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by Kaitlin McManus | July 02, 2019

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and breathe neon leaves

I know I’m not the only one with this problem—you leave the office, but you can’t seem to shake your “work brain.” Maybe it’s that contract you still haven’t closed or those emails you’re waiting to hear back on, but you just can’t leave work behind even as you walk out the door. Of course, we’ve all worked from home when things were just too pressing for the regular 9 to 5 hours to cut it—but doing this all the time can be unhealthy, and is pretty much the exact opposite of “work/life balance.” So I’ve got a few ideas for compartmentalizing your work life and your home life to make sure you’re getting the best out of both.

Leave Yourself a To-Do List.

It’s almost completely impossible to finish all the tasks on your plate before going home for the day—ongoing projects, as the name implies, go on; things come up late in the day; some things you purposefully save for later. But having that stuff floating around in your head all night is a recipe for stress. Write down everything you have to do or remember for tomorrow before you leave, so it’ll be waiting for you when you get back. Writing things down can free us from constantly trying to remember tasks when we’re off the clock.

Use Your Commute as “You Time.”

Commutes are, objectively, terrible. As someone whose roundtrip is just shy of two hours in a jam-packed subway, trust me when I say that making your commute bearable is paramount to your general well-being. Your commute is time that you can dedicate to crafting a mindset. On the way to work, lots of people will read the news, check what emails came in overnight, prepare for their workday, etc. Your commute home should be the opposite. Use the time to do something for yourself—something that will get your mind out of “work mode.” Read a book (or listen to an audiobook, my standard commute fare), watch an episode of your favorite show, check in on a friend with a text. Commutes are your time to do whatever you need to do to remind yourself of life outside of work, and to decompress so that you can enjoy it.

Go Outside Before You Go Home.

A body in motion tends to stay in motion—which is why it’s a lot easier to go somewhere right after work as opposed to swinging home first. This is something I really struggle with: When I get home from work, my exhausted brain sees my couch and goes, “Yes! PJs on, we’re not leaving this apartment until tomorrow morning.” It’s very easy to get stuck in a work/home/work/home rut. But meeting up with people and taking in the outside world is really important for mental health and work/life balance. So make it easier on yourself—do it right after work, before you even make it home. Whether it takes the form of happy hour with friends or coworkers, dinner with your SO, or even a walk or run by yourself—you know, out in the fresh air and sunshine, with grass and trees and stuff—try and make time to take in something besides your office and your house.

Take Work Emails Off Your Phone.

I know, I know—this is a really extreme suggestion. But look, phones are kind of the worst. Possessing a cell phone presupposes that you are always, always available, even when you aren’t or don’t want to be. While plenty of people have so-called “greedy careers,” there have to be moments in life that aren’t intruded on by work. And that ping! from your cell when you’re putting your kids to bed or Facetiming with a relative or just trying to figure out which of your dang smoke detectors’ batteries died can be absolutely soul-crushing. Taking your work email off your phone is probably too much for some people (although if you think you might be able to make it work, give it a shot for a few days!)—but try turning off your Gmail notifications when you leave the office. You’ll still get the emails and be able to check them whenever you want, but at least it won’t demand your attention every time something comes in. You can check when you have the time and energy to address it. And that’s at least slightly healthier than being at your phone’s beck and call.

Be Honest with Those Around You.

What is it you need when you get home from work? Do you need a few quiet minutes to go through the mail and put away the dishes you left to dry that morning? Or would you prefer to vent to your partner about your day? Whatever it is, telling the people you live with what it is that you need when you get home can be a big help. Personally, I can’t stand being bombarded with questions and conversation the minute I walk in the door—I’m the mail-and-dishes type, plus sweatpants—so I made sure to tell my roommate that I need my space for a bit before socializing. Communicating your needs is always important, and being honest about them with those you live with can help mitigate conflicts if stress bleeds over from work.

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