How to Leave Work at Work


February 12, 2007   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

We get lots of email at Dumb Little Man but this one really hit me because I tend to get in this rut too.

I love the site but I have a question (if you don’t have time, don’t worry about it). You mentioned that you are a work-a-holic and so am I. I work close to 60 hours a week to earn enough money so that my wife can stay home with the kids. Since I am so into my work, it is hard for me to leave work at work. It seems that I am always thinking about my job and it’s causing an unintentional distancing between me and my family. How would you recommend that I balance the two so that I can totally focus on work, yet know how to call it a day and really enjoy my family time?

So as many of you can imagine, this is a tough one and as far as I am concerned it’s ramifications have nothing to do with who earns what, it simply has to do leaving work at work. So how do you do that?

Here are the things that I personally do. Without them, I swear I’d be thinking of my job or Dumb Little Man 24×7.

  • Change your route: What I mean by this is literally “change your route home”. If you have a bad or overly stressful day at work, take the long way home. During the first half of your journey home, turn the radio off and think about what you have to accomplish at work and how you will execute. During the second half of the drive, turn on whatever music you like, talk radio, (whatever) and begin the process of thinking about things outside of work. Do not think about work during the entire commute, you must separate before you get home!
  • The boss at work does not equal the boss at home: Just because you are an important guy at work doesn’t mean that you get to make demands at home. You have to remember that the people you live with are not paid to take your BS. If you love them, you will treat them better than those that report to you. On the flip side of this, your being an entry-level employee at work doesn’t mean that at home you can get the “power trip” your ego begs for.
  • Vent: Venting is the art of blowing your lid and we all do it. Once you get home after work and kiss the kids, give yourself a 15-minute window to let it out. You should set this up in advance with your spouse but leave the time limit at 15 minutes. During that time, they have to simply listen and let you get it out. After that, you must agree that work is over.
  • Blackberry/Laptop: Occasionally we all have to work at night or on the weekends. The key here is to set an expectation when honestly important projects arise. If you really don’t need to work, keep the electronics off. Don’t login just because you are curious. As we all know you will find reasons to email people or start completing tasks.
  • Questions first: When you get home, immediately ask how your spouse’s day went (AND LISTEN). Many times their response is enough to get you to think of family tasks and break you away from work. In addition, you will probably earn some points for engaging them in the conversation. Remember, it’s human nature to want to talk about yourself so resist the urge.
  • Survival: Whether you believe it or not, your company will survive without you. It is key to remember this as you choose where to spend time. If it is after hours and you haven’t turned off the blackberry, you have to resist the urge to get involved in something that isn’t really ultra-critical.
  • No work, no matter what: This is a tough one but at my house we practice it like a religion. On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5-10 PM I have sworn not to do work. These nights and times actually have a place in my calendar and I have told co-workers that I am absolutely unavailable no matter what. If I were a CEO making 10 trillion per year perhaps this would change but I am not so…I’m booked.
  • 25% Rule: When I plan my days, I leave a minimum of 25% of the time open. This time is used for emergencies, task lists, etc. It is during that time that I accomplish smaller tasks that I would have reserved for off-hours.
  • Get up earlier: Don’t be a crybaby about this one. If may sting in the beginning but if you are constantly running out of time, take time from you and not your family. As your family sleeps, you can easily get some stuff done by heading to the office early.

These are things I do and they are tough at times because there are constantly urgent issues arising at work. The key for me was learning how to delegate and say no when I had to. Again, it’s not easy but with some will, you can do it.

I’d love to hear what you do to really get some work/home separation. If you have a cure that I didn’t mention, please share it in the comments. It would probably help a lot of people.



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