Let It Go - If Only For A While
Way back when, when I was a student and early on in my career, my mother always used to give me emergency money to keep in my wallet. Not in plain view, but in a slot behind my bank card hidden from sight, more to stop me from seeing it and spending it than to stop anyone else from finding it. Her philosophy was out of sight, out of mind, her logic being that if I found myself in need – if my bank card wasn’t working or more likely back then if my overdraft had squeezed past kindness and no more cash was forthcoming from the ATM, I would always have the means to pay for a bus or a train to get home, “just in case” I needed it. Perhaps it is less necessary now for me, or even for you, but it was a practice I found benefit in more than once and one that I have passed onto my own kids, even in an age of Apple Pay and online Uber rides, a small token security blanket of cash for “just in case”. Nowadays, I use that hidden slot in my wallet for something equally important, instead of cash I keep a different type of note there, one that I write to myself at the end of every workday.
How do you switch off at the end of a busy day at work? How do you stop yourself from thinking about the work that you have to do tomorrow? For many of us the journey to and from work is just an extension of our worklives and we can find it hard to draw a line under the work day and allow ourselves to relax and enjoy the gifts that our worklives are intended to give us – quality time with our friends and family, being immersed in what brings us our own personal joy, the time to relax and reenergise. Whether our commute from work involves trains, bikes or walking, or if it is only stepping from one room at home to another, all to often, our thoughts drift back to the work of the day or towards the work of tomorrow. Sometimes we worry about our work, about our future, about the future of our work, and we forget to make the time to just be in the moment, outside of work.
So here’s what I do to stop that happening.
On the way home I consciously think about the work I’ve done today and I write a note about it on a small piece of paper. I then give thought to what I need to do tomorrow and I write a note about that on the other side of the same piece of paper. I then fold it and gently slip it into the hidden slot in my wallet. And then I don’t think about it until the morning, safe in the knowledge that its there out of sight, for emergencies, “just in case” I need it.
Full disclosure here, it’s a technique that I’ve borrowed and adapted. It’s long been well known that some people have difficulty falling asleep because their thoughts keep running in circles. Journaling and focusing on positive thoughts has been found to calm the mind and help them sleep better. A study of college students (by Digdon & Koble) found that journaling resulted in reduced bedtime worry and stress, increased sleep time, and improved sleep quality. A different study (the snappily titled The Effects of Bedtime Writing on Difficulty Falling Asleep: A Polysomnographic Study Comparing To-Do Lists and Completed Activity Lists by Scullin et al) found that writing a to-do list, if only for a few minutes, was even more effective than journaling at helping young adults fall asleep faster.
Everyone from Country Life Magazine to the NHS extoll the virtue of writing things down to help us to achieve a good nights sleep. What they all have in common is the notion that by writing things down we don’t need to give them anymore headspace, we can ignore them secure in the knowledge that we won’t forget them. And that’s the principle that I apply when I write my little note and slip it into my wallet until the morning. Not because I can’t sleep, but because I want a healthy worklife, one where I actively take control of when I think about work and when I stop thinking about it, secure in the knowledge that it’s there, unforgotten and close to hand, just in case I need it.
Next time you find yourself thinking about work when you don’t want to, when its blocking out the laughter of your friends and family, or overwhelming the silence of a tranquil night, write it down and slip it into your wallet (or purse or pocket) and I guarantee that it’ll be there when you need it. Try it, just in case, it works.
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