THREE people spoke to me at different times yesterday about how they were really finding it difficult to separate themselves mentally and emotionally from their work. One said he found it impossible to not think about work when he was at home (work ‘stuff’ was always in his head), another was waking at 3am and not being able to get back to sleep (don’t worry, I referred her to the Sleep vlog series) and the last simply commented about how hard it was for her to ‘switch off.’
I understand where these people are coming from. As teachers we spend so much time planning and preparing lessons, then reviewing, marking, assessing, thinking about how we can do things better. Then of course there’s the emotional aspect of working in schools – and I for one know how difficult it can be to be consumed by thoughts relating to our student’s social and emotional needs, particularly when we hear of them experiencing distress, abuse or family dysfunction.
The reality of this though is that if our sleep is being disturbed (including not being able to get to sleep even though we’re shattered) or if we can’t stop thinking about work then the time that we have away from school to rest, recover and recuperate will be compromised which will leave us performing less than our best when we are next on deck.
Last year I heard Dr Adam Fraser speak at a conference about this very issue and I found what he said really useful. Fraser talks about using transition points in our days to very purposefully shift our focus and attention from one aspect of our day (like work) to another (home). It can also be used the other way around (so that remnants of the arguments you’ve had in the morning don’t affect the rest of your day)
I liked the idea of what Fraser what suggesting. My previous school was a short 5 minute drive away from home and I found I really struggled to switch from home to work in the mornings (especially as I had such young children a the time) and then work to home (from crisis management to tired and demanding children at the end of the day). It was simply too short a period of time to mentally transition from one demanding area of my life into another and would often find the emotional space I was in from one context remaining with me into the next. It was difficult to navigate and I found myself frequently exhausted.
Fraser’s concept involves using the concept of ‘The Third Space‘ to deliberately work through then end thoughts about what has happened in one space and prepare and be ready for the next. At my current job I have the luxury of a longer commute (which I most days I ride) and find the combination of the amount of time I am on my bike and the physical exercise being an excellent way for me to work through things and arrive at my required destination having processed events, mentally clear and ready to take on whatever is happening.
I appreciate that you might not have this luxury. However, there are a number of deliberate rituals you might engage in that can help with this process which include:
– taking off your name badge and leaving it at work
– changing clothes (or even showering) as soon as you get home
– going for a walk (or even better to walking to and from work if at all possible) or other exercise when you get home
– writing a list of things to attend to in the morning when you are about to leave work (writing things down helps to clear them from your head)
– disconnecting your phone/home computer from your work email
– leave as much work as possible at work
– schedule yourself a completely work free day at least once over the weekend and if you must take work home only do it between allocated times
What strategies do you use to create a mental and emotional separation from your work? Please share them here so that others can give them a shot if they’re stuck for ideas.