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Do you find yourself constantly thinking about what needs to be done at the office? Making mental notes about your job during hours that you’d rather devote whole-heartedly to your partner, your family or to fun? Are work obsessions interfering with your sleep, or getting in the way of healthy habits like exercise, hobbies or meditation?

If so, it’s time to reclaim your rights to the rest of your life. And it’s time to take responsibility for creating a balance of work and play that works for you. Tony Schwartz, business efficiency consultant and author of Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live (Free Press, 2011), suggests that the key to getting past work obsession lies in understanding that setting boundaries around work is critical to your professional effectiveness, and to finding joyful ways to occupy your downtime. Here, in Schwartz’s words, are ways to accomplish those ends.

Barriers to Overcome

• Fear of being passed by: “You may feel you have to keep thinking about work at all hours so that you don’t fall behind. It’s a feeling that says, ‘My job is a freight train that never stops, and if I don’t keep pace with it, it’s going to get away from me.’”

• Screen allure: “There’s practically no one who doesn’t walk around with constant access to work via whatever device they use. What’s more, researchers are discovering that opening email can trigger the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine. The excitement and pleasure we remember from good news via email or messaging can make us want to repeat the experience.”

• Over-identifying with work: “If you get a major part of your self-esteem from the job, your resistance to being engulfed by work will be lower. Also, when you have to meet clearly defined objectives at work or give frequent performance reports, it’s tempting to prioritize work over home, where hard-and-fast deadlines are less common.”

• Idleness anxiety: “We all want to avoid pain, and for many of us, being idle — not connected to work or working — gives us free time in which to worry about the future, doubt our value and suffer in other ways.”

Strategies for Success

• Be proactive, not reactive: “Approach work with clarity and deliberation, not reactive anxiety. This involves understanding that not all urgent tasks are equally important — and concentrating on the important ones first. Your sense that you are handling the important stuff at work will make you less likely to obsess over work when at home.”

• Relaxation improves performance:
“Our bodies move from energized to fatigued about every hour and a half, according to what’s called the ultradian rhythm. Regularly renewing will actually produce better work.”

• Start early: “As the day goes on, your work effectiveness diminishes, so ‘front-loading’ the workday when you are freshest and least distracted makes sense.”

• Do what you love: “Engaging in hobbies and other pursuits that are meaningful and enjoyable can pull you away from work thoughts without giving you ‘idleness anxiety.’ They also help reduce over-identification with work. Self-care regimens such as meditation and exercise also contribute to this goal.”

• Unplug: “Silence your ringers and email alerts during certain times of the day (the dinner hour, the hour before bed) and in certain rooms in your house (dining room, bedroom, living room) to help you relax.”

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