5 Steps to leave work at work

It’s six o’clock and you’re ready to leave the office for the day.

However, as soon as you get in the car/on the train, your mind starts racing with all of the things you still have to do for work, the bad meeting you had, the unhappy client, etc.

Therefore, how do you leave work at work, in order to be more present, mindful and joyful at home?

As a full-time veterinarian in my previous life, I often had extremely frustrating, draining days with euthanasias or exasperating clients who weren’t happy with any options that I gave them. Then, I would come home a ball of stress, replaying the day in my mind like a horror movie.

My family just wanted to spend time with me. Instead, they just got a shell of who I really was, a ghost me. Consequently, what I needed was an action plan to leave work at work in order to focus on my time at home, which is my sanctuary.

That is what I want to give to you, so that you don’t become a ghost parent like I was.

How to leave work at work

1) Prioritize your work load– You need to identify what has to be done today, this week, this month, the next three months and so on. You can do this by using a spreadsheet, a list, Google Docs or Sheets, or whatever else works for you. If you need help with managing a project, you can also try an online management tool like Trello or Asana.

If you’re not sure how to determine your priorities, read my post on how to set priorities here. When you are setting work priorities and schedules, don’t forget to designate time to check work emails and for social media (if that pertains to your business). Those two things can be time drains and throw off your entire day, if not scheduled into your day.

2) Do a quick five minute meditation– This will help to reset your mind and body and allow you to leave work at work. I wish I had done this in past years, in order to be more present with my family.

Not sure how to do a meditation? Set a timer for five minutes, turn on some calming music or white noise and close your eyes. Observe your breath, but don’t try to control it. Focus on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Pay attention to your thoughts, also without trying to control them and without judgement. You’re NOT trying to clear your mind. You’re just trying to be more present.

Visualize each thought like a balloon drifting slowly in front of you and then moving on. Feel the sensations of your body as it sits. When the timer goes off, open your eyes and move on with your day. You can also use a meditation app like Calm or Headspace.

3) Use your commute as YOUR time– Instead of stressing out because traffic is backed up more than usual or someone just cut you off, use your commute time to focus on something you enjoy. This definitely applies to train/subway/bus commutes as well.

You can listen to an audiobook, a podcast or your favorite music (with real human voices, not cartoon characters). I love audiobooks (and books in general) and am amazed at how much more quickly the time passes when listening to one.

In addition, 90’s hip-hop, such as “Whatta Man” or “Jump Around,” may or may not inspire me to do some car dancing (ahem). Let’s face it, you simply can’t be unhappy listening to Salt-N-Pepa. Plus, imagine the faces of the people in cars around me when I’m in my dance zone;-)

4) Focus on who is at home– This includes your children, spouse, pets. These are the VIP’s in your life, right? Some days, in the past, they were the only thing that kept me motivated throughout the day.

If you focus on your family at home, you always have something to look forward to at the end of the day. Consequently, you will be able to more easily leave work at work.

5) Do a mind dump before entering your home– No, not a Vulcan mind meld (Hey, my dad loved Star Trek!). A mind dump means that you write down everything in your brain at a certain time, in order to let it go. I used to do this before going to sleep, when I had insomnia, and it made a huge difference on how quickly I could fall asleep.

Keep a notebook (any kind is fine, no one is going to see it) in your car or bag and write down all of the concerns you have from the day. You can also write down any tasks that still need to be done for the week, so that you don’t forget them. Then you can leave it all in your notebook and concentrate on your evening with your family.

leave work at work
Don’t be a ghost parent.


• If you’re someone who is on call or simply HAS to take work home with you (teachers, on-call docs, firefighters, police, EMT’s, etc.). I get it. You can’t always leave work at work, because it follows you home.

I have teacher friends who always have grading, grade cards and other paperwork to do after school. In addition, for many years, I was on call and was interrupted at dinner, bedtime, birthday parties, etc. It was part of my job and had to accept it, even though I hated it.

If you are in this special group, you can still use these techniques, and probably need them even more than regular workers. These techniques can help you to be fully present with your family when you are home.

• If you work from home. I realize it’s even more difficult to separate work and home life in this circumstance. Obviously, your office is always with you and distractions are everywhere.

What can help is to designate a work zone and home zone. My work zone is in our home office. When I’m in there, I focus on what needs to be done and leave everything else for later (as I’m also still responsible for managing the household duties). However, my work stops when I go to pick up my girls from school.

If you’re in this category, you can still do a modified version of these techniques. Try to give yourself a 5-10 minute break of meditation and release. That can provide you with a transition from work mode to home and family mode.

My hope is that following these steps will provide you with a better quality of life and more balance. Then, you can avoid being a ghost parent like I was.

Now, I would love to hear from you! Please share any comments and tips on how you leave work at work in the comments section below.

“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”

-Author unknown

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