I’ve been thinking recently about my ability to use my “mental time clock” to compartmentalize work from my personal life. That is, am I am able to put my thoughts, ideas, and anxieties about work to the side during evenings and weekends in order to focus on the other important parts of my life? Turns out, this is a challenge for me! Big shocker! My brain’s default mode is more of an overactive melange of thoughts bopping around here and there about everything under the sun – including many, many thoughts about work. I know this is quite common and is not something I should beat myself up over. However, as I’ve been working to achieve more work/life balance, I have become increasingly aware of how I distribute my mental energy.
For example, this week I went away with my boyfriend to the beautiful California coast. It was lovely (see below). The view of the ocean was stunning and the ambiance peaceful, as I enjoyed the last few days of Christmas break. But I quickly found myself making to do lists in my brain for when I go back to school. I began mentally drafting report card comments while sitting next to the cozy fireplace. I became frustrated with myself. My focus should have been solely on relaxation and appreciation for the beauty around me, but instead I couldn’t stop thinking about school. This is not an uncommon phenomenon for me.
The Mental Time Clock
Then, I remembered something a chiropractor once told me a few years ago. I was seeing him for physical manifestations of stress. He recommended that while walking to my car after school or upon arriving at my house in the evening, I should announce to myself (in my head or out loud), “I have completed my work for today.” Sounds a bit silly, I know. But his suggestion mimics a sort of “punching out” for the day on the “mental time clock”. And if thoughts of work began to creep up throughout the evening, I should gently remind myself again, “I have completed my work for today.” This strategy works in the same way that affirmations do, in that you are talking to yourself as a means of directing your thoughts.
I tried a version of this at the beach this week, saying to myself, “You do not need to work right now.”
Like most things, this doesn’t always work perfectly and it isn’t always doable. There are plenty of times when we teachers need to work from home or need to give some extra thought to a certain student or to a certain project. But there are plenty of times when we teachers don’t need to do those things – like while relaxing at the coast during a much-deserved break.
I don’t know any teachers who punch in and punch out with a time card. Instead, we tend to follow a less balanced model where there sometimes is no punching out. But maybe it’s not a bad practice to adopt mentally. Try it the next time you find yourself needlessly thinking about work during your personal time. “I have completed my work for today.”
Be well and let yourself punch out sometimes.