HR Management & Compliance

How to Stop Thinking About Work After Hours

Relaxing properly is essential to maintaining your physical and mental health. (The Japanese actually have their own word, karōshi, to refer to death from overwork.) In a professional context, failure to relax can impact the quality and quantity of work you produce. Learning not to think about work outside of working hours can, in fact, make you more productive.

Source: Sam Wordley / shutterstock

Let’s look at some ways that you (and your employees) can stop thinking about work once you leave the office.

How to Wind Down Right Now

If you’re reading this article at home, then you’re already struggling to leave work in the workplace! Hold on, read to the end, and you can start your new regime of relaxation once you know how to proceed.

When your mental “work voice” follows you home, sometimes the best way to exorcise it is to project it onto a piece of paper or a computer screen. Writing down your thoughts and worries about work when you get home (or, better still, before you leave the office) can help you process your anxiety and give you the sense that you’ve dealt with whatever is troubling you.

What comes next is a case of trial and error. Meditation is a very effective way to (re-)focus your mind, but some people need to relax a bit before they can even consider meditation. If this is you, try distracting yourself from your thoughts with a video or board game. Reading a book may sound more wholesome, but researchers have found that the “cognitive absorption” required for gaming is an incredibly effective distraction technique.

Whenever you feel ready for meditation (although, you may need to discipline yourself to do so), meditate. It is common for folks to run away from the idea of meditation because it sounds complicated, boring, or wishy-washy, but there are plenty of ways to meditate—you just need to find the one that’s right for you.

One straightforward meditation is called progressive muscle relaxation. It just takes 5 minutes. All you do is sit upright, close your eyes, and complete five deep breaths—in through your nose, out through your mouth. Then, tighten and release every muscle in your body, starting at your toes and ending with your face and brow. Finish up with another five deep breaths.

Another “emergency” meditation for when you’re in bed (or otherwise out of reach of your PlayStation®!) is a basic mindfulness technique. Concentrate on one of your senses, such as hearing or touch. Slowly list everything you can hear or feel, and describe to yourself mentally the attributes of each. A ticking clock might sound wooden or stern, and a bedsheet might feel cool, bobbly, or luxurious. There’s no right or wrong—it’s just a method to get you engaged with your environment rather than the work hangover you’ve got swimming in your mind.

Forming New (Good) Habits

The above tips are useful when you find yourself already thinking about work outside of work hours. But there are also steps you can take to make it less likely that you’ll find yourself in that position in the first place.

A big part of it is achieving “closure” before you finish work for the day. Set yourself some shutting-down rituals. Close your browser tabs one by one, and switch your computer off properly. Tidy your desk. Write an “exit list” of things you need to do tomorrow. You might even try a change of clothes (or at least shoes) for your journey home.

When you and your crew relax properly outside of work, you will enjoy work more and perform better. A study at the University of California demonstrated that workers who relax during their time off feel more job satisfaction. There are few more important demands on an HR professional than to cultivate better work and a better feeling about work in the office—so isn’t it time to reclaim your evenings?

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John Cole writes on behalf of NeoMam Studios. A digital nomad specializing in leadership, digital media, and pets, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move but can most commonly be spotted in the United Kingdom, Norway, and the Balkans.