Get more control of your time. It's hard to leave the office at a reasonable time of day when your workplace culture centers on long hours. But the cost of not leaving work is high: A half-built life and career burnout.
Of course, if you never work long hours, you will never appear committed enough to get to the top ranks. So your job is to work enough hours to look committed but not so many hours that you risk your personal life and your ability to succeed over the long haul. People cannot work full-speed until they die. Pace yourself so you don't burnout before you reach your potential.
1. Find the back door. Figure out what criteria people use for promotion. It is never only how many hours you work. In many professions you need to work a lot of hours, but there is always a way to be impressive enough to cut back on hours. In the realm of superstars, achievement is based on quality over quantity. Figure out how to turn out extremely impressive work so that you can get away with fewer hours. For example, if you're a lawyer, you could pick up one, very important client for the firm, and then cut back a little on your hours.
2. Be clear on your schedule and clear on priorities. Once you figure out which projects matter a lot and which don't, get the high-priority work. Then you can jump at the chance to tell someone handing out low-profile projects that you're booked – working on something that is a higher priority.
3. Go public. Tell people about your schedule ahead of time. For example, “I have Portuguese lessons on Thursdays at 7pm. The class is important to me.” When you plan a vacation, announce it early and talk about it a lot. The more people know about how much you have been preparing and anticipating your trip the less likely people will be to ask you to cancel it.
4. Find a silent mentor. Look for someone who is respected but does not work insane hours. This will take careful hunting because this person is not likely to be obvious about it. Watch him from afar and figure out how he operates. Few people will want to mentor you in the art of dodging work — it's bad for one's image. But you could enlist the person to help you in other areas and hope he decides to help you in the workload area as well.
5. Find a new specialty. There are some careers that hold no hope for shorter hours. Video game production and surgery come to mind. At the beginning of your career, you're in a good spot to change your path if you see no hope for a personal life on the horizon. A career change is easier when your career is new. Don't take this opportunity for granted; it will be much harder to change when you're in you’ve invested a decade in the career.
6. Respect your personal life so that other people will, too. If you don't create a life outside of work that is joyful and engaging then you won't feel a huge need to leave work. And if you don't project a passion for life outside of work then no one will think twice about asking you to live at work.
So get some passion in your personal life. If you can't think of anything, start trying stuff: Snowboarding, pottery, speed dating. The only way to discover new aspects of yourself is to give them new opportunities to come out.