We all know that stress is bad for us, and most of us understand that one of the keys to overcoming our stress is to find a way to unplug from our work. Unfortunately, we also know we face more and more pressure to perform on the job.

To cope, we often push ourselves to work later, bring work home with us, and even skip vacations. According to some studies, as few as 25% of American workers take their full vacation each year. Almost half of us regularly bring work home with us.

But, if we unconsciously allow work to creep into our personal lives, the related stress will come along with it. While it’s unrealistic to think we’ll never have to take a phone call or respond to an email outside of work hours, we can become more intentional about how we unplug from our work.

Wrap up your work day the right way.

How we end our work day has a real impact on how we experience our time away from work. Leaving simple tasks undone, work spaces disorganized, and calendars a mess keeps our brain churning once we’re gone. And, if we can’t turn our brains off, we might as well still be at the office.

Instead of rushing out the door at the last minute, stop your active work a few minutes earlier. Use the final minutes of your day to set the tone for your evening and the next morning. Close out of all your open documents and browser windows. Triage your emails, and line up those requiring response to be dealt with the following day. Tidy up your work space so that you don’t spend your down time dreading coming back to a mess.

Not only does all of this put your mind at ease and leave you free to relax and enjoy other parts of your life, it sends a signal to your brain that it’s time to shift into a different gear. It becomes your “turn off work” routine.

Make the most of the commute.

Most of us spend at least a few minutes a day commuting after our work day. This doesn’t have to be a wasted pocket of time. Instead, use it as a chance to reinforce the mental shift that it’s time to relax. Listen to music you really enjoy, or perhaps a favorite book you’ve been looking forward to finishing. Or, simply enjoy some silence.

Just be sure that you don’t try to jam the commute full of more “productive time.” If your goal is to walk in the door of your home ready to enjoy your down time, cramming your commute full of calls, obsessing about the project you didn’t quite get finished, or replaying the argument with your boss is counterproductive. Remember, this is all about getting yourself into a different mental gear…

Create a welcome home routine.

The effort doesn’t stop once you cross the threshold of your house. Spend time developing a welcome home routine. It doesn’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) be elaborate.

Maybe you change clothes, put up your bag, and let the dog out. Maybe you turn on your favorite music or sit for a few minutes outside. The specifics don’t matter as much as the routine. The point is to develop something you do almost every day that reinforces the idea that you are home and moving into a different mental space.

If you have children, get them in on the game. Have them hang up back packs, put up shoes, and wash their hands. Allow them a few minutes with a favorite book or game to unwind. Not only will the transition be easier for them, it will buy you a few minutes of peace.

Carve out some work-free time.

Once home, create pockets of time that are off-limits for work except in cases of extreme emergency. Maybe you want to spend time with your children, eat together and put them to bed without interruption. Maybe you want to exercise and enjoy some time with your spouse. Whatever your particular boundary is, honor it.

If you need to check in on an email, review a report, or perform some other work task, you can do so outside of your free zone. Then, because you have honored your boundaries and spent time on your priorities, you won’t feel cheated or rushed.

Keep work contained.

On the (hopefully rare) occasions you do work from home, be sure to keep your work contained. Have a set place in your home to keep your laptop, calendar, and other work related items so that they don’t take over your personal space. If you can, avoid doing work in the bedroom, which can seriously confuse your brain when it’s time to get some sleep.

It’s unrealistic to think we can totally compartmentalize our work, but we can find ways to keep the stress of the work day from creeping into our down time. It requires a few sound strategies, and a little effort, but the reward is well worth it.

Let Me Hear from You

Do you have a routine for closing out your work day? How about a welcome home routine? What other tricks do you use to de-stress and unplug from work at the end of the day?