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How Even Busy People Find Their ‘Off’ Button at Work

Topics: Work Culture
disconnect from work
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Pop Quiz: Your phone is blowing up at midnight, and it might be your boss emailing — do you check it?

A: Of course!

B: No way!

C: It depends.

D: I can’t hear my phone alerts over the music at the club. Also, I never connected my personal phone to my work email.

If you answered A, you might have a problem separating your work life from your personal life. And while some people feel that being committed means always being available when the boss pings, it’s not healthy. What’s more, you really do NOT have to be uber-connected in order to succeed at your job. It might even be better for you to make that line between work and life a hard barrier.

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So how do you find the strength to disconnect from work? We’ll show you. But first, how did we get this way?

We are a society of Constant connection –To our detriment.

Everybody struggles with work-life balance these days. Unless you work for yourself from a cabin in the woods, you probably have a lot of different ways in which the boss can contact you outside of working hours. And initially, you might think, “What’s the harm just checking email once I get home?”

“It just takes a second, right?,” wrote Matthew Kitchen recently at the Wall Street Journal (paywall). “But those rapidly accumulating seconds are just technology’s version of death by 1,000 cuts, expanding the workday’s boundaries until it seamlessly blurs with the rest of civilian life.”

It’s not uncommon for folks to regularly work on vacation, to bring work with them on the commute home, or even to check email once they’re home for the day.

“According to a 2016 study by the Academy of Management, employees tally an average of 8 hours a week answering work-related emails after leaving the office,” Kitchen wrote. “Echoing that, a 2015 Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association found that 30% of men and 23% of women regularly bring work home.”

So while many of us take work home or check email at dinner, the truth is that it’s really not a good idea.

We’re really not that productive when we’re always on.

You might have read that there really is no such thing as “multitasking.” In fact, your brain just can’t do more than one thing at a time. You might be switching back and forth quickly between, say, watching TV and typing an email, but you’re really not doing both things simultaneously.

Just like our bodies need sleep every night, brains need time to be offline for a while too, and not just when we’re sleeping. Those moments of reflection are when our brains make amazing connections.

Ever wonder why you have your “ah-ha” moments in the shower? It’s because you’ve given your brain a break and those magical little neurons solved your problem.

“Preparation is the period where we consciously work on a problem, and incubation is the period when we refrain from conscious thought and allow our unconscious to work,” wrote Eric Kandel in The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brain.

Creative insight arises from those quiet moments. If we’re always working at work stuff, those great solutions may never have the time to come to light.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Creative insight arises from those quiet moments. If we’re always working at work stuff, those great solutions may never have the time to come to light.” quote=”Creative insight arises from those quiet moments. If we’re always working at work stuff, those great solutions may never have the time to come to light.”]

Here’s how to disconnect from work and get those moments back:

Step 1: Say “no” to wasteful meetings.

If you never get anything accomplished at work because you’re constantly in meetings that could have been resolved with an email or two, then it’s time to call a halt.

“They simply need to be eliminated from your schedule,” suggested Jessica Stillman at Inc.

There are a lot of ways to keep doomed meetings from eating up your schedule — like making sure that the necessary people are invited and available, choosing agenda items that matter to the group and planning a convenient time for all involved.

Step 2: Make off hours time for New Things.

Outside of work, you aren’t prohibited from thinking about work, just try not to let it take over your outside life. You should spend time interacting with people face-to-face, playing with your dog and maybe getting a little sunshine. That’s where the magic happens.

Step 3: Change the “face time” culture at work.

Busy doesn’t equal productive, and face time isn’t necessarily productive time.

“Bad managers judge their people based on face time, which encourages employees to spend as much time as possible at the office, regardless of how much of that time they are wasting,” commented Greg Caplan, at LinkedIn.

Caplan should know: he went from a job at Groupon to being founder and CEO of company Remote Year, which encourages folks to spend a year working remotely while they explore the world around them. Sounds better than getting all those “pings” while you are trying to make dinner, right?

4. Take Advantage of “Do Not Disturb.”

Look, sometimes you may need to help the team by pulling a late night or an occasional weekend, but working all the time isn’t a good solution for anyone. There are also ways to make your days at work more focused and productive, and less wasteful of those precious hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

When in doubt, let your settings guide you. Everything from Slack to your phone has “do not disturb” modes that you can set in advance or manually so you won’t be tempted or annoyed by those pesky pings.

Or, just shut it down completely.



Do you have a work “off” button? Why or why not? Share your story in the comments or talk with us on Twitter.

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