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The Put it Away Box

A tangible technique for closing down your working day, and giving yourself permission to step away from things.

Whilst our job-based chums fight battles with their employers about where they should be working from, our battles as the self-employed are still perhaps a little closer to home - and whilst there are lots of options available to people which aren’t working from home (as we’ve covered in our recent guide), many of us are still very much home-based, and need techniques to establish boundaries between work and … not work.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a dedicated space at home where you can work, and more importantly, walk away from at the end if your day - there is already a quite powerful psychological effect of literally getting up and walking away from work.

Not everyone can create that separation though, so exploring other very tangible techniques which also create a emotional sense of “closing down for the day” are important to help you say to yourself: “I’ve finished work, I am giving myself time away from work now”.

Physical and Mental Actions

There are many techniques which are effective, and almost all of them combine two discrete parts: a physical action and a mental action.

The physical action is the actual thing you do to draw the line. Closing the laptop for instance. 

The mental action is the mindset shift you choose to make. Telling yourself you’re done.

It’s important to do both of these, the physical act is tangible, but giving yourself permission to close down is just as important, and that you don’t return to the laptop, to check the emails, to just get another thing done.

This is why the idea of the “working from home commute” is a powerful concept - it's both a physical act, leaving the house for a short time - and the mental act of saying “I’m going from home to work now”.

But there’s another technique which I like to use that is even simpler, and more flexible for those of us who perhaps can’t just go for a walk on a whim. I call it my “put it away box”.


The Put it Away Box

At the end of the working day, I close down my laptop, and then tidy up all of my papers and pens and mess and put it in a shoe box. I don’t organise it, it just sort of cram it all in there, and then pop on the lid. It removes the very visible materials of my work, and puts it away for the evening. That’s the physical act - and not only does it create some space on my kitchen table, it also physically puts away any accidental nudges if I see a note or thought on paper.

The mental act, however, is the powerful part. Before I put the lid on the box, I take a pause to reflect briefly on the day, and ask myself one thing which I was happy with today. Perhaps it was a piece of work, a conversation, an achievement, or just feeling focused. I ask myself the question, answer it in my head - and then put the lid on the box, and put it away.

It’s a simple technique, but it creates, for me, a clear line between the working day and my evening, creates space, physically and emotionally, and lets me put the day away until tomorrow.

Leapers member Amanda Powell uses the technique: 

"My desk is in the corner of the living room, so if you're trying to switch off in the evening you can see the laptop, paperwork, etc, out of the corner of your eye which created an undertone of 'work is still half happening/should be happening' - but not anymore! Takes 30 seconds to pack away and makes the living room feel like a nice space again."

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What techniques do you have to put away the day, what physical actions and what mental actions do you take to put work to rest? Let me know in the comments or our slack thread, and we’ll collect and share them.

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