Work-Life Balance: How to end the workday

When work is stressful, it can be difficult to disengage at the end of the day. With your mind churning, thinking about the mountain of tasks back at the office and distracted by work emails at the dinner table, it can be a challenge to turn off.

According to a seven-year study on ‘workers’ performance’, the inability to make a break between professional and personal time ranked, among the ‘top-10 stressful situations’ that people were least effective at handling. Technology has, of course, exacerbated the problem, offering both convenience and imposition by putting our workplaces just a touchscreen away, further disturbing the work-life balance.

So, how can we all do a better job of leaving work at work, and make our home lives become more pleasurable and less stressful? The answer is by incorporating end-of-day routines to create a psychological barrier between the two worlds – personal and professional.

Research suggests that following these five strategies increases the effectiveness of making a clean break between work and home.

Before leaving the office…

Do one more small task. Make a short phone call, sign a document, or respond to an email. This way you end your day on a positive note of completion. There’s gratification in knowing that you elected to push yourself and hence will have one less thing to do the following morning. As research from Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle has shown even “small wins” can enhance your mood.

Write a to-do list. On paper, or digitally, make a record of all the tasks you need to accomplish – ideally in the order of importance. This practice enhances work performance and helps positively redirecting stress.

Straighten up your work area. Putting things away and getting piles organized, will better position you to start off fresh the next day. When desks or stations are left cluttered, the frustration and pressure felt on that day get rekindled the next morning. So there is some truth to the idea that having a tidy desk equates to having a fresh mind.

Choose a specific action that will, for you, symbolize the end of thinking about work. Examples include locking your office door, turning off your monitor, or calling home. Consistent use of this designated action/ritual will enable you to take control of your emotions and shift your mental state, just as if you were clocking out on a timesheet. Research from Francesca Gino and Michael Norton has shown the power of such rituals or routines.

Start the evening on a positive note. Instead of greeting friends and family members with the standard “How was your day?”, which opens the door to discussion of everyone’s residual negative work or school stress. Be specific. Ask what good or exciting thing(s) happened to them that day, then engage with them in a conversation about it. The idea is to take the focus off yourself. And, if someone asks, “How was your day?”, resist lengthy explanations unless you think they can help resolve a hanging concern.

The team at Actuate Business Consulting, a knowledge-based management consulting firm in India, believes, that this five-step strategy requires minimal time and effort, and can be highly effective when used together, greatly reduce feelings of stress while improving work-life balance.

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