How to shut down after work

Published at 2023-02-26T23:48:01+02:00

    |\   "Music should be heard not only with the ears, but also the soul."
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           @|           |           |        Larry Komro         @|.     
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Do you need help fully discharging from work in the evenings or for the weekend? Shutting down from work won't just improve your work-life balance; it will also significantly improve the quality of your personal life and work. After a restful weekend, you will be much more energized and productive the next working day. So it should not just be in your own, but also your employers' interest that you fully relax and shut down after work.

Have a shutdown routine

Have a routine. Try to finish work around the same time every day. Write any outstanding tasks down for the next day, so you are sure you will remember them. Writing them down brings wonders as you can remove them from your mind for the remainder of the day (or the upcoming weekend) as you know you will surely pick them up the next working day. Tidying up your workplace could also count toward your daily shutdown routine.

A commute home from the office also greatly helps, as it disconnects your work from your personal life. Don't work on your commute home, though! If you don't commute but work from home, then it helps to walk around the block or in a nearby park to disconnect from work.

Don't work when you officially don't work

Unless you are self-employed, you have likely signed an N-hour per week contract with your employer, and your regular working times are from X o'clock in the morning to Y o'clock in the evening (with M minutes lunch break in the middle). And there might be some flexibility in your working times, too. But that kind of flexibility (e.g. extending the lunch break so that there is time to pick up a family member from the airport) will be agreed upon, and you will counteract it, for example, by starting working earlier the next day or working late, that one exception. But overall, your weekly working time will stay N hours.

Another exception would be when you are on an on-call schedule and are expected to watch your work notifications out-of-office times. But that is usually only a few days per month and, therefore, not the norm. And it should also be compensated accordingly.

There might be some maintenance work you must carry out, which can only be done over the weekend, but it should be explicitly agreed upon and compensated for. Also, there might be a scenario that a production incident comes up shortly before the end of the work day, requiring you (and your colleagues) to stay a bit longer. But this should be an exceptional case.

Other than that, there is no reason why you should work out-of-office hours. I know many people who suffer "the fear of missing out", so slack messages and E-Mails are checked until late in the evening, during weekends or holidays. I have been improving here personally a lot over the last couple of months, but still, I fall into this trap occasionally.

Also, when you respond to slack messages and E-Mails, your colleagues can think that you have nothing better to do. They also will take it for granted and keep slacking and messaging you out of regular office times.

Checking for your messages constantly outside of regular office times makes it impossible to shut down and relax from work altogether.

Distract your mind

Often, your mind goes back to work-related stuff even after work. That's normal as you concentrated highly on your work throughout the day. The brain unconsciously continues to work and will automatically present you with random work-related thoughts. You can counteract this by focusing on non-work stuff, which may include:

Some of these can be habit-stacked: Exercise could be combined with watching videos about your passion project (e.g. watching lectures about that new programming language you are currently learning for fun). With walking, for example, you could combine listening to an Audiobook or music, or you could also think about your passion project during that walk.

Get a pet

Even if you have children, it helps wonders to get a pet. My cat, for example, will remind me a few times daily to take a few minute's breaks to pet, play or give food. So my cat not only helps me after work but throughout the day.

My neighbour also works from home, and he has dogs, which he regularly has to take out to the park.

Journal your day

If you are upset about something, making it impossible to shut down from work, write down everything (e.g., with a pen in a paper journal). Writing things down helps you to "get rid" of the negative. Especially after conflicts with colleagues or company decisions, you don't agree on. This kind of self-therapy is excellent. Brainstorm all your emotions and (even if opinionated) opinions so you have everything on paper. Once done, you don't think about it so much anymore, as you know you can access that information if required. But stopping ruminating about it will be much easier now. You will likely never access that information again, though. But at least writing the thoughts down saved your day.

Write down three things which went well for the day. This helps you to appreciate the day.

Don't stress about what your employer expects from you

Think about what's fun and motivates you. Maybe the next promotion to Principal or a Manager role isn't for you. Many fall into the trap of stressing themselves out to satisfy the employer so that the next upgrade will happen and think about it constantly, even after work. But it is more important that you enjoy your craftsmanship. Work on what you expect from yourself. Ideally, your goals should be aligned with your employer. I am not saying you should abandon everything what your manager is asking you to do, but it is, after all, your life. And you have to decide where and on what you want to work. But don't sell yourself short. Keep track of your accomplishments.

Call it a day

Every day you gave your best was good; the day's outcome doesn't matter. What matters is that you know you gave your best and are closer to your goals than the previous day. This gives you a sense of progress and accomplishment.

There are some days at work you feel drained afterwards and think you didn't progress towards your goals at all. It's more challenging to shut down from work after such a day. A quick hack is to work on a quick win before the end of the day, giving you a sense of accomplishment after all. Another way is to make progress on your fun passion project after work. It must not be work-related, but a sense of accomplishment will still be there.

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