Creating A Buffer

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?


5 thoughts on “Creating A Buffer

  1. Pingback: Creating A Buffer - Brandon Kraft

  2. I’m always in awe thinking about what your day to day looks like compared to mine. I can’t say I have any magic solution but I know for me I make it so that when I close my computer it’s nearly impossible for me to re-engage with work unless I am seeking it out. No WordPress app, no slack app, no automattic email inbox on my phone. When my computer is closed or if I’m not proxied, no one can reach me. I then get to choose when to re-engage. This doesn’t create a mental barrier so to speak as I still carry the thoughts around but it does prevent me from the lure of being dragged back into the chaos 🙂

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  3. I don’t think an instant mental transition is possible, but there are some tricks that may make it feel nearly instant to those around you:

    – I set my status on Slack as Away before I actually finish for the day. That way, I have a chunk of time to slow down and wrap up/start mentally disconnecting rather than a hard stop at the end of the day.
    – My husband and I give each other some time for decompressing or sharing about our work days at the start of the evening. (Spouses are probably better at this than kids, though.)
    – If I have to jump into making dinner or doing other chores, I’ll play a podcast to refocus my thoughts away from work.

    Another thing I haven’t tried but have thought about doing is adding back a “commute” at the end of the day, like a 10-minute walk around the block to change mental gears. A shorter activity could also help mentally divide work from the evening, like changing clothes or washing your face (which also give you a moment to be alone and make that transition before rejoining the family for the evening).

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  4. I like Rachel’s suggestion of changing clothes, but it sounds like you need that buffer to be somewhere between your desk and your office door! Might it help to have kind of an in-place buffer, like a few laps around your office (if you pace around your office, like I used to do, go counterclockwise if you usually go clockwise), a stretching routine, prayer, or a “pump down” song (instead of a pump-up one)?


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