise will help you stay on top of your work and complete tasks on time. But remember it’s unlikely that you’ll tick off absolutely everything on your to-do list. Review your completed tasks and for any that are ongoing determine whether you’ll do a better job re-visiting them in the morning (deadline permitting). Also, if it suits your personal circumstances, you may want to take some tasks away with you to complete at home, freeing up time to pursue a hobby or to meet friends for dinner in between. Unlike when I was a trainee, technology has made it infinitely easier to work flexibly and remotely.
- Be assertive and set your boundaries. Stop being afraid of telling colleagues that you need to leave work at XX O’Clock to do XXXXXXX. Note: it is entirely optional to disclose what you’re heading off to do. In some instances, simply saying you have a personal commitment you need to adhere to should suffice. The key here is to manage expectations by giving your colleagues as much advance notice as possible. A little bit of flexibility should also help, after all let’s be honest even for the most confident busy lawyer leaving work on time is often a luxury. For example, instead of feeling pressurised into working late and missing out on a date night ask yourself whether it would be reasonable to complete a task on time by offering to come in early the next day? A lesson I’ve learnt over time is that in many instances most colleagues and indeed clients don’t care when and where you do your work provided you don’t miss deadlines and it’s done to an excellent standard. Another point worth noting here is letting your colleagues and / or clients know when you’re going to be offline. This is preferable to leaving them guessing or worse still thinking you’ve gone AWOL.
- As you prepare to leave the office check-in one last time with your supervisor or senior colleagues on the matters you’re currently working on. Simply tell them you’re done for the day and unless you have something pressing to attend / deal with offer to help them on anything urgent. They’ll be grateful for your offer of help, which goes a long way towards being seen as a great colleague and who is a strong team player.
- Challenge assumptions that working long hours and burning the midnight oil will earn you extra brownie points. Take it from me – it will lead to lower levels of productivity, poor physical and mental health. The result is burnout. Instead remind yourself that occasionally being the first to leave the office doesn’t mean you’re work sky or terrible at your job.
- Re-frame the way you think about leaving work on time(ish) by focusing on the positives. For example, tell yourself “I’m leaving work on time today so I can get my hair cut and cannot wait.” Focusing on how you’re going to spend the hours immediately after you leave work doing something really important for your overall well-being and happiness will help you manage any feelings of guilt.