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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

3 Realistic Ways to Unplug When You Leave the Office

couple unplugging after work
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It’s almost redundant at this point to say that technology’s keeping us more connected to the office than ever. In fact, a Jobvite survey revealed that 45% of Americans check their work email after normal business hours.

Unplugging after work then, when you’re chronically connected (and often expected to be available) isn’t as simple as switching off your devices. But it’s absolutely necessary to know how and when to turn off for the sake of your mental health.

Follow these three tips to manage your time in the “always on” culture that exists now.

1. Utilize Technology to Create Personal Boundaries

You can flip the script on always having work in your pocket and make that same technology work in your favor!

One way to do this is by using calendar invites to segment your work and personal time. Schedule yourself a reminder to leave work, head to spin class, or watch The Bachelorette. This article explains how time-blocking works wonders for productivity, and there’s no reason it can’t have the same impact on your personal life.

Prepare yourself mentally to check out from work and remember that “family time” on your calendar is just as important as a scheduled “client meeting.” If you use a public calendar app (like Google calendar) and don’t want your co-workers to know what you’re up to, you can either make the event private or simply write “busy.”

When you’re on vacation be sure to use out-of-office auto replies, and specify the dates you’ll be away so people don’t expect a rapid response.

2. Don’t Respond to Non-Critical Emails After Hours

This is how it happens: You just put the finishing touches on a big report and head home for some much-deserved R&R, but just as you fire up Netflix, your phone buzzes. It’s an email from your colleague requesting some minor rephrasing on page three. The fixes will only take a few minutes, so what do you do? Pause your show and do the work?

You’re not alone in feeling the pressure to always be available to instantly answer emails after hours, but that’s not a good practice. By responding to everything within minutes of receipt, you train everyone to see that you’re always on-call and immediately reachable. If you want work-life balance, it’s important to be able to sort between messages that are urgent and those that aren’t.

The same respect should be shown to your colleagues; don’t send messages after hours unless it needs immediate attention (or you’ve specified that in your note). If you’re concerned that you’ll forget, type up the draft ahead of time and wait to send it until the next morning.

By promising not to share late emails, you’re doing your part to eliminate the one-up culture of who’s working the hardest outside the office.

3. Pick Up a Hobby That Forces You to Unplug Completely

The best way to truly disconnect (and put your phone away) is to find an activity you love—and that requires your undivided attention. Having a go-to hobby can help you bond with people face-to-face, reduce stress and anxiety, and also stimulate the creative aspects of your brain that may be underutilized at work.

It could be anything from yoga to walking the dog to a side hustle—as long as you’re not tied to your devices. Personally, I like to snowboard, and when I’m out on the slopes I don’t answer my phone—or even look at it—while going up the chairlifts, much less while riding down the mountain.

Everyone can offer you all kinds of advice for how to unplug, but not every recommendation is going to work for you. Each person’s different, and what’s most important is that these ideas inspire you to find your own best practices.

For example, some people (even when on vacation) don’t like waking up or returning to dozens of emails, and find their situation more manageable by keeping their inbox in check. If this is you, I recommend setting aside specific times (I prefer first thing in morning) to deal with email, starring anything important for later. Another strategy to reduce your stress level and anxiety before returning to work is to take a few focused minutes to build a to-do list for when you get back.

If you’re unsure about how well you’re doing, think about this way: Are you finding yourself present when you need to be present? Life is about striking that balance and living in the moment, and it goes for both work and play.