Does it happen to you a lot that you are still analyzing the report you were working on right before you left on your way home from work? Or thinking about tomorrow’s meeting or the phone calls you need to make the next morning? Quietly laying in bed, about to drift in bed, and suddenly you remember the email you forgot to reply to? If any of these sound familiar, it is probably high time you started worrying about your work-life balance.
Work-life balance, or why can’t we stop thinking about work?
The limits between work and personal life are becoming more and more blurry, especially considering that we can access the Internet almost from any place on the planet. Unfortunately, this is the reason why we are starting to struggle to keep a balance between our work duties and outside-work life. When our thoughts repeatedly jump between these two, we find ourselves in a place where we can’t work effectively, and we can’t rest after work either. Our brain is not meant to be doing too many tasks simultaneously, so if we keep thinking about work even after leaving the office, we can’t focus on anything else, especially not on resting.
Trying to analyze and decompose every task or decision at the end of the workday is entirely ineffective. Why is it then that our mind keeps ruminating about work? Why do we deprive ourselves of well-deserved relaxation, knowing that the lack of rest will take a toll on our productivity the next day, make us stressed and overly tired? Curiosingly, the reason why it is so hard to get rid of those intrusive work-related thoughts is that they give us a sense of doing something important, when in fact we are only harming ourselves. Ruminating about work is extremely difficult, and it requires a lot of training and consequence. How to go about it and how to restore work-life balance?
The first step – set the boundaries
First of all, you need to set your own limits. Decide when to stop working and stop thinking about work. It can be the moment you leave the office. Or the moment you get back home. The most important part is to stick to this rule. Of course, the company cell phone in your pocket beeping with every new email will not make this task any easier. Every time you hear it, you will start thinking about work, even if you restrain yourself from actually checking your inbox. Your blissful evening will be ruined instantly. A simple trick such as muting all messages after, let’s say, 5:30 PM or switching to plane mode will solve the problem. And when you truly need to check your inbox or see if there are any missed calls, keep control over how often you do it. Make a deal with yourself about how many times you can do it and for how long.
The second step – Separate "home" from "office"
Remote work certainly doesn’t help in maintaining a work-life balance. Your house becomes a place of work and a place of rest all at once, which means that breaking from your office duties will get even more challenging. In this situation, you must create a barrier that will enable you to protect your relaxation time from your work time and organize your daily duties, understanding that your old “office” habits will not necessarily work out well in your homely surroundings.
Try to convince your brain that certain places and times of the day should be associated exclusively with work and others - solely with your private life. Otherwise, you’ll feel you are constantly at work. You can, for instance, create a working space in your house and only work from there. Don’t move your laptop around, especially not to places you associate with your private life and rest. When doing home-office, dress as if you were actually going to work. Once you finish, change to comfy clothes, change the lighting, turn on your favorite music. All this will help calm your mind and switch to relaxation mode.
The third step - Set up your own "closure procedure"
Often times, the things we ruminate about are unfinished tasks causing the so-called Zeigarnik Effect. This concept states that we remember much better the tasks we didn’t complete than the ones we did. What happens as a consequence is that after a full day of work, we still think, analyze, and ponder upon something we left for the next day.
If you want to get rid of that exhausting overthinking, you should summarize what is ready and what still requires some work in the next days at the end of your working day. Creating your own closure procedure (e.g., checking your calendar right before leaving the office or jotting down everything you were unable to get done today) will allow you to call it a day, feeling that all the tasks have been taken care of.
The fourth step - think productively
Tormenting thoughts about work and duty are often quite general and lead to nowhere. Yet, we give them so much time and end up stressed and overtired. When those unproductive thoughts keep coming back despite all the boundaries and limits that we’ve set, you should take a closer look at them. Try to find out what kind of problem lies behind them and how to solve it. Talking and ruminating about “not having time for anything” or “having too much to do at work” usually indicate problems with task and time management. Instead of stressing out about how many things you have to do, you’d better order them in order of importance in your calendar. And if, some time over dinner, you remember you forgot to write an email, instead of keeping this thought in your memory, better save it on an “external” disk (your calendar, notepad, or phone). In this way, you won’t have to think about it any longer.
Struggling with your own thoughts is not easy, and work-life balance is sometimes hard to keep. However, it is imperative to try not to get discouraged if you fail at the beginning. The ultimate goal - a harmony between work and home - is crucial to our well-being. There are times when your personal life requires more attention than work, and there are times when it is the other way around. As long as one aspect of your life doesn’t overshadow the other one, you can still talk about balance.
As you stop thinking so much about work, you will quickly see an improvement in your personal life. Not only that. Your performance at work is likely to improve too. You will feel more fulfilled and satisfied with your life. As you can see, you don-t have to change your job to improve your life quality. Sometimes it is enough just to change the way you think about your job.