If you have the discipline, you can just shut your phone off or close your laptop at the end of the day. Your brain, however, has no off switch.
That, as many entrepreneurs have already discovered, can be the biggest challenge when it come to work-life balance. Even if you have firm boundaries, excellent habits, and a total commitment to getting physically away from work regularly, that doesn't mean you can necessarily stop thoughts of uncompleted tasks and imminent to-do list items from haunting your nights and weekends.
Is there anything you can do to get your brain to comply with your sensible wish for some boundaries. New research suggests there might just be a way.
How to stop worrying about work
For the recently published study, Ball State University's Brandon Smit asked 103 participants to record completed and uncompleted goals at the end of each workday and then to keep track of how much thoughts of these goals interrupted their evening's peace. Surprising just about no one, Smit found that uncompleted goals were much more intrusive than completed ones.
That's no shocker and also confirms to an existing psychological principle called the Zeigarnik effect, which states that uncompleted tasks are more likely to be remembered (that makes sense, you want to recall that still boiling pot of pasta or important call you vowed to make). What is more interesting about Smit's study is that it offers some concrete advice about what you can do to conquer this effect when it's unwanted.
The British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog explains how Smit managed to neutralize unwanted thoughts of work:
"Smit asked a subset of his participants, once they'd described their incomplete goals, to clearly plan where, when and how they would tackle each one, for example: 'I will go into work and start at 10:00 AM in a call center in my office. Log into my computer and call customers back..." By specifying the context for action, this helped the high-involved participants to put the goals out of mind during off-work hours, and as a result their uncompleted goals produced fewer intrusions, almost as if they had the same status as completed goals. Data from a simple measure of work detachment also suggested that, using Smit's strategy, the participants found it easier to let go of work in general."
The takeaway couldn't be clearer: if you don't want to worry about unfinished business, spend a minute writing down specifically where and when you'll finish your uncompleted tasks. Mind cleared you can then get back to giving your brain a much deserved rest.
Will you give this trick for putting intrusive work thoughts to bed a try?