"Nine to five." It might have meant something in your parents' day, but now it's just another awkward, outdated phrase, like "the bee's knees" or "I'm voting for Nixon."
Our digital age has been sweet, but the price of permanent connection is an inability to go home and leave your work behind at the end of the day. To give some hope to those of you who can't help but check emails every half hour, I looked into current research and reached out to professionals for advice on how to disconnect from our jobs without retreating to a monastery.
Prioritize your time off like any other task
There's a reason you always remember to finish your work tasks but often forget to have real fun -- our work duties are part of a set schedule, making them much easier to keep. Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide, advises workers to treat their personal time the same. "Schedule your time out," Cohen says. "We are less likely to break a date with ourselves if it's a standing date."
It may feel awkward to enter "Half hour of pwning noobs on Call of Duty" into your calendar, but it'll help you make sure you actually stick to that plan.
Delegate responsibilities so you can forget about them
You have coworkers for a reason. That reason is not simply to have happy hour companions. Cohen encourages stressed-out professionals to "delegate and establish priorities." Letting your staff or team members take on some responsibility not only gives you a break, but lets them grow as employees. It's a lot easier for you to chill at home when you're confident that someone else is making sure the office doesn't burn down.
Get into mindfulness meditation
I sing the praises of mindfulness meditation a lot -- because it works. But don't take my word for it; science is onboard. As Debra Burdick, author of Mindfulness Skills Workbook, says, "Practicing mindfulness helps you stay in the present moment... instead of thinking about work when you are not at work you can pay attention to where you are and what you are doing."
David Gelles, New York Times business reporter and author of Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business from the Inside Out, agrees, telling me that mindfulness "gets us off the hamster wheel in our head. Instead of obsessing about what we could have done better last time around, how we're going to handle whatever comes up next, or who is on our nerves, mindfulness allows us to focus on what's happening right here, right now. For anyone who spends too much time in their own heads -- or too much time online -- that's a valuable thing indeed."
Use an app to form better habits
If disconnecting yourself from your smartphone sounds terrifying, you can at least use it to help disconnect from work. Download an app like Balanced (free for iOS) to schedule out your daily well-being tasks. You've got enough things in your life reminding you to get your work done. Balanced will remind you to relax.
Balanced is not yet available for Android, but HabIt! is a solid, free alternative.
Journal about work stress to let it go
Journaling about your worries, whether they be related to self-image, life struggles, or work challenges, can not only greatly diminish stress levels, but also aid in problem-solving. Reap the benefits by spending some time during your break, or right when you get home, putting your thoughts down on paper to clear them from your mind.
It's way better than sharing them on social media.
Don't respond to non-urgent work emails at night
Seems simple, but constant access to our gadgets mean that if we're awake, we're able to work. You might think that shooting out a few late night emails to your colleagues or superiors will help show off just how dedicated you are, but it's more likely to send the message that you're available at any hour. Don't be the working equivalent of a 24/7 diner; always there, but usually mediocre and taken for granted. If it can wait until morning, let it go; otherwise, you're setting up expectations that won't help you disconnect from your job in the long run.
Remind yourself that better workers take breaks
The Type A overachievers among us may balk (assuming they can squeeze it in between assignments), but if you're feeling guilty about letting go of your professional responsibilities during off-hours, just remind yourself that doing so will actually make you a better worker. Studies show that the brain needs a little downtime to function at its best. This is another chance to use mindfulness to your advantage. According to Burdick, "When you practice mindfulness you give your brain a break, let it rest, clear your mind, and de-stress -- all of which help you be more productive and creative when you are working. That is why big companies like Google and Apple are teaching mindfulness to their employees and encouraging them to practice it at work."
Find a hobby
Photography. Painting. Knitting sweaters made from cat hair.
(Whatever makes you happy.)
Having a hobby is key to getting out of work mode when you get home. It gives you something productive to focus on besides your job, and, according to a 2015 study, measurably reduces stress. Burdick agrees, saying that "learning to be mindful while doing tasks or leisure activities will help you avoid thinking about work when you are not at work."
Exercise after work to clear your head
Sorry to channel your insecure high school gym coach, but he had a point about the benefits of getting off your ass. Exercising after work doesn't merely burn calories, improve strength, and help justify the beers you'll be drinking later -- it also clears your mind, turns off the body's stress response, and gives you a non-work goal to strive towards in your off time.
Communicate with your boss about your needs
If you think that you'd be a better worker if you, for example, were allowed to work from home once a week, bringing that up with your boss could let you set boundaries that help to strike that elusive work-life balance. Cohen emphasizes the importance of showing your boss that these steps will benefit the organization as a whole. He also explains that employees need to learn "how to say 'no' respectfully," letting your supervisor understand that taking on additional tasks won't help either of you in the long run if they're going to stress you to the point that it harms your performance.
Be careful with how you use your devices
Ideally, you'd get home from work and spend the last few hours before bed completely free from digital distractions, but barring a zombie apocalypse or Skynet takeover, that's probably not happening. So, make sure you separate your online identities as much as possible. Don't use your work email for personal emails, don't visit any sites related to your job while at home, avoid that soft rock Spotify playlist that reminds you of every office you ever worked at.
Maybe turn the phone off? Like, for a minute? See how it feels?
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