WFH: How To (Actually) Turn Off Work Thoughts After Hours

March 17, 2021

WFH: How To (Actually) Turn Off Work Thoughts After Hours

It’s 8PM. You’ve turned off your computer and left your work desk. You’ve had your dinner, and you’re sitting in the living room to catch up on your favourite shows. 15 minutes in, though, your mind starts inevitably wandering back to that report you were working on, or the marketing collaterals you were in the midst of designing.

Paradoxically, you just can’t seem to properly tune out work-related thoughts, despite working in the comfort of your own home. When your workspace is literally just a few steps away, it’s hard to keep your professional and personal lives separate.

It does more damage in the long run than most people may realise. Not only does it raise the risk of job burnout, it may ultimately eat into all the other roles you occupy in life—as a spouse, a parent, a friend, and so on. To that end, here are three tips on how you can (actually) turn off your work mode after WFH hours.

P.S. Knowing how to destress and decompress is indispensable amidst the volatility of the pandemic; learn how by signing up for SSA Academy’s WSQ course on developing personal effectiveness today!

1. Incorporate a daily “shutdown” ritual before you end work

It’s a scientifically proven fact—called the Ziegarnik Effect—that unfinished tasks tend to weigh much more heavily on our minds.

Whether it’s that report you were only 60% through when you stopped work for the day, or those new emails you saw in your inbox but haven’t gotten around to reading, our brains are wired to keep the mental merry-go-round spinning around any tasks left incomplete or without proper a conclusion.

The implications might seem off-putting at first; most knowledge workers have several ongoing projects and commitments at any one time during the work week—there are literally always incomplete tasks at the end of every work day.

Thankfully, though, you don’t actually have to complete every single task to stop your mind from going back to them repeatedly. The solution is a simple: have a daily “shutdown” ritual right before you end work that allows you to:

  • Review all your work tasks
  • Ensure that for every incomplete task, you’ve planned out the rest of the steps necessary for completion
  • Have a specific personal word phrase you default back to to signal to your brain that it’s time to shut off work mode—even if it seems corny (like “power down.”)

According to Cal Newport. author of New York Times bestseller “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success In A Distracted World”, shutdown rituals dramatically reduce work stress because they allow “your mind [to be released] from its duty to keep track of these [incomplete] obligations” all the time.


2. Physically delineate your WFH space from the rest of your home

What makes WFH particularly stressful is the erosion of boundaries between work and home.

If, for example, your room is simultaneously a place for rest during the night and a place for work during the day, the lack of physical demarcations may compound the stress arising from blurred work-life boundaries.

Separate your workspace from the rest of your home, then, can help to facilitate clearer boundaries. Where possible, try and make it a point to only do work in your workspace instead of shifting from place to place within the house.

3. Simulate your daily commute (post-work run, walk around before and after work)

Not having to brave the rush-hour commuting crowds was probably one of the best things about WFH in the beginning. Indeed, recent surveys reported in the Singapore Business Review indicate that most Singaporeans feel that saving time and money on commuting is what they appreciate the most about WFH.

Still, research has also shown that the time we spend commuting to and from work every day acts as a powerful buffer that allows us to transition between the different roles we occupy. People who use their morning commute to plan the work day ahead were more productive and less easily distracted than those who didn’t.

Similarly, taking 10-15 minutes at the start of each WFH day to plan ahead can make a big difference to having stronger work-life boundaries.

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