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How to truly leave the office at the end of the day

Inc. Magazine

You can turn off your computer at the end of the day, but shutting down work-related thoughts isn’t as simple as pushing a button.

An inability to disengage from work has its consequences, including high stress levels, lowered productivity and damaged relationships. It also puts you in danger of being seen as a very dull person.

A client recently told me that her older sister confessed to missing their little sister because all she talks about is work. Where’s the fun in that?

Working from a home office for about 20 years has forced me to find little tricks to successfully separate my work and personal life. These simple steps can make a big difference.

View your disengagement as productive

Setting goals is important and setting boundaries gives us the energy and clarity to achieve them.

I recently bumped into an acquaintance in a coffee shop who rambled on about why it was OK that he chose to sleep an extra 30 minutes instead of racing to the office. Obviously, he was trying to talk himself into believing it, and I was happy to be a sounding board. But this is a silly thing to feel guilty about. How can a person be productive when he or she is exhausted?

Study after study shows the importance of resting the mind and body. You’ll be clear-headed and productive when you nurture your relationships, eat right and get enough sleep.

You are achieving something important when you take yourself out of work mode.

End the day on a good note

Leaving work with an incomplete project or a problem weighing on your mind makes it difficult to disconnect. To close out your day, send a signal to your brain telling it to switch to something pleasant and let the problems rest until you intentionally switch back into work mode.

Make a phone call to thank or compliment someone, scratch some things off your to-do list or jot down a couple of positive things about your day. Sometimes it’s a stretch to find the good in a particularly difficult day, but believe me, it’s there.

Straighten up your office

When I walk out of a messy office, it leaves me with a nagging feeling that I’ve left something undone. Why carry frustration into the next segment of your day? My daily clean-up ritual signals the end of the day for me, and I walk away with a sense of accomplishment.

Being organized also saves an immense amount of time, once again adding to increased productivity.

Connect with someone outside of work

When you call a friend, your brain switches gears, setting you up to move into your personal agenda. Make the conversation about the friend rather than your work, especially if you’ve had a stressful day.

Instead of opening up an opportunity for negativity, avoid asking the standard, “How was your day?” and ask about the good or exciting things that happened since you last spoke.

Plan your next steps

Planning your next activity, whether it’s cooking dinner or going to a movie, creates a distraction for your brain. I’ll admit that sometimes I don’t want to think about doing anything because I’m exhausted. On those evenings, I imagine myself relaxing with a good book (which may include a glass of wine), and that does it for me.

Having something to look forward to helps us resist the temptation to keep working.

Perform an anchoring activity

A simple, neuro-linguistic programming trick is to associate an internal response with some external trigger. Using that same trigger at a later point will prompt your body and brain to recall the same feeling or mood.

When it comes to leaving work behind, it may be closing your office door, calling home or even something that feels silly, like tapping on your desk three times or squeezing the trigger points on the side of your knee.

Sending such a signal to your brain programs it to trigger a feeling or action that can make it easier for you to stop thinking about work.

Add to your to-do list

Scratching things off your list is a positive action and promotes a sense of achievement; adding to your list helps to organize thoughts and reduces concerns about forgetting something important.

When I jot down the things I didn’t get to by the end of the day, it eliminates the nagging feeling that I’ll forget something important.

View your work and personal life with equal importance, rather than placing an exaggerated importance on your work.

You know you’re less productive when you’re tired and stressed out, so why not close the door on your problems guilt-free and get some rest?

If you’re a non-believer, give it a try for a few weeks and notice the positive, all-around impact that a little balance brings to your world.

Marla Tabaka is a small-business adviser who helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

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