Unlike some professions, it is not always easy to leave behind teaching-related obligations and preoccupations at the end of the day. Yet, failure to separate work life and home life can be a source of stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and even depression.
Fortunately, there are strategies we can employ and steps we can take to move us in the direction of having time for ourselves. Work does not always have to dominate our thinking and drive how we invest our time. Here are ten ideas to consider. Of course, not every strategy may work for everyone, but they can be helpful places to start.
Set a time to finish and leave work. Of course, there will be days when events will conspire to make meeting the goal not realistic. However, having a deadline can make us more efficient and force prioritization of key tasks. In the absence of a deadline, we can drift into new and less crucial tasks, thus crowding out prioritized actions and delaying departure. Lack of focus can also add to our stress and increase feelings of guilt.
Create a closeout routine. We might take a few minutes at the end of the day to reflect on or even make a list of what we accomplished. A few minutes of reflection can help us to track our progress, improve our productivity, and build a sense of accomplishment. We also might commit to putting away materials and files to create a clean and organized workspace to return to in the morning. We might plan to briefly touch base with colleagues. Of course, we need to be careful to avoid unnecessarily expanding our day—or someone else’s.
Create a plan for the next day. Developing a to-do list can create clarity and reduce anxiety about forgetting or missing an important task or obligation. Hint: We might intentionally leave at least one task or activity we enjoy or look forward to for the next morning. Having something pleasant and pleasurable to begin the day can set a positive tone and provide motivation for what lies ahead. Meanwhile, we will be able to avoid having to worry about and construct the list during the evening.
Be thoughtful about tasks selected for completion at home. Just because something could be done at home during the evening or over the weekend does not mean that it has to be completed then. Sometimes completing a task or project can give significant relief or a sense of accomplishment and is worth allocating the time and attention. However, we need to consider the tradeoffs and opportunity costs.
Make work in the evening a choice, not an obligation. Building on the previous suggestion, how we think about doing work outside of the workday matters. Choosing to take work home can feel different than feeling as though it is an obligation. If we want to avoid evening tasks, we might choose to stay a little longer or arrive earlier in the morning.
Use the commute as a break between work and home. Our commute can be a time for clearing mind clutter and creating healthy separation from work. During the transition, we might listen to music or a favorite podcast, practice deep breathing, or just relax and enjoy the weather. We might even consider singing to ourselves the Frozen song, “Let It Go,” as a mantra.
Take home nothing not needed for the evening. We can be tempted to take tasks and projects home “just in case,” even though we may not be fully committed to their completion. Not having tools and materials available can make it easier to detach and lessen feelings of guilt. A full backpack can make us feel conscientious, but it can also be a guilt-inducing burden.
Plan something specific and enjoyable for the evening. Having something to which we look forward can help to make the shift quicker and more pleasurable. Maybe it is a favorite television show or movie, a child’s activity, or just spending time with loved ones that can be our focus. Of course, what we do is less important than what it means to us.
Create an after-work routine. We might engage in an exercise routine, practice meditation, or engage in a hobby. Regardless, this is a good time to intentionally avoid thinking about work. Often, taking a break from thinking about a problem can refresh our thinking and even lead to new ideas and perspectives. Surprisingly, something as small as regularly changing from school clothes to exercise, project, or at home clothes can shift our mood and mindset.
Avoid scrolling through and responding to emails, texts, and social media during the evening. Reviewing lists of emails, reading texts, and engaging in social media can pull us back to work and raise our anxiety. Even worse, our engagement risks generating responses to which we feel obligated to respond. Our actions also may be read as permission for people to engage us outside of work hours. If we feel the urge to send emails, we might at least schedule them to be delivered at the time people return to work in the morning.
Admittedly, creating separation between work and the rest of our lives can be a challenge. However, doing so can improve our health, happiness, and productivity. Even if we are not completely successful, it can make a positive difference and likely will be more than worth the effort.