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Work-Life Balance: How To Leave Work At Work

Written by: Alexandra Floersch
Published on: Sep 6, 2017

Walking through door picture

The average person spends 90,000 hours working during their lifetime. We inevitably spend more time with our coworkers than anyone else during the week. This routine lasts for upwards of 45 years, until we are finally able to retire. With this in mind, the reasons for leaving work at work should be obvious. We are already devoting a significant portion of our lives to our jobs… we need to physically and mentally check out of work when we punch the clock at the end of the day.

As anyone with a career knows, this is easier said than done. Tomorrow’s to-do lists often keep us up at night, and the accessibility of our cell phones creates temptation to constantly check our email. Nonetheless, research shows that the inability to disconnect from work can have significant repercussions.

Here are four tips for leaving your work at work:

Make a To-Do List For the Following Day

For many, it’s the constant nagging of tomorrow’s tasks or the fear of forgetting something important that keeps us from enjoying an evening (or weekend) away from the office. Rather than enjoying time with family or catching valuable shut eye, our minds are focused on the tasks that lie ahead… when we return to work.

Making a to-do list for the following day can help rid our minds of some of this anxiety, suggests Robert C. Pozen, author of Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours and professor at Harvard Business School. Not only does making a list prepare you for what’s ahead, it allows you to leave your anxiety on paper.

Furthermore, creating this habit at the end of your workday also provides a smooth transition from work to personal life. Just like turning off the lights at night signals your brain that it’s time to sleep, completing your to-do list for the following day will eventually signal your brain that it’s time to stop focusing on work. Soon enough, your work days will actually feel complete and you will be able to enjoy the freedom of your personal life at home.

Disconnect From Technology

Unfortunately in 2016, the very inventions that aid us in our work also have the ability to distract us from our play. Americans have adapted the idea that we must be connected at all times. Sadly, this also includes our work life. It gets seemingly harder to ignore work-related emails outside of work.

In addition to the to-do list, make a habit of turning off email and chat notifications before leaving work. Alternatively, you can use inbox pause, to hold your emails until you are ready for them. This technique can also make your workday more productive; simply schedule times during the day and before you leave (at the end of the day) to check email one last time.

Don’t Dwell on Your Day

After a long, stressful day at work, we’re often convinced that a quick vent session will cure all of our anxiety. So we call our parents, enjoy happy hour with friends, or chat with our spouses. Except afterwards, we find that we don’t feel any better.

That’s why Amanda Rose, associate professor of psychological science at the University of Missouri, said to forego dwelling altogether. “Co-ruminating,” the clinical term for venting to the point of obsession, is not a successful way to let go of work struggles. “There’s a snowball effect where talking about your problems causes you to dwell on them, and dwelling makes you feel depressed, which makes you complain even more,” she said.

Instead, practice mindful thinking. Jeffrey Brantley, M.D., and Wendy Millstine, NC, suggested several ways to do so in their book Five Good Minutes in the Evening: 100 Mindful Practices to Help You Unwind from the Day & Make the Most of Your Night. For example, using your evening commute home to act as a tourist, rather than driving on autopilot, can help focus your mind on “connecting with and discovering the richness of life all around you.”

Engage in Humor

In the end, laughter can be the best medicine. Sometimes the best remedy for getting your mind off next week’s big presentation or your overflowing inbox is a healthy distraction.

In addition to mindfulness, Brantley and Millstine, suggest a little humor to help you loosen up after work. Laughter releases endorphins that lower stress and tension and mentally revive you. Listen to a comedic podcast on your commute home, tune into Netflix for your favorite comedy, or browse the top ten humor websites when you arrive home.

All in all, we must remember that, no matter how driven we feel, we must give ourselves time away from work to enjoy our personal lives. It’s essential to our health and productivity. Give yourself the opportunity to enjoy your nights and weekends, distraction free. Choose to leave work at work.