Switching off from work can seem impossible nowadays, especially since working from home is becoming the norm. Stylist spoke to seven women who have mastered the task to find out how.
Switching off from work is a modern-day battle many of us face. Technology had already blurred the lines of work and rest, with apps like Slack being easily downloaded to our devices and making clocking out even harder. Now, the pandemic has further contributed to this effect, with working in our once-personal spaces becoming the norm.
Many of us see a screen light up after work hours and sigh when it’s a message asking us to give one last look over this very important (usually unimportant) thing. And though we know we shouldn’t, we often cave, click reply and feign willingness in a short message that reads: “Yes, sure! No problem at all!”. We want to be hard workers and prove our worth to our companies, but at what cost?
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be like this. There are many ways to free ourselves from the shackles of half-hearted 9pm replies or, worse, weekend log-ons to “send a quick email” that ends up taking half an hour. To learn a little more about them, I spoke to seven women across the UK who have successfully mastered the art of switching off.
Penny, 33, from Shropshire, is a fitness, wellness and nutrition expert who talks about switching off as a pre-emptive method to minimise burnout. She says that planning ahead can help you forge boundaries between your work and personal life.
“It may seem like such a simple thing, but many people find themselves suffering from burnout because they don’t make the best use of their time, when in fact, if you sit down and plan your time properly, you will not only feel more in control but also make the most of the time you’ve got.”
She also recommends saying ‘no’, that much-feared word at work. In her view, we shouldn’t feel obliged to say yes to things if we don’t have the energy, especially outside of your contracted hours. “Saying ‘no’ can actually be empowering and help to allow you to retain time to switch off and avoid burnout.”
Marketing coordinator Ellen, from Nottingham, believes finding a healthy routine can help separate your professional and personal life, especially if you’re working from home. “One way to do this is to take a walk, even if it’s only 10 minutes, in the mornings. It feels like your commute, and then you’re refreshed and ready to start the day.”
The 21-year-old also recommends starting and ending each day on the same note: responding to emails to begin the process of switching on and off. This can also help minimise unnecessary guilt when we log on the following day and see an email sent at silly o’clock.
Creating a routine that you follow can be key to winding down after a long day at work. Common techniques include indulging in a hobby such as knitting or reading, writing in a journal or simply watching the TV. These kinds of activities, if done routinely, will signal to your brain that it is time to switch off for the day.
Binny, 30, runs her own social media agency and says she has mastered switching off from a work environment that is on 24/7 by simply deactivating her notifications. “It has really allowed me take control of my work-life balance as well as create boundaries and has helped me to avoid becoming overwhelmed.”
The Londoner also suggests getting a separate work phone, so that you can switch it off physically to help you switch off mentally. This will help create that clear distinct barrier between work time and personal time.
Tokunbo, 40, is a social worker from London who agrees boundaries are key to switching off and explains how she effectively implements them into her work. “I don’t respond to emails outside of my working hours so that my boss and colleagues respect my online times.”
For 29-year-old Francesca, a picture specialist from Hertfordshire, setting herself physical challenges has helped her to switch off from work. “I scheduled my training into my work calendar, making it work around my responsibilities. This encouraged me to finish work in the evenings at a reasonable time, forcing me to switch off and focus on myself.”
She also talks about how working from home makes it easy to slip into overtime. “We all need to realise that our evenings and spare time is important for our mental wellbeing and ultimately work.”
Lou, 52, is from London and is the co-founder of Wellbeing Partners, which advocates for employee mental health. Her intense work life, which is fully remote, means that switching off at the end of the day is crucial.
She advises having a ‘close-down’ routine – her own being the ritual of writing down her achievements every day, “no matter how small”. “I also have a faux commute at the end of the workday in the form of a five-minute walk.” Once she returns home, she tells herself, “I’m home now”, which she says puts a boundary in place between her work and home life.
Lou also does a short mindfulness meditation at the beginning and end of her workday. This, she says, “transitions me from work mode to personal-life mode and vice versa”.
Finding moments of rest in the little things is one way to switch off during the day, according to Ros Jones, 56, from Scarborough. The business, wellbeing and leadership coach says: “For me, just stopping what I’m doing to focus on taking deep breaths in and out for two minutes is a beneficial way of switching off and cutting out the noise during the day.”
Focusing on things outside of work are also key to Ros’s switch-off routine. “While boiling the kettle to make a cup of tea, you can switch off by looking out of the window and just noticing what’s out there. Or if you have a simple task to do such as making the bed, focusing on the job in hand – straightening the sheet, plumping up the pillows, shaking out the duvet – is a way of switching off from the busy thoughts in your mind.”
Of course, if you’re still finding it difficult to switch off, then it might time to open up a conversation with your boss or HR. Dialogue matters and is nothing to be wary of, especially if you are concerned for your health.