How to leave work at work in 5 steps

We have all been there.  It’s six o’clock and you’re ready to leave the office for the day.  However, as soon as you get in the car/on the train, your mind starts racing with all of the things you still have to do for work, the bad meeting you had, the unhappy client, etc.  So how do you leave work at work, in order to be more present, mindful and joyful at home?

As a full-time veterinarian, I often had extremely frustrating, draining days with euthanasias or sick patients who didn’t respond to treatment.  Or maybe an exasperating client who wasn’t happy with any options that I gave them.  I would come home a ball of stress, replaying the day in my mind like a horror movie.

My family just wanted to spend time with me and, instead, they just got a shell of who I really was, a ghost me.  What I needed was an action plan to leave work at work in order to focus on my time at home, my sanctuary.  That is what I want to give to you, so that you don’t become a ghost parent like I was.

leave work at work

Don’t be a ghost parent

How to leave work at work

  1. Prioritize your work load–  You need to identify what has to be done today, this week, this month, the next three months and so on.  You can do this by using a spreadsheet, a list, Google Docs or Sheets, or whatever else works for you.  If you need help with managing a project, you can try an online management tool like Liquid Planner or Asana.  If you’re not sure how to determine your priorities, my post on how to set priorities can help.  When you are setting work priorities and schedules, don’t forget to designate time to check work emails and for social media (if that pertains to your business).  Those two things can be time drains and throw off your entire day, if not scheduled into your day.
  2. Do a quick five minute meditation right after leaving the office–  This will help to reset your mind and body and allow you to leave work at work.  I wish I had done this in past years, in order to be more present with my family.  Not sure how to do a meditation?  Set a timer for five minutes, turn on some yoga music (via Pandora or other music player) and close your eyes.  Observe your breath, but don’t try to control it.  Focus on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation.  Pay attention to your thoughts, also without trying to control them and without judgement.  Visualize each thought like a balloon drifting slowly in front of you and then moving on.  Feel the sensations of your body as it sits.  When the timer goes off, open your eyes and move on with your day.  You can also use a meditation app like Calm or Meditation Oasis.
  3. Use your commute as YOUR time–  Instead of stressing out because traffic is backed up more than usual or someone just cut you off, use your commute time to focus on something you enjoy.  This definitely applies to train/subway/bus commutes as well.  You can listen to an audiobook, a podcast or your favorite music (with real human voices, not cartoon characters).  I love audiobooks (and books in general) and am amazed at how much more quickly the time passes when listening to one.  Plus, 90’s hip-hop, such as “Whatta Man” or “Jump Around,” may or may not inspire me to do some car dancing (I personally could not stop watching #5 and 6!).  Let’s face it, you simply can’t be unhappy listening to Salt-N-Pepa.
  4. Focus on who is at home–  This includes your children, spouse, pets.  These are the VIP’s in your life, right?  Some days, they were the only thing that kept me motivated throughout the day.  If you focus on your family at home, you always have something to look forward to at the end of the day.  Consequently, you will be able to more easily leave work at work.
    leave work at work

    This is who I focus on.

  5. Do a mind dump before entering your home– No, not a Vulcan mind meld (hey, my dad loved Star Trek!).  A mind dump means that you write down everything in your brain at a certain time, in order to let it go.  I used to do this before going to sleep, when I had insomnia, and it made a huge difference on how quickly I could fall asleep.  Keep a notebook (any kind is fine, no one is going to see it) in your car or bag and write down all of the concerns you have from the day.  You can also write down any tasks that still need to be done for the week, so that you don’t forget them.  Then you can leave it all in your notebook and concentrate on your evening with your family.

∗A special note for teachers, on-call docs (like I was), firefighters, police and anyone else who is on call or simply HAS to take work home with them.  I get it.  You can’t always leave work at work, because it follows you home.  I have teacher friends who always have grading, grade cards and planning to do after school.  In addition, for many years, I was on call and was interrupted at dinner, bedtime, birthday parties, etc.  I knew that was part of my job and had to accept it.  If you are in this special group, you can still use these techniques, and probably need them even more than regular workers.  These techniques can help you to be fully present with your family when you are home.

∗Another special note for those who work from home.  Since I have entered this group recently, I realize how difficult it is to separate work and home life.  Obviously, your office is always with you and distractions are everywhere.  What can help is to designate a work zone and home zone.  My work zone is in our home office.  When I’m in there, I focus on what needs to be done and leave everything else for later (as I’m also still responsible for all household duties).  My work stops when I go to pick up my girls from school.  You can still do a modified version of these techniques.  That can provide you with a transition from work mode to home and family mode.

My hope is that following these steps will provide you with a better quality of life and more balance.  Then, you can avoid being a ghost parent like I was.

Now, I would love to hear from you!  Please share any comments and tips on how you leave work at work in the comments section below.


Joyful thought for the day, “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”-author unknown

Heidi Ball
Heidi Ball is a licensed veterinarian who left general practice in order to focus on her health and family, and still does occasional relief work. She is a mom and wife who loves to cook real nourishing food for her family, garden in her illegal front garden bed, listen to enlightening podcasts, go out on foodie dates with her hubbie and be a homebody with her family.

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