Chris, a senior manager at a New York design studio can’t sleep. His mind is churning, thinking about the mountain of tasks facing him back at the office. Katrina, the production manager at a well-known publishing house is distracted by a work email at the dinner table. Her partner complains that she “never seems able to turn off.”
They’re not the only ones having difficulty disengaging from their jobs at the end of the workday. According to a seven-year study on workers’ performance, an inability to make this break between professional and personal time ranked among the top-10 stressful situations that people were least effective at handling. Technology has, of course, exacerbated the problem, offering both convenience and imposition, by putting our workplaces just a touch screen away. How can we all do a better job of leaving work at work, so our home lives become more pleasurable and less stressful?
In my practice counseling executives, I encourage them to use end-of-day routines to create a psychological barrier between their two worlds. When my colleagues and I recently tested the following five strategies with a group of 26 managers, the percentage who said they were “effective” at making a clean break between work and home jumped from 40% to 68%.
Before leaving the office…
Do one more small task. Make a short phone call, sign a document, or respond to an email. This way you end your day on a positive note of completion. There’s gratification in knowing that you elected to push yourself and now have one less thing to do the following morning. And, as research from Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle, has shown even “small wins” can enhance your mood.
Write a to-do list. On paper or digitally, make a record of all the tasks you need to accomplish, ideally in order of importance. When my organization worked with the New York Presbyterian Hospital Cornell Medical Center to survey more than 1,000 workers living in the northeast we found that the practice of building such lists was among the top three most effective skills for enhancing work performance and positively redirecting stress.
Straighten up your work area. Putting things away and getting piles organized will better position you to start off fresh the next day. In that same collaborative study, managers and non-managers reported that when they instead left their desks or stations cluttered, the frustration and pressure they’d felt that day was rekindled the next morning. So there may be some truth to the idea that having a tidy desk equates to having a fresh mind.
Choose a specific action — something I call an “anchor quick charge” — that will, for you, symbolize the end of thinking about work.Examples include locking your office door, turning off your monitor, or calling home. Consistent use of this designated anchor will enable you to take control of your emotions and shift your mental state, just as if you were clocking out on a timesheet. Research from Francesca Gino and Michael Norton has shown the power of such rituals or routines.
Start the evening on a positive note.Instead of greeting friends and family members with the standard “How was your day?” — opening the door to discussion of everyone’s residual negative work or school stress — be more specific. Ask what good or exciting things happened to them that day, then engage with them in a conversation about it. The idea is to take the focus off yourself. And, if someone asks, “How was your day?” resist lengthy explanations unless you think they can help resolve a hanging concern.
This five-step strategy requires minimal time and effort — about 10 -15 minutes per day in our experience. While some of the tips and techniques may not seem new, we’ve found that they can be highly effective when used in sequence and combination, greatly reducing feelings of stress and improving work-life balance.
Deborah Bright is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., an executive coaching and training organization, and the author of six books, including The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM, 2014).
This article appeared in the November 23, 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review.
- The United States still considers Beijing to be China's legitimate government, consistent with its switch of recognition in 1979. But the United States will get rid of complicated rules.
- U.S. officials will now be allowed to invite Taiwanese representatives into government buildings in Washington.
- U.S. officials can attend working-level meetings at the Taiwanese mission formerly recognized as the "Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States."
- The strict protocol on whether junior U.S. officials can appear at Twin Oaks, Taiwan's envoy's lush, forested residence in Washington, has been relaxed.
- "Strategic Competition Act of 2021" to counter China to be enacted by April 21'st by the U.S. The 280-page bill addresses economic competition with China, but also humanitarian and democratic values.
- The USS John Paul Jones "asserted navigational rights and freedoms," inside India's EEZ or Economic Exclusive Zone sailing about 130 nautical miles (241 km) west of India's Lakshadweep islands.
- The U.S. Navy has previously conducted so-called freedom of navigation sails through Indian waters without consent, with the last one in 2019.
- India and the United States' navies carry out large-scale exercises each year that now involve Japan and Australia. These four countries make up the "quad."
- The United States is considering a conditional cash transfer program to help address economic woes in Central American Countries.
- Over the next four years, Central America will receive $4 billion in development assistance, as well as Covid Vaccines.
- The proposed program would target the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
- Due to long waits, some regional governments have begun to seek assistance from China and Russia, with increasing success.
- It is the latest move in China's crackdown on Ma's numerous businesses and business empire, following his public criticism of Beijing's financial regulators.
- Except for a brief 50-second video clip shown to a group of teachers, Ma has not made a public appearance since his comments.
- Ma's whereabouts and activities have sparked international speculation about China's level of control over his once massively successful businesses, as well as the man himself.
- After CEO Jack Ma criticized authorities for stifling innovation in the country, Alibaba came under scrutiny from antitrust regulators.
- The State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) determined that Alibaba abused its dominant market position by forcing merchants to choose between two online platforms rather than selling on both and imposed an antitrust fine of 18 billion yuan ($2.75 billion) on Saturday.
- The record fine was equal to four percent of Alibaba’s 2019 revenue but below the 10 percent maximum under China’s antitrust law.
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