Updated: Apr 15, 2021
You've mastered finding a quiet place to work, have avoided getting sucked into household chores, and have dealt with interruptions from your family members or pets, but now you're dealing with a new, somewhat unexpected issue: the struggle to stop working at the end of the day.
Many professionals struggle with this issue even when working from their employer's office space. It starts with, "I'll just check one more email," and the next thing you know, you're still at the office an hour past your normal work hours. However, once home, the physical separation of the office from your home life allowed you to disengage from your workload.
And now you've been asked to work from home.
Don't despair! There are several strategies you can use to help disengage from work at the end of the work day.
1) Set a reminder to chime at quitting time
If, like me, you get so wrapped up in your work that you forget to pay attention to the time, setting an alarm on your phone or computer will better help you keep track of when it's quitting time. I actually prefer to set one alarm for 15 minutes before quitting time (to let me know to start wrapping things up) and another alarm for the actual end of the day.
2) Don't schedule calls for the end of the day
Avoid leaving important calls or emails to the end of the day. This used to be my number one reason for clocking out late. I'd procrastinate an important call which would then inevitably last longer than I'd allotted time for and before I knew it, I was still working 30 minutes after it was time to clock out.
To avoid this, give yourself a buffer of 15 minutes at the end of the day. Don't schedule anything for that time frame. Instead, use that time to create a to-do list for tomorrow. Creating the to-do list not only helps your brain recognize that it's time to start winding down your workday, it's also useful for giving you a good place to get started with work in the morning.
3) Shut everything down
It's tempting to just close your work laptop or put your desktop to sleep at the end of the day. The problem with this is that it's that much easier to log back on after hours to check your email. If you're currently working out of a room in which you also relax, shutting down your work computer will ensure you don't get lured in by any notification noises.
For those who have a separate work phone, consider shutting it down as well or at least turning the sound off after hours. This will keep you from hearing notifications or calls that are received after hours. Remember: you're trying to replicate your regular office in your home. So, if you wouldn't have answered phone calls once you got home from the office, then you shouldn't be answering the phone after hours just because you're working from home.
4) Use a separate office or a separate space for work
If possible, work in a space that has a door you can close at the end of the day. This literal separation will help you disengage from thinking about your workload or the emails waiting to be answered.
Don't have the luxury of a separate office? Consider other inventive ways of keeping your work computer out of site. If it's a laptop, you could put it into a travel briefcase each night, but this tends to be a hassle if you're just going to get it back out in the morning. Other options might be to cover it up with a box or throw a towel over it (Just remember it's there so it doesn't get damaged!) Covering up your computer might feel like a silly thing to do at the time, but you won't then catch your work computer out of the corner of your eye and feel like you should check your emails.
5) Have a task or hobby to do immediately after work
If you're used to working in an office, then your brain is also used to having some kind of telecommute home which acted as a buffer between work and home life. That telecommute gave your brain time to decompress and gradually disengage from work so that you didn't bring home as much stress from the job.
Now that you're working from home, that telecommute buffer is gone. However, if you replace the time you would have been traveling home with a pleasant task or hobby, it will help distance your work life from your home life. Some options might be listening to an audiobook or a podcast for 20-30 minutes or doing yoga or another workout before joining your family. You could also do a jigsaw puzzle, word search, or crossword puzzle to release any stress from the day.