Dealing with the guilt of leaving work at a decent time

Are you an early riser who believes there's nothing like beating the morning rush in traffic, arriving to a peaceful office, and easing into the work day on your own terms?  Starting the day off before others and being as productive as possible should also mean finishing slightly early as well.  So why then is this it so difficult for some people to leave office ahead of the colleagues?

An image of a man standing uncomfortably as five different hands stick into the frame and point at him

An early start to the day is more than worth it as it provides a moment for one to gather their thoughts and cross off a key items from their to-do list, all before colleagues arrive and together, contribute to a distant hum that can be heard in the office.  The workplace can quickly become an environment capable of impeding productivity, so why should employees feel guilty for minimizing the amount of time they spend there?   

Limit Distractions

A distracting environment is a key driver for employees attempting to limit time they spend physically at work.  The duration of your work day should be a finite period and to ensure that is the case, you need to be proactive about eliminating distractions.  

Let your colleagues know you mean business.  After all, the primary reason you're at the office is to work, not to socialize.  There will undoubtedly be situations that call for networking though most interactions should be brief in nature and limited to the scope of the work at hand.  If necessary, the wearing of visible yet office-appropriate headphones can act as a deterrent.  It's like the equivalent of a closed office door but for a employee without an office.  

Block your calendar.  The practice of blocking on your calendar may offer you limited cover from unnecessary bookings.  Those who really need to meet with you will reach out to gauge your availability.  Meetings where your presence is optional can still proceed and may benefit from from your attendance.  Most meetings can be replaced with an email.  For those you cannot skip, when possible, attend them virtually as this provide the opportunity to multi-task without appearing rude.  

Even with a blocked calendar, you may still encounter interruptions such as impromptu stop drop-ins as you work to clear your to-do list before the end of the day.   

Get Over Your Feelings

One thing you should focus on doing is getting over your feelings of guilt.  Aside from the optics of having employees at the office, there may be actual synergies experienced by the group working together.  Camaraderie is built over time and your leaving the office when you're supposed to doesn't constitute leaving a fallen comrade to fend for themselves.  Remember, these 9-to-5ers are the same people who looking at you judgmentally when they see you in the breakroom during your 10:30 am lunch, and they're the same folks who disappear in the early afternoon for their 2:00 pm walk or coffee break.  Ignore their looks of desperation and focus on the traffic you're trying to avoid by leaving early.  

Be Unapologetic

Once you've implemented the majority of tactics available to you to maximize productivity, the final step is to be unapologetic as you leave the office at a consistent time each day.  At the end of the day, if you feel somewhat guilty for leaving your colleagues behind at work, just remember that is in fact the end of the day, and at this point, your reputation should speak for itself.  Your colleagues and organization as whole should be able to function and survive in your absence and you can rest assured that the work will be there for you following day.  If an infrequent circumstance requires you to remain in office longer than normal, be thoughtful and do what's best for the situation–but guilt shouldn't factor into this decision. 

The pressure to linger around the office for the final hours of any given work day shouldn't make an employee feel guilty, especially if they work the same amount of hours as most others.