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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

3 Ways to Stop Thinking About Work When You're Not There

Whether you love your job or hate it, you probably think about work on your off hours at some point. You kick around a particularly perplexing problem or grouchy client. You ponder how to deal with your boss’ latest antics. You brainstorm about how you’re going to get the heck out of there.

But there’s definitely a point at which this moves from helpful to, well, not so much.

In my experience, that point is typically when you find yourself panicking in the middle of the night about what’s going on at the office, writing work to-dos on your grocery list, and receiving fewer and fewer calls from friends (because, um, all you do is talk about your job).

In other words, bringing too much work home—even if that work is just rolling around in your head—can quickly make you an anxious, sleep-deprived, pretty boring dinner guest (and, yes, I know this from experience).

I also know that telling yourself to “think about work less” doesn’t quite work, so I loved the tips that Fast Company recently offered for training your brain to leave work at work.

Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Create Transition Rituals

Your commute home is a physical act that separates you from the office, but try to add something mental to that activity, too. Laura Vanderkam, the article’s author, recommends “listening to or reading something light,” but I find jamming to your favorite tunes, playing a tough game on your phone, or calling a friend also does the trick. As Vanderkam recommends, “ask your family members (or friends or roommates) about their days, and challenge yourself to be a good listener. Focusing on other people and their needs is a great way to get out of your own head.”

2. Give Your Brain a Different Problem to Solve

If your mind is still spinning after leaving the office, channel that energy into something else. Wondering whether you should attend your cousin’s destination wedding? Trying to decide what color to paint the bathroom? Use the immediate post-work time to think about that. If you’re still getting distracted, hold yourself accountable: Ask a co-worker or friend for a problem to solve, then promise you’ll have some thoughts on it by the time you get home.

3. Give Yourself a “Worry Time”

This is probably one of the most helpful tips I’ve found, especially if I’m thinking about a particularly hairy problem: Schedule a later time to stress. Think, “I’ll respond to that email tomorrow morning over coffee, and I won’t think about it until then,” or “That awful meeting is set for Tuesday, so I’ll set aside two hours on Monday to prepare for (freak out about) it.” As Vanderkam puts it, “Often, your brain just needs to know that there’s a time for thinking about that issue—and now is not that time.”

What other ways have you found to leave work at work?

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