It’s November, or as I call it, “NOvember.” NOvember is a 30-day campaign I run on LinkedIn with one recommendation each day for something you can say “no” to that will make you happier, healthier, and more productive. I’d love it if you would join the conversation.

On Friday, I recommended that you say “no” to slipping from your personal life to your work life (and vice versa) without a deliberate transition. This tip comes from the program I’m building on how to work effectively remotely.

One of the hazards of working from home for me is that I’m a wife and mother one moment and a team effectiveness advisor the next. The problem is that, without a transition, these roles can bleed into one another in ways that are less than optimal for both your work life and your personal life.

Your Day

What do I mean by one role “bleeding” into another? Well…here are a few examples from a weekday morning:

  • Your wife uses the last of the milk and you have to drink your morning coffee black. You are annoyed.
  • Your boyfriend just got promoted and is starting his new job today. You’re excited, proud, distracted.
  • Your out-of-town friend tells you about a death in her family and you’re trying to figure out how to get there to support her. You’re sad and preoccupied.

The directionality is reversed at the end of the day:

  • You ended the day on a call with your colleague who has just missed the second extension on a piece of work you needed. You’re frustrated and furious.
  • You are so excited to have landed a new customer account and your mind is racing with ideas for how to wow them in the first meeting. You’re dreaming and spinning.
  • You had 9 meetings in 5 hours and you’re physically and mentally exhausted. You’re drained.

Each of these scenarios could have happened if you were working in an office. The difference when you’re working in an office is that you have some sort of buffer time between your last experience of one role and your first experience of the other. That time makes it less likely that your mood and frame of mind in one role will carry over into the other.

For me, in the before times, that transition would often have been be a 15-minute walk to the subway and a 15-minute subway ride to a client’s office. That 30 minutes in the morning was a great time to slowly decompress from family responsibilities and to get excited and mentally prepared for a day of facilitation. On the way home, my commute was an opportunity to exhale and let go of the weight of the day’s challenges and think about what was for supper or what was going to happen in the novel I was reading.

Now, my commute from breakfast to the office is five steps. My office is literally IN my kitchen. Not a lot of decompressing goes on in five steps.

Building Transitions

Without the natural transition of a commute, you’ll need to manufacture a transition.

Morning Transition

You could try this… A Mime Teaches You to Drive… But your family might really wonder.

Instead, change your clothes (like Mr. Rogers had his ritual of putting on his cardigan), change the space you’re in, and change your mindset. Research has shown that rituals lower anxiety, increase enjoyment, and speed the recovery time from failure.

Mr Rogers Zipping cardigan

Create a 5- or 10-minute ritual around one of the following to transition out of your personal life:

  • Find a neutral spot in your house (not your bedroom, kitchen, or desk) to listen to the radio for a few minutes. Listen to the same segment each day.
  • Read an interesting article (I get an email of great suggestions each day from the Pocket app)
  • Listen to a short podcast (Grammar Girl, 60 Second Science, Curiosity Daily, Kind World)
  • Use a mindfulness or meditation app
  • Journal about your evening (retrospectively)

Once you’ve created a little space from your personal priorities, transition into your work role:

Research by Francesca Gino and her colleagues has shown that your transition into a role should make use of prospective thinking. As you’re transitioning into work, ask yourself what steps you can take today to accomplish your goals, and be more productive.

Create a 5- or 10-minute ritual to transition into the role you’re entering:

  • Read an interesting article that’s relevant to your job. Ask yourself how you might apply your insights
  • Have a quick touch base with your manager or teammate to talk about your priorities for the day
  • Make a cup of tea in a mug you reserve for work time (bonus points for a mug with an inspirational message)
  • Journal about your goals for the day or week (prospectively)
  • Build your priority list, specifically noting what you aren’t going to spend time on
Afternoon Transition

When you get to the end of your workday, build in the reverse transition. Slowly close down your day by revisiting your accomplishments, preparing tomorrow’s priority list, cleaning up your desk, having a chat with a colleague.

Then ramp up your evening using the same prospective thinking technique you used in the morning; just apply it to how you can accomplish your goals for your evening or weekend (How will I get some quality time with my kids? What could I eat the would be nutritious? What could I do to relax?)

Given the negative impact of long commutes on health and happiness, it’s not likely you’re missing the daily slog into the office. But you might be missing the time and space the commute gave you to transition from one role to another.

Have you “minded the gap?” If not, how is the blurring of work and personal life impacting you? If you have created clear transitions, I’d love it if you would share some of the techniques that are working for you.

Further Reading

Avoiding work-life collisions: A lesson from the BBC’s professor dad

Managing Fear and Emotions

Keep or Ditch?