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How to separate work & personal life? 13 tips to disconnect mentally

Published:

September 4, 2023

Updated:

November 16, 2023

Do you ever keep thinking about work while driving back home? Do you sometimes realize you are not listening to the person before you because you’re still thinking about a project? Switching off from work during private time is crucial but not always easy, especially in a hybrid work model. So, how do you separate work and personal life when working remotely?

Freeing up time for more personal activities, family, and friends is great. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that people disconnect from work. Therefore, this article covers the significance of setting boundaries between your job and private life. But most importantly, it provides employees with valuable tips to mentally detach from work during their downtime.

For some people, it’s implementing an end-of-the-day ritual that marks the end of their working hours and helps them shift to personal activities. For others, it’s creating different user accounts on their mobile devices so they don’t have a “quick” look at professional messages while opening their mom’s WhatsApp voice note. 

To all HR teams willing to promote employee mental health and well-being, we hope this article supports your workforce in finding methods that enable them to draw a clear line between work and home.

happy woman working hybrid from a coffee shop

The importance of setting boundaries between work and personal life

Although you want to enjoy dinner with your friends, you can’t stop thinking about a project that hasn't gone as planned. Being invested in your job is amazing, especially if it’s a position that makes you grow and feel aligned with your values. However, being able to detach from work is essential to:

  • recharge physically and mentally;
  • recover cognitively;
  • stay healthy;
  • avoid work interfering in your private relationships;
  • reduce stress;
  • lower the risks of burnout;
  • enhance creativity;
  • keep thriving professionally and personally.

So, what can you do to prevent this kind of situation from happening?

Setting boundaries between work and personal life is key to creating a better work-life balance. Yet those limits must also be established from a psychological and mental point of view. This is the tricky part. But the following recommendations should help you get there.

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5 tips to separate work and personal life by training your mind

1. Meditation

Meditating has many benefits for our mental health, including allowing us to reconnect, recenter, and calm our minds from the day’s events. Various meditation apps are available for people who have never tried meditation or need a little guidance. They often offer a free trial. If you find it difficult to meditate, although there is no right or wrong way to do it, start with breathing exercises. It also helps to slow down, unwind, and disconnect from work. You can do this before work to flick to work mode and after to switch your brain back into your private life.

2. Creative activities

Some employees draw, paint, or cook to switch from work mode to personal time. And indeed, allowing space for your creative side can also be a great way to disconnect from work and relax. It can even become a form of meditation when you focus deeply on what you are doing. Nowadays, more and more people try to spend more time doing artistic activities, and many workshops are open everywhere. Look around your place or office, as this can be a very nice practice to let your brain sink back into private life. 

3. End-of-day rituals

The brain is like a muscle. By repeating a task, you send it a message, and after a few times, it remembers. This is why end-of-the-day rituals are very efficient when implementing methods to switch off from work. By doing the same activity daily as soon as you close your laptop, your brain understands that this means “chilling time"! For example, it can be listening to a podcast during your commute instead of continuing to answer e-mails on your phone while in the metro. Swapping your business attire for your comfiest sweatpants or going for a walk with your dog if you work from home are also great ways to trick your mind.

4. Writing

Writing can benefit us in many areas of our lives, including putting a line between work and home. You can’t stop thoughts from coming to your mind. Quite often, when we manage to disconnect, we come up with the best ideas. Carry around a little notebook so you can write it down each time something essential to remember pops into your head. This little trick helps bring your head back to your personal time. You can also use your phone, but only if you know you won’t get tempted by checking your work notifications simultaneously. We’ll talk about this a bit below.

5. Perfectionism

Being a perfectionist can be a strength as much as a weakness. When willing to separate work and personal life, you can guess which side of the scale it falls on. Perfectionism can be a bummer as you try to do everything flawlessly in all areas of your life. Letting go and setting realistic goals is essential to create a better work-life balance and give your brain some time off. Also, the more you push yourself and your brain to its limits (by working extra hours, for instance), the less productive and efficient you are. Remember, some of the key reasons why putting boundaries between work and personal life is crucial is because it allows cognitive recovery, prevents burnout, and improves mental health.

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work life balance

3 practical advice to disconnect from work by changing your working methods

1. Separation of personal and professional user accounts on your devices

If you get your private and professional e-mails on the same account, it’s normal that you struggle to disconnect from work on your days off. Each time you check if you’ve received a confirmation order, you automatically see the number of messages waiting for your answers. This is even more likely to happen if your company has implemented a BYOD policy. Therefore, try not to let work interfere with your personal life as much as possible by setting up different user accounts on your mobile devices (laptop, tablet, phone, etc.).

2. Time block schedules

Keeping a schedule is key to managing separate work and personal life everywhere. But let’s take this advice further by using the time-block schedule method. As much as planning your day is essential to getting things done, blocking a timeframe for personal activities is as important, if not more. 

You don’t have to write precisely what you want to do on your time off, especially if this moment is dedicated to leisure. But if you need this half-hour walk with your dog to switch off, include it in your agenda so it doesn’t become an option in your day that is “nice to have.” Moreover, people who write down their goals tend to succeed in achieving objectives (again, the power of writing). So make your disconnection activities part of your goals!

3. Negative patterns scan

We all do things that prevent us from separating work and personal life. Although the home office has plenty of benefits, it isn't helping with this aspect either. Remote workers tend to be more connected as many worry their boss and colleagues believe they are not working as much as when on-site. Overcommunicating is also a typical negative pattern among hybrid teams. Communication is crucial, but too much is neither good for you nor your coworkers. You should try to detect and mind these negative patterns as they clearly don't help you disconnect from work.

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5 best practices to set boundaries between work and personal life that everyone knows, but few of us follow.

1. Avoid looking at work messages and e-mails during your time off

It’s a classic. Opening your work e-mails or Slack “just to check” during your time off is one of the worst things to do. Even if you tell yourself that it’s just to stay updated but that you won’t deal with it now, this action will put your mind back in work mode. It then takes a few minutes or hours to switch off again and enjoy your downtime. So, although it’s a rainy day and you’re bored, don’t look at work stuff. Read a book, learn drawing or painting, bake cookies, do anything that isn’t related to your job and make you relax. 

2. Dedicated space at home

If you have the space to do so, dedicating an area of your home to work is another common practice many remote work experts recommend. Not only does it create a physical separation between work and home life, but it also draws a mental line. Your brain knows that everything that happens behind this door or on this specific table is all about work. When the door or the laptop on this table is closed, it’s personal time. Ideally, this dedicated workspace should be in a spare room so the view of your laptop in the living room doesn’t remind you of this crazy project you are currently working on. 

3. Establish boundaries with others

Whether it’s our friends constantly asking, “How is work?” or our boss sending us e-mails on our time off, others are sometimes not aiding us switch off from work. As always, communication is key. Establishing boundaries with others and explaining why you don’t want to think about work at this or that moment is essential to split up your professional and private life. Express them that you need to disconnect from work in your free time and that talking about it doesn’t help you do so. It doesn’t mean there is an issue with your job, but just that you don’t wish to mix your work with your personal life.

4. Sports activities

Doing sport is also well known for unwinding from work and switching to private mode. It helps to disconnect and improve physical health while creating a dose of endorphins that boost your morale. Any sports activity can become your end-of-the-day ritual that signals to your brain that work is over. You can do the same activity or choose a different one every day, like doing yoga on Mondays, running on Tuesdays, swimming on Wednesdays, etc.

woman meditating at home

5. Take a break from technology

An easy way to unplug from work is to unplug from technology and do a little digital detox. It doesn’t have to mean going on a few days’ trip and leaving your phone at home. It can simply be keeping your phone in your bedroom and on silent mode for a few hours. Away from the distractions of the virtual world, you are more eager to give quality time to yourself and your loved ones without bumping into content that reminds you of work! We also highly recommend unplugging from any screen, especially if it’s to look at work-related content, at least 30 minutes before sleep.

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Training the mind is as crucial as setting clear physical boundaries when figuring out how to separate work and personal life. Some of these tips might only work for some. Therefore, it is fundamental that your employees try and find the ones that help them best disconnect from work. Another great way to support them is to create a Slack channel or WhatsApp group where people can share their hacks with their colleagues. Not only might it highlight new ideas, but it also fosters a community feeling that is essential in a hybrid work setup.

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Sources: 

Paulyne

Paulyne is a hybrid work specialist, who writes about sustainability, flexible work models and employee experience.

How to separate work & personal life? 13 tips to disconnect mentally