Don’t let your work follow you home

When you finish work, do you keep the day’s events with you, even long after you’ve shut down your computer? How often does a bad day at the office turn into a worry-filled evening? Do you ever get a case of the Sunday evening blues? Just because work is open-plan, doesn’t mean your mind should be – learn to shut that door!

In a few days time, I am going on holiday. In my final week of work, I’m clearing my desk, writing up crib sheets for colleagues who are covering for me while I’m away, filing emails, tying up loose ends and generally Getting Things Done. I am a veritable whirling dervish of activity. Frankly, I’m making Obama look lazy. When I walk out of the door on Friday, I want to know that I’ve done what I can to make it easy for my colleagues to cover my workload while I’m away, that I’ve left things in a tidy and ordered and state, and that nothing has slipped or will slip through the cracks. I want to be able to close my files, turn off the computer and leave my work at work.

Leave work physically and mentally

I made a vow to myself some years ago that every time I stepped through the doorway to my office I would leave my personal baggage on the doorstep. I don’t believe my colleagues should have to put up with my moods or momentary grumpiness due to a bad night’s sleep. I also made the even more important vow that when I turned off the light at the end of the day and left the office, I would leave all thoughts of work sitting safely on my desk, where I would find them again the next morning. And I really do try to do that. As I close the office door behind me each evening, I slam a door in my mind too. It’s not that I dislike my job or that I find it stressful, I just think that I already spend a full day at work and there’s no need to take work home with me – whether that’s in the form of actual documents to be read or mental jumble to be mulled over and that could have an impact on or even ruin my evening or weekend.

No entry!

It wasn’t easy at first. I would be heading to the tube station thinking about my evening plans, but by the time I had battled onto the train and found a seat, I was back to thinking about a difficult client or an unanswered email. My solution was reflected in the fact that I was taking driving lessons during this time. I took to imagining a “no entry” sign – literally, a red disk with a white horizontal line through it. In my mind, as I started to inch that door open and mentally “return” to work I would conjure up that forbidding signpost and force myself to think about something else. Like anything, it’s a question of practice. Nowadays, I’m rather adept at the technique and, some evenings, can even forget that the door’s there (somehow, I always manage to remember when the alarm goes off the following morning).

A very wise friend of mine says that she uses her evening tube ride to mentally “close her filing cabinet”. She has very stressful job, and it would be so easy for her to grumble to her husband at night, talk about work over drinks, and spend her weekends worrying about Monday morning.  But she doesn’t. She chooses to close the drawers and put up the “no entry” sign. Her theory is that she’s already at work eight or more hours a day, why choose to be at work when she’s not actually at work?

Closed for business

The logical extension of my door-closing policy is actually locking that mental door when I go away for any extended period of time – on holiday, for instance. I may simply pull the door to in the evening, but if I’m heading off for time in the sun, I actually want to lock that door in my head, lest it swing open as I lie on a beach and I should find myself – gasp – thinking about my next project instead of my next cocktail. And what do I do before turning the key in the door to my flat when I go away for a while? I lock the windows, shut off the water, feed the plants, give my phone number to a neighbour… I make sure everything’s been dealt with and will fare well in my absence. So, that’s exactly what I’m doing at work – finishing off projects, preparing handover notes for colleagues, letting clients know I’ll be away for a while. As I walk out of the office on Friday, I’ll have a light heart and peace of mind, knowing that I’ve done my best to make my absence and its resulting increased workload for my workmates a bit less problematic, which in turn makes it easier for me to put out the proverbial cat, lock the mental door, and hide that metaphorical key somewhere so safe that I may even forget where I’ve put it… at least until that Monday morning alarm goes off.

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