Show notes

Separating your work from your personal life is more important than ever, especially for accountant moms.  We have the ability, and for a lot of us the necessity, to work virtually, especially since the pandemic, making the lines between work and home so blurred that you might be asking yourself whether you’re working from home or living at work.

These blurred lines can also make it difficult for accountant moms to switch from work mode to mom mode.  Before so many of us were required to work from home due to the pandemic restrictions, we might do something like put a load of laundry in before we left for work or clean up the kitchen when we got home, however now we just take 10 steps away from our computers and the laundry, dirty dishes, and kids toys are all there waiting for us.

For those of us still working virtually, it can be even more challenging when there isn’t a dedicated room just for your office, where you can close the door and simulate a traditional office space.  For many years my home office also doubled as my step son’s bedroom, with his mattress propped up against the wall to give me a little more room to move around.

Even for those of us that have gone back to working in a physical office as opposed to working from home, the lines can still be very blurred between our work and our life.  You’re probably still questioning whether you’re working from home or living at work because of one key thing – the advancement of technology.  

As our accessibility to each other and to work has grown exponentially, so has our inability to disconnect from work at the end of the day.  Our mobile devices have become our traveling home offices, making it possible to answer email, send Slack messages, and have conference calls anywhere, at any time.

As I’ve shared in previous podcast episodes, while it’s exciting to be living during this time of ever-growing technological advancements and the development of various programs and applications that help us to do our work as quickly and productively as we can, we’re also becoming incredibly dependent on those technological advancements.  They’re with us when we’re at work, and they’re with us when we’re “off the clock” from work.  

Because of the pressure accountant moms can often feel to be high performers in our careers, it can be challenging to not check our work email while we’re making dinner or to glance at our phone and be tempted to answer a Slack message while we’re watching TV with our family.  Even though the old adage says, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you”, we often get caught up in the fear of not being on top of things so we overcompensate by needing to know too much.

I’m definitely guilty of checking my phone when I’m away from work, convincing myself that even though most of the time a work issue can wait until tomorrow, it’s still good to know if there’s an issue.  But here’s the problem – whether I read a work email that contains an issue or not, I’m still plugged into work when I’m not supposed to be working.

The other issue is that we live in a time of such instant gratification, that we’ve all become so impatient with the speed of a response to and from people.  Unfortunately, we’ve also become a little addicted to the rush of adrenaline we get when we hear the ding of a phone notification, forgetting the importance of unplugging and unwinding, especially when it comes to being too emotionally focused on work.  

This week I’m going to discuss what causes us to constantly feel emotionally focused on work and easier ways to disconnect at the end of the day.    

What causes us to constantly feel emotionally focused on work

The interesting thing is that you’ll know when something has become a bigger societal problem, when psychologists come up with a term to describe our collective issue.  So it probably won’t surprise you that being able to emotionally take a break from work has a name – Psychological Detachment From Work.

Basically it refers to an individual’s experience of being mentally away from work and taking a pause in thinking about work-related issues, thereby giving them an “off switch”.  It’s a state in which people mentally disconnect from work and do not think about job related issues when they’re away from their job.

There have been many studies done on Psychological Detachment From Work and the research has shown that employees who experience more detachment from work during off-hours are more satisfied with their lives and experience few symptoms of stress, without being less engaged while at work.  So here’s the important point – just because they mentally detached from work, that doesn’t mean they were less engaged when they were back at work.

Although many of the studies focused on the effects on employees, this is just as important for all levels of management and ownership.  Whether you’re a senior manager, a partner or a solopreneur, the importance of mentally detaching from work cannot be overlooked or underestimated, especially for accountant moms. 

The funny thing is that we often have a negative connotation when it comes to the term “detachment”, assuming that it’s done out of frustration or as a last resort in a negative situation.  The truth is that certain levels of detachment are not only helpful, but necessary, in order to do and be at your best.

For many accountants, we often don’t detach from work because we don’t want to appear as a slacker, or appear as if we’re not dedicated or capable.  In all the large and small public firms I’ve worked for, at the end of the workday everyone would look at everyone else to see when they were going to leave work because nobody wanted to be the first to leave.

As both an accountant and a mom, you may feel the pressure to NOT detach from work, especially if you want to get ahead in your career.  But what often happens is you don’t factor in the cost of not detaching; the cost to you physically and emotionally, the cost to your family when you’re still plugged into work even though you’re home, and the cost to your productivity and efficiency when you get back into work.

The truth is that the overarching biggest cause of you constantly feeling emotionally focused on work all comes down to one thing – your beliefs about what a good/great accountant does when they’re not at work.  Just like I always encourage my clients to re-examine their beliefs about what it means to be a “good mom”, I also want to encourage you to re-examine your beliefs about what’s necessary in order to do your job, and do it well, while also being honest with yourself about what your current beliefs are costing you as I said before, physically, emotionally, relationally, and in your ability to be as productive and efficient as you can be.

Along with addressing your beliefs about what a good/great accountant does when they’re not at work, I also suggest that you take a look at your relationship with people-pleasing, setting boundaries, and the common accountant affliction of perfectionism.  This is really important because until you understand what’s happening in those areas, you’re going to continue to perpetuate certain beliefs about what’s necessary in order for you to do your job well.

The key is understanding that just like a muscle will get damaged and tear if it’s not given the proper amount of rest and recuperation after a strenuous workout, your brain is a muscle that needs the same consideration as a bicep.  When your brain is always “on” and focused on work mode, like a 24 hour news station, you are pushing and pushing it to the point that it will eventually break down.

Maybe you’ve even experienced this breakdown during tax season or at other deadline-driven times where you probably went to bed so mentally and physically drained, and then dragged yourself back into the office the next day, never feeling like you had a chance to recover.  When you don’t learn to practice psychological detachment from work, the negative effects can be damaging – you can easily get overwhelmed, stressed, and eventually experience burnout in one form or another.  

Thankfully there are easier ways to disconnect at the end of the day and still be the best accountant and mom you can be.

Easier ways to disconnect at the end of the day

The first thing I want to encourage you NOT to do to disconnect at the end of the day, is to buffer.  I’ve discussed this in previous podcasts episodes, but buffering is the actions you take in order to avoid a negative emotion, which then have a net negative effect on you, like drinking a few glasses of wine each night and then feeling groggy the next day, or eating those “special” cookies once the kids go to bed and then wondering why your clothes don’t fit once tax season is over.

It’s totally natural to not want to feel the effects of things like stress and overwhelm, especially as an accountant and a mom with a lot of responsibilities, but I really want you to start paying more attention to what you do to cope.  I’m going to encourage you to start becoming aware of those net negative effects you experience when you use things in order to feel better.

So in order to understand better ways to disconnect at the end of the day, here’s an analogy that might help – the way I’d like you to think about your brain is as if it’s a sponge and it can only soak up so much before it’s incapable of picking up any more liquid.  Just like a sponge, you have to give your brain time to rest and dry out before it can be used to soak up more liquid.

If you think about how much we rely on our brains for the complicated, analytical work we do as accountants, we especially need our brains to “dry out” before asking it to soak up and process more and more information.  We need to give it the rest it deserves since it’s what makes it possible for us to do our work so well.

The first thing I suggest you do in order to disconnect at the end of the day is to make a decision that disconnecting is what you want to do, as opposed to what you should do, and like your reasons for doing it.  Anytime you make a decision, especially when you’re trying to implement a new behavior, you want to make sure you like your reason for doing it.

For example, feeling resentful towards work because there doesn’t seem to be boundaries around your time, may not be the best reason to start implementing the new behavior of disconnecting from work at the end of the day.  But if the reason is because you want to be more present with your family when you’re home and that you deserve to unplug everyday, that would be a good reason because it’s moving towards something instead of resisting or pushing against something.

You might also decide that giving yourself a break from work will allow you to be so much more present and focused when you are back in the office.  With the complicated work that we do as accountants, you can decide that when you let the sponge dry out, it’s able to absorb so much more when it’s needed; that being a good/great accountant means not being available 24/7, not answering emails after you leave the office, or not putting work before your family.

The second way I suggest in order to disconnect at the end of the day is truly practicing downtime, where you just allow your brain to wander.  The reason this is so important, especially for accountants, is because when we let our minds wander, instead of processing information, we allow it to replenish itself.

This is not about just focusing on something else instead of work or switching tasks; it’s about truly letting your brain stop running it’s processing motor.  For this suggestion, you’ll want to schedule breaks to purposefully allow your brain to get bored; to allow your brain to just look around without an agenda; without needing to be busy or constantly asking, “What’s next?”.

The most important thing with this suggestion is to turn off your phone or put it somewhere else.  The biggest obstacle we all have with allowing our brain to wander is our cell phones, therefore, you have to make a conscious choice to set aside time each day to put your phone down and let your mind wander; let it stop processing and just relax and restore. 

When my children were younger, the way that I would “dry out” the sponge of my brain was, once I left the office to pick them up from school, I would get there about 20 minutes early, put the seat back in my car, and take a power nap.  This allowed the sponge to rest on the windowsill, get some fresh air, and not try to soak up more liquid than it had already soaked up while I was at work.

The last way I suggest in order to disconnect at the end of the day is write it all down instead of expecting your brain to store everything that’s swirling around, whether it’s for work or for your personal life.  Contrary to what you might believe, your brain is not a storage facility, although we often expect it to be one.

That ticker tape that keeps running in your brain, where you don’t want to forget that meeting, to send that birthday gift in time, or to sign that note for your children’s teacher, is incredibly draining and exhausting to your brain.  If you think about it, the amount of energy you expend trying to balance your career and your personal life could probably power your home for a year!

Unfortunately, when you don’t want to forget something, your brain goes to work spinning and spinning to make sure you don’t forget something, creating fear and that nagging feeling that there’s something you may have forgotten.  So do yourself a favor and write it all down so your brain can relax and replenish when you’re not at work.

The other important aspect of writing things down is that it gives you a much clearer picture about the thoughts that are creating the feeling of stress and overwhelm.  When you understand the underlying cause of those feelings, you can be much more efficient and productive when you’re actually at work.

Just know that disconnecting from work is going to help you so much more in the long run.  You deserve a break, your kids deserve you being fully present with them, and your clients will appreciate the fresh mind you’re able to bring each day.

Summary  

  • Because of the pressure accountant moms can often feel to be high performers in our careers, it can be challenging to not check our work email while we’re making dinner or to glance at our phone and be tempted to answer a Slack message while we’re watching TV with our family.
  • There have been many studies done on Psychological Detachment From Work and the research has shown that employees who experience more detachment from work during off-hours are more satisfied with their lives and experience few symptoms of stress, without being less engaged while at work.
  • If you think about how much we rely on our brains for the complicated, analytical work we do as accountants, we especially need our brains to “dry out” before asking it to soak up and process more and more information.