How to Transition Your Entrepreneurial Brain “Off the Clock” When You Work From Home

turn your brain off

turn your brain off

Working from home, how I love thee! Let me count the ways: I can wear pajamas, I can work at the table, in bed, or on the couch, I can take breaks to walk or shower, I can sing along to music, I can even drink a glass of wine while writing a blog post!

The list goes on, and make no mistake, there are many great things about working from home. But the appeal of wearing what you want and working from your bedroom hides the fact that working from home presents unique challenges.

It’s incredibly easy to get distracted. It can feel lonely and isolating. But what’s especially tricky is this: Without coworkers beside you, it’s hard to tell when the work day starts and when it ends.

The personal is professional

When you are your business, the personal and professional are almost the same thing. When you spend so much time thinking, daydreaming, talking, and planning your business(es), being “off the clock” becomes a foreign concept.

This is especially true when you work from home (this may resonate with students as well as entrepreneurs). When your home is your office, you know that you could always be working. This can create the toxic habit of feeling like you’re never not working…and that treadmill always leads to exhaustion and burnout.

The separation of home and work

If you have trouble getting “off the clock”, I feel you. I spent months this past summer feeling the constant, low-level anxiety that I wasn’t done. Five o’clock would come and I’d go from typing an email on my bed to typing an email in my kitchen, while I tab-switched to a recipe and cooked dinner. There was no physical difference between being at work and being at home, and that made it hard for me to switch gears from professional time to personal time. As a result, all my time felt like a confusing and exhausting combination of both.

This is perhaps the most challenging thing about working from home: separating “work time” from “not work time” when both happen in the same place. When you work in an office, your brain and body understand that it’s a workplace where you get work done. When you leave the office and commute home, it signals to your brain and body that the work day is done and that it’s time to relax. Even if you take work home with you, it’s in your personal space and you’re choosing to do it.

But when The Office is wherever we happen to be sitting in the house, the brain and body receive no external cues that the workday is over and it’s time to relax. Even if we switch from professional tasks to personal ones, we give ourselves no chance to recalibrate. That’s why we might still feel like we’re working while we eat dinner or watch a movie. Without a clear transition, our energy never switches from “on the clock” to “off the clock.”

The solution: Create transitions for your brain and body

So what do we do? We must create other ways to transition from professional into personal time. Here are five effective ways I’ve found to do this:

1. Meditation: Ending my workday by listening to a meditation is a rejuvenating exercise that I always look forward to. The stillness I find in meditation has truly transformed how I feel during my evenings “off the clock.” It helps ease my mind and body from any tension I hold from the day, and signals very clearly that we’re going from one way of being (work) to another (not-work). Try ending your workday with a guided meditation from Insight Timer. My favorite is Guided Meditation and Deep Relaxation, because the meditation closes with an invitation to gently come out of the exercise. For more on meditation, read A Beginner’s Journey with Meditation and Becoming 10% Happier.

2. Walk: For many people, stillness is best found in movement. We spend a lot of time with our bodies sitting and our minds whirring. It’s energizing and healthy to flip that script and to let our minds settle by moving our bodies. Try ending your workday with a 30-minute walk around your neighborhood. Sometimes I listen to a podcast for my walk, but often I prefer to walk in silence and see where my mind goes. (Note: If your mind goes to work, that’s okay! Processing work thoughts while walking can be a great way to end your work day.)

3. Clothing: A simple but powerful signal to the mind and body is changing clothes. Try ending your workday by changing from your “work clothes” (even if they are sweatpants!) into a different set of clothes. If you were wearing pajamas, put on jeans before you go for your walk!

4. Snack/drink: Another way to transition is to have a designated snack or drink. Make it something you look forward to: something tasty or special, that you don’t consume during the workday. This act signals to your brain that you’re done transitioning from one way of being to another. Try ending your workday by eating a cookie or making yourself a cocktail.

5. Say it: This transition is excruciatingly simple: When you’re finished working, say the word “done.” According to this research, this simple act can have a big impact by signaling to your brain that something is complete.

We are our keepers

It will take time to form the habit of closing your work day with a transition ritual. Repetition is what teaches our brains to associate walking or sweatpants with work being over. Try choosing one transition and trying it as often as you can for a month. Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t immediately feel your mind settling down. Patience and self-kindness is key!

No one disputes the benefits of meditation or exercise, but it can still be hard to make them a priority. There are a lot of articles out there extolling the importance of working hard and hustling, and they can make it seem like any time spent resting is time wasted.

Thankfully, more and more research is coming out that that shows that rest, play, and time off are as important to our health as sleep, healthy food, and exercise. This is not really “news”: It is a central concept in athletic training that rest is critical for muscles to repair themselves. Similarly, giving ourselves dedicated time off work is critical for our success. It is in rest that our minds have the space to make connections and process ideas. We are our best when we put as much thought and dedication into rest and relaxation as we do into hard work.

Still, it takes courage and discipline to make “not work” as much of a priority as “work.” We must remind ourselves and each other that work is not better than rest and rest is not lazy. What we ambitious, motivated, creative solopreneurs must do is deliberately set aside time when we’re not working. There are many healthy reasons to do this (physical health, mental health, and more) but if nothing else, remember this: Scheduling rest is good for the health of our business.

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Eva Jannotta is a social media marketer with a particular interest in working with sustainable clothing brands. She specializes in connecting businesses with their prospects, peers, and partners online to build community and business. She is a connector and a feminist.

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