Do you want to be more productive at work and more relaxed outside of work?
If your hours are 9AM-5PM, then you should start working at 100% by 9AM.
So your day starts at 8:30AM, or 8:45AM – whatever works best for you – and that is when you aim to arrive for. This serves a couple of purposes. First, it gives you a buffer in case of commuting delays (in NYC I always plan for these). And second, assuming no delays, you can get a jump on the day.
I notice a vast difference in my productivity when I have a half hour to settle down, switch from personal to work contexts, organize my thoughts, organize any email that came in overnight, and prioritize my pending tasks.
This compared to a morning when I get in around 9AM and I have to manage incoming work along with organizing my day and outstanding tasks and overnight email, let alone transitioning from personal to work contexts.
Similarly, if your hours are 9AM-5PM, keep working at 100% until 5PM. If you are wrapping up so you can leave at 5PM, then you aren’t working your full shift; you are slowing down and wrapping up before 5PM. So your day ends around 5:10PM or 5:15PM, allowing you some time to wrap up any quick outstanding items, prepare for the following day, and switch from work to personal contexts.
Working the full shift you are being paid to work is part of being a professional.
I have had people tell me that this is actually working additional time “for free” and it shows an imbalance in my personal and work lives.
I disagree: the little additional time I work “for free” gives me more free time because it allows me to disconnect properly from my job once I have left the office. I am better able to enjoy my personal life because I don’t have any work-related worries in the back of my mind, distracting me.
Given that I am considered an exempt employee, and I always have been, this behaviour has helped me to be productive and successful in my career. However, it took me a few years to develop the professional maturity to understand all this.