Feature Article: How to Make the Most of 5:00-9:00 PM

Let’s forget about 9:00 to 5:00 for a minute. We spend lots of energy making sure that we are efficient and productive during the workday. But what about AFTER the workday? Do you find yourself keeping your nose to the grindstone and working diligently throughout the day only to have it all unravel when you step through the door at home?

I hear it all the time: “I’m so exhausted when I leave the office, but I always know there is more work waiting for me when I get home. What can I do?” With most of the day behind us, it’s easy to lose our focus and end up letting those precious hours at the end of the day go to waste. Keep in mind that those weekday hours from 5:00 ‘till 9:00 make up 20 hours of your week! Not many of us can afford to waste that much time.

Ask yourself a few questions to help you make the most of those evening hours and feel less stressed as a result.

How much television am I watching? For many, the biggest culprit – by far – is television. There’s no reason you can’t enjoy a favorite show or two, but don’t let it dominate your evenings. Have you ever spend hours in front of the tube and barely even realized it? You can’t get a single one of those precious minutes back, and chances are that in a week you won’t even remember what you watched. That’s a bad sign! See if you can turn it off for a week. You don’t even have to spend the extra time doing something particularly productive – just something different. Read a book. Talk to your family. Organize a drawer or two. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel than you do after hours in front of the TV.

Where does the time go? Try keeping a diary for those 20 hours between 5 and 9 for one week. At the end of the week, it should be clear where there’s room for improvement. Here are a few things to look for as red flags, and some suggestions on how to tackle them:

• The Internet: Do you sit down at the computer to check your e-mail and end up spending an hour aimlessly surfing the internet? 
o The Fix: Limit e-mail checking to just that. If you want to surf, go ahead – just do it after the rest of your “home” work is done. 

• Continuing the Workday: Do you have a habit of bringing the office home? 
o The Fix: Do it, if you must. But consider the value of your time and the things you are sacrificing to continue the workday. If you have to work at home, have a schedule and a plan of exactly what you need to accomplish. If you can just leave work at work, even better.

• Dinner Plans: Does it take twenty minutes of staring into the fridge to figure out what’s for dinner?
o The Fix: Take an hour on Sunday and plan 3-5 meals for the week. Even if that means planning for take-out, know what you’re having ahead of time. If you can, cook a meal or two over the weekend and reheat them during the week to save time.

• Kid Wrangling: Are you spending a ton of time making sure homework is done or working on kid-infrastructure like coordinating the carpool and extra-curricular activities?
o The Fix: Get a plan – and a calendar. Hang a desk-sized calendar in a prominent spot, and use it for the family’s master schedule. This way, it’s all in one place and you can spend less time coordinating on the fly. As for the kid-wrangling and homework: get a routine going. Whether it’s first thing when you come through the door or at a planned time each evening, block off time to do homework or other structured activities. 

• Chores: Are you working all day and then coming home to work another few hours to catch up on the housework?
o The Fix: Don’t feel obligated to do it all, or even most of it. Aim for one or two “large” tasks and a couple of small ones each evening. Bring the family in on it, too. Throw a load of clothes in the washer and then go clean up the living room. When you’re done tidying up, fold the clothes. A little each night will go a long way for the whole week and give you more free time on the weekend.

• Paper: Does it seem like your mail is taking over every horizontal surface in sight? And that you’re constantly sitting down to pay bills?
o The Fix: While the kids do homework, you should too. Sort through the mail, file it in your tickler file by due date, and get it off the counter. 

What can I do that will have a positive effect on my life? So many of the most personally rewarding things in life really do take very little time. You just need to make them a priority. With your newly-efficient schedule, you can now work in 20 minutes of exercise, an hour to read a good book, or 45 minutes to sit down with loved ones and catch up over a real dinner (with real silverware and everything). It doesn’t take much, but the results can be tremendous. You just have to commit to making it happen (and encourage loved ones to do the same). While you’re at it, make time for yourself. I’ll bet that no matter how tired you are, you always manage to take care of family and friends when needed. Make yourself a priority as well, whether it’s carving out time for a relaxing shower or going for a rejuvenating walk around the block. You’ve earned it.

What is my “perfect” schedule? There isn’t one. If you spend all day at work and all night fretting about a demanding timetable, you’ll drive yourself up the wall. Be flexible. Go with what works. And don’t be afraid to adjust as necessary. 

Make it a productive day! ™

(C) Copyright 2008 Laura Stack. All rights reserved.

© 2008 Laura Stack. Laura Stack is a personal productivity expert, author, and professional speaker who helps busy workers Leave the Office Earlier® with Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. She is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc., a time management training firm specializing in productivity improvement in high-stress organizations. Since 1992, Laura has presented keynotes and seminars on improving output, lowering stress, and saving time in today’s workplaces. She is the bestselling author of three works published by Broadway Books: The Exhaustion Cure (2008), Find More Time (2006) and Leave the Office Earlier (2004). Laura is a spokesperson for Microsoft, 3M, and Day-Timers®, Inc and has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, and the New York Times. Her clients include Cisco Systems, Sunoco, KPMG, Nationwide, and 3M. To have Laura speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401. Visit www.TheProductivityPro.com to sign up for her free monthly productivity newsletter.