Whether we like to admit it or not we’ve all taken work home with us. It may be physical papers and projects that couldn’t get done before “quitting time” or the mental work of worries and lists of things you know you need to do.
It’s hard to not bring work home with us. It may be easier to leave the physical work on our desk, shut the door to our office and head home, but the mental work is a lot harder to separate. A former colleague once gave me the best advice in knowing how to prevent my work from coming home with me. Simply, find your spot.
On his ride home, he picks a spot and up until that point he can allow the mental work to have control. However, once that spot is reached it stays there and doesn’t spill over into the rest of the commute home. Maybe that spot is the red light where you manage to get stuck every day, or the front door of your house. Maybe its a certain traffic circle or a city landmark. Wherever it is, find your spot, and don’t let your mental work pass that point. It may be easier said than done but I found it is worth the try.
I’ve been known to take work home with me. When a particular campaign or big project is set to launch, my nights are sleepless. I use my drive home as a way to go through my mental checklist. Checking my email has been built into my daily routine. All of these practices have crippled my personal time. What is even worse is that it makes self-care seem like work. Meeting friends out or carving time to do something that relaxes me, or have fun seems like an obligation.
The very things that can bring you balance in life are neglected because stress has taken over. So that is why I have tried my hardest to take my friend’s advice and leave my stress at my spot and not let my personal time be sacrificed to work.
I made a concentrated effort during my month of self-care to leave my work at work. My laptop stayed on my desk and it prevented me from working on things in my free time. When you make that physical barrier, it is a lot easier to draw a mental one. I have found that I’m not only more relaxed and more present in and cognizant of my free time, but I feel I’ve become a better professional by doing so. Knowing that I won’t allow my free time to be devoted to my work has forced me to be more organized and focused during the 9-5 hours.
My spot used to be New Era Field, and it took a lot of practice in making sure that when I took that turn onto Abbott Road that I made an effort to think about what I would do when I got home, what I’d have for dinner or what was on TV that night. But I needed to be active in this switch as I found my time at home was spent either thinking about work, or complaining about work. I’m not a complainer by nature so when I saw this change in myself, I knew I needed to snap myself out of it. When I began making that mental barrier, I slowly began to let go of the negativity and stress and focused more on what I could do to make myself happy and enjoy the remaining hours in the day. I took control of how I best used my time.
My new spot is the Lackawanna exit off Route 5 and I haven’t had to think of it as a barrier as much as I did my previous spot. Mainly because I really enjoy my current job and the people I work with, but also I’ve practiced giving myself and my work some much needed space when the workday concludes. I think because of this separation I’ve enjoyed my work even more and the hours I spent at the office. I’ve confined it to what it needs to be and it give it a specific purpose and time in my daily life. When I get to work I’m genuinely happy and I think that’s because I been purposeful in making sure I don’t burn out from what I’ve taken on.
If you allow yourself to burn out from taking too much on, or from giving all your spare time to work, you are just doing yourself an injustice. You suffer not only as a person but as a professional. Your team suffers, too, as your motivation lags and your work can sink below your own and their expectations. Your free time is set aside for you to enjoy yourself and when you allow your work to take over that space, you lose the time of having fun and that sounds pretty poisonous.
Find your spot and don’t let anything pass. Give your self the time and balance that you deserve. You’ll only enjoy the time you’ve been given and the work you do that much more by doing so.