After you’re done working for the day, is your mind still buzzing about work stuff? Or maybe you take a peek at your work emails all evening long? If you can’t stop working, learn how to separate work life from home life so you can finally destress and enjoy some well-deserved downtime.
Below is the podcast version of this article. The podcast explains things so much better than a blog post. I invite you to listen and also hear some examples and enjoy some laughs! You can subscribe to the Podcast by opening your favorite podcast app and typing “Balanced Working Moms” into the search or click here for a link to the podcast on iTunes.
Getting off Work
It was Friday afternoon — with these three words, you already know the story is not going to end well!!! LOL.
I was finishing a few last things up and thinking about the great day I’d had at work. It was the perfect Friday. I had been super productive. I’d also had an effective meeting where we worked out a terrific resolution to a technical problem. As the day was ending I even did some pre-work to get ready for the next week.
I was ready to end my day. It was dare I say, the perfect Friday
And then about half an hour before I was ready to sign off, I got an email.
It wasn’t a bad email. It was the type of email that got my analytical brain thinking. And thinking and thinking.
So here I was, after doing everything I could to create a great productive workday, I couldn’t stop thinking about work.
I woke up in the middle of the night (yes, Friday night!), trying to solve the problem in my sleep.
The next day I was still doing data queries in my mind.
This happens to all of us. We set our best intentions to separate our work life from our home life, and we can’t do it.
Cut Yourself Some Slack
First, I want to say that we are not machines. We’re not robots who can sign out from work and turn our brains off.
Most of us are knowledge workers. That means we aren’t paid to create widgets. We’re paid for our problem-solving and analytical skills. And that’s what our brains do. They analyze, think, and try to solve problems.
If you’ve ever tried to meditate, you know that turning off your brain, even if for only 5 seconds, is impossible. The brain’s job is to think and it does it very well. With meditation, we typically focus on our breath so that we don’t get carried away with our thoughts. But inevitably, we stray from focusing on our breaths and get lost in our thoughts.
So when you find yourself thinking about work or anything else that your brain doesn’t want to turn off, know that this is completely normal. Your brain is doing its job and trying to solve problems.
It’s a Blessing to Be a Working Mom
And if you feel guilty about being a working Mom, here’s another benefit. Some Moms I know don’t have this problem AT ALL!! They’re so busy with their home responsibilities that they don’t have issues putting work aside.
They’re so focused on their families and getting dinner on the table that they can’t even begin to think about the next spreadsheet they need to write.
If you’re one of these people, what a blessing.
But for most of us, it’s hard to turn off our work brains.
But I Need to Turn My Brain Off!
For those of us who aren’t able to turn our work brain off, it’s exhausting.
Our minds are still working on solving work problems, coding, whatever’s going on in our job, and our bodies are doing something else. We’re driving our kids home from school, running errands, doing chores, all while writing a query or doing a report in our minds.
It’s no wonder us Moms are always exhausted.
This is important to talk about because this can lead to serious INBALANCE and our goal is to make working moms feel more balanced.
Having everything going on at once isn’t good for you, to put it mildly.
What’s the Solution?
So what can you do? How can you focus on your family when you’re not on work-time?
One of the secrets, my friend, is having a Work Shutdown Ritual.
What is a Work Shutdown Ritual?
A Work Shutdown Ritual is a routine that you do when the workday is done to symbolically separate your workday from the rest of your day. It shows your mind that your workday is done and it allows you to get into a non-work mode.
For many people, a shutdown ritual is as simple as leaving the office. Getting your bag, putting your coat on and getting into your car symbolizes to your brain that work was done. However, this was true in the good old days. Now, many of us telecommute. Others have side businesses that we work from home. And for others, we may be walking out the door at work, but we’re taking our phone and laptop, so it doesn’t really count to say you’ve left the premises.
What does a Shut-down Ritual Look Like?
Given that a shutdown ritual may no longer resemble leaving an actual office setting, how can you create one?
This is where fun and creativity come in! What this ritual looks like is entirely up to you.
I can tell you some things that others do, but I encourage you to explore what this looks like for you.
The reason why I can’t give you an exact checklist is that both you and your work demands are unique. Some people officially finish work at a certain time of day.
Others, like teachers, work evenings and are expected to continue working even after the school day ends.
These unique need different kinds of rituals and boundaries. Also, what works for some people may not work for others You need a ritual that be effective for you!
A Work Shut-down Ritual As Unique as Yourself
I invite you to create a work shut-down ritual that’s as unique as you are!
The key is — make it realistic.
For example, if you regularly check your work email into the evening, telling yourself you won’t ever do this ever again is not realistic.
Instead, perhaps set a limit on how often or when you’ll check the emails.
Another example is that some people don’t leave work on time. Telling yourself you’ll never stay late again isn’t realistic if you’ve been doing this behavior for 10 years. Instead, ease in by deciding to leave work on time at least twice a week, or whatever feels doable to you.
Creating Your Own Ritual
To create your shutdown ritual, start coming up with some ideas and trying them!!
You’ll quickly see what works for you and what doesn’t.
Here are some things other people do for their shutdown rituals, to help spark some ideas for you.
1. Shutdown Affirmation
Cal Newport, a best-selling author, literally says an affirmation out loud when he stops working. At the end of the day he looks over his schedule and tasks for the next day and says “Schedule shut down complete.”
But of course, his mind would still worry. So he would then tell himself:
“I completed my schedule shutdown ritual today. I wouldn’t have allowed myself to complete the process if I didn’t trust that my plan makes sense. Therefore, I’m not worried.”
He reports that it it took him less than a month for his urge to ruminate about work was reduced to almost non-existent.
2. Do a Transitional Activity
With telework, many of us no longer have our typical transitional activity of commuting.
However, even if you’re working from home you can create a transitional activity that could help you transition from work to home.
You could take a walk, change your outfit, enjoy e a healthy snack or tea, etc. For my transition activity, I like to rest for a few minutes when I’m done my workday. I also find these few minutes of rest helpful so that I have energy to knock out things on my to-do list, so it’s a win-win.
3. Write Down Your To-Dos
Another thing that helps some people is to write down their to-do list or other ideas that are buzzing in their heads.
One of the reasons why some people can’t stop thinking is because they’re worried they’re going to forget by the next time they go into the office.
Ending your day by writing down what you’ll do the next day can be helpful. Also, if you find yourself thinking about work, writing down your thoughts so you can refer to them the next workday may also be helpful.
4. Create Order
People with a shut-down ritual sometimes enjoy spending the last few minutes of their day cleaning up and creating order.
This could mean saving your files in a location you’ll find again. Renaming them so they make sense! Going through the emails you received that day and archiving the ones you no longer need.
Spending just a few minutes doing this at the end of the day can not only help you transition, it’ll also help improve your productivity as you can find things and feel more organized in your work.
Create Your Own Ritual
Have fun creating your own ritual. I’d suggest whatever you plan to do, write it down or even schedule it in your planner.
For example, I have my after-work rest time literally scheduled in my personal google calendar. I generally don’t schedule anything else during that time because I know how important it is for me.
Give your ritual a try and see what works.
And then enjoy the energy and balance you’ll feel when your mind is no longer taken up by all your different roles at the same time. Your goal, as much as possible, is to focus only at work when you’re at work and your family when you’re with the family. It won’t always happen because as we mentioned, we’re human and not machines.
But the more you can focus on one thing at a time, the more balanced and effective you’ll be in all your roles.
Wishing the blessings of more balance and the joy in your life.