I haven’t worked in an office since 2010, but when I did, I would get off at work at 5:30 p.m., jump into the car or head to the bus stop, and have a solid 30 minutes alone in my own thoughts. I could push myself to finish up everything and had a built-in buffer before walking in the door, becoming again “husband” and “father”.
Now, I work in the office off of the dining room. I leave work at 5:30 p.m. By 5:30:01 p.m., I need to be in husband and father mode already. The twins are already each wrapped around a leg yelling at me to show me whatever craft they made that day. The older three are often yelling to get my attention to talk about school or camp or whatever filled their day (or they’re yelling at each other). V is giving me orders on what’s outstanding to get dinner on the table.
In distributed work, one of the often overlooked differences compared to conventional environments is the need to create a buffer between your work time and your home time. Even if we have the discipline to keep the phone in a drawer and the laptop on the dock, allowing us time to mentally leave work before needing to mentally enter back home is hard.
Fairly often, I’ll have a tense conversation in the last few minutes before the end of my day. Another difference from my conventional office life is at the office, everyone is going to get off around the same time so no one brought up a major issue in the last few minutes of the day unless it was critical to be addressed then. When in a remote environment, it may be the end of my day, but a solid portion of the team may still have a few hours left in their day or may have just started it.
I don’t have a magic solution to this problem. I have to try to think harder before I speak or react than usual. No one at home knows what conversation I’m replaying in my mind because it didn’t go as expected or what may have just dropped into my lap on my way out the door that will change the rest of my week. It isn’t their fault and they don’t deserve to be the recipient of my raw feeling.
In addition to thinking harder before speaking, if I can’t get something out of my head, I’ll excuse myself to a paper notebook—specifically not my phone or my laptop—to write out quick notes on what is stuck in my head. “Respond to Joe and ask about the data’s source”. I do this on paper because it gets out of my head, I can leave the physical paper on my keyboard so I can pick it up in the morning, and I can’t get sucked into continuing a conversation or being diverted by another ping that I would see on my phone or computer.
What tactics to you use to help instantly build a wall between your mental state and work when you walk out of your office?