“Hang on one second, let me respond to my boss.”
This is what my partner would call a horrible and common end to a date night. I often get work emails at all times of the day and my personal life is suddenly completely on hold.
The hard part is that I want to balance being a person with a real life and being a good employee. Something in my brain is telling me that if I don’t immediately respond to the email or leave it until the next day when I clock in, all hell will break loose.
While it’s good to be on call sometimes (I’m looking at you, life-saving doctors) it’s not always healthy. Actually, it’s not healthy at all. If I don’t respond to a comment on my article or get to the edits immediately, the worst thing that will happen is that I will have to do it the next day. No one will die and no one will be mad at me. But I still let every single email and comment distract me from the moments I’m trying to be present in my personal life.
So why is it so hard to just leave the office, shut our laptops, and turn off our notifications?
Why It’s So Hard to Leave Work at Work
There is a scientific explanation as to why our brains find it so difficult to leave work in the office. Attention residue occurs when we switch tasks but still have some items left undone. This is usually the case at the end of a work day. You leave the office because the work day is ‘done’ but you’re not done with your tasks — your brain is still in high gear and thinking about the task that needs to be finished. Rather than working another hour or two in the office, we just let our brains run away filled with work related thoughts and we don’t do anything about them.
Another behavioral tendency our brains have is called anticipatory stress. This happens when we stress about wondering if we’ll miss a deadline or find we’ve made a mistake. There is nothing worse than getting an email or a text from your boss after work hours asking where an assignment is or if you can do something. But as its name suggests, anticipatory stress is based on anticipation, not reality. You’re not reacting to something bad that’s happening — you’re just expecting something bad to happen.
Science Daily found in a study that email is actually one of the worst stressors in jobs. I feel this personally. I usually am on top of my tasks but once I get an email notification I switch back on to work mode. My downfall is that my emails pop up on my Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad, and MacBook. So basically, I never switch off.
I understand that if your boss tells you to do something, you should do it. But if it’s stressing you out more than it’s helping you accomplish something, speak up. Your boss doesn’t want you to burn out any more than you do. When I get an email or a text from my boss outside of work hours I usually respond with a simple, “I’ll look at it tomorrow” unless it’s a time-sensitive task. My editor does the same — she responds to texts, but if she’s not working that day she respects her boundaries and doesn’t just sign into work. The task will still exist on Monday and if you give yourself the proper time off to rest and recuperate, you’ll be able to tackle it better.
Starting Out At A Young Age
We’ve been trained to not stop work when we get home. Think about it. As a child we would have roughly two hours of homework a night. School went from 8 in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon. Right after school you would either go to play rehearsal, band practice, or a sports practice. Then you would get home, eat a quick dinner, and do homework until lights out. When I did try to have play dates (and real dates when I got older) it was hard to find that balance between work and play even at that young age. And if we don’t teach our kids about the importance of having a social life at a young age, when do you think they will learn it if they ever do?
There was also even less of a break between school and home because most of us lived on campus at college. The majority of my college experience was the professor giving you the chance to do the entire semester’s worth of class whenever you wanted. You had to teach yourself how to do that and how to balance going to parties with actually finishing your work.
And summer breaks weren’t totally breaks either. In middle and high school we would have required reading and during college I took classes to expedite getting my degree.
It wasn’t until I graduated that I realized how unhealthy it was to never truly stop doing school. There was always one task to do no matter how far along you got and there was never a clear break from life and school.
It’s no wonder that now we have a hard time believing that work can just stop when we leave the building.
What To Do When You Work From Home
Working from home is such a big blessing to me, but I have to work extra hard to create separation. Both my partner and I have remote jobs. Working from home gets complicated when we’re both sitting in our pajamas all day in separate rooms because we need to work. It doesn’t really look or feel like we’re working.
I’ve always implemented a few rules in my work from home life. I never work on my bed because that is one of the worst things I could do to muddle my home life and work life. I try to not even work in my room. I go into the living room and sit on the floor at my coffee table. I also have work clothes. While I won’t model on the cover of Vogue anytime soon in my WFH outfit, I know that it is perfect for what I need. It’s comfortable enough that I can sit for long periods of time. It’s not too comfortable that I’ll sleep in it later and it’s not supportive enough that I can go out or work out in it either. I know you’re all dying to know what it is. It’s something along the lines of this Women’s Sleeveless Jumper. I swear it’s my favorite thing in my closet.
I also make my own hours. I try not to write for too long because my writing will get sloppy and my brain gets overloaded. I take breaks and divvy up tasks. I personally try to do the tasks that will require more research at the beginning of the day then finishing up with a quick article or two. I like to be able to finish my day and point to something and say, ‘look at what I did’.
I’m also really selfish with my time. If I want to spend all day writing I will. This is a boundary my partner and I set. It’s hard because I don’t physically go to an office and I technically don’t have to write a certain number of hours a day, but if I want to work from 9-5 some days, I work from 9-5.
I also eliminate distractions. I have my phone with me because I’m a human and I’m addicted to the thing. But if someone texts me while I’m working I don’t respond because it will interrupt my flow and I can’t have an actual conversation with them. I also can’t watch TV or YouTube when I’m working. I save those for once I get off and I can just wind down. I also watch them on the TV because I know that if my computer is out I’ll want to start another article or look some things up. That’s not fair to me or my employer.
Since I work on my computer, I also separate my work and play. I have a tab that’s full of my YouTube workouts, one that’s full of fun videos, one for research, and one for work work. My editor has something along those lines too so that she can be on her computer without seeing notifications pop up in different tabs and trying to take care of them immediately.
Why We Need To Leave Work
By now you basically know the answer to this. Our lives cannot just be work. Even if we have the best job in the world, we still need to balance our lives out with social activities, family, and alone time. I love my job. Really, it’s my dream job. But I know that if I spend my entire day writing and researching I’ll get overwhelmed, burnt out, and the quality of my work will go down significantly.
There are so many studies about how long work should actually take. Tim Ferriss wrote the book The 4-Hour Workweek and suggested that we only work for four hours a week, as the title implies. Ferriss wasn’t the only one who suggested the 4 hour cap. Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher also suggested that in his essay, “In Praise of Idleness”. He suggested that the rest of the day be spent pursuing science, painting, and writing.
The Economist did a study of productivity and found that the countries that were more productive asked their employees to be in the office less often. America isn’t one of these countries. In fact, the average American employee usually has 9.2 days of unused vacation time.
Researchers have found something interesting in the difficult balance of family life versus work life. If you bring work home with you, it can negatively impact your family life. But your family life can positively affect your work life. Crazy.
How To Leave Work
We all agree that we need to not become machines that define success and our days by work. But how do we do that? We’ve become so brainwashed that working sometimes is a comfort and joy to us and that’s not necessarily bad. It’s when work never ends that it becomes toxic.
Here are a few things to do to leave your job at your job.
1. Turn off your email
I know that the office might blow up or you might get an assignment last minute. If you’re really concerned about that, talk to your boss and ask them to text you if they have a code red, but otherwise wait until you’re on the clock to even check your email. If you know you won’t deal with emails outside of work, you will eliminate the anticipatory stress completely.
2. Clock out and mean it
Be done by a certain hour every night. You may not be able to do all the things by 5 o’clock every night, but maybe set a hard rule that by 9 all electronics are turned off. This is when setting goals and prioritizing tasks comes in handy. Every morning when I wake up I make a list of what I want to accomplish at work, what I can accomplish if I get the first out of the way, and when I need to be done. Some days look different from others, but the goal is to shut my computer off for the day and not look at it again until I’m ready.
3. Celebrate the commute
I love commuting to work because of traffic. This is a crazy statement but hear me out. My commute is when I am forced to be alone. I listen to praise music, podcasts, audiobooks, anything that I want to hear. If I don’t want to be alone, I’ll call my mom or my partner and talk to them for a minute. On the days I work from home I’ll make sure to take about 20 minutes cleaning the space I’ll be working in. I listen to podcasts then too. The commute is like a warm up and cool down routine for your day at work. If you don’t properly warm up and cool down before you exercise, you won’t perform as well as you can and you might hurt something. The same goes for actual work.
4. Clean up
Yes, you heard me. Your outer space is a reflection of your inner space. Whether you work from home or not, try to keep everything relatively clean. This means that you might spend some of your free time cleaning. It might seem like a chore, but it does pay off. I’m not suggesting you do a deep clean of every surface every night, but maybe just one task a night to not let clutter pile up.
5. To-do lists
I swear I am the person keeping the to-do list people in business. I have a to-do list for everything. I love making lists because it’s a way for me to throw my ideas away and simply come back to them later. I make a list for work, personal life, and article ideas. My article idea list is actually my favorite. I get a lot of ideas in my everyday life. Instead of stopping everything any time I have an idea, I’ll write it in my notes app and check it when I sign into work the next time. If it requires a bit more research I’ll just copy the link. It’s simple and lets me think of a lot more ideas than if I took the time to stop, clock in, and write everything out.
6. Be selfish
You need time for you. While your job might be the coolest thing ever, you don’t want to be the person who only talks about their job. Maybe look into taking up hobbies or even just watching a show after work. One of my rules is that I have to watch one fun YouTube video a day before I do anything work related. It sounds silly, but it’s a simple way I put myself first at the very beginning of every day. My partner and I also have a list of movies and TV shows we like to watch on certain days. This also gives me something to look forward to. Today’s Bachelorette day and I’m so excited to finish work and watch 30 silly boys on my TV tonight. You might want to journal or do yoga… or even get a drink or two. Find something that is almost mindless but still feeds your soul.
7. Move your body
I find this to be one of my favorite things to reinvigorate my brian. I understand that not everyone can do this at their job, but try to if you can. When I say ‘move your body’, I don’t mean do a 40 minute HIIT. Moving your body can be as simple as a walk around your neighborhood. I love to take dance breaks during long days. The YouTube workouts I follow usually don’t last longer than 15 minutes so I do them and then I come back ready to work. Sitting down all day and doing one thing like typing on a computer will often leave you antsy and will then distract from your work. Try to mix it up a bit!
8. Celebrate you
We so often get caught up in all the tasks. I know personally today when I clock out I’ll have not made a dent in what I ‘need’ to do this week. That being said, I also understand that this week’s articles are more time consuming than most weeks’ so 3 hours of work today looks much different than 3 hours of work a week from now. I want to celebrate that while I didn’t finish too many things, I did a ton of work that will pay off in the long run. I have a section in my bullet journal labeled ‘happiness’ and I track all my accomplishments in there so I can look back later and celebrate that I did the grunt work today and it will pay off later!
Leaving work at work is so hard to do. Whether you love or hate your job, it’s a part of you and it’s hard to just ignore that part. Hopefully some of our suggestions will come in handy the next time you feel as though work is taking over your life.
How do you know how to leave work at work? Comment any suggestions down below!
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