How to Draw a Line Between Work and Home

Last Updated Apr 12, 2010 5:22 AM EDT

Are you one of those people whose mind is ticking away long after your working day has officially ended? Are you brooding over an upcoming presentation as you sit in front of the TV taking a 'break'? Globalisation and technology can make it tough to leave work at the office, but it is possible to switch off without resorting to hard liquor.

Here are some recommendations:

Work your brain more to relax more: Do a task that you find mentally challenging. If those obscure clues in a crossword puzzle get your mind racing, do one after work. You will find your mental energy directed from work to other things. Or do something that you find physically challenging -- a dancing class, learning taekwondo. As long as your brain is engaged in solving other tasks, it will stop working on work.
Set an exit time: An obvious but useful strategy is leave work on time. Cary Cooper, professor of organizational psychology and health at Lancaster University, suggests setting a strict 'exit' time for at least twice a week and sticking to it.

Use the commute: Traditionally viewed as taxing, the commute to and from work can act as an invaluable transition time, says Dr. Ellen Ernst Kossek, co-author of 'CEO of Me', Instead of using commuting time to read that one last report, read a book or listen to music.

Ring-fence work: If you have 'family creep time' at work -- checking Facebook updates, for example -- you can't really expect not to have 'work creep time' at home. Dr Kossek suggests allocating seperate chunks of time for family and work to increase productivity and have a more enjoyable family life. She also advises against the kind of mixed-up multi-tasking that involves checking your Blackberry while running on the treadmill.

Avoid lost tech time: Most of us find we're doing what Kossek calls "technology assisted supplementary work" -- instead of walking down the corridor and asking for something, a colleague pings you an email. You may have to wait for a reply, send another email, forward it to others... when a brief conversation would've been quicker. These tiny technology interactions can make you feel like you've never switched off.

Work less to work better: Take time off. According to Kossek, people who take a weekend off are more productive on a Monday than those who've been interrupted over the weekend. Employers should encourage employees to take their holiday entitlement.

Unplug: Turn off the Blackberry or iPhone that you are constantly tuned into as a way of unwinding. Employees who are inaccessible at times may actually be more productive.

Reclaim your time: For Dominick Monkhouse, managing director of Pier 1 hositng, overseas calls at odd hours that are are unavoidable. He suggests you reclaim the time by going in a bit later the next day, or taking an extended lunch break. That way you won't feel that you're working all the time.

It's all in the mind: Kossek suggests that the best way to unwind is to set mental boundaries and to regulate your mood and energy according to your work and home life. She says that being able to unwind stems from the psychological character of a person. She talks about integrators, who struggle to switch off, and 'separators', who are more adept at constructing boundaries between work and family life.

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