I have a theory that balancing work and life requires transitional activities. It’s just virtually impossible to successfully move from work to housework without some sort of formal transition point. Some way to mark the end of one thing and the beginning of the other; or a way to catch your breath before moving from one pile of stress to another pile of laundry.
In 50s family sitcoms, the transitional activity was Father-Knows-Best taking his shoes off, sitting down in his recliner, and drinking a martini while reading the newspaper his apron-clad wife brought to him. Not. Gonna. Happen.
For many people now, the commute home is your transition from work into family life. And this can work well if you get to read or listen to sports radio or chat with your mom on the phone. It works less well if you’re putting out work fires on your Blackberry while swerving through Chicago traffic.
Since I work at home most of the time, my transitional activity is often chopping vegetables for that night’s supper. I know that seems like work, but for me – with NPR playing in the background and the kids not yet home from daycare – it’s relaxing. I wrap up the day’s work projects mentally (taking the tension out on a tomato, if necessary) and think through what has to get done that night at home. By the time I leave to pick up the kids, I’m breathing a little deeper and a little more ready to hear about that day’s Pre-K drama.
A PsychCentral article from earlier this week reminded me that these transitional activities aren’t just convenient, they’re important. The author cites a book, Five Good Minutes in the Evening: 100 Mindful Practices to Help You Unwind from the Day & Make the Most of Your Night by Jeffrey Brantley, M.D., and Wendy Millstine, NC, and gives four exercises to help you leave work at work.
The exercises are mindfulness-related. If you don’t know what a Sun Salutation is, you may find it a little too touchy-feely. But if you have a reasonable appreciation for Namaste, then you might want to check out the article’s tips. (Full explanations are in the article – see link above.) Here’s a quick overview:
1. Release nagging thoughts. Take deep breaths and think about how you’re feeling. When an unfinished work project or a terse email from a colleague comes to mind, say to yourself, “Okay … but not now.”
2. Unravel like a thread. (I warned you this was a little touchy-feely.) Imagine you’re a spool of thread that unravels from job related stress. Each turn of the spool breaks more thread (stress) away from you.
3. Enjoy some humor. The article recommends renting a comedy or calling a funny friend. But 5 minutes on YouTube can do the trick. I’ve watched David After Dentist more than once when I needed something light to launch me into a more relaxed evening. Even better, go to Someecards.com, and find some wildly inappropriate card to send to someone else. You’ll get the laugh-lift you need, and make a friend laugh too.
4. Act like a tourist on your way home. Notice your surroundings: are the tulips up in your neighbor’s yard? Does that store have a new sign? I once heard a speaker say he has a certain tree his passes on his way home – after that point, he has to stop thinking about work and start being prepared to be present with his family.
I don’t know that any of the authors’ suggestions would work for me. I like my vegetable-chopping transitional activity well enough. You’ll find what works for you.