You’ve already had a packed workday, but that huge project is still due at the end of the week, and you feel like you still have to make a lot of headway. Or maybe you’re trying to launch a side hustle, but you’re just so drained from your day job you don’t know how to chip away at it once you get home.
Here’s how to stay productive after the clock strikes 5 p.m. (or later!), whether you’ve already left for the day or are still holed up in the office — even if it’s the last thing you want to do.
Approach it like you would a regular shift
While early-morning and/or overnight shifts are the norm in some industries, there are steps you can take to get through after-hours periods of work when you’re a lot more used to a 9-5 lifestyle.
Set yourself up for boosted productivity by getting enough sleep in advance, packing food that will help you stay focused, dressing so you’re warm or cool enough, and packing a portable cellphone and laptop charger.
Commit to whatever block of time you need to get the job done, and don’t torture yourself with thinking about all the Netflix binging you could be doing or all the Facebook posts you could be reading. You’ll only feel distracted and resentful of the time you’re taking away from your recreational activities.
Get the tough things out of the way first
After taking a brief break, dive right in at the deep end, Alyse Kalish, Associate Editor for The Muse, writes.
“Take advantage of the second wind you got from quick break by tackling the most urgent stuff first — that means the tasks that are due tomorrow or that your boss emphasized they need ASAP. Then, cover the more challenging stuff. You know, the stuff that takes the most brain power. You may not get to it all, but starting to lay the groundwork now will make it easier to finish later on (and if you know you won’t get it all finished in time, here’s how to break the news to your boss),” Kalish writes.
Get through your work one assignment at a time, but powering through the challenging stuff can make you feel a little lighter afterward.
Make 10 minutes your goal
Prove that you can make meaningful progress for at least this small amount of time.
“Lifehacker Editor-in-Chief Adam Pash gives himself 10 minutes in the evening to work on his pet projects, sometimes more, never less. If he can drag himself off the couch for 10 minutes of focused work, that’s a success — and at the end of that 10 minutes, if he feels like working some more, he does. If he feels like closing up shop and going back to the couch, he does. The important thing here is that he makes himself get started, and even on those nights when he doesn’t feel like doing anything, he at least gets 10 minutes of progress towards his goals,” Henry writes.
Once you clear your resistance to getting started, you’re most of the way towards your goal. Pash explains that even though he has the option to return to not doing work once the 10 minutes pass, “the beautiful thing is, I almost never do.” He also said that this “isn’t a new idea by any means.”
Our hope is that you’ll keep working, too.
But remember not to overdo it
We know that putting in too many hours isn’t always good for us, so be sure not to use up too much of your after-hours time on work-related tasks.
So set some boundaries by limiting yourself to tackling work after the day is over only when you really need to.