Working from Home Means Not Having Another Place to Mentally Leave Your Job Behind

I was working from home long before the coronavirus outbreak, and it definitely had its perks. If the kids were sick, I was able to care for them without scrambling to find childcare. Plus, I could throw in a load of laundry whenever I needed. But the hardest part about working from home in that pre-pandemic world was that I didn’t have a place to leave my work mentally. And it’s a new struggle for those of you joining the fully remote ranks.

When you physically go to a workplace, it’s much more feasible to leave your work there—it’ll be there tomorrow. But when you’re always at home, your brain is clogged with ideas and things you need to focus on, even after business hours. Your mind never rests—which makes it increasingly difficult to concentrate and be present with your family. But what can we do about it?

One action that we can take is to set time parameters. A practice that Christine Moffatt, a mom in the marketing business, implements is to make sure her work is done by the time the weekends roll around—“especially Sundays.” It’s important to stick to the same Monday through Friday schedule as if we did work in an office. This way, our minds will be able to shift to “weekend time” with our families.

Christine also implements a rule where she doesn’t work from her bed. She said, “It was the worst habit for me. Nothing like getting out of bed with a head full of anxiety!” I can attest to this one too. Technology is a valuable tool, but we can’t escape it. I check my email hourly. It doesn’t matter if the kids are around or not. So turning off technology until normal working hours is essential to mentally leaving work at a distance—even if it’s not physically elsewhere.

After speaking with many women, the biggest obstacle is not having a separate work space. Yes, you can create one in your home, but it doesn’t mean that you won’t be staring at the scattered Legos right beside your feet. Writer Lisa Davis said, “I’m sitting here working amid the mess, distracted by it.” If your home is cluttered, your brain is too. It’s difficult for me to work if I can see something that needs to be picked up, swept or wiped. It’s like my brain can’t move forward until my workspace is entirely clean. Luckily, there are ways to remedy this.

“It’s vital to create a separate, and at the very least, consistent, workspace,” says Julie Kays, manager and clinical counselor at the Counseling Center at Stella Maris in Maryland. Even if you can’t have a separate room to mimic an office, sit at the same table and chair every single day—so that mentally, it becomes your work area. Be sure the surrounding area is clean the night before so that you can get right to work when business hours begin the next day.

Following strict times to change your clothes is another way to help your mental shift when you don’t go to an office. Author Julie Lieberman Neale said, “For some time, inspired by Mr. Rogers, I was working to physically change something on my body, like changing clothes or putting on slipper socks, to acknowledge the transition of the day.” When work time is over, something must be done to help your brain get the signal that it’s not time to work anymore—it’s now time for family. With a wardrobe change, you’re not physically leaving laptops and files at a workplace, but your mind can shift to unwinding time.

Not only do we owe it to our families to leave work aside during after-hours, but we owe it to ourselves too. Our mental health can’t be jeopardized, especially not at a time like this. With work constantly swirling in our minds because we don’t exit an office, we’re not giving ourselves a fighting chance. Find out how and where you get the most work done when you’re on the work clock. Then you’ll have a clear mind when it’s time to share this same workspace with the ones you love most.