It's well established that working longer hours doesn't translate into increased productivity and indeed, can be bad for you. But we don't always have the benefit of putting something off for another day. So then, how do you approach a must-do workload without stretching yourself thin?
Over at Code Without Rules, developer Itamar Turner-Trauring outlines his process for working less while getting more done. First of all, experience is crucial -- it's hard to apply his logic to your "first year working"; sometimes, you just need to "deal with it" while you look for something better.
With that out of the way, it's important to identify problems that would be best solved with a fresh pair of eyes -- this is where experience plays an important role in figuring out what these problems are.
As Turner-Trauring explains from a developer's perspective, a bug that might take hours to solve after five in the afternoon could very well be nailed the following day in minutes. Even if you have to get in a little earlier before a presentation or meeting, it's worth coming back fresh.
Next up is how you actually approach your work. For example, instead of crunching to get a feature in, why not reduce the scope instead or break it into parts or milestones?:
"I've got two weeks, but this is way too much work. What can I do to reduce the scope? Guess I'll spend a couple hours thinking about it." ... And soon: "Oh, if I do this restructuring I can get 80% of the feature done in one week, and that'll probably keep the customer happy until I finish the rest. And even if I underestimated I've still got the second week to get that part done."
You may have room to compromise, so don't be afraid to talk to your manager, project lead or client and set realistic expectations on what can be accomplished.
Speaking of expectations, working longer hours gives higher-ups the impression that you're happy to put that extra, exhausting effort in, which can flow into how they schedule your time. Here's an example from Turner-Trauring:
If your manager isn't sure whether you should go to a meeting, they might tell themselves that "it might waste an hour of time, but they'll just work an extra hour in the evening to make it up."
With shorter hours your time becomes more scarce and valuable. If your manager is at all reasonable less important meetings will get skipped and more important features will be prioritised.
Turner-Trauring tackles these issues through the lens of a developer, but they can be applied broadly to a number of industries and disciplines.
Hit up his article for more examples, which you might find useful for framing questions to your manager or client.