How to stop thinking about work at the end of the day

In a seven-year study of work performance, thinking about work after leaving the office ranked as one of the most stressful situations people face, Deborah Bright, an executive coach, writes in the Harvard Business Review.

When working with her clients, Bright recommends a 15-minute routine at the end of each day to help mentally transition from work to home. She recently tested the routine with a group of managers and found that several reported an improved ability to shift their mindset at the end of the day. Here are the five steps she recommends at the end of every work day:

1: Take care of one last thing. According to research by the authors of The Progress Principle, small wins can enhance your mood. Whether it's replying to one last email or making a quick phone call, try leaving the office with a sense of closure, Bright suggests.

2: Make a to-do list. A New York Presbyterian Hospital Cornell Medical Center survey found that creating a to-do list is one of the three most effective steps for improving productivity and reducing stress. Bright recommends listing the things you need to get done the next day, in order of importance.

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3: Tidy up. Cleaning your workspace before leaving the office means that you can return the next morning to a fresh desk—and a fresh mind, Bright argues. In the survey above, she writes, people who left their desks messy at night returned the next morning to feel the stress of the previous day all over again.

4: Clock out—symbolically. Research has found that rituals or routines can shift your mental state. Accordingly, Bright recommends turning off your computer, locking your office door, or taking another small action to symbolize the end of your workday.

5: Ask about someone else. Once you leave the office, ask your friends and family members about the exciting, positive things that happened to them that day. And if someone asks you about your day, keep it brief, Bright recommends. Talking at length about work issues will only rekindle your stress about them, she points out (Bright, Harvard Business Review, 11/23).  

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