The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is check my emails from bed. I’m comfortable with having my colleagues reach me via text during the off hours if they need an immediate response. And I really will provide an immediate response; I don’t necessarily have my phone strapped to my wrist, but the modern technology culture condones my response activity while I’m on public transportation, in line or even taking a small break from a meeting with friends. I’ll watch TV at home with my partner and answer emails and texts.
All of this adds up to a serious need to periodically disconnect and recharge. While you might not be a serious offender like me, chances are that hyperconnectivity leaves you feeling drained.
It’s a no brainer. If you’re not taking a break every now and then, you could become less effective. But even if you know you’re nearing burnout status, you might find it hard to step away from your unplug. Even just thinking about turning off your phone for a full week straight while you’re on vacation gives you a panic attack.
And I get it. People depend on us for answers and leadership. But there are ways to still disconnect without fully unplugging.
Put your resources to work
Institute funnels for lower-priority communications or delegate simpler tasks to other team members. If you can, designate a second-in-command or a point of contact. Let this person know how to screen importance of each matter that comes through the door (or inbox).
Change your voicemail to state that you’re unavailable along with a time or date in which you’ll return calls. Turn off any instant messaging, or set them to invisible if you’re going to be doing some personal internet surfing.
Set aside your most productive hours
Just because it’s a work calendar does not mean it’s not your time. Create calendar markers for blocks of time in which you’re typically most productive. Alternatively, you can also select blocks of time for when you’re most typically slammed. During this time, take yourself out for a proper lunch. Step away from the computer. Do something else.
What you’re doing is jolting your mind and body from its routine. Doing this once in a while can boost your creativity or give you a much needed lift. And when you get back, you’ll have more energy to focus on your work.
There’s an app for that
It shouldn’t be a surprise that I’m going to recommend you use technology to your advantage. We often say that technology should make our lives earlier, but in this case, I’m going to recommend using technology to make you more productive and work harder.
Install a site blocker program such as Anti-Social. For lighter versions, you can also search for browser extensions such as StayFocusd for Chrome or LeechBlock for Mozilla Firefox. Along with social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, be sure to block frequently visited news sites. If you’re a shopper, make sure you add those to the list.
iPhones running iOS 6 and above now have “do not disturb” settings that allow you to mute alerts and calls except for ones coming from your designated whitelist. Android users can easily find similar apps such as Nights Keeper or Do Not Disturb.
It’s worth noting that these tools are only as useful as you allow them to be. If you curate an honest list of distracting websites and remember to turn on “do not disturb’ settings, then you’ll be able to steal away some offline time for yourself.
There are times where you need to leave the office by a certain hour. But what about if your only reason is that you need the time to yourself? Remember, personal time is personal for a reason. You’re not obligated to share your reasons. You’re effectiveness and well-being is enough of a reason to leave the office on time.
When out of the office, know your boundaries with mobile communications and set the expectations. Turn off your email notifications and let others know that if they really need to reach you, they can call within reasonable hours. Or restrict that to just text messages. Whatever you feel comfortable with, let others know.
Be the change
Annual review season is upon us. Take the opportunity to honestly discuss work-life balance or if you feel overwhelmed. Set quantifiable work goals but also personal goals to enhance your work-life balance. Be clear that these personal boundaries are preventative measures.
Finally, make sure you stick to your words. As long as you get your work done, eventually your colleagues will learn to respect your boundaries. In turn, they may start to limit their out of office communications too. By asserting your need to disconnect for small periods of time and then enforcing them on yourself, you may start a shift in culture.