How to switch off from work

Here's how to switch off from work.

How to switch off from work

I struggle with switching off from work. I recognise that I'm really bad at turning off my brain from 'work' mode, it's a known bug in my code.

Historically I haven't tackled fixing this flaw as in some ways it's served to my advantage; I've worked longer and harder at my job, devoted minimal spare time to speedy recovery from mini-burnouts, and generally lived and breathed work.

After talking with colleagues and friends I recognise this isn't just a problem I'm facing - Almost everyone I spoke with was struggling to switch off, especially with the heightened anxiety from lockdown two in the UK.

I've found a few helpful steps which have up-skilled my switching off from work brain feature, I wanted to share them as others might find use in one, some, or all of them.

Network of strings
Photo by Omar Flores / Unsplash

1. Break line of sight work ‘work’

It’s been useful to create a working space which I can dismantle and hide away until the next working day or if that’s not possible — I think we’ve all gotten a second screen by now! — moving into another room offers me a quick mental decompression.

2. Breaks during the day

I found myself not taking breaks, sometimes not eating lunch until after work due to taking on too much work — This isn’t helpful for anyone!

I’ve added calendar blocks for lunch and named them something more interesting than ‘lunch’, mine currently read ‘Eating lunch, like a good human’, which I believe make people think twice before booking something during lunchtime.

I used to accept every meeting invite and this soon became overwhelming. I categorised meetings in my calendar into the following buckets and actions:

  • Update meetings — During these meeting senior leadership folks want updates on projects, teams, and anything else on our plate. I join these for the shortest possible time, not feeling guilty in dropping after giving my update (or, ideally, finding another mechanism for distributing the update!)
  • Team ceremonies — I often have at least one project in flight, so there will be stand-ups, Planning sessions, Retrospectives, and the like. These are prioritised above anything else, I’ll do anything for my teams.
  • Career meetings — I value my 1–1 time, whether it’s with my line manager, those I line manage, other colleagues, or folks in the wider community. They are not box checking exercises, instead I treat these as places to hash out things I, or others, are struggling with and learn.

3. Figure out what is Important Vs. Urgent

So I spent some mental energy figuring out what is ‘Important' and what is 'Urgent' using one of my favourite easy to understand matrix (The Eisenhower Matrix).

Important and Urgent tasks get my immediate attention. It did however take some finessing to get tasks in this category correct as my internal ego wanted everything I do to be Important and Urgent but applying a non-emotional objective filter this isn’t the case.

4. Get outside

Nature is a great healer. Whether it’s a local dog park or longer weekend hike, I’ve enjoyed getting outside into nature, natural air helps me blow out the brain cobwebs which accumulate during the working week.

I’ve started walking for between 30–45 minutes before starting work, and then a longer ~60 minute walk after work really helpful in creating the mental space from work throughout the week.

5. Turn notifications off

I’ve turned notifications off on my smartphone for everything apart from a phone call. No more Slack, Instagram, Email, or WhatsApp notifications to distract me throughout the working day — I can focus on the the highest priority Urgent and Important task.

It’s forced me to make active choices to look at work (and non-work) Apps, rather than being pulled in by the notification and losing my focus, or worse badly investing a chunk of time!

This is still a work in progress for me, I’m still not at the level I want to be but these five changes have helped me make substantial progress towards my goal of mastering the switches in my brain which help me toggle between ‘work’ and ‘not work’.

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