Do you find it hard to switch off after a long day at work? You are not alone. Unbidden the mind can churn over the emotional responses and physical reactions experienced during the day. The result is that you don’t fully relax as work issues continue to dominate your thinking. Without realising it your working day extends into the evening and encroaches on your weekend. Left feeling tired and lacking energy from constant ruminating, you end up sacrificing hobbies, exercise, and fun.
Over time this negative cycle of ‘live-relive-repeat’ can exhaust your ability to perform well at work leading to poor choices and flawed decisions. It can also affect personal relationships as friends and family are left wondering if you are there for them. Fortunately, there are steps you can take which with practice can help you make the switch from work zone to personal time. Here are some ideas to try:
Notice and investigate intrusive thoughts rather than fight them. Taking a calm and dispassionate approach empowers you to decide if you want to spend time ruminating or choose to direct your focus elsewhere.
Keep a notebook handy. Make it paper rather than digital as the simple act of writing down what’s going on in your head can feel amazingly liberating. Doodling can bring out your creative side as drawing your thoughts can shrink problems leaving you free to decide what you want to do about them.
Think of switching on rather than switching off. Make it a conscious decision and commit to family and personal time. A useful technique is to choose a point in your commute home where you flip the switch from work to own time. You can use mindfulness breathing to mark the transition (breath in for 5 seconds and out for 8 seconds – repeat three times).
Go for a walk, preferably somewhere green. Find a spot where you can stop and look around you. Notice your surroundings, breath and look at the trees, birds, flowers, shrubs and even weeds. The physical exercise will refresh you, and the deliberate focus on nature will help you gain perspective.
Choose how you review your day rather than letting your mind and imagination run wild. Take a disciplined approach by allowing 5 minutes to answer the question: ‘what have I learned today?’ Note your answer and then spend another 5 minutes on the question ‘given what I now know, what will I do differently tomorrow?’ Write down your response then bring this self-reflective practice to a close knowing you have an actionable outcome.
Protect personal time by closing devices and keep them out of range. Now enjoy being fully present in the company of friends and family. Rediscover the art of conversation at the dinner table (lay the table, sit down and eat together). Be curious and ask questions. Then show engagement and respect by listening to their responses.
Ask if what you are worrying about will matter in a year’s time. If not, why waste personal time worrying now? Perhaps you’ll find inspiration in the Serenity Prayer (attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian): “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Regardless of spiritual belief, it sends a powerful message if you choose to hear it.
Remember that time is your scarcest commodity. You have a work time zone and a personal time zone. There is no additional time zone. Time overspent ruminating on work issues is funded by stealing from your personal time zone. Consider what this costs you, and if you don’t like the answer, act today to redress the balance.