Shift Gears and Changing Roles

It’s not easy to switch gears from leading a couple of dozen firefighters to cooking scrambled eggs and playing Barbies with a seven-year-old. Whether you spend your working hours managing first responders or a local restaurant, work stresses pile up and can swiftly invade time spent with family, de

Shift Gears and Changing Roles
Photo by Alok Sharma / Unsplash

It’s not easy to switch gears from leading a couple of dozen firefighters to cooking scrambled eggs and playing Barbies with a seven-year-old. Whether you spend your working hours managing first responders or a local restaurant, work stresses pile up and can swiftly invade time spent with family, detracting from these valuable experiences.

We all fulfill multiple roles in our lives: husband, father, friend, boss, coworker, etc. To be successful in any of them, we must be fully present—mentally and physically—in whichever role we are fulfilling at any given moment. This presence requires us to seamlessly shift gears, quickly moving from being a boss to being a spouse, from coworker to father.

In this article, I will explain the strategies and tactics I employ to facilitate the changing of gears as I move between my roles as a fire department battalion chief to family man. While your schedule may not look like mine, remember: what matters is the intention and purpose behind the actions more so than the specific steps.

Start-Up and Shut-Down Routines

Predefined start-up and shut-down routines can be instrumental in successfully shifting between roles. Having defined, regimented actions you execute as you transition between work and home can greatly increase your chances of being fully present for each. Going through these routines allows you to cognitively switch between a work-first or family-first mindset, increasing your efficacy in both realms.

I have spent the last 19 years working 24-hour shifts, and have been building and tweaking the following start-up/shut-down routines based on this schedule. However, that does not preclude them from being applicable to someone who works a 9-5 job. As with any productivity advice you may find online, to be effective, this must be catered to you and your unique circumstances.

Going to Work

For me to be my best at work, I must be focused on my job and not overly concerned with what is happening at home. Obviously, this doesn’t mean I don’t think about or communicate with my family throughout the day. Rather, it means I ensure that I’ve done whatever I can to fulfill my family roles for the day, even if it doesn’t seem like much.

To facilitate the shift between my roles at home and at work, I start by doing whatever I can at home to be helpful and have a positive impact on my wife and daughter’s day. I make the bed, brew coffee, and put away any clean dishes. From there, I physically manifest my change in mental focus by putting on my uniform. Lastly, I tell my family goodbye, wish them a great day, and head out the door.

On the way to work, I listen to a work-related podcast or audiobook. Not only is this educational, but it furthers the work-first mindset needed to be effective in my work role. Once I get to work, I set intentions and plan the day by reviewing my inbox, calendar, and any notes I left for myself from the previous shift. At this point, I’ve left my family in the best shape possible and fully changed gears into work mode.

Going Home

My workday ends the next morning by reviewing the shift and making notes for the next one. I check my email one last time, saving anything pertinent for when I come back. My drive home is spent in solitude, with no podcasts or books to occupy my mind. Instead, I let it wander, gently guiding my focus away from fire department responsibilities to my family and home life. The transition to my role at home is completed by changing out of my chief’s white shirt into a comfortable t-shirt and some joggers, ready to make breakfast and revel in family time, work left safely behind.

Intention Over Details

Remember: details and specific steps are unimportant, what matters is being purposeful in your actions. Intentionally executing behaviors and actions that help you shift gears from one role to another is one of the best ways you can ensure that you are present and focused, being your best self in whichever role you are fulfilling.