The keys to going home gracefully

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It’s a myth that you will one day be able to go home from a clear desk. It’s never going to happen.

The plain truth is that there will always be work undone at the end of the day.

This gives you three options:

1) Go home, but take the work with you and spend your evening doing it. This ensures maximum friction at home, minimum rest, and returning to work next day tired before you start.

2) Drag your body away, leave the work, then spend the evening fretting over what you left behind. Same results for friction and rest. When you get back to work next day, you’ll be tired—and the work will not have been done either.

3) Leave the work behind gracefully, forget about it, and enjoy a relaxing evening. No friction, lots of rest, return next day refreshed and ready to tackle what’s waiting for you.

Here are some techniques to help you achieve the last of these three options: to make a smooth transition between work and home at the end of the day, have a pleasant evening, and get the rest and refreshment you need.

  • Treat your commute home as a positive time to wind down and start the process of relaxation. Play some favorite music, if you can. Whistle or sing to yourself. Enjoy the drive or the train journey. You might as well, since you have to do it, enjoyable or not. Don’t catch up on the news. It’s bound to remind you of work or depress you.
  • Match your journey time with the time you need to relax. If that means taking the long, scenic route, so be it. If it means stopping at Starbucks, that’s just fine. Your family and friends will prefer you half an hour later in a calm mood rather than half an hour earlier in a foul one.
  • Never hurry home. If you do, every hold-up, traffic jam, late train, or missed bus will be a source of additional stress. Take it easy, even if you don’t dawdle.
  • Treat your commute home as your time—a period just for you. All day at work, you’re at other peoples’ call. Now it’s time to to relax and be yourself. Don’t turn the people at home into imaginary “bosses” monitoring your progress along the way and eager to complain over every lost moment.
  • On a bad day, leave for home early and arrive on time or later. The worse the day, the more time you will need to relax. The worst thing to do is stay late, then rush home. You’ll arrive like a grizzly bear with toothache.
  • If you need to rant and vent, do it along the way. Curse the world in the privacy of your own vehicle. Park up and yell where no one can hear you. Walk to the station the long way, yelling and cursing (silently!) to yourself. Don’t walk in the door when you arrive and start into a rant. Who wants to welcome anyone like that?
  • If you must take work home—and you should treat that idea as you would infecting yourself with a specially repulsive social disease—agree a set time to do it and stick to that agreement. Early is best. If you spend an hour or more working before you get into bed, you’ll be wide awake, probably sleep badly, and start the next day off on a poor footing. Besides, who wants to make love to someone running over budgets in their head at the same time?
  • When you get home, pay full attention to whoever’s waiting for you. Never be present physically and mentally elsewhere—it’s an insult. Even the most insignificant domestic matters can wean help your mind away from work.
  • Always keep your promises. If you’ve arranged to eat out, don’t cancel, pleading tiredness or extra work. If you’ve promised to help your child with homework, do it whatever. Firstly, people who break promises are teaching those around them a dangerous lesson. Secondly, though you may really, really not want to do what you promised, you may well end up enjoying it—and feel far more energized than if you slumped in front of the TV. And lastly, you promised, remember? Don’t be a jerk as well as a wimp.
  • Be firm with yourself. In the end, leaving work behind, mentally and physically, is down to you. You have to want to do it, decide to do it, and then do it—and keep on doing it until it becomes the norm. Slowing down and clearing your mind of the leftovers from the day is an act of will. You may think that watching TV or distracting yourself in some other way is a short-cut, but it isn’t. The minute you ease up on the distraction, all the worries will be back.

Using a few techniques like this can help to send you home as the kind of person your family will be glad to see—the kind of person who spends an enjoyable evening with them, gets a good night’s sleep, and is ready to go back to the office to do a good day’s work the next day.

Guess what? It will all still be there in the morning. Forgetting about it for an evening will not cause the business to collapse, the markets to crash, or civilization to come to an end. Sadly, all of us are utterly expendable. If you went under the proverbial bus, the world would go on smoothly without you. Remember that when you’re burning the midnight oil.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. Recent articles there on similar topics include The Law of Repulsion and What’s your Flyway Resort?. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

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