How To Disconnect From Work, Especially If Your Office Is In Your Living Room

by Chris Illuminati

Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan once remarked that being a writer equivalent to “having homework every night for the rest of your life.” Kasdan’s homework is slightly different than mine. I’m busy penning articles about the history of GI Joe toys while Kasdan is bringing those toys to life in movies like Raiders of the Lost ArkThe Force Awakens, and Solo: A Star Wars Story.

People think about work. Constantly. Humans think about work more than sex. Future generations might be even worse off. Detaching from work is healthier. Research consistently concludes that people with the ability to psychologically disconnect from work are better off mentally and physically. This disconnect is more natural for people who work in an office. They’re eventually allowed to go home.

Kasdan’s quote touches a nerve for many creatives, especially those both blessed and cursed with working from the comfort of their own living room, home office, or kitchen counter. There are plenty of perks attached to earning a living in your underwear, but a significant drawback is the inability to never, ever, leave the office. Sure, I could leave the house and work remotely, but home is where I hang my hat — and where I have a bed — and the public library already has enough people crashing in toilet stalls.

Working from home is my way of life, but I’ve slowly found ways to keep my job from dominating personal time. Here are 7 simple fixes to help people working from home (or even an office) to disconnect from the tasks that pay the bills.

[1] Practice Feng Shui or The Art Of Not Sleeping In Your Office Space

Moving into my new condo meant not only finding a spot for a couch I’d like to set on fire (outside on the curb, not in my living room) but for a home office that once had a door that closed or avoided entirely for days. The new place doesn’t have much space, so the desk, computer, and books all landed in my bedroom.

Bad. Idea.

Wake up in the morning, there’s the computer calling my name. Can’t sleep at night? I might as well get up and do some work. I’m in a time crunch and need to eat lunch and finish a feature about “More Cowbell”  so I’m chowing down on leftovers one foot away from my bed. I’m too old to live a life better suited for a dorm. The rarely used farmhouse dining room table is now ground control.

Ask yourself your work area is really in the best possible place. Is it too close to your bed, too far away from family, or too tempting to sit down at every moment of the day (even when you don’t actually have a moment)? It might be time to do a little furniture moving.

[2] Make The Act Of Starting A Hassle

A famous hack in fiction writing is leaving work on a cliffhanger. If an author stops working in the middle of a scene, or right in the middle of a sentence, it’s easier to get back into the frame of when sitting back down in front of the screen.

It’s easy to leave work incomplete. Some tasks are never quite finished, but once the assignment is wrapped up, a person will efficiently move on to the next. But what if starting was much more complicated than clicking a computer off sleep mode?

To avoid doing work at all hours of the day, make it incredibly difficult to get started. Turn off the computer and put all files inside a desk and, hell, take the batteries out of the mouse and stash them away. Make starting a process.

My new office/dining room

[3] Find A Passion Project

A few months ago, I bought a harmonica. For many reasons. First, I’m long past the chance of joining a band since I can’t play guitar, don’t have the space for drums, and castrated cats sing better. The harmonica is my only musical chance of joining a group unless there’s an opening for “really awful background dancer #3” on Beyonce’s next tour.

Harmonica uses a different side of my brain, forces my hands to do something other than type, and the repetitive process allows for less thinking. It’s a passion project and runs distraction from sitting down to type more. In emergency situations, I’ve left the harmonica on top of the keyboard as a reminder to work less and play a little more.

Yes, I still suck at harmonica.

[4] Crunch The Numbers

People love numbers. The only number I don’t like is the $0 in my checking account. Other than that, numbers and I are amigos. Numbers make things seems real. The numbers on your paycheck are real. The distance of an MLB homerun is tangible.

Numbers can be impressive or depressing, especially when the calculations involve the amount of time spent on work. Start tracking your work hours. Track your downtime. Track your sleep (or if you don’t sleep, the time spent trying to fall asleep). Keep a running tab on any project – work or leisure – that takes more than five minutes of your time. At the end of one week, if the number of hours spent working far exceeds the hours spent with family, spent working out, or devoted to crushing it on Harmonica Idol, it’s time to shift focus and make all the numbers balance out.

[5] Is It Actual Work or Fake Work?

Ask yourself this simple question, “am I doing real, constructive work or just fake work.” Here’s how to tell if you’re doing fake work. Fake work needs to stop, especially on your downtime. If the work is real, budget your time better or just take on less work.

[6] The Habit Of Ending

In the book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us, author Daniel Pink discusses disconnecting from work and offers this advice. “Create a ritual at the end of the day to help gain control.”

This ritual tells the brain “ok, work is done, go annoy neighbors with your awful harmonica playing.” My suggestions are taking the advice from earlier in this piece (turn everything off) or maybe something as simple as screaming “I AM DONE WORKING!” and pushing away from the laptop. I don’t advise doing that if you’re working remotely, especially in a loud coffee shop, quiet libraries or in the office.

I hope these tips help you disconnect from your job and open up your time to new activities or at least less time doing the things you love. If you’ve got suggestions or your own tips, leave them in the comments section.

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Rachael V April 18, 2018 - 2:36 pm


Thanks for posting this easy and relatable read. As a instructor/teacher/tutor, I always feel I could be doing more to help my students during my off time (like grading or lesson prepping). It is important to be able to turn my brain off, walk away, and do something not related to teaching. I hope by applying these tips, it will be easier. Also, my “passion projects” are knitting and running so I try to find time to immerse myself in these. Some days or weeks I don’t try hard enough to do that.

Chris Illuminati April 18, 2018 - 3:29 pm

Thanks for reading! Running is also a passion project but I tend to only think about work while running. Ugh!

DeAnn Hittinger April 19, 2018 - 12:59 pm

Chris, I was clearing out my email this morning and came across your email re: working from home. It was one of many emails I intended to respond to but kept dropping down the to do list. Funny how timing works. I was just wondering if you used any of those ideas in an article, and here today, I read a work from home article. Good luck on the harmonica. Note to self, don’t multitask and try to play and run at the same time. The cats don’t like the competition.

Chris Illuminati April 19, 2018 - 1:04 pm

Thanks for reading!

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