What Happens at Work Stays at Work

I want you to be truly honest with yourself. Do you truly believe that one day you will actually go home from work with a completely clear desk? No projects left incomplete, no phone calls left to make, no emails to follow up on, no documents to edit, and no meetings to book?

The honest truth is that there will always be work left undone at the end of your busy day. Admitting this gives us some options.

Hello, my cubicle confusers, open space stumped, corner office disordered, home den disoriented, and coffee shop stunned. My name is Brock Armstrong, and I am once again here, deep inside your ears, sowing seeds of inspiration, to make you into a Workplace Hero.

Close your eyes for a second and dig deep into your psyche. I want you to be truly honest with yourself. Can you do that for me? Ok. Do you truly believe that one day you will actually go home from work with a completely clear desk? No projects left incomplete, no phone calls left to make, no emails to follow up on, no documents to edit, and no meetings to book?

The honest to dog truth is that there will always be work left undone at the end of your busy day. Admitting this gives us three options:

  1. We can go home, but take the work with us and then spend our evening doing it (or actively suppressing the urge to do it). This ensures maximum tension at home, unrestful rest, and then returning to work the next day tired and resentful.
  2. Drag your ass home, leave the work on your desk, then spend the evening fretting over what you left behind. Same results ensue involving the tension and fitful sleep. And when you get back to work next day, you’ll be tired and resentful—and the work will not have been done either.
  3. Take a deep cleansing breath, leave the work behind gracefully, truly forget about it, and enjoy a relaxing evening. No tension, lots of rejuvenating rest, plus you return the next day ready to tackle what’s waiting for you.

Newsletter

Before we dive deeper down this magical list of alternatives, I want encourage you to sign up for the Workplace Hero email newsletter over at workplacehero.me. The sign up form is on the righthand side of the page. Please know that because I believe strongly in the idea of Inbox Zero, you will only receive an email once per week, and it will be short, to the point and easy to delete. Best of all, just for signing up, you will receive a coupon code for 10% off at the online health and fitness store, GreenfieldFitnessSystems.com. Over there they have a huge array of supplements, gear, plans, coaches and clothing that will help keep you healthy and fit. So sign up for the newsletter at workplacehero.me and get your discount code for GreenfieldFitnessSystems.com now.

Now back to leaving it all behind

OR what happens at work, stays at work.

Here are some techniques that I found at Lifehacker.com and crew.co that will help you achieve the last and best of the three options I mentioned.

Like a cool down after a hard workout, treat your trip home as positive time to wind down and start the process of relaxation. Play some of your favourite music, or listen to your favourite podcast. I would suggest not catching up on the news or scrolling through social media. Choose something you really like and enjoy and that won’t remind you of work or bum you out about how truly crappy humans can be to each other.

There’s a perception that more work equals more productivity, but that’s not always the case. So you never take a sick day, or a vacation, and you are always ‘on-call.’ You also put in about 70 hours a week, so that will pay off eventually I’m sure…oh wait, except it doesn’t. The Economist looked at the data from OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries found that the more productive workers were actually those that spent less time in the office. Lifehacker takes it one step further and puts an actual number on how many hours we work before we begin to see diminished results (hint: it’s about 30 hours a week). If there was ever a reason to leave work at work, this data should be it. You are actually making yourself more productive!

This one is more of a psychological one – match your journey time with the time you need to relax. If that means taking the long, scenic route, so be it. If it means stopping at a park on along the way, that’s just fine. Your family and friends will prefer you half an hour later but in a calm and pleasant mood rather than half an hour earlier but in a foul one.

Never be in a hurry to get home. If you do, every hold-up, every traffic jam, every pedestrian trying to cross the street in front of you, every late train, or missed bus will be a source of additional stress. Try to take it easy, and I don’t mean you have to drive under the speed limit. Simply treat your commute home as your time—a period just for you. All day at work, you’re at other peoples’ beck and call. Now it’s time to to relax and be yourself.

If you need to rant and/or vent, do it before you leave work or do it along the way. Curse the world in the privacy of your own vehicle or yell at the wind as you ride your bike home. Go to the noisiest part of the subway platform and rant where no one can hear you. Just don’t walk in the door when you arrive home and launch directly into a rant. Who wants to bring a cocktail and slippers to that?

Take a minute at the end of the day to write down your accomplishments because it’s easy to get bogged down in everything that you still have to do that you forget everything that you have already done. What good is working if you never take pride in those accomplishments that you put so much time and effort in? Before you end each day reassess your to-do list, look at what you something accomplished that day and feel good about it.

If you must take work home—and you should treat that idea as you would infecting yourself with a repulsive social disease—designate a specific time to do it and stick to that designation. Early is best (while you are still in work mode). Plus you don’t want to do it too late or you may get into bed, wide awake and still buzzing from staring at a screen, and probably sleep badly, and then start the next day off on a bad note. Besides, no one is going to put on a Barry White album for someone who is pouring over spreadsheets in their comfy at home undies.

When you get home, switch your full attention to whoever is there waiting for you (be it human, animal, amphibian or whatever). Never be physically present and mentally still at work—that sucks for everyone. If there is no one home, focus your attention on some domestic matters to help shake off the day. Do what it takes to get work out of your brain.

Always keep your promises. If you’ve planned to go out for dinner, don’t cancel, claiming to be tired or swamped. If you’ve promised to help your kid with homework, do it. If you said you would dive into the new season of Game of Thrones, dive in! People who break promises are teaching those around them a dangerous lesson and although you may really really feel like you do not what to do what you promised, I bet that you will end up enjoying it—and inevitably feel far better than if you slumped in front of the TV or your laptop resenting work, yourself and the world that created capitalism.

Be firm with yourself. In the end, leaving work behind, mentally and physically, is all on you. You have to want to do it, decide to do it, and then freakin’ do it—and keep on doing it, until it becomes the well ingrained norm. Slowing down and clearing your mind of the leftovers from the day is indeed an act of will. You may think that watching TV or distracting yourself in some other way can be a short-cut, but it how is that working out for you so far? The minute you ease up on the distraction, all the worries come rushing back. Right?

And now, your homework.

Every day this week, I want you to mentally prepare for the end of your day.

When you bring work home chances are that you are thinking about that e-mail you didn’t send or the big meeting you have tomorrow or everything you have to do before Friday’s launch, and so on. So, before you leave work, simply clean up your desk.

A clutter free desk (and that includes your inbox, and computer desktop) helps to clear your mind. Physical clutter competes for your attention and because the brain has limited attentional resources, this competition can reduce and damage your productivity.

Try cleaning up about a half-hour before you are done with work. The process of putting things away (physically and digitally) can help you mentally sort through your day. Organizing your desk helps you organize your mind. If you work from home, this is even more important! If you don’t clean up your work area, you may feel like you are physically incapable of leaving work behind.

Another great way to begin winding down your workday is to make your… wait for it… to-do list for the next day. You know how I love my to-do lists! This will make sure that you know that you are ready to start the next day with a plan and goals in mind—which means you’ll spend less time thinking about everything you have to do and more time actually doing it. And this will in turn help you have a restful, non tense evening of focussing on your friends, loved ones or who the heck is going to actually rule over Winterfell!

As a closing note

I want to tell you about something cool that Google is doing. Google is conducting a decade’s long study into the work lives of its employees in an effort to understand how people work better. What they’ve discovered so far is that only 31% of their employees are able to leave work at work. That means 69% of people take their work home with them.

It’s more than that though – people are actually unable to distinguish between their work life and personal life to the point where Google’s Dublin office instituted a policy called “Google Goes Dark” where all of the employees in that office are forced to leave their work devices at work and turned off. This was done in an effort to draw clear boundaries between home life and work life. And I think it is pretty awesome. Nice work Google.

I think all us Workplace Heroes should follow suit. So… now, go make this week a dark one.

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Workplace Hero is researched, written, narrated and recorded by me Brock Armstrong with story help from Eleanor Cohen. Podcast logo by Ken Cunningham and original music by my band, The Irregular Heartbeats.

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