If you’re one of the millions of Americans who were either already working from home or transitioned to remote work during the pandemic, you may find that mentally “leaving the office” at the end of the day can be a challenge. After all, your home office is always there.
Implementing a consistent routine to end your day while working from home can help improve your work-life balance. A work shutdown ritual can help you ease into the rest of your life after you’re done with work, sans distractions. Here’s how.
8 Tips to End Your Workday and Enjoy Your Free Time
1. Review Your Completed Tasks
Sometimes it’s all about the little wins, and nothing helps you end a workday with satisfaction like acknowledging everything you accomplished. From the biggest project to the smallest task, see every item you were able to complete during your workday as an achievement and you’ll be much more ready to leave work behind for the day.
Keep in mind that this part of your daily wind down doesn’t need to be a long, drawn-out process. Just taking a few minutes to go over your “done” list is all you need to mentally wrap things up, and prepare for the next work day.
2. Make a To-Do List for Tomorrow
One of the reasons it’s so hard to stop thinking about work after we’ve clocked out is that our brains hold on to thoughts of our incomplete tasks until we complete them.
Called the Zeigarnik Effect, it happens because our brains are better able to remember unfinished rather than completed tasks. Scientists theorize that the cognitive tension that arises from not completing something results in the brain working overtime to keep the task front and center. Once you’re able to complete the task, the mind can let it go and move on to other things.
Worried you’re destined to all those swirling thoughts of work while playing with your kids or cooking dinner? Thankfully, research shows that simply making a plan (like a to-do list) to complete your work can free your mind of intrusive thoughts about unfinished work—letting you enjoy your free time. And, if you start each day knowing exactly what you need to work on, you won’t waste time trying to figure out your priorities, leading to even more unfinished tasks (and more brain drain).
3. Get a Win First Thing
When you create your to-do list, schedule your hardest or most time-consuming task for the first thing (or close to it) the next morning. This not only enables you to be fresh when working on the task that’ll require the most brainpower, but it’ll make the rest of your day feel less stressful by comparison. And, if you get the most important task out of the way in the first half of the day, you’ll feel less inclined to work overtime and into your non-work hours to get it done.
4. Close Your Tabs
Through the course of the workday, it’s easy to accumulate dozens of open tabs on your computer’s browser. Maybe you’re working on a project that necessitates going back and forth between several sites, or perhaps you’ve just forgotten to close out as you move from task to task. Whatever the reason, all those open tasks can spell disaster for your after-work hours.
If your computer does double duty for both work and personal stuff and you can’t lock your laptop away at night (see tip #8!), then your quick online grocery order in the evening may turn into an extra hour or two of work if all those tabs are staring you in the face. Take a few minutes after you’ve compiled your next day’s to-do list to close out all your tabs so you can truly check out.
If you’ll need to reference the same tabs tomorrow, either create bookmarks or try a browser extension like OneTab that saves all your open tabs into a list of links for easy reference later. Bonus? It eliminates tab clutter and reduces memory usage by up to 95%!
5. Set a Work End Time
As a remote worker, you often have flexibility with your work schedule, but it’s easy to get sucked into just one more hour when you’re already at home and aren’t facing a commute. If you’re serious about leaving work behind at the end of the day to maximize your free time, set office hours—and stick to them.
If you need to work extra hours on a certain project, consider starting your day early in order to finish on time. It’s often preferable to get “extra” work out of the way in the morning when the day is just getting going than at night when your overtime will cut into family activities or after-work leisure. Having a set structure to your day can help you end work on time, every time.
6. Find Your Third Space
If you’re new to remote work, chances are that you love not having a commute. But one of the benefits of a commute is that it’s a transition between your work and personal life, during which you can let go of the stresses of the workday and get ready to transition to your non-work activities.
This “third space” acts as an essential bridge between work and home relaxation. It helps prepare you for the mental shift you need to go from employee to parent, spouse, partner, or friend, and enables you to show up in your personal life calm, present, and ready to roll.
When working from home, though, it’s easy to skip this transition entirely. After all, the walk from your home office to your living room likely isn’t going to cut it when it comes to clearing your mental palette. You can easily build in a third space transition to your day by:
- Creating a commute. Take a daily after work mind-cleansing drive or walk to a park or your local coffee shop.
- Working out. Going to the gym or for a run outside gives you an outlet for any pent up stress and time to decompress.
- Taking your dog for a walk. When you’ve been inside all day, your canine friend probably has been, too, and would appreciate the fresh air.
- Practicing mindfulness. If physically leaving your house (and workspace) isn’t possible, simply taking a few minutes to meditate, do yoga, or otherwise quiet your mind can be a calming transition.
Whatever you choose, avoid throwing yourself immediately into household chores after your workday (unless they relax you). A peaceful, grounding activity at the end of your day will help you refocus your brain.
7. Create an End-of-Day Celebration
Work can be hard, and working at home with very little separation between all the different parts of your life can amplify job stress. Instead of focusing on the negative, take time every day to celebrate the work you’ve accomplished during the workday so you can go into your evening happy and stress-free.
In Germany, workers regularly embark on a daily evening celebration called Feierabend that signals the end of the workday, often with a celebratory beer. Your own Feierabend can be any daily celebration that brings you joy and that you’ll look forward to—like a chat with a friend, a favorite snack treat or drink, or a good ole’ solo dance party.
8. Leave Your Work at “Work”
To truly check out at quitting time, leave your laptop in your office and “lock” the door. If your office doesn’t have a door (or you find yourself working at the dining room table), put your laptop away in a briefcase or drawer where you don’t have to see it. Why? If you have access to your work computer after work hours, it can become too easy to pick work back up later in the evening, even if it’s in front of the television. Resist this temptation by adhering to your set hours. If you have an office with walls, consider locking the door and posting your office hours near the entrance as a physical reminder that you shouldn’t return until the next day.
Also, refrain from setting up office email notifications on your cell phone. Receiving ongoing work emails at any time of the day or night puts work at the forefront and will mentally pull you away from other priorities. Address and respond to office emails only during your office hours.
End Your Days on a High Note
For many, remote work is a dream come true, allowing for more time spent with loved ones and the flexibility to find a healthy work-life balance. But, working from home day in and day out can make it tough to distinguish the boundaries between your job and your personal life.
With so many blurred lines, establishing a routine to end your day working remotely can make all the difference in your ability to separate your work life from your home life—and enjoy the best of both worlds.
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