Pre-pandemic, I often bemoaned my daily commute to and from the office. It wasn’t terribly long, fortunately, but I felt like that time in the car could be better spent doing something else. Now, after working from home for eight months and counting, I sometimes miss having that 40 minutes in the evening to listen to music, catch up with loved ones on the phone or just zone out. That built-in part of my routine physically and mentally separated my workday from my off-hours.
But when your living room or kitchen table has become your office — as is the case for many who are WFH long-term — the line between work and downtime becomes increasingly blurred.
“While some commutes can be grueling, the benefit it provides us is transition time between work and nonwork time,” clinical psychologist Jessica DiVento — mental health program manager at Google — told HuffPost. “It signals to our brain that we are shifting into another part of our day, and helps our brains orient towards thinking about what’s to come — like what to cook for dinner, time with our families, social events or that TV show we look forward to watching. This transition can help us be more present with our lives outside of work.”
So how can you create that boundary for yourself when you’re working remotely? We asked DiVento and other experts to share some rituals to help mark the end of the workday.
1. Make a list of any outstanding tasks.
When working from home, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to finish one more thing before you finally power down for the night. That one small task soon bleeds into another and next thing you know, it’s almost 8 p.m. and you haven’t eaten dinner yet. To remedy this, finish only what you absolutely need to get done in a given day. Then jot down any lingering tasks so you won’t forget about them and address them in the morning with fresh eyes.
“To help limit the desire to keep going until you are completely burned out for the night, try making a list at the end of your workday to help get you started tomorrow,” said Jesse Kahn, director at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City. “What are the things that need wrapping up that you weren’t able to get to today? What are things you want to remember to check on? This can help ease the worry over things not getting done or falling through the cracks, as well as signal to you that this is the end of work time.”
2. Put away your computer and other work stuff.
When your devices are within reach, it can be tempting to log back on after work hours. Instead, store your laptop, work phone and any papers or files where you can’t see them. Out of sight, out of mind.
“For example, you could be watching your favorite TV show and mindlessly grab your phone or laptop to answer emails,” DiVento said. “Or, as you’re sitting down to eat, you might be tempted to respond to a ping from a colleague, despite wanting to be present for your family while at the dinner table.”
Creating some physical distance from your work materials will allow you to more fully wind down and recharge.
“Clearer boundaries in this way also helps reduce work-related stress, which in turn has positive effects on our mental and physical health,” DiVento added.
3. Take a walk around the block.
Step away from your designated work area and get some fresh air. When Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist and well-being consultant in the U.K., leaves for his evening stroll, he’s literally and metaphorically shutting the door on his professional responsibilities for the night.
“I look around my neighborhood and feel the wind hitting my face, my feet pushing off the ground, the decreasing light shining in my eyes,” he said. “With all my senses ignited and a clearer mind, I unlock my door, walking into my home, and ask my children and wife how their day was. This anchors me psychologically into family time, which lasts until I have put the children in bed.”
4. Break a sweat.
“Many clients are utilizing Peloton or other online fitness solutions from home and find that working out from 5 to 6 p.m. helps them destress from the day and approach the evening with renewed energy,” she said.
“I like to combine yoga, pilates and barre for anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes while listening to my favorite playlist,” she said. “No matter what type of day I’ve had, movement combined with music is the quickest and surest way to elevate my mood.”
5. Call or FaceTime a loved one.
Seeing a friend or relative’s face after a long day of work, albeit virtually, can change your whole mood and help take your mind off work matters. If you’re not up for more screen time, a phone call works too — just hearing their voice can be comforting.
“While you may be on several video conferences a day and screen time may be the last thing you or your eyes want more of, the opportunity to discuss personal or humorous topics with someone you’re close to rather than talking business can go a long way,” said Symonne Kennedy, psychotherapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center. “Sometimes a video call with friends or family at the end of the day can provide just the humanizing, regenerative and connective jolt we need to put the workday behind us.”
6. Light a candle and play some music.
Help your mind shift from the go-go-go work mode to the slower pace of the evening hours by creating a spa-like atmosphere.
“Light a candle and play some music for a period of ‘destressing time’ right after work,” Kahn said. “You can sit and do a few deep-breathing exercises, stretch a bit, drink a big glass of water, dance around to the music, take a shower or bath, or any other ritual that feels meaningful to you. Ultimately, it can be an opportunity to get any pent-up tension or stress out before shifting onto the rest of your day.”
7. Practice deep breathing or meditation.
Setting aside some time at the end of the day — even if it’s just a few minutes — can change your state of mind.
“I take a pause and meditate,” Beheshti said. “This is my second meditation of the day since I start each morning with my [transcendental meditation] practice for 20 minutes. Meditation calms and energizes me simultaneously. At the end of the workday, it helps me let go of the day, unwind, and become present in the moment.”
If you’re not into mediation, taking some deep, intentional breaths can be just as powerful. Try a technique called “box breathing”: Breathe in for four seconds, hold the air in your lungs for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, and then hold your lungs empty for four seconds. Do this for five minutes.