The current hustle culture has many people working long hours and seemingly prioritizing productivity above everything else. And if you do decide to disconnect from work, it can feel difficult to truly unplug and enjoy your downtime.
So how do you leave work at work? What practices can you implement to enjoy your time away from the office? Are there any deliberate changes you might need to make disconnecting possible if you work remotely?
10 Strategies For Leaving Work At Work
The following are 10 techniques to help you disconnect from work and really enjoy your time off, many of which were inspired by my own coaching clients.
1. Set start and end times for your workday.
To begin, successfully disconnecting during your downtime requires setting realistic start and end times for your workday. While there might be situations that require you to adjust your calendar and schedule over time, the initial boundaries can be invaluable if you struggle to leave work stress at work.
But don’t stop at just setting start and end times for your workday. You also want to take the important step of communicating your office hours to colleagues and clients; otherwise, you can’t expect them to respect your boundaries.
2. Add buffer time to your calendar.
While you’re at it, consider adding some buffer space throughout your workdays so you stay caught up on emails, Slack messages, and work projects. Many of my coaching clients are busy executives and find it helpful to also carve out additional, meeting-free time in the evening to catch up on work, which allows them to sleep easier because they’re not thinking about an overflowing inbox.
3. Make time for lunch.
Along the same lines, evaluate how often you take a daily lunch break. And if you’re asking, “What’s a lunch break?” then you’ll want to schedule one on your calendar now. Rather than using the lunch hour to catch up on work, try using it to distance yourself mentally and physically from your work. If you work from home, this can be a good time to get outside and move your body (I’ll touch more on this in a bit).
4. Implement an end-of-workday ritual.
A common reason people can’t disconnect after hours is they are still thinking about work and their seemingly never-ending to-do lists. Consequently, you may find it helpful to develop an end-of-workday ritual that includes writing out a task list with all your outstanding responsibilities.
If you have a daily commute, for instance, what might you be able to incorporate into it to help you further disconnect from work?
And if you’re working remotely, can you close your home office door (if you are lucky enough to have one) at the end of each day, or at least create some sort of visual barrier between you and the space you work in?
5. Schedule at least a day (or two) of no work.
With work being so easily accessible via email, Slack, and text, try carving out at least one day per week when you are 100% disconnected from work. Personally, my partner and I practice “No Work Saturdays,” which often bleed into “No Work Sundays.” Additionally, I find it helpful to always have something scheduled for the subsequent weekend before the current one commences, as it allows me to look forward to it throughout the weekend and end my workweek on time.
6. Set an out-of-office email when not in the office.
Speaking of which, I advise setting an automatic email reply when you’re away from the office. Some of my coaching clients set an autoresponder at the end of each workday to avoid the temptation to respond to emails after 5 PM, while others reserve it for when they’re out of the office for more than 24 hours. You can also set up a LinkedIn ‘Away Message’ to notify fellow users that there will be a delay in your response to messages.
7. Remove notifications from your phone.
When possible, I repeatedly recommend deleting work-related applications including email, Slack, and Microsoft Teams from your phone and laptop, as this can help you resist the urge to check them when you’re not on the clock. And if completely removing these apps isn’t possible, at least think about turning off the notifications and alerts to prevent unintentionally diving back into work.
8. Journal about your feelings.
If you still have the urge to just keep working after hours and struggle to truly disengage, give journaling a try. Here are a few prompts to guide you through the process:
- What am I feeling at this exact moment?
- How do I want to feel at this moment? (Really sit with this question!)
- Will work move me toward the feeling I want? Or I am using work to avoid, numb, or [fill in the blank]?
- What other tools, resources, or support can I turn to besides work right now?
- How might that tool, resource, or support move me toward the feeling I really want?
- What is the immediate next step can I take?
9. Move your body.
Another way to fight the urge to work is to move your body, as it can help you cope with work and career-related anxiety. The following are several of my favorite low-impact, high-reward exercises.
- Power walking
- Tai chi
10. Get your boss’s support (if needed).
Lastly, if your boss is the reason you struggle to keep work stress at work, ask yourself if you might be able to involve them in your boundary-setting process. While this might look different depending on your relationship and dynamic, it might be as simple as updating them on your goal to better disconnect from work, as well as on some of the strategies you’re trying in order to feel more relaxed when off the clock. After all, unless you’re in a toxic work environment, your manager should be all for supporting your mental health and well-being.
Final Thoughts On Leaving Work At Work
I’ve mentioned just a few strategies for leaving work stress at work and relaxing more. Feel free to get creative and find the rituals that will help you unwind after a busy day.
On a final note, sometimes leaving work at work simply isn’t possible, and you need to take a break from work or even look for a new job. Either way, you’ve got this!