Unplugging After Work

 One of the most common complaints you’ll hear about remote work is around how hard it is to unplug after hours, especially if you’re working from home instead of a coworking space or coffee shop. There are a number of reasons this could be the case. I hope to provide some ideas for solutions that you might find helpful.

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If you are working remotely, you typically have some choices to make about your work environment. If you work from home because you are unable — or simply don’t want — to work from a coffee shop or coworking space, you immediately give up that natural boundary between your “work” and “non-work” lives. You lose the physical location change, you lose the commute time, and you might lose the ability to disconnect from email or chat apps. All of these things might help you unplug in one way or another, so let’s talk about how to reproduce or adapt them for working from home.

No More Office…?

One of the easiest ways to deal with not having an office anymore is to, you guessed it, have an office! Boom, problem solved. Next!

Not so fast. Sadly this isn’t as easy as that. Unless you moved into your current place knowing you were going to be working from home and had the opportunity to make sure there is an extra room just for your office, you likely are thinking you’ll work from the couch or kitchen table or some such place. While that might work for some, consider these points:

  • You are now spending most of your day thinking about work in a place where you also think about TV or food or family
  • You might now have easy access or visibility to distractions like the refrigerator or TV
  • You potentially are in a shared space with other members of your household, human or otherwise

Can you see where this is going? Already, by not having a physical location that is different for work and non-work activities, you are more likely to start blurring the lines between the two. You’ll spend your days watching TV (even having it on in the background isn’t great), or standing at the fridge, or playing with your dog. Or you’ll spend your evenings thinking about work while eating dinner with your family, or while playing video games, or… well you get it.

So the best advice I can give is to find a place and make it just for work. Whether that’s a dedicated room, a desk in a corner somewhere, or even if it involves more self-control and saying “I won’t turn on the TV until 5pm” or “I don’t need that extra soda right now,” any kind of boundary for yourself will be helpful. And once you have your own boundaries, don’t forget about setting a few with whoever you share your living space with. Let them know “From 9–5, I am working. I am not here. Call/text me if you need me.” Doing these few things will help limit distractions during the day, and allow you to feel like you have a goal to work towards, a point in time to call it quits for the day.

No More Commute!

Some, ok most, of you are likely wondering how this is a bad thing. No more traffic, no more public transportation, no more smelly strangers… And it’s true, most people spend hours every week commuting to and from work. It’s one of the biggest benefits of remote work, to not have to spend that time traveling. But there is a flip side for some.

Depending on how you commute, you might have used that time to ramp up for work. It could be as simple as a time to drink coffee, or time to get caught up on some emails on the bus or train. Now that you don’t have this time, you might be doing those things on the official clock, which can be detrimental depending on what you did during that time. For example, if you wait till you start work for your first cup of coffee, you don’t start your day as fresh as you used to. Or now you’re not doing that extra work outside of office hours so your boss thinks you’re slacking from home (which is a whole other issue we’ll address in another post).

The same is true on the commute home, but for your personal life. You no longer have that time to decompress from a hectic day so you can come home and enjoy life. No time just to yourself to put on some music and zone out for your moment of zen. Now you are just walking downstairs or to a different part of the house which takes no time at all, which now is the amount of time you have to transition to your home life.

How do you counteract this one, you ask? It’s a good question, one I’m still working on, honestly, and I’ve been working from home for 6 years. One thing that has worked for me is shifting those downtime moments to different parts of the day, like after dinner or before bed. Sure, maybe some days I feel like I’m going nonstop from the time I get up till after dinner. But then I take some time after that, even just 20 minutes, to find something that I can do to relax — music, tv, video games, reading, etc — whatever works for you. Every moment helps. Find yours.

So Many Notifications…

The last piece I’ll discuss is the ability to truly unplug from your notifications — emails, chat apps, phone calls — whatever it might be. Some of you have to be part of 24/7 on-call rotations, so clearly this doesn’t fully apply to you. But hopefully, there are times you’re not on call and can truly get away from it for a time.

If you’re working from home, or even from a coffee shop or coworking space with a laptop you bring home, turn off your computer at night. Or at least make sure it’s muted. Sometimes your computer might wake up, or you forget to put it to sleep, and it will ding every time you get an email or chat message from that overeager coworker who hasn’t learned how to unplug yet.

Do the same for your work phone, if you have one. If you’re not on call, maybe leave it in a bag, or keep it next to your computer and on silent. As long as it’s out of sight so you’re not tempted to check when you see the screen light up.

If you have your work chat or email on your personal phone, maybe consider not doing that, or only signing in during the day or when you’re on call.

If you allow yourself to check your email after hours, you risk getting sucked into a rabbit hole sending a quick reply, “it’ll only take a second” you think. Then the other person responds with more questions, or worse, sends you a chat message or calls you because they “saw you were online” when you sent an email after hours. It’s a difficult precedent to set for yourself. You also run the risk of saying “let me just grab my computer for a second” and working on something until suddenly you realize the house is dark, your partner has gone to bed, and the dog is silently begging by the door wishing it still had those puppy training pads… not that this has happened to me or anything…

So just be careful and limit your access to those devices that drag you back to work, even if for a moment. You could use those moments for something better (see the previous section).

Remote Work: Unplugged

Like a good acoustic set, once you’ve made progress on the above areas, your life will seem simpler, calmer, and more relaxing, and you’ll be ready to tackle the next day feeling more refreshed and prepared for anything that gets thrown at you.

But like I’ve said, everyone’s situation is different so you might have other things that work better for you. Let me know in the comments if you have found another way to help yourself unplug after work, or if you are experiencing a situation that hasn’t been covered here. Maybe I or someone else can provide some suggestions!

Oh, and feel free to send this article to that overeager coworker who just sent you yet another email at 9pm… I’m sure they’ll thank you in the morning.

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