Creating habits to separate work-time from off-time

Since March of last year I have, for the most part, been working from home. While we were able to work out the kinks in keeping connected to the rest of the team relatively quickly, I’ve found shutting off work-mode to be a bit harder. I find myself wanting to check stuff in the evenings, working longer days (and not just because the work needs to get done), and generally being mentally “at work”, even when I’m patently not at work.

There are a number of ways to deal with these tendencies. For me, creating habits that separate my work-time from my off-time has been key. I do this in a number of ways.

The first habit deals with clothing. While I generally dress less formally in the home office than I would at work, I still make sure to dress in a way appropriate for work. This means – at the very least – jeans or slacks, a t-shirt, and usually a sweater. Sometimes I swap the t-shirt for a polo shirt. In addition, I make sure to change out of these clothes and into other clothing after work.

The second habit centers around my EDC loadout. Simply put, I’ve got a valet tray in my home office. When I step into the office, I start my day out by picking up the sheath holding my multitool and flashlight, and adding it to my belt. Conversely, at the end of the day, I end my day by removing that same sheath from my belt and putting it in the valet tray. This physical act signals whether I’m at work or not.

A third habit is tied to how I finish my day. In addition to removing the sheath with my multitool and flashlight from my belt, I also empty the used pod-bin of my coffee maker (which sits in my home office) as one of the last things I do before I leave work for the day.

Finally, I have become significantly stricter about my use of work-related apps outside of working hours. Unless I need to check, I will leave it alone until the next morning and check using my computer. This final point has been one of the most difficult ones, as I found myself checking my work email first thing in the morning, and last thing at night – and very often besides – regardless of whether I was “at work” or “off work”.

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