How to get your mind off work when you are not at work

What you need to know:

  • By deliberately refraining from immediate responses, I discovered that individuals sometimes resolve their own inquiries. 

A few weeks ago, a friend dared me to go a weekend without checking my email or business WhatsApp.I emerged victorious!

It dawned on me that I had unintentionally burdened her with my constant work chatter, earning myself the title of "that-friend-who-only-talks-about-work".

I'll admit, work even infiltrated my dreams, curating tasks while I slept for several consecutive nights!
For weeks, work had held a tight grip on my psyche, making it challenging to disengage even during off-hours. I suspect I'm not alone in this struggle. Thus, the challenge.

After successfully disconnecting for nearly 48 hours, I was reminded of the benefits of stepping away but the true obstacle wasn't acknowledging these benefits, but rather, the difficulty in actually doing so.

For the first few hours I found it difficult to remain present, my mind was still at my desk even though I was not, but eventually my mind was able to catch up with me in the present.

These techniques may help you stay engaged and redirect your focus away from work during your off-hours.

1. Create an off hours plan: After experiencing freedom from work-related dreams, I no longer find myself overly-preoccupied with work.
To maintain this newfound balance, I've devised a straightforward list of activities for my off-hours outside of my social plans, so I am not tempted to “just check” anything work related. I prioritise emotionally investing in this plan to ensure my focus remains on non-work-related pursuits.

2. Set extra time aside for work: To ease my mind, I decided to designate specific times to engage in work on the weekend if necessary, allowing me to compartmentalise and fully immerse myself in non-work activities.
By consciously setting aside extra time for work as needed, I aim to strike a healthier balance between professional responsibilities and my personal life.

3. Practise “thought suppression”: Sometimes our downtime may still be interrupted by intrusive thoughts about work. In this case, you want to be prepared so that you don’t keep ruminating about upcoming work.
During off-hours I have set the goal to not even think about work so I suppress work-related thoughts and stop myself every time I am tempted to do something work-related.

4. Set up your devices for success: I've implemented an "off-hours" mode on my phone, configured to mute all WhatsApp business calls and messages, and restrict access to my email during non-work hours.
This setup gives me the opportunity to pause and consider whether opening my email is necessary, reinforcing positive behaviour.

5. Invite your loved ones to help: Consider involving others in your journey. Enlist the support of friends and family to assist you in staying disconnected from work.
Grant them permission to gently remind you to set aside your phone and redirect conversations away from work-related topics if you find yourself veering back into them.

One of the things that stepping away for an entire weekend taught me was a valuable lesson rooted in cognitive behavioural therapy: confronting anxiety-inducing situations can help diminish their perceived threat over time.

I often fretted about missing crucial emails, yet to my surprise, all messages remained intact come Monday.

By deliberately refraining from immediate responses, I discovered that individuals sometimes resolve their own inquiries. Moreover, I returned to work feeling rejuvenated and brimming with fresh ideas!

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