In today’s technologically advanced world, it’s incredibly easy to work on-the-go. But just because we can be plugged into our work phones, email, and even meetings from virtually any remote location doesn’t mean we should be.
Mainly, what I’m talking about is bringing your work home with you when you don’t really have to. Many of us continue to not only communicate with our colleagues after hours, but we also bring our “work headspace” home with us. Most people know this isn’t a healthy habit but can’t seem to stop themselves from doing it. They can’t force themselves to detach because, well, it’s not easy to leave work behind when you’re so connected to it.
But think about it this way: Even if you really identify with your job, the relationships you have outside of the workplace are not related to your job. This is a major reason you need to set your work identity aside when you leave your desk. You have other roles to play, and they’re just as important as your work role. You could be the CEO of a company, but when you come home and play with your dog or your child, you’re no longer CEO. Your dog has nothing to do with how your day at work was.
Most would agree that work-life balance and a little separation between the two are good things but are unsure of how to achieve them. In my experience, there are two main ways to ensure you leave your work where it belongs.
1. Awareness of your role.
When you have a sense of duty toward work, that duty often falls within a certain time limit. For some that’s 9:00 to 5:00. For others, there is no formal start or end to their work day. They are essentially “on-call” all the time. But even those who work irregular hours have other roles to play besides “worker”, whether that’s father, mother, sibling, child, partner, friend, or anything else. Whenever you identify with one of those roles, you’re able to do your duty in that role to the fullest. The key to getting this right is being aware of which role you are playing at any given time. Because when you’re aware of your current role, you can detach from all the others you play and move seamlessly from one to another.
So let’s say you’re a doctor, but you are talking to your friend and you really want to be a good friend to them in that moment. You’re ideally going to come to them from the perspective of a friend, not a doctor. In that moment, you are just their friend and nothing more. You detach yourself from your role as a doctor. Or perhaps you’re a manager at work. You can’t be a manager in your home, and you can’t be a husband or wife in the workplace. So your whole role shifts based on your environment.
If you’re aware of your role in a given moment, you can play that role to the maximum. It then becomes easier to disconnect from whatever is going on at work. You can go to a bar with your friends and not worry about your email. If you’re having a hard time setting work aside, simply ask yourself which role you ideally want to be playing in a given moment. As long as you are aware, you can shift very easily and spontaneously.
2. In-between activities.
The second method of separating your work and home lives is best for people who find it very difficult to disconnect from their work and notice it bleeding into their next role. If you’ve already tried the above approach and it’s not working, consider this one. Maybe on a daily or weekly basis, there’s a problem happening at work, and you’re not able to set it aside. You feel stressed even after you leave your workspace. You might even find yourself checking your email every few minutes, just to see if there are any updates.
If this sounds familiar, try this: When you come home from or finish work, do a short activity before you launch into anything else—like trying to be a good parent or a compassionate partner, or even just unwinding from a long day. The activity should be at the physical or mental level. At the physical level, you could go to the gym or do a bit of gardening or cooking. Or some choose to sit quietly and have a cup of tea. At the mental or spiritual level, you could take a mindful walk or do a 5- to 10-minute meditation.
Overall, the idea here is that a very short action can disconnect you from your whole day and really bring in that sense of moving into your next role. By repeating this action on a regular basis, you signal to yourself that whenever this action happens, your work day is done. It should be an activity that’s totally different from work and is not demanding in the same way your work is. When you deliberately separate the parts of your day and the roles you have to play, moving between them becomes effortless.