What's a short ritual that will banish work from my mind?
April 23, 2017 8:59 AM   Subscribe

I have a job that's engaging and challenging. Unfortunately, being engaged and challenged eight hours a day means that sometimes it occupies brain space outside of those eight hours. Given that I'm short on time, what are good ways to limit thinking about the job to just when I'm at the job?

I've noticed of late that when I'm going to bed or have a little thinking space while the kid is playing with something at the park that I'll be thinking about problems I'm currently working on at work, future things I'm worried won't get done at work, or future problems that could happen at work.

I think some people are OK with this, but I want a clean break from work when I leave for the day. When I have thinking time to myself, I would rather be thinking of either nothing or my own life and my own projects.

After work, I pick up the kid and spend time/do childcare for an hour and change, then my wife gets home, we make dinner, eat, get the guy ready for bed, get his stuff ready for the next day, and do dishes. There's about an hour and a half of waking time left for me after that.

I have no problem not thinking about work if I'm actively doing something, like working on a project or watching TV. It's when it's time to get to sleep that intrusive work-thinking gets going. It also happens in the shower.

So, I'd like to know how you folks deal with it!
posted by ignignokt to Work & Money (25 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, yeah, two nights a week, I have half an hour less time because I do a workout.
posted by ignignokt at 9:04 AM on April 23, 2017

I walk home and it takes an hour. I find this daily ritual helps to partition the work day and the time at home, plus it gives me time to think about work stuff if I need to. I sometimes get my best ideas during this period. Riding the subway or car is too fast so I often still feel in "work mode" when I get home. Unfortunately I think part of the reason it works for me is because it takes a relatively long time.
posted by pravit at 9:07 AM on April 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

My days are a weird mix of being in the office vs childcare vs working from home; I try to make a point of changing clothes as soon as possible after getting home, and meditating for 10 minutes just after switching to or from work-mode. I find it really helps to break the incessant this-and-then-this-and-then-this chains of thought that just whirl around my head otherwise.
posted by doop at 9:09 AM on April 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have a mantra that I use to banish those thoughts: "It'll keep until I clock in." (I don't clock in, I get out of bed and stagger to my desk, but still.) Also, once I'm in bed: "Work in the work time, sleep in the sleep time."

I also make sure I have other things to think about. I write fiction, so I usually have something to mull over in my head in the shower or while I do yardwork (and sometimes I shower or do yardwork specifically so I can think about the writing), but when I'm having a lot of trouble unplugging from nagging work stuff I might prime the pump with a few minutes of reading (either fiction or interesting non-fiction, but NOT politics or work-related) or watching a youtube video on something interesting. Youtube is often my actual draw-a-line-between-work-and-life cue actually; I have subscriptions to lots of cooking/food channels and fishkeeping videos and some travel stuff, most of them under ten minutes long, and when my workday is over I go to a different computer/location and watch a couple before I go start dinner or whatever.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:16 AM on April 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Alternate nostril breathing. It might feel goofy at first but it's quick and easy and a great way to clear your mind.
posted by ewok_academy at 9:16 AM on April 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

I don't like washing dishes but the carefulness I require (I have tics related to food and things that go in my mouth like utensils) means there's just enough dexterity & attention required to displace whatever I was thinking of before.

Also seconding excercise. Even really low impact (like the aforementioned walking home) though if it doesn't hurt a little I will still be stuck in the working-on-work loop unless it's replaced with something else. I consume most of my fiction while walking or taking transit. Audible has been something I gladly pay for in the service of escaping persistent thoughts.

Lastly - I am not a social creature but I am curious about the things other people find interesting. I enjoy hearing about my partner's day, their work, their everyday-observational-humour. Sometimes the most effective way for me to let go of my day is to share a piece of hers.
posted by mce at 9:23 AM on April 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

It has helped me to consider that worrying about work outside of work hours = working for free. "I don't owe them free 24/7 rent in my head; they don't pay enough for that."
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:24 AM on April 23, 2017 [16 favorites]

When I was really struggling with this, I added a handwashing ritual to the end of my work day, where I'd slowly and mindfully wash my hands while thinking something like, "I did all I could do for today, I don't have any more responsibility for this until tomorrow." The water was a nice reminder of clearing my slate and washing away anything "stuck" to me from the day.

I find, in addition, it helps to make sure that I'm relatively organized and have decent notes for my next day's To Do list, so that my brain doesn't feel like it has to remember everything overnight (and so that I can remind it that it doesn't have to keep reminding me about what I need to do tomorrow, because it's already documented in some way).
posted by lazuli at 9:28 AM on April 23, 2017 [8 favorites]

For me it was telling myself that when I drive over a bridge, it separates me from thinking about work. (I live in Seattle, so no matter what route you take, you will drive over a bridge or three.)
posted by matildaben at 9:56 AM on April 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

I wear a special band on my left wrist. When I'm done working, I take it off or shift it to my right.
posted by fritillary at 10:08 AM on April 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

I would jot down whatever work minutiae was circling my brainspout the moment I got into my car at the end of my shift. I didn't make a huge essay on it but just enough to clear out the main points and things I needed to work on the next day. I made this enough of a daily habit that once I closed the notebook, my thoughts were no longer on all the things I needed to remember and were now onward to the non-work things I wanted to think about.

I also left the notebook in my glove compartment so I wouldn't be tempted to pick it up again at home and twiddle around with the pressing concerns of my work life. The person who taught me this habit was a former manager of mine. He always had a running list that he left at work and would attend to the next day - work was work and home was home.
posted by missh at 10:16 AM on April 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

I walk under a bridge to get to and from work. I tell myself that work lies one side, home on the other. I turn my work phone off on the "home" side. It took a while to train my brain to make the break, but once I got the hang of it, it works very well.
posted by rpfields at 10:27 AM on April 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

In situations like this, I'll write an email to my tomorrow self about what I was doing, thinking, and the next steps needed. This give them everything needed and let's my today self go home.
posted by nickggully at 10:47 AM on April 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have a lot of ridiculous T-shirts that I wear under my work clothes. At the end of the day, the businessy top comes off and goes in the trunk, and now I am Art Deco Doctor Who T-Shirt Wearing Etrigan, and Work Etrigan is in the trunk.
posted by Etrigan at 11:51 AM on April 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

What I've come across that seems to work reasonably well no matter how hokey
it seems... When I hit the sack there's a routine of descending or just
calming down. Often a combination of going down the steps and down the
rainbow. Pick your poisons. Attempting to blank your mind or just focus
while going down from ten to one (like flights of stairs, take your time).
Or rainbow, really attempt to fill your mind with red (ferrari, apple, hot
SO in red clothes, strawberries, ...), orange, yellow, ... violet.

Whatever combination, deeper into relaxation. At the end you open a door.
I'm in a library of sorts. For me, it's like The Name of the Rose,
a medieval tower with books all around and stairs up and down to even more
books all around and more stairs up and down...

There's a lecturn with a giant book where you write simple important things,
like a journal or todo list, but just simple stuff. But over to the side
is a book that sucks up WORK stuff. You think it, it swirls in the air
and the book flies off the shelf and opens and sucks it up and re-shelves
itself and it's gone. You don't have to worry about forgetting it, you can
always pull your work book off the shelf and take a look, but for not it's
gone and just in a book on the shelf.

Same for those horrible memories, That time you had a crush and they left
the party with your friend... whooosh sucked up and in that autobiography
book alongside of the WORK book.

Repeat... ad infinitum. It slowly becomes mystical woo. Un-timely WORK
thought? BOOM standing over a lecturn, book flies out and gulps it down
and re-shelves itself and BOOM it's gone.

And when at work and actually working, it's easy to just pull the WORK book
off the shelf and catch up on what you need to be thinking about.

Random bullshit alert... It's taking something real and making it into
something that's like a play that you're watching real people perform,
then taking it to a movie that your watching on a screen, to taking it to
a bit of prose, to taking it to a page of a book that's closed sitting on
our shelf.

Eventually (at least for me,) something you don't want to be bothered with
at the moment pops up and BAMF a book flies out of nowhere and swallows it
up and swallows it up to deal with at a later time.

posted by zengargoyle at 12:23 PM on April 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

Deep Work by Cal Newport has a large section devoted to "shutdown rituals". While the book may not give you specific rituals to follow, it will give you an idea of how to create your own ritual.
posted by reenum at 1:27 PM on April 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

I find listening to a podcast on the way home helps shift my mind from work-mode.

This is something I do for anxiety, but I also have this "door shut" that helps with intrusive thoughts. When something pops up I don't want to dwell on, I go "that's interesting" and mentally mime shutting a door on it. I know that seems a little silly - it is - but it helps to acknowledge it and put it away for later, whereas if I spend time thinking about the thing or thinking about NOT thinking about the thing or thinking about how terrible I feel not thinking about thinking the thing I feel much worse. Methodically setting it aside is my way out of that trap.
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 1:37 PM on April 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I used my bus commute to make / revise my To Do list, brainstorm agendas for various meetings, and otherwise download as much work-related content onto paper. Having it all out, and knowing exactly where I'd start in the morning, left my mind free for the evening.
posted by salvia at 2:11 PM on April 23, 2017

I second changing clothes as soon as you get home. That is the most effective thing for me. I also read fiction on my commute (public transport, but you could do book on tape if you drive) which takes me out of work world and into the world of the book.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 2:17 PM on April 23, 2017

Nthing changing clothes as soon as possible after your workday; I do this and it's like magic. Plus it reminds me of Superman, which is pretty awesome. Other things:

- Mindful dishwashing.
I bring my lunch to work, and wash my dishes every single day before I leave. Feeling the running water over my hands and washing the food away serves a dual purpose - 1.) it washes the workday away, and 2.) there's one less thing for me to do when I get home. No one wants to drag home a stressful (or just busy) workday any more than they want to drag home dirty dishes, right? Clean dishes = clear mind. Win-win.

- Clean workspace.
Might be a no-brainer, but I put back pens, folders, binders, whatever I worked with that day, back in its place. If it's an ongoing project, I neatly stack my materials to prepare for the next day. This mentally lets me leave my work space in peace and assures that I'll walk into a neat, orderly space the next morning. It really helps.

- Learning a second language.
I don't do this every day, but reading an article in a different language really helps. It turns my brain from speaking English into Spanish, which has the effect of making me feel like everything is somehow... different. Farther away? I don't know, but it's really de-stressing! If you don't know another language, the Coffee Break [Language] podcast by Radiolingua has the same effect (at least for me), and each episode is free and only 15 minutes.

- Writing it down.
I keep my bullet journal with me almost all of the time, and as soon as I think of something that worries me or keeps me up at night, I write it down in the journal. Committing it to paper, then closing the journal is really helpful for me to get it out of my mind until it's time to pick it back up again. You don't need a bullet journal for this - it could just be a piece of paper and a pen on your nightstand.

- Week Ahead Reports.
I keep a bullet list of what I've completed, what I'm working on, and what I'm waiting on. I do this at the beginning of each week, and I update the list throughout the week as things change. This is really helpful for my manager, but also really helpful for me to put everything to rest for the day. I update my list daily, usually throughout the day as I'm ticking things off the list (or adding to it!).

- Post-Its.
If things are super stressful and I've only gotten half of what I need to get done, I write a Post-It with the items that I'll start my day with. Then I stick it right to my computer monitor, where I won't miss it the next day. Having a plan, even a short one, is deceptively powerful, and I don't know why, but it works every time. It's like my mind is assured that I won't forget what to do.

- Meditation.
I'm not a classic sitter - it's just not my style. But... I love to color! Yep, color. I swear this is so destressing. I know it's a fad (and I'm a maker, so I'm biased), but it's one of the things I don't do often enough. I have the Golden Ratio coloring book by the artist Rafael Araujo, and staring at the patterns and coloring them in is like being immersed in the present moment.
posted by onecircleaday at 9:18 PM on April 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Take five minutes at the end of each workday to write a list of everything that needs to be done the following day. I used to do these by hand and leave the list posted next to my monitor so when I got there the next morning I would check my list and simply execute.

Having a list all made out made it easier for me to release my brain from thinking about it / being anxious about it until I was back at work.
posted by mochapickle at 11:30 PM on April 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I ensure everything is on a list before I leave each day - if I'm whirring over something, I can tell myself that it's been captured and I will look at it the next day. If I truly forget something, I send a note to my work email to put on the list. (I don't have work email access outside of my hours, by choice - my job is not an on-call one and I would just end up half-working all evening). This ensures I can safely clear my head, and is borrowed from the thing I found really useful about Getting Things Done - capture it once in a robust system, then do it, don't waste time and energy thinking "oh, I must do this!" 100 times before doing it.

The thing that truly clears my head is exercise, though, and it's the most powerful thing I've ever used against my anxiety.

It sounds like your routine is pretty tight, but could you fit in either 5-10 minutes of HIIT cardio or of deep, slow stretching?

For me, it's not a conscious process of letting go while exercising - the work stuff will just be gone from my head when I get back from the gym, and I have my brain to myself for the rest of the evening.
posted by carbide at 4:50 AM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I cook dinner almost immediately on getting home from work. I started doing so because of the necessities of our schedule, but I find that the concentration it requires helps push thoughts of work out of my head.

I also find that a beer of a glass of wine during the process doesn't hurt, either.
posted by Gelatin at 6:31 AM on April 24, 2017

I started doing Headspace meditation before I go to bed at night, and it's been pretty nice for both getting a handle on any stray thoughts before bed and also relaxing me enough to fall asleep easier. Keeping a notebook next to my bed to write down anything that I think of and might need to remember later is also good for taking stuff off of your plate at bedtime in a way where you know you won't lose it, haha.
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:43 AM on April 24, 2017

In addition to making a to-do list before I leave the office and changing clothes as soon as I get home, I stash my work bag out of sight (in a closet) the instant I walk in the door. Days I forget to do this and it sits in the hallway or on the couch, I find myself thinking, "Oh! I should just finish this one thing."

I also have my work email set on my phone to only check once per hour, and not audibly notify me, so it's easier to ignore. I set my phone to turn off all notifications beginning at 9 PM which helps with my mental "shut down" from the day.
posted by writermcwriterson at 8:54 AM on April 24, 2017

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