You work hard so you can enjoy life… so why does it sometimes feel like work life is getting in the way of maintaining meaningful relationships? Constant emails distract from date night. Slack notifications pop up during book club. A must-answer phone call comes in at 9 PM.

Work worries can find their way into all facets of life and prevent us from being present with our family and friends. At its worst, work creep can cause us to take out stress on those we care about most. That’s why setting boundaries that allow us to leave work at work is the key to staying engaged and involved with the relationships that sustain us. 

At a loss for how to actually put this into action in your own life? Here are our tips for leaving work at work.

Write Down Tomorrow’s Must-Dos Before You Leave the Office

You’ve probably been there: tomorrow’s to-dos are stressing you out before you even leave the office. You spend the entire evening ruminating over what’s waiting for you in the morning and how you’re possibly going to prioritize it all when you get into the office. No matter how hard you try that evening, you can’t be fully present because of the nagging feelings.

Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed before you head out for the day, take a minute to write down your to-do list. List every single thing that needs to be accomplished in the morning, with notes on priority level, and then leave it there knowing you have a plan ready to put into action in the AM. With the confidence that things will get done tomorrow, you can feel empowered to leave work behind at the end of the day and focus on your life outside the office.

Build in Buffer Time Between Work and Home

Create buffer time between your workday and home life that lets you disconnect and shift your mindset so you can truly connect with your friends and family in your after-work hours. If you have a long commute, make that the time where you listen to a favorite podcast or playlist. Maybe you head to a workout class as soon as you walk out the door (do double-duty by booking a class with a friend!) or perhaps you call someone on your walk home who always manages to make you smile.

And, if you work from home, build in a set routine that reminds you that working hours have been turned off for the day. Shut down your computer and make a cup of tea. Put on your comfy pants. Just do something that creates a line between “office” and “home.”

Give Yourself Something to Look Forward To

It’s easier to leave your work at work when you have something to look forward to in the evening. It could be a fun happy hour out with friends, catching up on a favorite Netflix series, or spending a quiet night at home with your partner cooking a new recipe and opening a bottle of wine. 

Your definition of something to look forward to is probably related to your level of introversion or extroversion, so do what feels right for you –– and gets you excited to leave work behind. Want to take it one step further? Right those evening plans down in your planner, regardless of how mundane they may seem –– giving yourself something concrete to look forward to will help form the divide between work and life.

Turn Off Your Work Phone (or Mute Your Email Notifications!)

This one sounds so easy, yet is so hard for so many of us. But, seriously, just turn off your work phone. That email can wait until tomorrow and your partner or roommate is in front of you right now.

And, for those of you who are feeling anxious just thinking about turning off your phone and leaving emails unanswered overnight: consider talking to your boss about reasonable expectations surrounding after-work response times or call a meeting with your colleagues to discuss those late-night messages. You may find that everyone feels the same way you do, but someone just needed to be the first to say it.

Lead by Example for Your Colleagues

You may be thinking, “I WANT to leave my work at work, but my colleagues expect me to be accessible at all hours!” This is why you need to lead by example. Someone has to be the first to create a culture of work-life balance –– why can’t it be you? 

Yes, sometimes there will be urgent after-hours emails, but next time you get a 5:15 PM email, shoot your coworker a quick response, “Hey, I saw your email just now, I’ll get you an answer in the morning!” Make it upbeat and don’t apologize. It won’t be long before your new focus on balance and boundaries starts to catch on.

We know it’s hard to go from taking work home with you day in and day out, to putting a firm line between the office and home. But, with a plan to create boundaries put into place, you’ll learn to leave your work where it belongs –– at work –– and become a more engaged partner, roommate, and friend. And, remember, you don’t have to do all of these at once. Ease into it by choosing one area you can focus on and, eventually, maybe, working up to leaving your work phone behind at the end of the day.