Does this scenario play on repeat in your life?
You go to work, put in a hard day’s worth of making decisions and responding to requests (fueled by caffeine, always), then fly out of the office and rush home only to find yourself feeling drained, cranky, and hungry when you get there?
And the minute you walk in the door, your kids—who are overjoyed to see you—start telling you about their day and asking, “Can we play catch outside now?” and “When can we work on our special project together?” while your significant other tries to fill you in on the evening plans … and you find yourself feeling overwhelmed (and even more drained, cranky, and hungry).
Time and again, mentally and physically changing gears from your work day to your home life proves difficult. (And let’s not even begin talking about how often you “bring your work home with you”, find yourself feeling distracted and disconnected throughout your evenings thinking about work, or about how often you can’t sleep at night because you’re up worried about both work and how its affecting your home life …)
Because even though you respect your work and want to feel successful, nothing matters more to you than being truly and deeply connected to your partner, kids, and family. What gives?
Here are a few techniques and exercises you can turn to that will help you more easily “switch off” work and make smoother transitions into pleasant evenings and quality time with your family at home:
- Treat your commute home as “your time” and make it a positive experience where you make a conscious effort to wind down. Rather than letting your mind ruminate about things that took place during the day at work or fast-forward to your responsibilities at home, try to be mindful and present during your drive and keep it mind that your goal is to relax your mind and unwind. Play soothing music or music that makes you “feel happy”, maybe even whistle or sing to yourself. And don’t rush. Your family would prefer you gone an extra few minutes than squeezing and pushing through rush hour traffic to be home “on time”.
- Declare an anchor or physical marking that reminds you of “end of work, beginning of home.” Hugh Culver shares this lesson he learned from the late Richard Carlson, author of the Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff series: “I use a telephone pole … That’s the trigger for me to switch to thinking about home, what everyone was doing, what I’m going to enjoy doing that evening, and to stop thinking about work. It works like a charm (I’ve been doing it for almost 10 years).”
- Focus on an alternative. Without a new focus, the mind returns to the path of least resistance (which can often be thinking/worrying about work). Upon return to your home, try to occupy your mind with alternatives that you enjoy. This could be “walking and talking”, building time into your evening to enjoy casual conversation and light exercise with your partner or kids while walking together after dinner, or focusing your attention on a hobby like painting or making music, or spending downtime reading a novel. The point is to consciously build time into your evening where you’re absorbed in and focused on something enjoyable and something outside of work.
- Set rules regarding how much talking about work can be done at home. While debriefing as you make dinner together, for example, can be healthy and helpful, talking excessively about work (and work problems) reactivates the negative emotions associated with the problems and can throw you straight back into the same neurological state you were in at work. With a goal to leave work behind once home, consider setting a time limit regarding how much work discussion will be tolerated in your home.
- Create a boundary. This technique, also shared by Culver, includes creating a protected chunk of time that happens everyday where you declare yourself “strategically unavailable” and guard that time with intention. For example, once home from work, you might declare a 7:30 – 9:30 p.m. boundary time where you communicate your intention with yourself and your family that this boundary is a “work-free” time (or “quality family time”) and then protect that time for what it is you intend it to be. If everyday feels like too much, begin with a boundary on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings, or whatever boundary time is best for you that you can manage to keep protected and guarded as “work-free”.
In the end, switching off work, mentally and physically, when you get home comes down to you and your intentions for wanting to do so. You have to not only decide you want to enjoy smoother transitions and more relaxed evenings, but also do the “switching off” and keep on doing it until it becomes your norm. Using these techniques and exercises can help you feel calmer and more relaxed after “switching off” a day of work to be the partner and parent you want to be in your home and with your family.