Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Leaving Work at Work

If you can't successfully manage stress at work, you run the risk of taking it home with you. Not leaving work at work creates all sorts of problems: fighting with the spouse, snapping at the kids, emotional eating, withdrawing from social activities, and losing sleep are just some of the effects of not being able to leave work at work.

I had a co-worker who had recently been promoted to a supervisory position. He would spend 12 hours or more at work tying up loose ends. He told me he was afraid he’d forget something if he didn’t take care of everything right then. I gave him two suggestions. I told him at 5:00 p.m., to make a list of all the things he needed to take care of the next day. Writing out a to-do list would help keep things from falling through the cracks and give him some much needed piece of mind.

Then I told him to use his commuting time to separate from work. Have a favorite music or books on tape cued up to start when he turned on the ignition  Then, as he pulled out of the parking lot and started his drive, glance a few times in the rear-view mirror and watch the building get smaller and smaller until it was gone. At that point, I told him to start focusing on his evening. What would he have for dinner? Was anything good coming on TV? What things could he take care of around the house? The point was to stop focusing on work and start focusing on all of the other things he had to do. Work worries need to stay at work.

I ran into him a few days later and I could actually see the relief on his face! He had been using the list and as a result he’d been getting more done and leaving on time. He said using his commute to refocus also helped. By the time he got home, work was a distant memory.

I read about a man who, as he would come home in the evening, imagined putting his work worries on the potted tree outside his door. They would stay there until he picked them up the next morning, on his way to work. He made sure that he didn’t take them into the house with him. I do something similar with the shower. After a particularly bad day, I like to imagine all my worries and troubles washing down the drain with the soap suds. It can be a particularly powerful visualization.

Communication is also key. If you need a moment to refocus when you get home, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Sit in your car for a minute if you need to, or park for a moment around the corner. Work something out with your spouse so that you can have a moment or two to yourself when you get home. It doesn’t have to be an hour, sometimes five minutes can be enough.