Have you noticed that the boundaries between work and leisure can easily get fuzzy? Sometimes you’ll find you’re working more than you should be, and you’re never leaving work on time. Other times you’ll notice you’re thinking about work long after you’ve arrived home, and you’re having trouble letting go and focusing on the current moment. Drawing boundaries between work time and home time can help to make them distinct in your mind, so they don’t crossover so much. But even more than that, treating work like a workout can help you to be more effective and segment your time. When I say treat it like a workout, I mean do a warm up before you go to work, so you’re in the right head space and you’re as effective as possible while you’re working. And when you’re done, do a cool down routine, just like you would after a workout in the gym. “Cooling down” will help you to switch modes and leave work behind mentally, as well as physically.
Time to get pumped. You want to be in the right mindset when you get to work, ready to get stuff done.
Get there on time
You know what it’s like when you’re running late for work, you get stressed, you feel unprepared and you spend the rest of the day catching up. It’s hardly the optimal mindset for a productive day. Research into the American workforce found that the type of work you do has more effect on what time you start and finish work than the city you live in. Different cities have different conventions, though, with meetings as early as 6 or 7am not unusual in St Louis, while the median arrival time to work in New York is as 8:24am. If your job requires a starting time a bit earlier than you’d like, or if you’re just prone to underestimating how long you need to get ready, try thinking ahead the night before. Choosing your outfit or packing your lunch can be done ahead of time to save you rushing. You could even try leaving earlier to beat the traffic or public transport crowds so your commute is faster.
Conversely, it’s a load off to know that you’re prepared for the work ahead. Check what’s on your calendar the night before, ensure you’ve got everything you need and prepare for any meetings or calls you have coming up, you’ll appreciate the extra effort when you’re at work and you’re feeling in-control.
Just like a warm-up before you go for a run or hit the weights, your pre-work warm-up is mental as well as physical. It’s a chance for you to get into the right frame of mind before you arrive at work. Relax, let go of any stress that you’re hanging onto and prepare yourself for work. To help you get relaxed, try doing some basic stretches like these from the Mayo Clinic, stand up straight and take some slow, deep breaths, or try a focus exercise. Meditation can be really useful for preparing your mind for work, too (not to mention it has a whole bunch of health benefits). It doesn’t have to be hard: just sit down comfortably, set a timer for two minutes, shut your eyes and focus on your breath as it goes in and out.
I’m prone to skipping my cool-down after a workout, or making them very short. I’m eager to move on to something else and forget the importance of cooling down properly. But when I do have a real cool down, I really notice the difference. I feel more calm and ready for whatever’s next, whereas skipping my cool down leaves me feeling rushed and unclear, I’m still recovering from the workout when I try to get back to work. Getting home from work is surprisingly similar. Notice how when you leave work late and rush home, grabbing food on the way for dinner, you feel rushed and unsettled when you arrive? And it takes you a while to settle into what’s happening at home after you’ve arrived. A post-work cool-down routine can help you process what happened at work and “reset”, ready to switch to “home mode”.
Get home on time
Just as getting to work late is stressful, leaving late can eat away at you, too. Every tick of the clock that goes by after you should have left is a reminder that you’re running behind and you should be doing other things. You start thinking about organizing dinner, seeing your family, getting your housework done. Sometimes things come up at the last minute and you really can’t get out the door on time, but there are some of us who let this happen too often. Work-family conflict has been shown to be significantly related to emotional exhaustion and job satisfaction levels, so it’s important to work on getting home on time regularly. In fact, Australia even has a “Go home on time” day to combat high amounts of unpaid overtime and work-family conflict. If you need to, put together a checklist of what needs to be done before you leave and set a reminder to start working through it when you’ve still got plenty of time to get everything done. And be firm about when you leave your colleagues will take cues from you, so you need to be clear about where your boundaries are.
Process your day
Giving yourself time and space to process your day when you finish work will help you clear out any leftover concerns, feelings or thoughts at least until tomorrow. If you don’t give yourself that time to process, your brain will be busy working through it all for hours after you get home, making your relaxation less than optimal. Everyone processes things differently, so you might need some trial-and-error to figure out what works best for you. I like to walk home when my workplace is close enough, as this is a good low-effort exercise and walking helps me think. I also tend to like talking out loud if there’s no one around when I get home, I’m prone to rambling to myself. You might prefer to turn off the music in the car as you drive home and use that time to think, or to grab a journal and write out your thoughts after work. Leo Babauta has a list of 12 ways to decompress after work, including spending time with family, taking a nap or reading a book. Just go with whatever works best for you, and make it a priority so you can get the most out of your home time and get refreshed for work tomorrow.
This post was written by Belle Beth Cooper