How to switch off when you’re working from home
Published on 31st May, 2021 at 10:42 am
If you weren’t already working from home before the COVID-19 pandemic, you may still be struggling to find the right balance between work and home life. Find out why it’s important to switch off, plus tips for doing just that, here.
Why you need to switch off
Do you live to work or work to live? It’s a question that increasingly provokes thought about how we divide up our time. It also pushes us to think about the degree to which we prioritise the demands of work over other areas of our lives, even more so now with the idea of working from home being more commonplace. We don’t want to admit that we fall into the first group – living to work – but working from home can easily blur the line between our work and personal lives. This is why it’s even more important to intentionally set boundaries between the two. “It is essential that we separate our occupational lives from our personal lives in order to maintain a healthy sense of being, more especially with regards to our mental health,” says Olwethu Jwili, a clinical psychologist. “Both roles contribute positively to the mental health of an individual,” continues Jwili. “However, when there is no distinction between these roles, the consequences may cause serious psychological and emotional difficulties.”
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The findings of a study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology suggest that ‘work-related rumination during evenings may lead to health problems over time depending on the type of rumination.’ But it also distinguished between ‘affective rumination’ i.e. work-related intrusive, pervasive and recurrent thoughts causing negative emotions, versus problem-solving pondering – defined as unemotional and prolonged thinking about solutions to work-related problems. According to the study, the latter had no influence on psychological wellbeing over time. So not all work-related thoughts after hours are necessarily unhealthy; it’s about the types of thoughts (negative, intrusive vs unemotional, problem-solving) and how frequently they enter our conscious that we need to pay attention to.
If you struggle to switch off and ease into your downtime after a workday at home, here are six expert-backed tips to help you wind down and give your brain a breather.
6 Tips to switch off your work brain
Tip #1: Define your workspace
“Separate your physical workspace as much as possible from your living spaces,” suggests Jwili. As tempting as it can be to lounge on your bed or couch with your laptop, this is neither good for your posture or productivity, nor your ability to switch off successfully at the end of the day. “Don’t work in your bedroom or resting areas,” continues Jwili. “This allows you to ‘leave work’.”
How you dress also impacts your mind’s perception of home versus work. “Dress appropriately by avoiding working in ‘home’ or casual clothes, changing out of work clothes as soon as working hours are over,” says Jwili. “This creates a visual difference between work and home.”
Tip #2: Turn off notifications
Do you find yourself jumping to check your phone every time you get a group chat notification while cooking supper or enjoying some downtime after work? Your brain can never rest if you’re always anticipating that there’s a work emergency whenever you hear your phone ping. Unless there’s an agreed rule among your work team about emails and messages after hours, you’re unlikely to be able to escape them unless you switch off your notifications until the next workday. This goes for your desktop and mobile notifications. There are exceptions like actual work emergencies; in this case, communicate to your team which channel they can use to get hold of you in these instances.
Tip #3: Prompt yourself to wind down
Especially on those days that feel like you can’t take a breather or don’t have time to look at the clock, it’s easy for the end of the workday and beginning of your downtime to become blurred. Set a reminder notification on your phone or PC 30 minutes before you’ve planned to sign off for the day so you can finish your current task and start shutting down your programmes or attend to any urgent messages that are waiting for you before the end of your workday.
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Tip #4: Plan the next day
Tackling tasks late into the night so they’re ‘out of the way’ just means allowing your brain to go into overdrive and not get the rest and recuperation that it sorely needs. If it gives you peace of mind, make a list of the top three tasks you need to complete first thing in the morning, so you know what your priorities for the next day are, and are assured they won’t fall off your radar.
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Tip #5: Schedule after-work commitments
Jwili suggests a strict approach to your work hours so that they don’t blur into your personal or downtime. To help with this, form a new routine that ‘forces’ you to shut down and get up from your desk. “Create rituals that help your mind switch off, such as daily walks, jogging, gym, baking or cooking meals,” she adds. “Find what works for you and incorporate that into your day.” Having a jogging or gym buddy, or really anyone you’ve committed to meet with for an activity after work, is a good way to hold yourself accountable to switch off.
Linda Remke, a master practitioner coach who owns and runs EVEOLVE Coaching and HelloCoach®, relies on an energising walk to either start or switch off from her workday. “Other activities like adult colouring-in and diamond painting help me to switch off completely,” she shares. “I call them my ‘brain-dead’ activities. I’ve found that when I start, my mind is very active… It normally takes 10 to 15 minutes before I fully switch off. Thereafter, I often catch myself coming up with creative solutions that may not have been possible if I have not slowed down and become still.” If your family enjoys playing board games, this is a great way to not only unwind and allow your brain to focus on non-work-related ideas, but you can bond and connect with family too.
Tip #6: Be intentional about the meetings you attend
Lockdown and working from home gave rise to the term ‘Zoom fatigue’ i.e. the feeling of exhaustion from having attended one or a series of online conference calls using platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. “Zoom fatigue is very real, as this comes down to the increased cognitive demands of video conferencing communication, and it feels similar to what we tend to think of as exhaustion or burnout,” says Remke. “Be selective when choosing webinars – less is more,” she suggests. With webinars often being tuned into by attendees in different time zones, you may find you are invited to a few that run outside of work hours, but ask yourself, “How much value will attending this conference or meeting add to my life?” before clicking ‘Accept’.
Read this for more tips on how to pull off working from home.
Are your work and personal lives blurring?
If you can relate to any of these signs, it’s time to work at getting a better work-life balance and avoid burnout.
Answering emails during family quality time
Every moment you dedicate to communicating about work is time lost with your loved ones. It’s also time you can’t get back. To manage clients’ or colleagues’ expectations of your availability, set an out-of-office auto-response detailing the earliest you will be able to respond to emails, and be sure to set a precedent by not engaging after hours.
Being distracted with thoughts of work
Whether it’s worries, relentless problem-solving, stressing about what the client or your boss thinks about work you’ve recently done or are about to present, if thoughts of work follow you around after hours and even invade your sleep, it’s time for change.
Constantly checking your phone
If your mind is on your work, and you’re anticipating that you’ll be needed by your team, you will be constantly distracted by your phone. Put it out of sight in a different room and only check on it periodically after hours.
Working while on leave
When does your mind and body have the opportunity to properly recuperate if you work during your official annual leave days? “Maintain as much of a normal routine as possible, such as scheduling annual leave as you normally would,” encourages Jwili. “Do preserve your leave days, take days off and do not engage in any work activities on those days.”
Your thinking and behaviour change
“Some of the most common signs to look out for [if you think you are on the road to burnout] are difficulties with concentration and starting to find complex tasks too difficult, especially if you did not experience this issue previously,” says Jwili. She adds that a lack of motivation and constant feeling of fatigue – yes, even when you have rested – are also cause for concern. “Lastly, a feeling of constant anxiety, stress, a short temper or agitation could cause you to feel constant irritability.”
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