Check it at the door

How to stop dragging baggage between work and home

By Hannah Massen

Hannah Massen is the Digital Brand Manager at SmartMarketing Communications, a full-service marketing, public relations, and creative agency located in Bluffton. 

We might say we want a balanced lifestyle where work and home don’t mingle, but our actions often say otherwise. We’ve all caught ourselves thinking about tomorrow’s meeting while playing with the kids or shopping online for new patio furniture during work hours. And when we’ve had a particularly hard day at home, it’s all too easy to take those feelings out on coworkers, and vice versa. 

While there’s no need to switch off your emotions like a robot the minute you walk through your home or office doors, there’s a lot to be said for drawing clear boundaries between your personal and professional lives – especially when you’re likely to lash out after a bad day. Here are a few tips to help you stop dragging baggage between home and the office. 

Consider timing, tone and turf

Picture this: it’s a Wednesday morning, you’re at work, and things are going well so far. It’s an average week, you’re on top of your workload, and nothing too dramatic has happened – that is, until you get a call from your son’s principal. He got detention again for the second time this month. You’re frustrated, disappointed and feel what you know is illogical guilt, but it’s there all the same. You stare at your inbox blankly while you’re still on the phone, and just before you hang up, a message from your intern comes through. It turns out she CCed the wrong “Julia” on a company email. While you might not think it was that big a deal on any other day, right now you are mad. You fire off a few passive-aggressive sentences about being more responsible, and it’s only after you hit send that you realize, shoot, that was a little harsh.

• Timing: Timing refers to when you react to a situation. Just like date night might not be the best time to rehash all of your grievances against a client, responding to a stressful situation immediately without taking time to cool off is rarely the best approach. 

• Tone: Tone refers to the language you use to respond to a situation. This is especially important to keep in mind when texting and emailing, as the “best of luck” or “make sure” that you meant genuinely can sound very different in writing. 

• Turf: Turf refers to where you respond to a situation. The breakroom is not for breakdowns. 

Set clear boundaries with technology

On average, American adults check their phones 58 times a day. It’s hard to resist the ping of your inbox, but you shouldn’t be reachable all the time. This is especially true for remote workers who are even more tempted to excuse their late-night Slack messages as part of their “flexible work hours.” Reading and answering a negative email right before bed is only going to set you up for a bad night’s sleep and a cranky next morning, so fight the temptation to continue working after hours. 

Take care of yourself

The flight attendant adage, “You must put on your own mask before assisting others,” is popular for a reason. If you’re living in a constant state of stress, unable to leave your worries behind when you clock out for the day, one of three things will happen: one, you’ll fall into a state of learned helplessness and begin to believe that you are powerless to improve your situation; two, you’ll burn out; or three, the pressure you feel will compress inside you until it explodes one day, probably in a hurtful or unprofessional way. Don’t be shy about using your well-earned PTO, and take time every day for activities that remind you that you’re more than just your job. ν

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