How to stop obsessing about work when you’re not there

Coming up with great ideas in the shower is one thing. But ruminating over business problems while you’re eating dinner or trying to play with your kids isn’t so fun. Unfortunately, telling yourself “don’t think about work” is about as effective as telling yourself “don’t think about a polar bear.” What just came to mind?

So I’m over at Fast Company this week writing about other suggestions in “How to stop obsessing about work when you’re not there.” I’d appreciate a read and a share. If you have other ideas for taking your mind off problems that can’t be immediately solved, I welcome those too!

8 thoughts on “How to stop obsessing about work when you’re not there

  1. I’m fine with thinking during the day (even, *gasp* while watching my delightful children playing), it’s the 3am wake-ups when I’m stressed I’m not so crazy about. Back before I had kids, I could use those to work and sleep in as late as I needed after, but that’s not really possible anymore.

    1. Also I totally disagree about not telling your spouse about a work problem. Usually telling DH (or him telling me) about what we’re stuck on allows me (or him) to get past that block/barrier, which allows it to stop taking up so much anxious mental space. It also makes it much easier to *listen* to the other person! And even though DH usually understands what I’m talking about I don’t always understand what he’s talking about.

      1. Coming from the other side of things, I love hearing about my husband’s work issues. It helps me to understand what is going on in that huge chunk of time during his day. Otherwise I would have no idea why he was tired or stressed, etc. It helps me empathize and clues me in on what kind of follow up questions to ask to see how things are going.

  2. It depends on the nature of the obsessing. I often solve work problems while walking the dog, showering, or right before bed. I try to keep a pen and pad of paper handy so I don’t forget the solution (obviously hard to do while showering).

    Then there’s unhealthy obsessing. That is best solved with 1) keeping too busy to worry about it, 2) exercise, 3) whatever you do to provide release — socializing, reading, massage, etc., and 4) wine.

    1. I guess that’s the difference between”thinking about work” and “obsessing about work”? Its OK to think about work at home (and home at work) but when its stressful rumination its not healthy. Your 4 ideas, and the “write it down” are what I try to do, too. If I think of something I need to do, I also put it on a list somewhere (on my phone or computer)—once its down as a “to do” its out of my head.

  3. While I agree that it’s not very useful to tell yourself not to worry about work, it might be useful to remind yourself how important those other things (e.g., family) are, even if, say, any particular family game night feels less urgent than work problem X.

  4. I think that a variation on your last point, “give yourself a regular worry time,” is a good argument for having recurring staff meetings in an office, as per your blog earlier this week. A lot of time gets wasted during the week trying to deal with and/or talk about and/or worry about problems in the moment. If you can trust that a regular time is going to come up when you can all get together and worry about something, as a group, and hopefully come up with a solution, then you can feel okay about putting it off until then when you are all together and focused. But if you have to be putting mental energy into finding a time to deal with the problem, and scheduling it, or worrying about whether a meeting might get cancelled at the last minute, then you won’t feel comfortable putting the worry aside in the moment.

  5. I use an email tool,, which really helps with the “write it down” solution. Not only am I able to write it, but also send a scheduled followup to my email for the appropriate time for me to work through/address the issue. My brain is then free to focus on the now, knowing that it will be reminded when it’s time for other issues.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *