We've all read the studies that tell us our minds and bodies need breaks from work to stay productive and healthy. We've all heard how constantly checking our phones and emails beyond work hours negatively affects our morale and efficiency. So why are we all still working all the time?
Because it's a known habit – a routine we're (unfortunately) comfortable with performing. And we all like routine, don't we?
So let's start a new routine! Remember, your work-life balance is important to your family and your friends too. If you have trouble stepping away from the laptop for yourself, maybe you should try putting it to "sleep" for the most important people in your real life outside of work.
"To wean yourself off work — and unwanted thoughts of work — you can use a combination of new habits and lessons from cognitive behavioral therapy," Art Markman writes for Harvard Business Review. Here’s how.
Focus on what you’ll do instead.
"Many people fail to change their behavior because they focus on what they are not going to do rather than on actions they will take instead," Markman says. Negative goals like this — setting the goal not to work (or think about work) — tend to fail.
"Instead, you need to focus on what you are going to do instead of working. Create a plan for your time away from work — whether it is an evening out of the office or time on vacation. You need a specific plan, or you will return to your habits and re-engage with work when you should be away from it. The plan should focus on the activities you are going to perform instead of working," Markman advises.
"For example, you might set up a personal training session for 5:30 p.m. at a gym near your office a couple of nights a week. Or you might tell your spouse that you’ll pick up the kids at daycare. Or start volunteering at a local charity on the weekends. You can even do some personal development. Sign up for a class to learn a new language. Take up a musical instrument. Start painting."
Take up that old habit you used to love when you were in college and "had more time" to do whatever you wanted. Pick up a trendy new habit you've heard your friends talking about lately.
You won't be able to keep work at bay all the time – especially at first. It's OK. You're human. Markman gives advice to prepare you for when this happens.
"There are times when there is something about work that really is bugging you. In that case, keep a notebook handy. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write down whatever is bothering you," he says. "It is often helpful to get the things that are bothering you outside of yourself."
Also, I find it extremely helpful to involve a loved one in my new routine. The support is crucial and can bring you closer. And I'll be honest, it motivates me to be held accountable. I hate letting down the people I care about, so if I vow to someone besides myself that I won't check my office instant messages after 5:00 p.m., I'm probably not gonna do it. Heck, you might even do it together, so the reward is more quality (screen-free) time with each other. My boyfriend and I make this commitment to each other on vacations: no phones. It helps ensure we actually enjoy our trip and time off and keeps us present in the moment. I highly recommend it for rejuvenation – professionally and personally.
Markman gives two more excellent strategies I hope you will read and try. Breaking bad habits is really hard. Don't let anyone tell you different. But do let them tell you ways to help. One tactic might appeal more to you and really hit home, so keep experimenting. Slowly. Let the new habits steep, and then sip on them like a good English tea.