Switching off when we’re always on

I’m the first to admit that I have difficulty switching off. I never do it and never have. I’m forever in my inbox, always responding to things and constantly keeping an eye on what’s going on. To some extent, my role in the business demands that of me and I don’t always have the luxury of being completely off grid, but even I recognize there are limits. For example, when you’re on your honeymoon and you’re still responding to work emails, there’s something wrong there. (My wife has just about forgiven me for that).

The thing is, we don’t live in a society that supports being off, we’re just not wired that way anymore. Technology, for all the way it’s transformed our lives for the better, is intrusive and keeps us chained to our desks even when we’re not there. Work environments thrive when a certain level of competition exists between employees and if you’re ambitious and want to develop in your career, you don’t really want to switch off. For better our worse, the new world order of business has evolved and this is the current state of affairs.

And while the conversation has centered around a work/life balance previously, I think a different conversation needs to had because no matter how hard you try, that elusive balance is utopian at best. Instead of balance we exist in a series of sprints and iterations, living in cycles of full throttle, before crashing and starting all over again. It’s a vicious circle that keeps us in spaces that generally inhibit full potential. It’s not just about physical rest, but our mental energy and the sanctity of our headspace. It’s too busy up there anyway without the added pressures of carrying your office with you in your pocket all day and night.

Naturally I don’t need to tell you the importance of switching off and how it actually makes you more productive. The internet is overflowing with articles, both scientific and academic, on the need for us to switch off from work and how really, we’re all living terribly unhealthy lives by being ‘at work’ around the clock. And while switching off sounds great in theory, are any of us ever truly going to take two weeks off with absolutely no contact from work? Definitely not, so in between it all, how do you actually hold onto your mental and physical energy in between all the on time?

Get your shi*t together: chaos exacerbates everything and I know if I’m organized, even if I can’t take time off, it’s an act of mental care for me. Unnecessary clutter in my inbox, random to do lists, drafts, notes and pieces of paper floating around is wildly stressful. I use Trello to keep track of tasks and ASANA to manage projects and initiatives.

Walk it off: walk up the stairs at work, round the block or home. Being in movement forces you to work through your headspace and creates calm.

Ditch the phone: once upon a time you had a work phone (RIP Blackberry) and a personal phone, but now that’s over and it’s all integrated into one. Work comes everywhere, so when I’m out with friends or family I often leave my phone behind. As long as one of us in the group has one. I also try to leave my phone in a different room at night so 3:30am emails don’t buzz in my ear.

Keep learning: conversations with external colleagues, thought leaders or podcasts are energizing and motivating. Sometimes a change in perspective is as good as a break.

Family: while running after my two year old isn’t necessarily relaxing, there’s a certain calm about watching a tiny human learn to navigate this world. It puts a lot of things in perspective for me.

Last week, I switched off, not completely, but light years ahead of where I’ve been in the past. With the unofficial end to summer, Labor Day, around the corner, I took the time to step back from work to prepare myself for the long sprint to Christmas. I know if I don’t take the time I need now, I won’t have the mental capacity or the energy to make it there. I needed this. I also encouraged many of teammates to the same, to leave phones at home and avoid their inboxes at all costs because worn out employees are no good to anyone and let’s be honest, the world won’t end if you stay out of that inbox all weekend.

Balance is important, it always will be, but I know that in an always-on world full of ambitious business people and a society that demands you stay on the grid, that’s not always doable. No matter how many articles on work/life balance I read, I’m still looking in my inbox after 6pm. Instead of going completely MIA for periods of time, maybe we just need to try and find our own version of balance and the things that keep us mentally healthy among all the noise.

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