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Are you accumulating hours of unpaid overtime because you can’t stop thinking about work once you clock off? Well you are not alone. Most busy professionals complain of endless mind chatter eating into their private time. And the repercussions are many.
To begin with, when your mind is pondering a meeting you had earlier that day at work you’re not present with the ones you love. The result can be disconnection in your relationships and resentment from loved ones who feel your emotional absence. Don’t underestimate the impact this has on others—they can tell when you’re present and when you’re off with the fairies.
Secondly, all that mental gymnastics is bad for your stress levels. Continuing to think about the challenges of the day keeps your arousal levels elevated such that your body and brain don’t recognise it’s time to relax. So the stress candle continues to burn.
Thirdly, your creative juices get stinted. The mind is more creative at solving problems when it has a chance to break away from thinking about problems. The Breakthrough Principle is a great book about this exact notion—the author, Dr Benson, describes how our brain works at its optimum when we engage in activities that interrupt our thought processes. The high performance formula involves a period of struggle to work out our problems, followed by activities to severe the thinking process, and lastly returning to the problem at a later time.
Life is much more rewarding when we can leave work at work and come home to play. Here are several strategies to help you do so.
Strategies to Leave Work at Work
1. Develop a routine
Our mind loves routine because much of what we do is habit. Right now, your brain is allowed to think about work whenever it pleases because you have created a habit of thinking about work endlessly. Instead you need to form new habits, and the best way to form new habits is routine. At the end of each work day do something to signify you will no longer think about work. For example, you could switch off your computer and say to yourself “ok now I’m leaving work at work”. This is your signal to stop thinking about work. Making this a regular part of your daily routine will facilitate your new habit.
2. Create a stop gap
Once you have created a routine trigger to signify no longer thinking about work, give yourself a half-hour stop gap where you do your best to let go of any thoughts about work. As soon as you clock off, turn off your computer and set your phone alarm for half an hour. Give yourself that half an hour to get absorbed in anything other than work—read a book on the bus; chat with a friend (not about work) on the drive home; or blast your favourite album on your iPod. Any time you catch yourself thinking about work do your best to let the thoughts go.
3. Hide any physical signs of work
Follow the mantra ‘out of sight out of mind’. If you work from home or take work home with you, choose a certain area to do your work that is separate from where you spend your play time. The make sure any sign of your work is out of sight when you’re not working on it—cover your desk with a throw; put your laptop away in its case or by the door for work the next day; switch off your mobile phone and close the door to your office.
4. Utilise the worry window
Psychologists use a concept called the “worry window” to help people learn to worry less. Basically it involves blocking in a set time each day to allow yourself to worry about anything and everything. Most people run out of things to worry about by the end of the hour and it provides them with a greater sense of control over their worry. It also helps to see that much of what we worry about is the same thoughts over and over again, helping let go of unnecessary rumination.
5. Do something physical
Many of us who work in an office spend the day stuck in our heads thinking. Hence, it becomes difficult upon leaving work to actually get out of our head and into our lives! A simple solution involves doing something physical, be it going for a run, practicing a few yoga stretches or pruning your bonsai. Connecting with your body in some way helps reground yourself into the moment, and reconnect with the rest of your life.
More from Life Coach:The secret to work-balance
Author of De-stress Your Success: Get More of What You Want with Less Time, Stress and Effort, Sacha Crouch is a business, executive and life coach who helps people create the work and lives they love. For other free lifestyle resources visit www.activ8change.com.au.
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