How to Leave Work at Work

Bringing work home after a workday is a common factor that disrupts family time, and even causes more mental stress.  In order to maintain a work-life balance, it's important to know that there is a way to leave your work life, at work. Read this blog post to learn simple tips on how to keep a healthy balance between work and home-life.

Some jobs have very clear lines between when you’re “on” and when you’re “off,” while in others the lines are blurred — or potentially nonexistent. That makes not being distracted by work, especially mentally, a major challenge.

This can lead to sitting at dinner while your daughter tells a story about her day, but instead of hearing her you’re wondering whether an email from your boss came through. It can mean exchanging the time you could have spent on sleep, exercise, or talking with your spouse glued to your laptop. And it can look like keeping your work life in order, while your finances or home are a mess because you don’t take time to pay bills, plan for retirement, or tidy up.

As I shared in my article on boundaries, what is possible can vary depending on your particular job, work culture, and coworkers. But in most cases, you can reduce how distracted you feel by work during times when you’re not working.

As a time management coach, I’ve found these four steps can help. I encourage you to challenge yourself to gradually implement these changes and see how much you can leave your work at work — both physically and mentally — in 2020.

Step 1: Define “After Hours”

If you have a traditional 9-to-5 job, your hours are set for you. But if you work in an environment with flexible hours, you’ll need to think through when you want to be on and off the clock. If your employer has a certain number of hours that you’re expected to work each week, start by seeing how to fit those hours around your fixed personal commitments, like taking your kids to school or extracurricular activities, making a certain train, or attending an exercise class you really enjoy. When do you need to start and stop to put in the proper work time?

On the other hand, if your company doesn’t have a specific amount of time that you need to work — say, you freelance or have a results-only work environment — but your job still takes over almost all of your waking hours, take the reverse approach. Think through how many hours you want for activities like sleep, exercise, family, friends, cleaning, finances, etc. Then see how much time you need to reserve on a daily and weekly basis to fit in those personal priorities. That then defines the parameters of when you want to be “off hours.”

Step 2: Have Mental Clarity

Next, make sure you have mental clarity on what needs to get done and when you will complete it. This includes having a place where you write down the many tasks that you need to do, whether that’s in a notebook, a task management app, a project management system, or in your calendar. The important point is that you’re not lying in bed at night trying to remember everything on your mental to-do list.

Then once you have this list, plan out your work. That could mean setting aside time in your schedule to work on a report in advance, putting time in your calendar to prep for your next day’s meetings, or just plotting out specific hours that you will reserve for getting your own work done versus attending meetings or responding to other people’s requests. This planning reduces anxiety that something will fall through the cracks or that you’ll miss a deadline.

The final part of increasing your mental clarity is to have an end-of-workday wrap-up. During this time, look over your daily to-do list and calendar to make sure that everything that absolutely must get done — specifically, those tasks that had a hard deadline — were completed. You also can do a quick scan of your email to ensure any urgent messages are attended to before you leave the office. For some people, it works well to do this as the last thing they do that day, say 15 to 30 minutes before heading out. For others, it’s better to put a reminder in their calendars for an hour or two before they need to leave. This gives them a more generous time period to wrap items up.

Step 3: Communicate with Your Colleagues

In some job situations, you can set a definite after-hours boundary like, after 6 pm, I’m offline. But in other situations, the lines are much blurrier.

For those in situations where you can have a clear dividing line between work and home, I would encourage you to directly communicate that with your colleagues. For example, you might say, “I typically leave work at 6 pm, so if you contact me after that time, you can expect to hear back from me sometime after 9 am the next business day.” Or in some cases your actions can simply set that tone. If they never hear from you between 6 pm and 9 am, that will set the expectation that you’re not available.

But for others, who have jobs that require more constant connectivity, you may want to set some guidelines to control how people reach you, thereby reducing unwanted interruptions. For example, you could say, “It’s fine to text me during the day with questions, but after 6 pm, please send me an email instead of a text unless the situation is truly urgent.” Similarly, if you have a very flexible schedule where you take extended breaks during the day for things like going to the gym or picking your kids up after school, encourage people to reach out to you in specific, preferred ways that you establish. For instance, “There are some times during the day when I may be away from my computer. If you need a fast response, call or text me.” In these scenarios, you’ll know that only the most important work will take you away from your personal or family obligations via an urgent call or text, and you can turn your attention to non-urgent work once you have the bandwidth.

Step 4: Get Work Done at Work

It may seem crazy to say this, but I want to encourage you to give yourself permission to do work at work. For many, they perceive “real work” as something they reserve for post-5 or 6 pm, after everyone else has left the office or for after they’ve tucked their kids in bed for the night. People have this mindset because this time can seem like the few precious hours where no one is dropping by your office or asking you for anything immediately. But if you want to stop feeling distracted by work after hours, you need to actually do your work during the day.

Completing the actions under the mental clarity step will take you a long way forward in that process. Really guard your time. Put in time for project work. Place time in your calendar to answer email. And if follow-through requires going to a place other than your office to work, do it. Make and keep meetings with yourself to knock off tasks. It’s exceptionally difficult — if not impossible — to not be distracted about work when you’re stressed out because you haven’t gotten your work done.

And if you must (or want to) do some work outside of your standard day, make sure that you timebox it. For example, I will work from 8-9 pm tonight then stop. Or, I’ll put in three hours on Saturday from 1-4 pm, but then I won’t think about work before or after. It’s much better to designate a time and stick with it than it is to think about work all night or all weekend and do nothing.

As individuals, we need a mental break to do our best work, and taking time for ourselves — without the distraction of work — can help us become our best selves. I can’t guarantee that thoughts about work will never cross your mind, but with these four steps, you can reduce how much you’re distracted by work after hours.


SOURCE: Saunders, E. (03 February 2020) "How to Leave Work at Work" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from

3 Hidden Effects of Workplace Depression

Originally posted March 19, 2014 by Jeff Guardalabene on

At any given time in the United States, an estimated 1 in 10 adults report symptoms that would qualify for a depression diagnosis.[1] For HR,navigating employee mental health can be tricky. Not all symptoms are noticeable, but a few hidden indicators can hinder overall productivity.

Procrastination and missed deadlines. A person’s day-to-day ability to plan, execute and complete tasks can be affected by depression. This can present itself in the workplace in the form of projects that aren’t completed, or sometimes, not even started.

Difficulties with memory and learning. Many people with depression report feeling as though they’re unable to remember things they used to recall with no problem. Job tasks and routine processes become a burden as the employee tries to do something that used to come easily. Frustrations can mount, exacerbating the problem.

Team morale. Not all depressed employees look “depressed.” Some may manage to put on a “game face” at work while experiencing lagging productivity and decreased motivation. This game face may make it more difficult for co-workers to realize an employee is suffering. Rather than see someone in need of help, co-workers instead see a co-worker who isn’t pulling his or her own weight. This can have a dramatic impact on the morale and productivity of others.

Create a preventive culture

Referring employees to available resources, such as an employee assistance program, can help some at-risk or affected employees. But in other instances, this approach may not be enough. Employers should consider ways to create a company culture that can help identify and mitigate the effects of depressed employees. Keep these considerations in mind to build a supportive culture:

Improve communication throughout your company. Encourage your HR team and managers to engage in face-to-face communication with employees. This will enhance trust and help employees not feel isolated or alone during an illness.

Invest in training. Help equip managers to handle emotionally charged conversations and ways to identify at-risk employees.

Be flexible with your intervention methods. Hopefully, your organization already has a process for assessing issues and intervening when an employee has a health problem. But remember, approaches such as fit-for-duty assessments may not work well when dealing with an emotional health issue. Be prepared to adjust as needed.

By noticing and understanding the hidden impacts of depression, and working to develop office policies that include support and early intervention for employees struggling with mental health conditions, employers can have a very noticeable impact on the overall health and productivity of their workplaces.

[1]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An Estimated 1 in 10 U.S. Adults Report Depression. Available at: Accessed February 19, 2014.


9 Levels of Office Worker’s Hell

Originally posted February 20, 2014 by Dan Cook on

Sometimes even an obviously self-serving study by a corporation can be helpful. The e-book “The 9 Levels of Enterprise Work Hell” fits into this category. The Utah company behind this e-book, AtTask, sells work management tools for business teams, and much of the “advice” contained in the book involves getting the right work management tools for business teams.

Yet the e-book is cleverly designed and written, with lots of spooky graphics and gothic images and typeface. The data was derived from 1,000 survey responses, so it’s not a bad sample, either. And, most of all, AtTask has found a fun way to deliver serious information about those things that irritate people most.

Fast Company also pulled together a fine synopsis on this, interviewing AtTask Chief Marketing Officer Bryan Nielson, whose quotes are included here. And now, without further ado, here are AtTask’s workplace equivalents of Dante’s levels (or, to be accurate, circles) of hell:

1. Tool Hell

The average person uses 13 different tools or methods to manage their day, says Nielson. That’s way too many and leads to workers spending more time trying to remember how to use existing tools, learn how to use new ones and get the old and new ones to work together, than actually using them to do important work.

“All that toggling back and forth creates challenges and fragments work experience,” he says. Nielson says the fix is to consolidate tools, using one or two that are easily accessible by everyone. And, of course, choose a task-management tool. AtTask makes them. Also, AtTask advices setting up best practices for the team and making sure everyone knows what they are and sticks to them.

2. Rework Hell

Workers spend 14 percent of their day duplicating information and forwarding emails and phone calls. A quarter to 40 percent of project budgets are wasted as a result of rework, says Nielson.

“The cause for this is disconnect; workers aren’t getting the right information from those who request the work,” he says.

Part of the problem is that the work, and its outcomes, were not clearly defined before the tasks began. Before a new request is taken, take plenty of time to gather information upfront, Nielson says, and get stakeholders involved at every stage by managing feedback and approvals in a central location.

3. Fire Drill Hell

In this level of chaos and insanity, fires are bursting out all over the place (oftentimes strategically set by those who use a fire to cover their lack of productivity). No one has a chance to stand back and consider how the work should be done or what the outcomes of the work should be. The “average” corporation spends about half its time in fire-drill mode, Nielson says. To eliminate this type of work hell, don’t start by pretending fires aren’t breaking out or that you can immediately stop them. Instead, acknowledge their existence by building time in project schedules for them. That way, they are part of the timeline, not the disrupter of timelines. Then, start to fireproof your workplace by improving communication. “Encourage workers to give feedback on requests such as, ‘I can take this urgent project, but it will cause these four other things to slip. Are you OK with that?’” he says.

4. Silo Hell

More than half of workers say departmentally “siloed” information is their top challenge in managing data, says Nielson. People often create their own silos intentionally. Everyone is using different systems and solutions, no one is smoothly sharing information, and transparency is nil. Teams don’t talk and don’t work together. “The problem is not having complete alignment,” Nielson says. His solutions: eliminate needless formalities that throw up obstacles between people and departments, such as going through proper channels. Encourage collaboration, using such techniques as a new office layout, shifting of job responsibilities, rearranging reporting channels. Diversify project teams and organize staff meetings by project instead of department.

5. Reporting Hell

Old data isn’t very useful except for comparison’s sake. But how often does your data need to be updated? When is data out of date, and when is an update not really very useful? These are other questions are raised in Reporting Hell, as direct reports send in mounds of numbers and analyses in different formats, at different times and with little thought to whether the latest report matters to the enterprise.

Managers gather information for meetings and to justify their jobs, says Nielson, but the collection method is often outdated. Instead, he says companies should create a communication plan that will identify who needs to get updates, what information they need, when they need it, where the data will be stored and how it will be distributed. Then create a process in collaboration with your team members that automatically distributes information to the right people.

6. Meeting Hell

At the enterprise level, all meeting cannot be eliminated. But, says Nielson, an awful lot of them can be, thus freeing you and your workers from “the prison of the working dead.”

“Fifty percent of meetings are considered a waste of time, and 74 percent of workers do other work while in meetings,” he says. That’s because most meetings aren’t collaboration meetings, they’re status updates.”

Eliminate status meetings and review meetings, he advises. These can be handled asynchronously with a robust work management system that everyone has access to. Never schedule any other kind of meeting without first asking, “Is this meeting really necessary? Is there a faster way to get information to and from people.” If the meeting is necessary, he says, clearly define the purpose beforehand so participants can prepare.

7. Interruption Hell

Nielson says about 50 percent of the average worker’s day is consumed by interruptions, of which 80 percent have “no value.” These can range from someone dropping by a workstation with a “quick request” to emails with random and unapproved work requests to text messages, instant messages and sticky notes that mysteriously appear stuck on a computer screen during a worker’s break.

Like the fire drill, you’ll never eliminate all interruptions, Nielson says. But you can reduce the amount you get each day. Categorize the common types of disruptions you get each day and plan for them, he says. Set up a specific process for making requests that allows workers to check their inbox at set times during the day or week. This can be an online work management tool, or something as simple as a paper tray or dedicated email address. These assignments should be approved and prioritized. And until everyone gets the message, don’t take requests in any other way, and do not suffer non-essential interruptions without pointing them out to the perp.

8. Email Hell

This one, says Nielson, gets hellish really fast but can be remedied fairly easily.

Most workers say they feel overwhelmed by the welter of emails that flood into their inboxes every working day. They spend so much time managing email that they don’t get any serious work done.

“Email is overwhelming organizations,” he says. “We get hundreds each day. It’s impossible to get through them all, but we’re expected to. We end up doing email at all hours of the day.”

The solution: break everyone’s addiction to email as the single source for communicating everything from meeting time updates to the location of the company picnic. Remove its status as a management, collaboration status update, feedback and document-sharing tool, says Nielson. Use a project management tool instead. This will significantly decrease the amount of email you receive, and put communication within the proper context.

9. Collaboration Hell

What kills collaboration is one-on-one communication between two team members that leaves everyone else out. Or everyone not on the system collaboration platform, or never collaborating in the same physical place. The solution is to centralize correspondence, says Nielson, giving the whole team visibility into each other’s work and feedback. “Chat or instant messengers are great for real-time, but those conversations are lost when the window is closed,” says Nielson. “True work collaboration needs to be documented, visible and easy to track.” When the project demands true collaboration, the collaborators need to be inputting and outputting from the same work process tool. When all parties are talking to one another, the work gets done right. When the pieces and players are scattered, collaboration fail happens.

Stress continues to boil up in American adults: APA study

Originally posted February 12, 2014 by Michael Giardina on

Are Americans accepting ways to cope with ever skyrocketing stress levels that can make them more productive to employers? New research finds that traditional pressures continue to rise and more needs to be done to relieve this strain.

The American Psychological Association’s annual survey, released Tuesday, finds that stress continues to plague American adults. According to its Stress in America report, 42% say that stress levels have increased and 36% state that these levels have remained constant over the past five-years.

On average, despite reporting that a healthy stress level is 3.6 on a 10-point scale, survey respondents state their stress level is 5.1. APA says that only 10% of these adults actually make time for stress management activities.

Dr. David Ballard, who heads up APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence, explains that in stress “there is a sizeable gap of what people think is healthy and what they are experiencing.”

Ballard notes stresses related to money, work and the economy seem to support this year’s growth among the 2,000 adults who participated in the nationwide study. While “not unusual,” Ballard says the industry needs to act.

“[Employers] have a workforce…trying to be productive and engaged [but] who is overwhelmed,” Ballard says. “To have more than two-thirds of their workforce say that work is a major source of stress for them, it’s clearly something that employers and employees alike need to deal with.”

Individual stress interventions such as relaxation trainings, meditation, exercise or yoga classes and teaching time management skills are just some options for employers.

“The organizations that do take steps to address work stress typically are focusing on individual-level intervention….but this individual level approach by itself typically won’t be enough to prevent the stress from occurring in the first place and keeping it from being a problem,” Ballard continues. “The key is adding…organizational level things that can be done because when you look at what work stress really is, it’s a mismatch between the demands that employees are facing to the resources that they have available to cope with those demands.”

Previously, in February 2013, APA found that 31% of Americans who categorize themselves as suffering from high stress never discuss stress management with their health care provider. Moreover, 32% of Americans say they believe it is very or extremely important to talk with their health care providers about stress management, but only 17% report that these conversations are happening often or always.

In this year’s study, APA lists that stress impacts both sleep and exercise habits. Ballard says that employers can get ahead of the curve by first instituting hiring practices that find individuals who are a “good fit for the job and the organization.” He adds that additional training and development can help to handle conflicts that arise from positions, ambiguity of work tasks and the handling of high workloads.

Also, employers should assess social and work environment issues that can address team compatibility and workplace organization from both the social and physical dynamic, he says.

“When organizations understand that the health of their workforce and the performance and success of the company are linked together, then they’ll take steps that are both for the wellbeing of the worker and for the organization’s performance,” Ballard explains. “This isn’t just about doing the right thing and taking care of your workers, that is all true and it’s important, but it’s also smart business.”