Leaving Work at the Office

Throughout my career I’ve struggled leaving work at the office. When I ran an addiction treatment center, the challenges of days regularly followed me home whether it was questioning what I did with a certain client, formulating a plan for the next day, or running through tough conversations needed with my employees. I know I’m not alone in this struggle!

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in my career is the importance of separating work and home. When the two blend together, I would struggle to feel present in either. It is crucial for one’s home life and work productivity to have clear separation.

Currently, I office from my house, and we have two kids under two years old who my wife stays with at home. When I hear one baby cry in pain from tripping, my father instinct kicks in, pulling me from whatever task at hand. In a few seconds, I calm down knowing my wife is caring for them, but I am pulled from whatever task I was completing, often losing focus. This creates a sadness within me because I feel distant from my family and mentality distracted from my work at the same time. I struggle because my focus is consistently split and I feel never fully present or focused on the task at hand.

Learning to leave work at the office has two powerful results. First, it allows you to be fully present and enjoy your personal life. Second, a clear break from work challenges provides space to check out for a moment and allows new ideas to develop. This separation allows you to approach a problem anew, with a new perspective and a full tank of energy. Ken Chasman in his book Leadership from the Inside Out tells the story of an executive who gets his best business ideas while swimming laps in the morning. When our mind is at rest, it wonderfully compiles information in our unconscious creating unique ideas that never would have arisen otherwise. Below are a few ways you can leave work at the office and create space in your life.

1.     Create Rest – We all desire to work like machines, pumping out projects, solutions, and the like at a highly efficient pace. But we are not machines, we cannot work continuously for long periods of time. Research proves the brain works best in spurts with a break from the task. This break isn’t simply warming up your cup of coffee. Rest means fully pulling yourself from the task, focusing on something completely different, typically something enjoyable to you. This can be going for a short walk around your office, taking time to visit with a coworker, or using a few minutes to meditate.

2.     Rely on your team – The more people you manage, the less physical work you will produce. Leaders across the board struggle with this difficult concept when transitioning from a producer to a leader. An impactful step is to give your team more control over decisions, building their skills and abilities, and your confidence in them. Trust your team to evolve, allowing you to step away from the office without worrying if a task will be done. The more you rely upon your team, the easier it will be to check out from work knowing competent individuals can field projects and problems.

3.     Avoid emails and calls at home – This sounds much easier than reality. As I mentioned above, when you feel productive at the office, it allows you to fully engage in your personal life. The cycle continues, for when you feel present and happy with your personal life, it gives you permission to full engage in you work being more productive. Give yourself permission to turn off your phone at home. Be present and fully engaged there, which will allow you to be present and fully engaged at work. 

I believe everyone struggles with life/work balance at some level. The existence of the struggle shows you care about your work, which is a wonderful thing. The more separation and rest you experience at the office, the greater reliance on your team and others, and giving yourself permission to be fully present at home and the office, will all have influential results. Small changes cascade into significant outcomes.