I spent the early part of my career working in Manhattan ad agencies where I grew accustomed to long hours. Leaving my office at 2am the night before a pitch wasn’t rare. I remember once, a new coworker asked me one Friday afternoon around 5pm as we were headed into our boss’s office for a meeting, when we would be able to go home and I just laughed. I remember she said concerned, “I have family dinners on Friday, I’m going to be really late.” As a single Manhattan lady, this was like a foreign language to me.
Fast-forward five years, I’m 9-month pregnant, still working those hours. I remember getting home one night around 8pm and asking my husband, “What time do babies normally go to sleep?” He had no idea. We called his sister who was a mother. “Around 7-ish,” she said.
“We aren’t even home by then,” I said, beginning to panic. “Wait, how are we going to do this?” By ‘this’ I didn’t exactly mean How are we going to raise our child? I meant, How are we going to see our child?
After a few months off to wean my new baby into the world, I started a new job not at an ad agency. Instead I moved to a startup—enter Qnary! Qnary was founded and led by two former coworkers of mine from a past agency. Because of these relationships, I felt confident enough to say during the offer, “I accept, BUT I have to leave every day by 5:30pm.” They said that was fine.
Two years later, I still leave every day by 5:30pm. I’m often the first one out the door. I’m unabashed by this. Part of it is because I know that if I don’t leave then, I won’t have an hour with my toddler that day, and that hour is really important to both me and my child. But it’s also in a large part because I am really confident about my output of work, which I’ve been really proud of. I credit this to having a personal office ‘closing time,’ which I believe fosters better work.
Here are a few reasons why I think this is the case, and why I would recommend considering having an office ‘closing time’ for your company.
You are more productive when there is an end time
When there is a gun to your head, you are more productive. It’s much easier to push off what you actually have to do, when there isn’t a clock ticking in your ear. When 3:30pm hits now, I realize I only have two hours left and I kick it into high gear. How many more tasks can I complete if I really focus right now? As a result, I’m pretty much always focused because I am so aware I only have a finite amount of hours.
You prioritize better and put what must be done, first
Instead of pushing off what you don’t really want to do first, you do what you must get done first. You become hyper aware of the priorities you need to accomplish that day, and working in the same time frame each day, you become better able to realistically understand how many of those priorities you can actually accomplish. You become a target deadline setting ninja.
You don’t get bitter about work and you don’t burnout
Ad agencies have a high burnout rate and I understand why. After a few years at past agencies, I would always burnout like clockwork. I never realized this until after the fact. But it’s what happens when you feel like you are being taken advantage of, which happens when you constantly feel pressure to stay at the office later than you want to. This makes for not-great work and a not great company culture.
And face it, you still work at home
For better or worse, thanks to today’s technology, you are plugged into work 24/7. You check emails at home. You don’t allow bottlenecks to happen. You answer the phone when a colleague or client calls. And it’s fine when this happens, because you know keeping things moving is really important.
Big ideas never happen inside an office
I realized recently that all of my big, good ideas come from my weekend morning runs. These are the ideas that have really helped to shape my department. I have adopted the habit of often emailing my boss bright and early on a Saturday with an idea, super sweaty on the East River running path. I have never gotten a big idea at my desk.
You are happier
You just are. We say so often how important maintaining a “work, life balance” is and it’s true. Perhaps, as how we work continues to evolve with technology, it is becoming more important that we establish a healthy “work, life integration.” When I am outside of the office, often times I am still thinking about problems and challenges happening inside the office. And I am happy to do that, because I am happy at work. I have a healthy relationship with it.
Sitting at your office desk late at night being bitter doesn’t help your company. That generally isn’t the context that produces great work. Having a group of happy employees that are prioritizing what needs to get done effectively and figuring out challenges when they are in their brightest headspace—that does produce better work, and it makes for better companies.