It was a sad day when I realised just how many of my Singaporean friends were working at 10pm one dark and stormy Monday night. Long working hours are one of the most dislikeable things about living in Singapore, and they have singlehandedly brought down the country’s birthrate.
A lot has been said about how to achieve better work-life balance, but based on the fact that Singaporeans still work some of the longest hours in the world, people are just not leaving the office. Here are some tricks you can use to help yourself do half an hour less of OT.
Complete work tasks during blocks of wasted time outside of the office
Even if you think you’re spending most of your waking life at the office, you’re actually not. There’s also that one hour or so you spend on the MRT each day, the 15 minutes you spend queuing for lunch, the 20 minutes you spend sitting alone at the bar waiting for your late friends to arrive and the 15 minutes you’re stuck in a toilet queue with a bursting bladder. And what do you do during all that dead time? You surf Facebook on your mobile phone.
Completing work-related tasks during blocks of dead time can help you to reclaim some of your free time. If your commute to the office is 45 minutes long, that gives you more than an hour a day to reply to emails, return calls to clients and read and review documents. Sure, you might not be able to use your laptop on the MRT when you’ve got armpits in your face and a lower chance of getting a seat than striking Toto. But tablets, smartphones and good old pen and paper still exist.
By printing out hard copies of documents and charging your smartphone or tablet, it should be possible for most desk-bound workers to complete at least half an hour of work while standing in line or commuting. And half an hour of free time means a lot when you’ve got none.
Shorten your lunch hour
Many Singaporeans are surprised to hear that in other parts of the world, a one hour lunch break is considered relatively long. For instance, in the UK and Australia, it’s not uncommon to have a half hour lunch break—which explains why workers are often contracted to work until 5:30pm rather than 6pm. Would you rather have a long lunch and have to leave the office later or shorten it in exchange for shorter working hours? I know what I’d choose.
Of course, even if Singaporeans skipped lunch altogether, it’s unlikely the average person would be able to leave on time anyway, since 85% of the respondents in a recent survey complained that excessive working hours were having an impact on their work-life balance.
If you’re doing more than half an hour of OT each day, cut your lunch break in half and try to get half an hour’s worth of work done during lunch so you can leave earlier. If you work in the CBD and are allowed to stagger your lunch hour, try to avoid the 1 to 2pm slot, when the crowd is at its worst and you face the longest waits at eateries. In fact, if you pack your own lunch, you might be able to work through the entire lunch hour, but we recommend taking at least a twenty minute break or you risk going insane.
Schedule your tasks at work
If you’ve never tried scheduling your day, you wouldn’t know how effective it is in making sure you finish everything you set out to do quickly and efficiently. If you allocate yourself an hour to complete a certain task, you’ll race to finish it by the stipulated time. On the other hand, if you give yourself the entire day just to complete a few tasks, there’s a high chance you won’t be working as efficiently, losing focus and interweaving your tasks with Facebook updates and Whatsapp texts. Scheduling gives you the urgency needed to finish things fast.
It might make you feel like you’re back in secondary school, but drawing up a timetable and scheduling all your tasks for the day will make you work a lot faster. You might be surprised to find that you’re actually finishing your work significantly earlier.
I once started a new job only to find that on the first two days I was stuck in the office till 10pm. I realised it was because the guy beside me kept chatting with me nonstop, so I promised myself to ignore him and finish all my tasks within a certain timeframe. Do or die, I had to complete all my tasks one after the other according to my timetable. From then on, I started leaving the office at 5:30pm every day.
What little tricks do you use to finish your work a little earlier? Tell us in the comments!