Why You Want to Avoid the Grey Zone, and How to Do It

by Henrik Edberg

The Grey Zone
Image by mugley (license).

.“No matter where you go – there you are”
Confucius

At the heart of what I like to call relaxed productivity there some destructive things you want to avoid.

One of them is the grey zone. It is a twilight zone of the mind.

The grey zone is basically when you are thinking and worrying about work when you are at home. Or when you are thinking about your home life and challenges there when you are at work.

Not a very uncommon habit. But why do you want to avoid it?

Three powerful reasons why I try to stay away from it as best as I can are:

  • You become less effective. When you are stuck in thinking about your home life or your private life in some way or form at work then you are not fully focused. You are distracted and that impacts how well you can do you your work.
  • You become less motivated and energetic. Being stuck in the grey zone sucks a lot of extra emotional and mental energy. It adds a lot of stress. And all of this often causes you to feel fatigued and your motivation to do something well or to explore new opportunities tends to sink like a rock.
  • You might wind up with relationship troubles. One the most important things in any kind of relationship is to truly be there when you are there. To not still be at work in your mind when you are having dinner with your partner, playing a game with your child or hanging out with friends. Being somewhere else is one of those things that do not only annoy the people you are with but also can erode relationships.

Now, how do you go about replacing this habit with something better?

I recommend keeping the reasons above in mind as much as you can during your day. Being conscious about how this habit can damage your life is a good first step towards smarter habits.

A few more things that work well for me are:

1. Take a break every hour.

If you are never free from work for example, if you are never switching things up then your mind will naturally think about work, work, work all day long.

So to break the habit of being in the grey zone it is essential to first fully focus on work. And then to fully focus on relaxing and rejuvenating your mind and body. By focusing 100% on both work and rest each day it becomes easier to fully switch between these modes.

So I usually work for about 45 minutes. Then I take a 15 minute break and I do something totally different. I may take a short walk, eat a small snack, watch half an episode of the Simpsons or just lie down on the couch and read a book.

One thing that has worked well for me is to use a kitchen timer – or the timer on your cell phone – to make sure your work period or your rest period does not become too long.

2. No work after 7 o’clock in the evening.

When you work from home it is easy to start working too much or whenever you feel like it. This can however add stress, get you stuck in the grey zone or just make you spin in circles and get very little of importance done.

So I have set a limit and I do no work after 7 o’clock in the evening. This allows me to wind down after a day of work so that I can sleep well and spend my time with friends or my girlfriend and truly be there with them.

3. No work on weekends.

This is another way of dividing up your work zone and your relaxation or home zone. To be able to fully focus during the weeks and do your best you need slightly longer periods of rest and rejuvenation. Let your weekend be that time.

So if you can, shut off your cell phone.

I work online quite a bit during the weekdays, so during the weekends I often take at least one day when I do not go online at all. And during almost all weekends nowadays I do not check email or do other regular checks online. This certainly makes it easier to not think about work on weekends.

4. Have other important things to do.

By not working after a specific time in your day, by not working on weekends you will have more time when you are truly there with your family and friends. This will also, for example, help you to not feel guilty about not spending enough quality time with them and give you more time and energy to do awesome stuff together and to work on challenges or issues you and the other person(s) might be having.

And so by doing things this way you are also less likely to get stuck in the grey zone at work and think about something that is happening in your family or with a friend.

By setting the limits described above it becomes easier to do the mental switch between fully focused work, fully focused family/friend time and fully focused rest time.

By having important stuff in your life besides work like a hobby, a sport, the people around you and various adventures you can have together it also becomes easier to not get stuck in thinking about what you need to do tomorrow or on Monday at work.

Instead you can fully be where you are right now and recharge yourself. And that makes a big difference in the quality of your life both in the long- and short-term.

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{ 12 comments }

Bartjan December 13, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Thanks so much. Exactly what I needed.

marc van der linden December 14, 2011 at 8:45 am

Hi Henrik,

It took me awhile before I could stay out the gray zone and be more present. I found that it is better not complete forget about the ‘other’ place: when I’m at work, I can still talk about home and at home I can talk about work.

But I only talk “over” my work at home while not being ‘in’ my work and vice verse.

Agatha Tefora December 14, 2011 at 9:49 am

Another reason why you should stay away with being on the grey zone is, one tends to be unorganized or living a cluttered life.
I’m thinking, some jobs require you to think about your work 24/7. Or am I just imagining this?
For me, this became a reality when I switched job. Now, I can completely think of work during the 8 hour work period. And attend to my personal life during my personal time.

Dee Britton December 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Great post that I can absolutely relate to.
It took me some time and a few helpful audios and research to understand more about being present in the moment.
Because I work at home I have to set boundaries that all the family are aware of. This helps me to be far more productive in my work, a better parent and create a happier and healthier life.
When I am with my children I am 100% present. I make them feel like there is nothing else more important in the world than them. They also know that if I am busy at work then, unless it is an absolute emergency, they know it is work time and the quicker I get things done the more time I get to spend with them.
Being successful in all areas of my life (health, finances, business, relationships, community, spirituality) helps to create work / life harmony.
To health, happiness & living the life of your dreams.
Dee :)

Warren December 14, 2011 at 8:35 pm

You are absolutely right about that grey zone. It’s takes allot of practice not to take work home with you, when I noticed I was doing it, I was also very tired. I felt drained before the night even began. Then I spoke to a officer in the military and he said he would pretend to leave work hanging on the tree outside his home and pick it up on the way out.

Aaron Parkinson December 14, 2011 at 9:00 pm

I find that I HAVE to schedule my fun time as well. Since I work from home I often find all of my life falling the the “grey area” so I know schedule work time, exercise time, family time, and fun time. That’s the only way I can stay sane!

cloudia December 15, 2011 at 7:43 am

looked in – and saw the quote I just posted to a friend. Synchronicity!

Aloha from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral

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shanwa December 16, 2011 at 3:00 am

I am always thinking about work at home and vice versa. Your article really shed light on the gray area. Most people know the feeling but didn’t know there was a word for it. Anyways this article was a great read and I will pass it along.

Mara Enid December 18, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Balance. That’s one of the rules I try to live by. Even when I’m totally head over heels into something I know that too much will lead to burnout and so I try to set boundaries. Not always easy to do though!

Emily December 19, 2011 at 7:02 pm

While I appreciate the wisdom in those tips, sometimes life circumstances just makes it hard to stay out of the grey zone. Learning to live in the moment is an ongoing journey…

Jessica December 20, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Another way to describe the ‘grey zone’ is to call it ‘mind wandering’. The following link takes you to an article that really helped me as far as worrying and making up situations in your head that dont even exist. It talks about how the brain is unhappy with so much wandering, and to focus helps you to actually be happier. Letting go of all the “what ifs” and worries can really free you up. Check it out!
http://abcnews.go.com/Health/meditation-brain-rewire-study/story?id=15001280

Henrik Edberg December 22, 2011 at 9:46 am

Thank you everyone for your comments and insights! I really appreciate them. :)

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