How to Turn Your Brain Off and Relax

My coaching client, let’s call her Jenny, had a dilemma. She was simultaneously the co-owner of a successful health publishing company and the mother of two boys under the age of three. Her company had experienced a meteoric rise from virtually no sales in 2008 to thousands of sales of her program per day, yet she was struggling to separate work and family life.

In our first coaching call we focused exclusively on setting up her weekly schedule to dedicate blocks of time to specific tasks. She went from having a daily to-do list that was longer than her organic grocery shopping list to a small set of important items that must be done on specific days of the week. For example, on Monday, she dedicated two three-hour blocks of time to content creation. In contrast, Tuesdays were dedicated to email and spending time in activities with her three year old son. We were off to a great start in making her more happy and productive.

But one obstacle remained on her dedicated work days. She struggled to find the “off button”. Surely you can relate. It’s 5pm – or whatever your quitting time might be – and you know it’s time to leave work and go home to enjoy dinner with the family (or perhaps you have to run your children to one of their nightly activities). You want to be there, to be present for your children, but your mind continues to be “on the clock”, thinking about particular work problems, tasks that didn’t get done, or worse, items that need to get completed first thing in the morning.

Fortunately, there’s a solution. We had Jenny implement this after our last coaching call and it’s made a tremendous difference in her mindset. The technique also allowed her to better enjoy the time spent with her family, and just as importantly, to be present with less stress than she had in the past.

Increased happiness and less stress come from enjoying the present. As In his excellent book, The Gap, Dan Sullivan lists 12 strategies for better living. Number four is, “Increase ability to be present on daily basis in ALL situations.” And as Jim Rohn once said, “Wherever you are, be there.” That’s what you are aiming to do with following two step brain dump and work day transition.

Here’s what you’ll need to do to achieve this. It’s a simple solution that takes little more than five minutes and requires nothing more than a blank piece of a paper and a pen. You’re going to do an end of day brain dump, and it’s an effective activity to do right after you’ve made your short list of priority tasks to accomplish the next day. It’s also something that you can and should do after any activity that gives you a lot of good ideas, like exercising or having a shower. And it’s a quick task that you should do before any important thinking when you need a clear mind.

Let’s work through a specific example. Recently, my friend Mike Whitfield asked the following question on the ETR daily Success QnA. “Craig, what do you do to ‘turn your brain off’? Even when I’m supposedly relaxing, ideas are running through my head and I seem to not shut down. In other words, I can’t seem to find my ‘off’ button.”

I replied by explaining the brain dump solution. “Mike, let’s say you promise your wife and son that you’ll be done working at 5:30pm tonight. In order to do that, you’ll need to grab a blank piece of paper (or open a blank word document) at 5:25pm and write down everything going through your head. Write fast and furious. At 5:30pm, you’re finished.”

That will help clear your mind. Now there’s one other easy step I recommend you take in order to make the transition from work to play, particularly if you work at home like Mike does.

As I explained, “Complete a ‘mindset shift ritual’ – perhaps pouring yourself a cold glass of unsweetened iced tea – that signals ‘End of the work day!’. The brain dump plus the ritual will give you a relaxed mind that can best enjoy family time or to deal with the stress of a busy household and the myriad of activities, car rides, and conflicts that will need to be solved at home. You’ll be a much more effective parent and/or partner if you can leave work at the office, even if you work at home.

You’ll get the odd idea here and there, but you’ll be much better at ‘being present where you are’ with this approach). Of course, don’t feel bad if you can’t completely turn off your brain. It happens to the best of us, literally. If it were easy to turn off your brain and to never be excited about your projects, that would be an even worse scenario.

How do you end your day?

[Ed Note: Craig Ballantyne is the editor of Early to Rise (Join him on Facebook here) and the author of Financial Independence Monthly, a complete blueprint to helping you take control of your financial future with research of proven methods in your career, in your business and in your personal life. He has created a unique system to show gratitude and appreciation to stay on track for these goals each and every day. Click here to follow the exact 5-minute system you can use to improve your life.]


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  • Im a N.Y.C. Fireman and I’ve been reading early to rise for a couple of months now. The e-mails have helped me tremendously. This article is the first one I’m commenting about. I have a very unconventional work week. I appreciate the off button once in a while. It allows me to be more productive the next day. I’m writing this at 11:30 at night- but this is kinda like the end of my work day- i got off this morning- came home exhausted slept from 11:30-2:30 did a few errands- came home cleaned my apartment, did laundry, and just chilled out with a bottle of red about an hr or so ago…. caught up on my ETR, and allowed myself time for Facebook. In my world thats relaxing- amongst working out, the beach and driving.

  • Dr. Joseph W. Harder

    Craig, thanks for this very useful tip! I teach and coach a lot of executives who struggle with this very issue and will pass this along to them (as well as suggesting they follow Early to Rise more generally). The work of David Allen (Getting Things Done) speaks similarly to writing things down so that our minds are free of having to remember everything. Thanks again! ~Joe

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Appreciate the referrals!

    • ttcert

      Thanks so much!

  • ttcert

    That’s very nice of you to say, thanks Johnny!

  • Katie

    Love this… My biggest issues with working at home plus homeschooling my children is ‘a brain dump’ Thank you for the ideas to make a clean, cut off time.

    • ttcert

      Happy to help!

  • Zarayna Pradyer

    Craig, what a lovely, neat tip from you – thank you! In addition, thank you for the timely reminder regarding the usefulness of ‘rituals’. Coming from a modern, forward-looking, society which tends to dismiss activities our ancestors valued, I was always quite mystified and indifferent to ‘rituals’. Needless to say, having made so many mistakes through being over self-confident, I now ponder the riches which would have enhanced my life and which I ignored at the time. This includes the sheer usefulness of rituals – life’s punctuation marks which prevent us from charging through existence mindlessly and running ourselves into the ground. Thank you again.

    • ttcert

      Rituals, rules, and checklists make life so much easier! Thanks for your feedback.

  • Deb

    I started working from home a few months ago and have big problems sleeping, brain’s too alert and kept thinking about work. I changed a few things. (1) I moved the desk from my room to the living room so that the bed room is just meant for sleep and nothing else, good move. (2) I have 2 pairs of slippers at home, the plastic pair I wear when I work at the desk, the cotton pair I wear when I switch off the computer and relax. So the shoes send the signal to my brain that it is off work time. (3) I also have a sleeping ritual: I’ll sit on the mattress to perform simple neck and shoulder stretches for a minute or two, breathing in and out slowly; and before dropping my head to my pillow, I’ll do neck rolls, 3x clockwise and anti-clockwise each. Once the neck rolls are done, I hit the pillow and count/imagine sheeps. Now I enter slumberland so much faster!

    • ttcert

      That is really great, the power of rituals are strong!

  • Allan J.H.

    I enjoyed the tips, and especially the comments about being in the present moment. I meditate for 30 minutes twice daily using a mantra (in the Christian tradition) and of course a key component here is to be in the present moment. Apart from the spiritual benefits, the spin-off in so many other areas of one’s life is fantastic. AJH.

    • ttcert

      Well said, Allan. Congrats on your powerful habit. I’m impressed!