When was the last time you fully switched off from work? I mean properly - didn’t worry about it, didn’t have a to-do list buzzing away at the back of your brain, didn’t sit bolt upright in the middle of the night scribbling notes, turned your smart device off and left it in a drawer?
Most of us find it very hard to switch off. Oh, we all know there are significant benefits to parking work, but achieving it is another matter entirely. I’m typing this perched on the sofa, half watching the Spanish art thing on TV with Andrew Graham-Dixon, having a murmured, slightly distracted conversation with my husband and occasionally tickling the cat’s ears. Terrible, eh? In my case I’m not really working. I love writing and actually experience it as a form of relaxation – especially when writing to you, dear Reader! So that’s OK then. But I digress.
If we can’t let work go during the times when we should be relaxing, we won’t enjoy the benefits of time away. Like everything else, being constantly on call and trotting round with your phone in your hand is a habit. A bad habit. Fortunately, habits can be broken.
So how can you wean yourself off “always on” work habits?
- Start by thinking about what you’ll do instead of thinking about or doing work. Have a positive goal. Framing your goal in the right way can help: A negative goal (“I will not check email during the family meal”) may be harder to stick to than a positive one.
- Create a plan for your time away from work. Have a specific and detailed plan, or you will return to your habits and re-engage with work when you should be away from it. Focus on the activities you are going to engage in instead of working.
- You may find that your private time is interrupted by intrusive thoughts about work. In this case, be prepared so that you don’t keep mulling over work in the pipeline. You can deal with persistent work thoughts in two ways. The first is to occupy your mind. Read a book, do Sudoku, phone a friend. However, there may be times when there is something about work that really nags you and won’t go away. In that case, get your notebook out. Set a timer for ten minutes and write down whatever is bothering you. Then leave it until your next working day.
- Change your environment to support your new behaviour and discourage the old one. Just as you don’t start a diet surrounded by packets of chocolate biscuits, if you’re trying to set clearer work-life boundaries don’t leave your phone and computer on all the time.
- Have a space at home that you keep exclusively for personal time activities. It could be a room, but it might also be a corner somewhere. Mark it out, perhaps by putting a chair there. Use it as a place where you will engage in non-work activities, like reading or yoga. The more that you associate this place with things that do not involve work, the easier it will be to use this area to get away from work thoughts.
- Ask friends and family members to help you not work when you are supposed to be enjoying personal time. Give them permission to remind you to put your phone away.
- Go a night without checking your email. You won’t die; all of the work you need to do is still there in the morning. Then expand the amount of personal time you leave your email unchecked. Try to get through an entire day of the weekend without checking. Then — an entire weekend. You may find that many people manage to answer their own questions if you don’t get back to them right away. On top of that, you will return to work with more energy and better ideas because you took some time off.
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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.
Copyright © 2018 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.
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