Who among us, other than those of you living in some off the grid yurt or who hit it big on Win For Life, doesn’t struggle in striking that ideal work-life balance? The word balance even seems like a stretch, what with smartphones, Slack, and other tech that blur the line between office and regular life. It’s more like work-life triage. And, if we’re not careful the stress from deadlines, meetings, meet-ups, touch-bases, and meetings to discuss those meet-ups about touch-bases, can bleed into home life. Not a great look, considering that in the eyes of your family, you could transform into a grumpy, distracted, phubber who never stops working because work, work, work. The way to prevent this, then, is to construct positive post-work habits that enable you to cast away stress (or at least not let it ruin you) before you get home. Here, according to a few productivity experts, are some ways to do just that.
Take a “Mental Commute”
Sometimes the obvious answer is the toughest to put into practice. But, one of the best bits of advice is that, when your day is done, give yourself some time before your head out to separate from whatever stress is plaguing you at work. “Set an intention, tell yourself that you are going home and leaving work stress behind,” says mental health counselor Sena Moran. Moran coined the term “mental commute,” to describe this. “It really emphasizes to clients that just because they arrive home physically doesn’t mean they are truly present at home. They have to get home mentally as well, and this takes a conscious intention.” Whether it’s mindful breathing, relaxing music, or something else, the idea is to create a routine for disconnecting.
Unplug on the Way Home
Whether your commute is 15 minutes or 55 minutes, that can be time that you can use wisely to do things that will improve your mindset when you walk in the door. “I try to use my commute usually to have some ‘me’ time,” says Christopher Willard, Psy.D, a psychologist and the author of Growing Up Mindful and Raising Resilience. Willard listens to music, calls an old friend to catch up, or simply pays attention to how beautiful the drive is. “Practicing gratitude on the drive home to arrive in a better mood about what went well and who I appreciate at the office,” he says. “Hell, even doing some deep breathing on the commute, especially the last part of it to walk in the door feeling better.” If you work from home, then go for a walk around the block or have some sort of routine.
Set Firm Email and Phone Rules at Home
We all reach for our phones throughout the day and well into the evening. But even the most innocuous glance can send you down a rabbit hole that leads to you disconnecting from your family and plugging back into work. Evenings and weekends should be as phone-free as possible. “If you’re checking your email on Sunday, work isn’t invading your personal life. You’re inviting it in,” says Maura Thomas, author of Personal Productivity Secrets and Work Without Walls. “Your boss probably doesn’t expect real-time replies to his/her late-night emails. Granted, that still doesn’t make late-night emails a good thing. But knowing this may help you ignore them during your downtime.”
Get Your Rest
Sleep is a vital part of keeping yourself mentally and physically healthy and it’s especially important when you’re stressed. Aim for at least seven hours of good, restful sleep a night to get your mind and body balanced. “To get a good night’s sleep, eliminate any blue light for at least 30 minutes before bed,” says Tim Frie, a parental health expert and the founder of the Functional Nutrition Institute. “This means staying away from your phone, the TV, and your computer. Make this non-negotiable as part of your nighttime routine and start getting more restful sleeps.”
Change Your Language
Simply altering one phrase in your daily speech can have a powerful effect. Instead of saying, “I have to…” say “I get to…” So, when you’re leaving work, don’t say, “I have to go home and see my family,” try, “I get to go home and see my family.” Changing that one word from “have” to “get” can alter your perspective. “It’s a small shift in language that makes a big impact,” says Regan Walsh, an executive and life coach. “I don’t simply have dinner with my husband — I get to have dinner with him. And he with me. We make a choice to spend time together, and we’re grateful when we get to. I also ‘get to’ leave work at work and really enjoy time with the people I love most. It is a choice, and one you need to work hard at every day.”
Watch Your Diet
So many of us are on the go during the day that we forget to eat, or just throw down a cup of coffee or a candy bar to fuel us through until five (who am I kidding? seven at the earliest) Unfortunately, that will eventually catch up to you, not only robbing you of energy, but making you more irritable than [insert any late-career Harrison Ford role here] . If you haven’t eaten during the day, take a moment on your drive home to grab a healthy snack. “As many wives will attest, a hungry husband is a grumpy husband,” says Raffi Bilek, a therapist and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center. “Making sure you are properly nourished and have energy to keep going is a necessary condition for being able to keep stress out of the house.”
Make Sure Your Vacation is Actually a Vacation
Do not let anyone or anything get in the way of your vacation time. Very often, employees will tell their bosses that, even though they’re on vacation, they’re still reachable in an emergency. Experts advise against this. “The benefit of vacation comes from being away and disconnected,” says Thomas. “That’s what gives your mind the space to relax and recharge — which makes you more creative and effective when you are at back at work. If you never really get away, you never fully get those benefits.”