How to Disconnect from Work and Finally Relax
Staring down Labor Day, it’s hard to believe how fast summer has flown by. While the weather outside says, “come play!” my growing to-do list says, “finish your work!” As we’ve previously talked about, though, all work and no play make Johnny a burned-out boy. Taking a break isn’t just fun, it’s absolutely vital to maintaining positive mental health.
The problem these days is figuring out to how to make the most of the breaks we set up for ourselves. Scheduling a vacation sounds great, but what good will it do you if your mind is still at the office? The demand to produce seeps into every corner of American life, making it a challenge to fully disconnect from the responsibilities of your job. Here are some tips to leaving your work at the workplace and finally finding some space to relax.
Make Taking a Break a To-Do Item
When I’m at work, I have a living list of all the tasks I need to take care of. I set a schedule to make sure I finish them, and I enjoy checking them off once they’re completed. Given that taking a break is equally important for both health and productivity, why should it not be shown the same respect?
Build breaks into your schedule. Whether it’s watching an episode of a tv show or reading a chapter of a book, having that break as a calendar item will help legitimize it in your head as a non-optional task. You’ll also be able to fully immerse yourself in the experience without worrying that you should be spending your time on other tasks, since your schedule will have been generated to accommodate it.
Seek a Culture That Supports Free Time
I’ll admit, this tip is something of a luxury; not everyone has the flexibility to search for jobs that support paid time off as part of their benefits package and corporate culture. Luckily, employers know how important paid time off is to their employees. Research shows that vacation is one of the most sought-after benefits in the United States, and its presence in a job offer—or lack thereof—is often the tipping point for whether or not a candidate accepts.
While the financial benefits of paid time off are obvious, the cultural benefits are almost as important. When you work for a company that supports your right to relax, it’s easier to do so and not feel guilty for enjoying your earned break.
Set Relaxation Goals
Managing your work-life balance can be challenging, especially without any direction. As silly as it may seem, consider making goals for your relaxation as well as for your work, and remember to keep them SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable, and time-bound. While on the clock, your focus should be on your work, but you should likewise put yourself first when you do punch out.
Sit down with a pen and paper and list out your free time goals. Maybe you want to enjoy a tropical vacation; maybe you want to pick up a new hobby. Make your personal time a priority, and then communicate that priority to you coworkers, so they know exactly where you stand.
I don’t know about you, but the thing I find so difficult about disconnecting from work is the creeping fear of my office burning down when I’m not around. What if a coworker desperately needs me? What if an urgent matter comes up and I’m not available to put out the fire?
Unfortunately, emergencies do come up, and sometimes they need to be handled right away. But not every matter that needs your attention is an emergency. Before you disconnect from your job, make sure you and your colleagues agree on clear guidelines as to what is and is not an urgent matter. If something needs your immediate attention while you’re off the clock, give your coworkers an emergency contact for reaching you; otherwise, it can wait until you’re back in the office.
Stick to Your Guns
Step one is to set boundaries with your company: business hours are for business, and outside of that is personal time. Step two is to make sure those boundaries are respected. Your bosses and colleagues may try to wheedle more work out of you during your off hours; don’t let them.
Remember: you have earned the right to some time for yourself. If coworkers continue to try to manipulate you into doing more than your share during your breaks, tell them instead that you will need to look at your schedule before committing to any further tasks to buy some time and turn them down a little bit later.
Get a Side Project
Again, the guilt that we feel when we take time for ourselves instead of our work comes from the capitalist value that one should always be producing. One way to mitigate that guilt is to continue to produce—just do it for yourself when it’s your time off.
Spend some time thinking about your ambitions. Is your current job where you see yourself for the rest of your life, or is there some other project—regardless of how realistic or ambitious—that you feel passionate about? If you find yourself anxious when not working, focus your energy into a passion project that will keep your mind off your job and still keep you productive.
Ease Back into It
Whether it’s been eight hours or eight weeks, ease the transition from your personal time back to work time as much as possible. Try not to schedule meetings first thing in the morning and make a schedule that increases workload incrementally throughout the day. By softening this transition, you’ll be able to get a better handle on your time management and relieve the stress of trying to pack in as much work as possible to make up for the time you spent on yourself.