The Nuance

The Best Way to End Your Workday

Certain tasks encourage psychological detachment from work, which can prevent stress and burnout

Markham Heid
Elemental
Published in
4 min readJan 12, 2022

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Photo: Bonnie Kittle / Unsplash

Betty White, who died New Year’s Eve at the age of 99, liked to drink a vodka on the rocks every night before dinner. According to the Financial Times, White often credited both her longevity and her career success to her evening cocktail.

Alcohol has plenty of downsides. (And White was probably joking anyway.) But there’s something to be said for rituals that help you disengage from work so you can fully savor your free time — something that more and more of us seem to find difficult.

Recent nationwide surveys have found that fully half of U.S. workers are now experiencing burnout, which the World Health Organization describes as feelings of exhaustion, ennui, and negativity toward one’s occupation. Burnout can look a lot like depression and anxiety, and it results from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” according to the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases.

While burnout has always been a thing, experts believe the rise of remote work, mobile email, and other technologies that keeps us tethered to our jobs has made it increasingly difficult to disconnect at the end of the day. Boundaries matter to our brains, and we keep tearing down the walls that once stood between our occupations and our private lives.

The tasks you tackle at the very end of the day may play an outsize role in helping you unplug.

According to a 2018 study in the journal Research in Organizational Behavior, psychologically “detaching” from work is one of the best ways to reduce after-hours stress and all its harms, including burnout. “[This] implies not only refraining from performing job-related tasks, but also mentally disconnecting from the job during nonwork time,” the author of that study wrote.

There are many ways to disconnect. Avoiding your email, Slack channels, or other work-related communications during off-hours probably tops that list.

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Markham Heid
Elemental

I’m a frequent contributor at TIME, the New York Times, and other media orgs. I write mostly about health and science. I like long walks and the Grateful Dead.