Technology has done wonders for keeping us all connected… but then again, maybe too good of a job? Email, Teams, Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and work calls; the list is endless and the notifications; relentless.
An increasingly common theme amongst just about anyone who isn’t used to working remotely or from home is that people are having difficulty “shutting off” after work. And it’s no wonder – we are accessible 24/7. Mobile apps give us constant notifications that demand our immediate attention all day, every day.
“Shutting off is especially hard when your work space is your relaxation space. Without the routine of a commute, or leaving the office, it can create a bit of a mental barrier and can be really difficult to switch off from work to recreation time.”
Here are a few tips that can really help with reclaiming back your “out of work” time, mentally shutting off from work, and enjoying a relaxing evening – or morning for you early birds.
Unless you work for Miranda Priestly, most bosses are actually pretty chill with you working your set hours as detailed in your contract. If there is that expectation to be on call outside of “office hours” whether it’s for an hysterical outburst, or to make amendments to the presentation you have next week, it should have already been discussed with, and agreed by, you. If you have seen significant changes in work patterns, it’s ok to ask for clarity from management or HR.
There is more of a move toward flexible working, and flexi-hours – and just because you receive an email at 10.47pm, does not mean you are expected to answer it, or even read it for that matter. Instead of feeling anger towards the sender and cursing them all of the swear words under the sun, consider that they may well have a flexible working arrangement, and that they aren’t expecting you to read the email until the morning. Also, a bit of tough love for you; you only have yourself to blame if you’re opening and reading emails that late in the evening. Put down the phone and get back to that box set!
There will always be the occasional unexpected deadlines, and earlier starts or later finishes as you race against the clock to finish that project in time, slurping coffee like it has actual magical powers (which, of course, it does). Some things never change! But you can avoid consistently working out of hours by replicating an office-based routine and establishing enforceable boundaries to support your working day.
This is even more important if your space is limited due to your personal living arrangements. Where possible this should be a separate area to where you eat and relax, but if that isn’t feasible try to sit in different positions or have different chairs for working and eating.
The ideal conditions for a working environment would be a space where you can get plenty of natural light (but avoiding screen glare) with good ventilation, and a well-proportioned desk and chair.
When you are done working for the day, a simple automatic reply can work wonders for managing expectations and helping guard your precious personal time. The out of office email should make it clear that you’ve finished for the day and will no longer be checking emails. Specify when you’ll be working next, as this manages expectations for when a response can be expected. Even if you do check in on your emails (naughty, naughty) you won’t feel the guilt or pressure to respond.
Ever feel like you can’t take a loo break without a dozen emails, a missed FaceTime, a missed WhatsApp call, a missed Teams call, a missed call, a voicemail and three WhatsApp messages telling you to urgently get in touch? It’s exhausting, and frankly never that important.
“For a bit of sanity, let your team know how and when they can reach you, and which channels are acceptable and which aren’t.”
If you must have emails on your work phone – consider turning notifications off so that you can read them in your own time. At the very least, switch them off at weekends and during annual leave.
When you have annual leave planned, send an email to any external clients/ partners/ service providers that you are in regular contact with to let them know you will be unavailable and who they should get in touch with in your absence. Let your colleagues know by emailing a handover sheet of contacts and give an update on any projects you are working on with who will be dealing with any queries in your absence. That way you can enjoy your morning margarita (oh come on, you’re on holiday) guilt-free without feeling that niggling need to check your emails.
Strictly speaking, we are creatures of habit. As children, routine makes us feel safe – the familiarity of a routine reduces stress and anxiety. As adults, routine gives us a sense of purpose, which leads us to feeling satisfied, but many people find that it can be difficult to maintain a consistent routine in the face of changes. Which ironically is why it’s the most important time to hold on to a routine. Feeling satisfied at the end of a day’s work means you are less likely to feel the need to check on emails, or do a couple of hours overtime to compensate.
Start your day at a set time, schedule daily tasks and aim to keep as much consistency in your day as if you were in an office. Then, when finishing time approaches, pack away as you would if you were in the office. Tidy your work station, and physically pack your laptop away and out of sight if possible. This also helps with creating a morning routine, where you set up for the day and get into your working mindset.
Do this religiously, every evening. Shut down your laptop or PC (not just sending it to sleep), if you have a work mobile, turn it off. While you go through the physical motions of switching off, mentally allow yourself some time to power down from work. Turn off all work-related notifications.
There is a mental connection with the physical aspect of changing – you are getting out of work clothes, freshening up and separating yourself from the working day.
Replace your evening commute with an evening walk to replicate that leaving work feeling. You can also do this in the morning to get you mentally prepared for work. Getting some fresh air will help give your body lots of oxygen, which will reduce stress too!
Anyone else manage to leave the office bang on time when there’s the promise of a cold beer with your mates at the end of the day? Yeah, funny that. That’s because there’s a reward for finishing up on time, and it’s highly unlikely that you will let anything disturb you from that glorious pint.
Taking that principle, and applying it to other activities that will motivate you to leave work on time works just as effectively.
Have a (here’s the important bit) non-work-related chat! Do this away from the area you have been working if you can.
You don’t have to join a gym in order to get some exercise. Nor do you need lots of fancy equipment to get started. All you need to start running is a pair of running trainers! You can do beginners yoga from the comfort of your own home with an online class and a mat. If you plan to exercise as soon as you have finished working for the day it will help to separate work and recreation time.
Maybe sport is your thing, or perhaps you’re into art and creativity. If you want to meet fellow bookworms, you can find a book club. Whatever it is you enjoy, there will be a club for it. Use Facebook or Meetup to search groups that are local to you, and enjoy a work-free evening.
And there’s no judgement here if all you plan to do is sit in your PJs binge-watching Netflix!