Open Thread: How to Turn Off Work Mode

How to Turn Off Work Mode - Advice, Tips and Tricks2018 Update: We still stand by this discussion of how to turn off work mode, but you may also want to check out our more recent discussion of how to create strong work-life boundaries, as well as the best ways to relax after a stressful day

I have a question for you ladies: how do you turn off work mode? Marie Forleo had a video on this a week ago, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it ever since I saw it, so I thought it would be an interesting conversation. We’ve talked before about how to relax, as well as about juggling work and life (um: a post I finished from the postpartum ward of the hospital…), but not in a long while. I was particularly struck by this part of Forleo’s video:

When it’s time for me to shift out of work mode, I think of myself as butter and [my fiance as] the toast.  … This comfort food is best when the toast is like firm and stiff and the butter is soft and velvety and creamy and spreads all over the place.  So I know that’s a little dumb, but it actually works — it’s a really easy metaphor to remember, and it affects my physicality, it affects my voice, and I can slip into it really fast.

I’ve been thinking about this far too much — I am so not warm butter! (I’m more like cold butter if anything — barely melting, maintaining its own little form and function.) So here’s the question, guys: How do you disconnect from work? Do you have an easy metaphor to think of (or some other strategy you use) when you’re with your loved ones?

(Updating, just to be clear: this struck me as an odd analogy also, which is why I wanted to talk about it here with you guys!  As commenter cbackson noted below, the desire to not to have to be such a hard-ass when you get home from work is not a gendered one — and as other commenters note, turning off work mode can be easier for men.  Maybe this gets into shades of the weekend you — do you have a very different persona at home? How do you slip into or out of it? Or is it enough for you to create rituals (changing clothes, putting away devices) to slip out of work mode?)

(Pictured: apricot and raisin toast, originally uploaded to Flickr by penguincakes.)how to turn off work mode - image of butter on toast

It can be really tough for women lawyers, executives, and others to turn off work mode when they come home -- and there was an interesting video from Marie Forleo describing her own method of thinking of toast -- so we talked about it. Great discussion with the readers!


  1. Whoa–this is something I talk about with work friends _all the time_. We marvel at how our male colleagues just let (rap roll off them, while we go home and stew about it. These are a few things:

    1) Put down your electronic device. Just put it down. The more you check it, the more you create the expectation that you’re always instantaneously available. Check it if you must, but only, say, when you first get home, a few hours later, and just before bed (or less!). If you are in the middle of time-sensitive work, put an internal/external/specific OOO autoreply on stating when you will be back online if someone will freak out that you’re not answering. Remember that if it’s truly urgent, someone can call you (and don’t be afraid to tell your colleages–“Call me if something is _truly_ urgent”

    2) I like to visualize the idea of work stress rolling off of me. So, not toast, but just the idea that I am not going to let the negativity/stress/gossip/politics stick to me when I am not in the building. [This doesn’t always work, but I try it.]

    3) I like to have a ritual. Depends on where I live–when I was in the City, it was taking out a good book on the Tube/subway. When I am in the burbs, it’s listening to a Great Course on the way home. Similarly, I like to get a hot chocolate on the way to work to arm me for battle–it’s a treat to make me excited about my day, even when I am not excited about my day, and it makes me realize, “It’s work time now!”

    4) When I am working really hard, and am stressed, I have an even more elaborate wind-down ritual, because I can’t really turn work off as well, because my mind is racing. This can be watching TV, taking a bath or going for a walk with a friend/friend’s dog. Need to get your brain to shift gears.

    Hope these are helpful to others! Can’t wait to hear other tricks from commenters!

    • I too am amazed at how more men than women i know seem to be able to let go of work/leave “it” at work.

      One big thing for me was turning off any visual or audible indicators that I had new emails. They are there if I look, but not jumping every time I hear my phone bleep or vibrate has done wonders for me. Still working on not looking at all when not necessary (though on vacation at least, I do set my phone so that it has to manually retrieve the emails from the server as opposed to pushing them to my phone).

      • Wildkitten :

        I actually don’t find this to be a gendered thing – we both have a really hard time not thinking about work 24/7. Maybe because we don’t have kids yet?

        • anon at 2:10 :

          My husband is SO GOOD at shutting it off, as are other men I know (socially and professionally). And we both have demanding jobs and long hours. Could just be my sample size, though.

        • I actually probably have an easier time shutting off than my husband, but I have a long bus ride and will usually read a book on the bus, while he drives.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      I’m all about the ritual too. I shower, put on sweats, and light a candle. My fiancé typically has dinner ready by then so we can just eat and chat.

      If I’m particularly stressed, I do all of the above then watch mindless TV and play solitaire.

  2. Yay, Kat! This is such a good open thread. This time of year especially! DOUBEL YAY!

    It is very difficult for workeing gals like us to just turn off work mode, particularley if you have to bill 7200 hours a year, the way I do. What this mean’s is that I have to say, usueally after 9:00 PM each night, that I am NOT goeing to do any more work, or even THINK about work issues, and as a result, I moove to other issue’s that are more fun.

    Even when I am eateing dinner, I think about work (and bill accordingly), so haveing me as a dinner date usually is not alot of fun for guy’s b/c they know I am NOT concentrateing fully on them b/c of my billeing responsibilities to the manageing partner. I have never realy focussed on this before, but NOW I think that mabye this is why I have been unabel to sustain a meaningful releationship with a guy b/c of this focussing on my billeing’s! I cant beleive it but it could realy be TRUE! If I had a more rationale schedule, and onley had to bill mabye 5000 hours a year, I would have time for a personal life, and who know’s, I mabye could EVEN have been MARRIED by now! FOOEY on me for workeing to hard! DOUBEL FOOEY!

    If this is true, I have a solution to the probelem. Bill less hour’s and get MARRIED! Does anyone else in the HIVE think I am right? If I bill less, I will have more time to meet Mr. Right, and mabye get him to ask me to MARRY him. If he is not a schlub, I will, and that will make Grandma Leyeh very Happy. And also Dad, who has been itcheing to get rid of my finanecial responsibilitie’s.

    I can’t WAIT to see what the HIVE think’s! YAY!!!!!!

    • Wait, is that right? 7200 hours? That can’t be right? Because that would be more than 19 hours a day / 365 — no weekends, no vacation…every. single. day. you’d have only 5 hours to yourself, which you’d have to assume would be shower and sleep. There’s no way that’s doable? Is this just because I’m not a lawyer? Or do you somehow fudge 1 hour to be billed 2 ways? I so totally don’t get it. Based on that math my advice would definitely be to get a new job (regardless of mr. right – even if you found him, you would never get to see him?!) because that sounds more like servitude than work – what good is working so hard for a paycheck if you never get to live?

      • Lol Ellen is not a real person. But you are correct, that is not right for most lawyers. I think there are some ethical issues with Ellen’s method of billing.


        • OMG awesome. I normally read Corporette in an RSS so I’ve never come across Ellen before, but I’m going to have to get into the comments more often!! So much good stuff in here (beyond Ellen as well obviously)

  3. I’m sorry-what? Why does the fiance get to be the firm and unyielding one?
    Maybe I’m misunderstanding the phrase “work mode”, but this is very offensive to imply that women need to maintain 2 separate personalities to be successful at work and successful at home- because it implies that they cannot be direct and firm at home, with the people who supposedly love them unconditionally?

    • Also the bread/butter thing reads like a foodie parody of 50 Shades of Grey.

    • I don’t necessarily object to the idea of a work persona and a home persona, but the whole toast/butter thing is just weird. Wanting not to have to be such a hard-a$$ when you’re with your loved ones is not a gendered desire. Poor fiance. He just wants to come home and relax but instead he has to keep being stern, unyielding toast so that Marie can smear her buttery pliability all over him? What if he just wants to watch Jeopardy?

      • I read it as gendered because the metaphor lines up with a lot of harmful gender norms (which I agree, is silly and harmful for both parties to try live up to them, not just the person being smeared around). If toast wants to watch jeopardy and butter wants to watch news, who do you think is going to give in first?

        And so much of home life is still work/menial tasks. My home persona still needs to accomplish stuff, pay the bills, make dinner, etc- all things that require direct communication and competence so everything gets done and comfort is possible.

        • I read it as gendered too. Disregarding the weird metaphor, I think this is a great topic.

          I like to take off my watch as a signal to myself I am out of work mode (as both a physical and symbolic act – shedding the billable hour). Other things that help: changing clothes, getting food, and a quick “how was your day” conversation to sum up the day and close the book on it. I turn my phone face down on the table, and check it at longer intervals.

          If I’m really wound up, a bath, a book and some conscious deep breathing to calm down. A quick snuggle with a pet is a great signal that you are home too.

      • Love that point — “wanting to not be such a hard-ass when you’re with your loved ones is not a gendered desire.” The butter/toast thing struck me as strange maybe for that reason — I can identify with wanting to shed some of my stress/thick skin/work-y-ness off me when I’m around my husband and kids, but it was the strict identifiers (you’re the toast, I’m the butter) that seemed… weird to me.

        Marie, of course, is speaking for female entrepreneurs (I’d guess she views her core demographic almost entirely female), and is also coming at this from the perspective of a Very Successful Entrepreneur — she was just in Inc.’s 500 Rising Businesses or something for generating something $11M of revenue last year. I don’t know much about her fiance, but I suspect it’s likely that she’s getting into the male/female stuff because of whatever stress the woman being the breadwinner can put on relationships.

    • Wildkitten :

      I don’t understand this either.

    • Huh, my mental image reading that was that it was written by a man and he was the butter. I thought of that Annie Liebowitz photo of John and Yoko, where she is fully clothed and looking at the camera, and he is unclothed and cuddled up to her.

      My husband is definitely the butter!

      (Kat I accidentally hit report meaning to hit reply here)

  4. Brunchaholic :

    If you think the excerpt is bad, watch the whole video… all about “masculine energy” and “feminine energy.”

    Is Kat trolling us?

  5. I literally just don’t understand how thinking about toast and butter helps you shift out of work mode. You melt on your fiancé? You should talk in your creamy voice? I just… what?

    • “You should talk in your creamy voice?”
      I think the answer is clearly yes.

    • +1. I didn’t understand it either. People are naturally interpreting this in their own way.

      I shift out of work mode when I come home, change my clothes, go through my favorite blogs and start cooking dinner. I check emails once more at 9:00PM. That’s it.

      When I have something really difficult work going on, I either stay at work longer and come home when I really don’t have energy to think about it or I come home early but continue to think about it constantly when I am doing something else and this actually helps me to come up with ideas to try the next day.

      Also, I don’t have two different personalities (one for work and one for home). So I don’t have to become a totally different person once I leave work.

      I don’t think it is different for men either. I have seen my husband and many other male friends thinking about work after he is out of work. It is a general issue and not a gender specific issue.

  6. Coach Laura :

    That is somewhat of a weird metaphor. I would think of it not in a sexist way (man=hard, woman=yielding) but rather a shedding of an exterior coating – the one we all expose to the world. Marie may want to have a certain way of interacting with her SO that is less based on outside factors and more on a direct human connection.

    Me, though, thinking about wheat makes me ill, figuratively. (I have celiac disease.)

  7. S in Chicago :

    Can’t folks be butter and jelly to the hard toast that is life? (That picture is divine. Apricot and raisin toast–that sounds so amazing right now. )

    • S in Chicago :

      Sorry, got lost in the food for a sec. I definitely think “wind down” rituals are good. I like to think of shoes off time (ideally sweats on time) as when you can break out of the crazy work mode. It’s sort of the physical signal of playtime to me. In fact, on days when I work from home I always wear pants and shoes for just this very reason. I feel more alert somehow.

  8. This is maybe related :

    I have small children and when I’m with them and meeting people, I’m usually “Bravo and Tango’s mother.” Inevitably, the guys introduce themselves with their resume (I went to X school and do Y at Z firm). And while I get networking, I really want to have time when I am fully doing one role (and I fully do the work role enough to walk away for a few minutes or at least not bring it up).

  9. Clementine :

    I really try hard to switch my brain off from work mode when I’m at home. I find I’m successful probably 80%-90% of the time.

    I can’t get on board with the bread and butter analogy, but I do work to have a distinct wardrobe of ‘Work’ versus ‘Home’ clothes. Much like Mr. Rogers, I get home and put on my comfy shoes and my ‘play clothes’. I help turn my brain into the other mode by giving myself my entire commute to unwind. I walk outside to my car, rather than going through the building, even in the winter, and listen to crappy pop music or oldies on my drive. Even NPR keeps me too much in ‘Work’ mode, so I nixed it.

    The last, and most luxurious thing is that I get a period of 15 minutes when I get home. Yes, I know, I don’t have kids and I’m sure I’ll have to give this up when I do, but my husband doesn’t talk to me or bother me or ask me about something until my 15 minutes are up. In this 15 minutes, I change my clothes, go on Pinterest or BuzzFeed, read a book or just pet my dog.

    On really stressful days, I go straight from work to the gym or for a run. While at the gym, I watch the crappiest of crappy TV and think about literally nothing. While running I listen to podcasts or loud, fun music and just zone out. It’s my magic ‘off’ switch for my brain. Yoga doesn’t work for me, neither does traditional meditation but hard cardio is my zen.

  10. Wildkitten :

    There was an excerpt of the women and drinking book in the Atlantic where the author realized she drank her glass of wine as a signal that she was home and could relax. Some other r 3 t t 3 s have suggested immediately changing your clothes to signal that you are now at home.

    I like to go to the gym after work as a buffer. I do still check my work phone on the treadmill, but if no emergency happens during gym time I am in the clear to not check it when I get home.

    • I change my clothes immediately. In part because I don’t want to mess up my nice work stuff with cooking or getting it wrinkled. But also for psychological reasons, definitely.

  11. Anonymous :

    Cardio is also my savior!!

  12. I never had a particular ritual and I’ve never been particularly good at separating my work life (I frequently come up with brilliant solutions to work issues while in the shower), but I’ve gotten really bad since I started working at home. I use my work computer for streaming tv in the evenings (larger screen), and then always end up checking the issue queue or some other thing while browsing the internet because it’s so easily available. And I work in IT, so working off hours is very common, since some work needs to happen when no one else is around.

    I’m trying to make myself go outside at the end of each workday – either run errands, go to the gym, or even just to get the mail – to signify the end of the workday. But it is definitely extra hard when your bedroom and office space are the exact same room.

  13. Blonde Lawyer :

    One thing I liked about the analogy is (though not what the author intended) is to think of my work self as the toast and my home self as the butter. Neither my husband nor I enjoy it when the other comes home all worked up about work stuff. Obviously it happens and we support each other when it does but it is just nicer to come home to a happy spouse than spouse that has 100 things to complain about and 100 more work things to do. There are many times you are going to complain and you are going to work but it is nice to recognize when you don’t have to and when you can just make a choice to “be the butter.”

  14. Lorelai Gilmore :

    I have kids, and this is really hard for me. In my pre-kids life, I could work all the time at work, then head home and really be home. In my with-kids life, I often have to leave work before I want to or before I’m done. I then do my thing with the kids, and have to switch back to work mode once they go to bed. I find this to be a real challenge.

  15. I’m in BigLaw with small kids doing deal work. In order to see them, I go home for dinner and when I can try to play some with them before they go to bed, then get online at home for another 2-5 hours. This means I do a lot of work in my sweats with my feet up on my couch at night. I find that makes it harder when I am trying to take off to fully do so because the lines between work and home are so blurred for me on a daily basis. I know that’s not healthy, but I refuse to not see my kids during the week, so it feels like a necessary evil for now.

  16. I agree that the metaphor is a little off maybe. One visualization that I like to use, that I stole from my favorite yoga instructor’s opening meditation in class maybe 2+ years ago — is your head like a snow globe. And all day these thoughts are swirling around in there, and your chasing after each one, maybe taking care of a couple, but there are always more. So, now, you hold yourself still and allow all these thoughts to settle to the bottom. They’re still there, you don’t have to worry about losing them or forgetting them, just letting them be set aside.

    In context, we then did our yoga practice. Out of context this looks like me coming home, sitting on the couch for a minute (or maybe a nice long hug from my husband) couple deep breaths, eyes closed, thinking that visualization. Once everything has settled I can start fresh, decide what I want to focus on (a story from the day I want to talk about with him, or a single task I want to accomplish for work that night) or what I want to do with my free time for that night (cook dinner, go for a walk, watch tv, clean the house, etc) – so I make a selection of what I want to pick up from that pile rather than letting all the crazy thoughts of the day continue uninhibited into my night or home life.

    This works as an opening to a vacation as well. Let everything settle. Remind yourself it’ll be there when you get back. Ask yourself if there is a set # of things you need to accomplish, or even things you’d like to do during your vacation, and take note only of those things. Then…let go of everything else until you return to it.

    It works! And it’s a little less….heated?…than the butter visualization :)

  17. grey matter :

    I admit it – if I had to bill x hours/year, I’d be stressed and not be able to let it go. Thank goodness I don’t have that added stress. Of course, I’m single and childless and don’t have someone to take me away from thinking about work – as if picking up kids from daycare automatically turns off the scary work mommy and turns on fun mommy – it doesn’t, but I think it might help. I know ladies who “turn off” by walking the dogs or working out or whatever the afterwork “thing” is. But I don’t bring it home, metaphorically or physically (the documents typically stay in the office). Since I make a million and one decisions every day at work – I try not to decide many things at home; if there is someone else that can make the decision, I will let him/her. It was very hard at first … but after deciding a multi-million dollar “whatever” at 2 pm, I’d rather not have to decide the type of pizza we are getting or even what to drink. I let the bartender decide. It allows me to decompress and let go. Let someone else handle it. Decision making tasks – like shopping – are done on the weekends. The apricot & raisin toast looks really good, btw. Cinnamon toast might be dinner tonight – thanks for deciding for me.

  18. Anonymous :

    When I get home I’m f-ing chutney.

  19. Mommy Monster :

    I have a much easier time than my husband letting go of work when I get home.

    If something is truly urgent, my boss will call or text, and I typically take a quick peek at my phone before bedtime (I always do this on Sundays to prep for the next day).

    Meditation exercises can help with this: I used to attend martial arts classes almost daily after work when I was single, and they really stress “being in the moment,” for lack of a better term. You don’t want a distracted partner performing joint locks on you and ignoring your response. So I’ve always taken that thought process from home to work back to home. When I’m “in the moment” of doing work, it has my full attention. When I’m home, I don’t let it get to me.

    I also like to make a list of tomorrow’s tasks before I leave work, and I leave it on my desk so that I see it as I’m booting up my computer. In making the list, I symbolically leave the problems ready for me to solve tomorrow.

    • Meditation :

      YES! Meditation has helped me so, so much. Although I do my daily 20 minutes every morning, I put a plain blue post-it on the side of my computer. Before I leave every day I look at the post it and let my thoughts settle before I head out the door. Then I sing really loudly in the car all the way home (about 10 mins). By the time I get home, I’ve left the office behind. I do check my phone after dinner and before I go to bed, but that’s it. I am trying to get to a point where I don’t check it at all after I get home, but I’m not there yet.

      The only time I’m not good at leaving it behind is when I’m really busy and frantic at work (i.e., during a trial). I try to just accept those times will be worse and let go for as long as I can. Even if that’s just during a walk around the block. Since I’ve started meditating, I have been able to understand that thoughts are just thoughts and I don’t have to let them consume me. TBH, though, before I started meditating, I did cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety. That helped tremendously, and I don’t think my meditation would have been as successful without it. CBT taught me how to get out of the anxiety loop, while meditation has helped me learn how to let thoughts settle or pass.

  20. SoCalTraffic :

    I stay in work mode (i.e. efficient and focused) until dinner is decided on or in process. Then clothes come off and comfy pjs thrown on before watching (currently) Rome with delicious food.

    And now I want all the apricot jam.

  21. The reason men can change it is because for men it is not a novelty or special to be a working man. It’s life. There is no giant thing about it. Women are the only workers who are this emo about their work life. It’s a BIG DEAL to so many women to WORK! But in reality everybody works and the women who do not spend their time thinking, assessing and talking about how it’s such a big deal to have a job and be a working women don’t have to think about how to shift gears when they’re not at their job.