How to Leave Work at the Door

UPDATED: August 18, 2017
PUBLISHED: August 18, 2017

Sometimes it’s hard to make the switch from work life to home life. You’ll find yourself thinking about a big project while playing with your kids, or shooting off emails on the weekends when you said you wouldn’t. I often vow that I will dock my phone when I’m at home, resisting the urge to check emails round the clock. Then as soon as I’m in the pickup line at school or sitting on a bench at the park, I’m on it, scrolling through my inbox, sending quick responses, suddenly stewing over work issues on what I promised would be my “off” time. I snap at my kids while writing emails. I only half-listen to my husband while trying to write a new pitch. I always feel like I have a foot in both worlds.

We might say we want a balanced life, where work and home don’t mingle, but our actions often say otherwise. At work, we check Facebook and scroll Instagram, our minds drifting to happy hours and weekends. On our personal time, we’re pulled to check email or make revisions to a nagging project. When we’re supposed to be present with our loved ones, we’re only half there.

Related:  4 Steps to Create Balance in Your Life

Our personal lives struggle when we are constantly pulled to work. This is something we are all aware of, and it’s a dilemma we culturally strive to rectify: how to create a work environment that supports a better home life. No one wants to be distracted by unfinished business when they are supposed to be off the clock. No one should have their leisure time negated because they are stressed about everything on their plates at work. But there is another side to this work-life balance that we often don’t address—that our work suffers when we aren’t giving it 100 percent, too.


As much as we like to pretend we are overworked and have no time for ourselves, that narrative doesn’t always hold true.


The truth is, for as much as we like to pretend we are overworked and have no time for ourselves, that narrative doesn’t always hold true. How many of us start the workday diving into our toughest projects, not waning in focus from the moment we start until the moment we finish? For whole 8-, 10-, 12-hour days? Few, if any at all.

A more likely scenario is ambling into the office, checking emails and scrolling news. You start working and then hit a small snag, something you could work through with some mental fortitude, but instead you decide to hit the vending machine and get a snack, maybe catch up with a colleague while you’re up. You have a meeting coming up, and the hard stuff isn’t worth getting into, so you bide your time with other small tasks that take less mental energy. After the meeting, you take lunch, then try to get back to it when you come back, but that’s easier said than done. Maybe you check emails again or make a phone call. At that point, there isn’t much time left to get into a state of flow with the project you had originally intended to tackle for the day, so you fill the time with more peripheral work. And because it’s late afternoon, you find yourself distracted by thoughts about what’s for dinner or the night’s plans. You end the day feeling like you’ve been going nonstop, but not a whole lot has actually been accomplished.

Related: 8 Things Killing Your Productivity

The average workday probably includes a lot less “work” than we think. We take ample breaks, socialize, daydream, check social media. Although we will have periods of concentrated work, they are fewer and farther between than we’d like to admit. The flow state where we reach our peak productivity? We don’t spend enough time there, which is why we spend so many of our off-the-clock hours with our minds on work issues.

Giving 100 percent at work isn’t easy. It takes practice to work through the discomfort of coming up against a challenge instead of giving in to the lure of a “mental break” by stepping out or switching tasks. It takes discipline to dive into the heart of your work instead of procrastinating with email for hours on end. The payoff, however, is worth it. When you learn to commit yourself to giving your all at work, it suddenly becomes a whole lot easier to do the same in your personal life.

Working mindfully and without distraction can give us permission to enjoy our home life more. We can leave work at the door if we’ve given our all at work, because we know we can attack any unfinished business with renewed energy and focus the next day. We aren’t leaving our workday with feelings of guilt that pull us back, because if you haven’t wasted your time, there is nothing to feel guilty about.


When it is time to work, work. When it is time for family, be present with them.


Even for those of us who don’t work conventional 9-to-5 jobs, making the switch from work to personal can still be made easier by being mindful and focused during our designated work time. Instead of checking email every hour, I can give myself a few predetermined times per day to get it all out of the way. When I am working from home, I can lock my office door, eschew the urge to “check in” on everyone and get down to business.

When it is time to work, work. When it is time for family, be present with them. We should always be going all in, no matter the task. Giving more mindfulness to all areas of our lives makes them more fulfilling—and easier to switch off when the time comes.

Related: 7 Tips for a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Gemma Hartley is a full-time freelance writer living in Reno, Nevada. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, CNBC, Glamour, Women’s Health, Redbook and more.