Work-Life Balance

When You Find It Hard To Stop Thinking About Work

Working-from-home-as-default has blurred our boundaries between home and work, and work and home. Do you find transitioning from work mode to home mode increasingly difficult? Does letting go of your workday and stop thinking about work prove to be more and more challenging?

This might be why:  

How do you look back on your day at the end of the workday? Are you thinking about all the things you didn’t do? The tasks you didn’t finish? The things you aren’t satisfied with?

Ending your workday with these thoughts will give you a nagging feeling of failing. Of not having done enough. Perhaps even of not being enough. On top of that, these thoughts make you stressed and anxious. Put together, it’s a situation that makes it hard to stop thinking about work – or perhaps even to stop working at all.

Having these thoughts isn’t as strange as we might think. Our brains are wired to focus on the negative. Back when we were hunters and gatherers, this helped us recognise physical danger. Today it helps us filter out emotional danger. But despite all the good stuff that brings us (survival!), unfortunately it also means we easily tilt towards the negative.

And should you, on top of that, find yourself in a work environment where much focus lies on what is not good, on what should be improved, and where your work is never finished (for example in academia), you’re in double trouble…

Of course, there might – sometimes!- be some truth in such thoughts. Yes, there will be tasks you didn’t complete. Yes, there will be things you didn’t even get to today. And yes, there probably is room for improvement. But that is only part of the story.

Some tasks may be unfinished – AND there are ways in which you made progress today.

Your work can be good – AND there can still be room for improvement.

BOTH are true at the same time.

So hold a ‘BOTH-AND’ perspective.

Don’t deny yourself the positive.

Having only the negative perspective will make transitioning to a relaxed, non-working state much more difficult. The good news is that you can take conscious, practical, and easy action to also bring in the positive. So that you can make an easier transition into a more gentle, free way of thinking – and a calmer evening.

I invite you to experiment with the following three simple questions at the end of each workday this week:

  • Check in with yourself: what kind of thoughts are in your head when you finish your workday? How do you feel because of those thoughts?
  • Take 5 minutes and make a list of every small step, every small accomplishment of your day today. Be really detailed and specific. Don’t just write: ‘I worked on my research’ (this won’t give you a positive feeling because it’s too general). Instead, list every small step you took.
  • Check in again: how do you feel after you’ve made this list?

Do this every day for a week and see if you experience that you really ended your workday –  and feel more satisfied and relaxed going into your evening.