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How to keep your job without working yourself to death

Hemera Technologies/Hemera Technologies

We're back at work after the Passover-Easter holiday weekend. Despite a strong employment report from Statistics Canada last week, disappointing U.S. jobs numbers on Friday were followed Monday by Sony Corp.'s announcement it would cut 10,000 jobs or about 6 per cent of its global work force.

Clearly, some employers are reluctant to hire and want more productivity from fewer people. In this age of constant connectivity, how can we fulfill the company's expectations, while getting the rest we need and having some semblance of a personal life? That's the question we all grapple with.

Before your blood pressure rises, take a deep breath. Remind yourself that whatever goals the company sets from on high, you don't have to singlehandedly fulfill them. Keep in mind, too, that the person best suited to look after your interests is the one who stared back at you in the mirror this morning. Here's a guide to surviving the pressures of today's job demands.

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Harness your biological clock

By figuring out your best and worst times of the day – what scientists call circadian rhythms – you can take less time to complete complicated tasks and improve your creativity. For instance, if you hit your stride between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., schedule the most challenging work for this high-energy period. Save job-related activities that require less attention, like answering e-mail or returning phone calls, for midafternoon, when your energy lags.

Avoid multiple breaks

Each time you leave your desk – for example, to get a cup of coffee, fetch a glass of water, or bring back lunch – it probably takes you 20 minutes to resume concentration on what you were doing. Ditto personal phone calls and e-mails. The more intensely you focus while you're there, the more quickly you can get your work done and go home.

Leave your work at the office

This means physically and mentally. Unless you're up against a deadline, don't bring home things to do. Zealously protect dinner time with your family or significant other. Although it's pleasant to ask each other, "How was your day?" a lot of conversation about everything that happened just causes you to relive the events, and hampers your ability to disconnect.

Limit off-hours e-mail

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Query whether you really must check your office e-mail when you're not at work – and if so, how often. If you really do need to stay in touch, don't start the thread or reply to a message unless there is an emergency.

Schedule personal time

Make sure the agenda includes taking care of yourself (perhaps by exercising, preparing healthy foods, or going to the doctor), relaxing with family and friends, and doing activities that you enjoy. Being overworked can be an out-of-control sensation. Choosing to do certain things (rather than being required to do them) combats that feeling of powerlessness.

Make weekends a work-free zone

You can't schedule inspiration, creativity or innovation. In fact, sometimes we think most clearly about a work-related issue when we are out of the office. (For examples of inspiration in the middle of "down time," see my post, " Wasting Time Can Make You A Star At Work.) That said, just because you're feeling clearheaded during off hours doesn't mean you need to drop everything and implement the idea. It might be enough to jot a few notes for next regularly scheduled day in the office.

Take vacations

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Burnout hurts your company as much as it hurts you. So there's nothing noble about piling up unused vacation days. With your boss's permission, take time in the way that benefits you most. That probably means setting aside a decent interval, rather than taking off days here and there over the course of a year. Longer vacations also make more financial sense if your getaway includes airplane travel.

Changing your venue and getting away from familiar stimuli will leave you feeling more rested than puttering around the house on a "staycation." Here, too, resist the temptation to check e-mail and don't volunteer that you will be reachable by cellphone.

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