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4 Strategies to Keep Work at Work

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{This post originally appeared on How to Make a Life as part of the Self Care Saturday series}.

I think one of the hardest but most important parts of self-care is being able to separate your work life from your personal life. It is hard, if not impossible, to try and live both lives at once. If you are involved in a profession that deals with people (health care, social worker, counselor, teacher- just to name a few), this separation from work and real life can be especially difficult. 

I'm a pediatric nurse working on a unit that sees everything from toddlers getting routine tonsil surgeries to kids doing six months of rehabilitation following tragic car accidents. Separating work from home life has been a daily challenge over the past 18 months that I have worked on this unit. I have employed some strategies that are helping me keep work and personal life separate, but it is still a work in progress. I hope you can read these strategies, implement a couple of them yourself, and then brainstorm other methods that may work for you. 

Disconnect your work email from your phone and/or home computer. 
This was absolutely key for me. I was getting emails on my phone on my days off that would cause me to stress out even though I couldn't do anything about the email until I was back at work anyway. I strongly urge you to disconnect your email and anything else work related from your phone. I know many of you feel like you can't do this- I felt the same way at first. But really, think about it- what difference is 12 hours going to make in an email response? If we're being honest, it probably won't make much of a difference. I get that some of you aren't able to do this because of the requirements of your job- I can't turn my phone off when I have to be on call. But unless your job description specifically requires it, I plead with you to disconnect work related correspondence from  your electronics. No one will die, and you'll be able to better care for yourself. 

Employ mental techniques when you leave work. 
I have about a 5-10 minute walk to my car once I leave the hospital. During that time I think about my day- the good, the bad, and the ugly. In the walk to my car I take all the parts of my day (good and bad), and imagine myself shoving them in a suitcase that I then lock. As I step off hospital grounds, I imagine dropping those suitcases on the ground and leaving all parts of my day at the hospital. Sometimes, I can't drop everything that quickly so I'll think about my day on my drive home. When I get home, I imagine all the parts of my day, and I imagine locking those parts of my day in the car when I close my door. 

Do these techniques always work? No. Do they help? Certainly. I can be a bit of a verbal processor and my husband is in the medical field so we often share our days with each other over dinner. But employing the above mental techniques really helps me not carry the emotional part of my day home with me. 

Assign a space in your home for work. 
I have a lot of friends that are teachers and a few that work from home. In these cases, I know it is impossible to keep work totally out of your home. What I would encourage you to do, however, is to assign a spot to do your work. Maybe it's a desk or maybe it's the kitchen table. Imagine that space being in a bubble, and when you step away from that bubble you are no longer at work. I know these professions can be harder to separate work from work, but keeping a designated work space can really help. 

Do something physical to represent that you are leaving work. 
I recently had this idea suggested to me by a counselor and I think it's absolutely brilliant. She suggested doing something physical to remind yourself that you are no longer at work. She personally has a bracelet that she wears to work that she takes off  and places in a little box when she gets home. This signifies that those problems and events of the day are safe, but she no longer has to carry them with her. You can get really creative with this- the counselor explained that she used to take a stone from her house and then leave it at work at the end of the day. The more creative you get, the more you attach to that ritual, and the better it will work. The idea of wearing something (i.e. a bracelet) could really help those of you that do work out of your home (see point above). 


Work is a necessary part of life, and many of you may even enjoy your jobs. Even if you enjoy your job (or especially if you don't), it is vital to separate that part of your life from your personal life. By separating the two, you will be able to more fully participate in each role. Keeping work at work is an incredibly vital part of self-care and I encourage you to look for ways that you can separate the two. Self care is a process that adapts as you try new things that work for you- keep working at it, keep adapting. You are worth it.

How have you been able to keep work at work? Do you think you might try any of these strategies?

{Linking up with Oak +Oats Weeks End and Sweet Little Ones Tuesday Talk}

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  1. Disconnecting from emails at home? Easy peasy in Myanmar with no wifi! ha! =)

    I'm glad you shared these techniques. I'll be teaching full time this coming school year and I know I'm going to have to leave stuff at school and not take it home. Everything is in such close proximity so I'm definitely going to have to intentional with it. Thanks for sharing these with us.

  2. So many great tips! As a teacher, I definitely struggle with leaving work at work (especially when I work longer than 8 hour days or when I have to get stuff done at home, or if something not-so-great happens at work, too). But like you said, it's something that we HAVE to do for our own sanity. Self-care is something I've always struggled with, but I'm starting to realize that if I don't take care of myself, I can't take care of those around me.

    So my goals are to leave work ON TIME, start running after work more, and to start that tip from the counselor. I LOVE the idea of having a physical object to take off to remind you that work is done for the day. I have a lanyard with my nametag and classroom keys that I think will be just the thing to use for that ritual.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Haha you don't have the problem of emails constantly going off :)
    I think teachers have maybe the biggest challenge with this because I know you have to do a lot of stuff at home. I know you'll do great at being intentional with things :)

  4. I think you're not alone in the struggling with self-care boat. I think the vast majority of Americans don't realize how important it is to their overall well being. It takes effort and intentionality for sure and I think teachers have it the hardest since you have to do work at home. I'm so glad you have a plan with 3 concrete steps and I absolutely LOVE the idea of taking your lanyard and using it as your symbol that you've left work. I hope all your practices will help make a difference for you :)

  5. I agree! I grew up in a home where we serve, serve, serve and it's hard for me to remember to just take time to relax and savor the moments. :) It definitely is hard to leave work at work when it comes to the kids and families I work with (as I'm sure you can relate to!!!) but it's these kinds of jobs that probably require the most self-care out of all of them!

    And I did the lanyard trick today and it was such a great reminder! I tend to take showers after work as well (because, well, GERMS, haha) and so far, so good! Thanks again for sharing them!

  6. I grew up in a similar home where you serve, serve, serve and I've had to learn to take care of myself without feeling guilty or selfish. I'm so glad the lanyard trick worked for you- I hope it keeps working for you!

  7. Yes definitely- the email thing was a huge game changer for me! I hope the tips can help you :)

  8. Girl, I feel like we're long-lost twins! So glad we have that in common and that you can understand where I'm coming from. :)


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