In the article, The art of switching off, Andrew Gazdecki, Founder and CEO of MicroAcquire, writes, “You are a complex organic organism that needs intervals of rest and stimulation to operate at your best.”
However, the art of switching off does not come naturally to most professionals or leaders. Most of you are at a severe loss of being unable to switch off your work mode at the end of the day or when you are away from work. Your corporate culture is mainly responsible for it. Driven by accountability or responsibility, you are expected to deliver whatever it takes. The result is that your professional life seeps into your personal world. This breach of balance and boundaries has several negative consequences.
In this article, I will share six things you can embed in your work routine to make switching off effortless in a way that will make you far more productive than before.
How I became more productive by switching off
I have been in corporate life for over 20 years. My laptop and email were my life. As I owned more responsibilities, finishing the work by the end of the day became harder and harder, passing each day. Back home, I used to spend close to 4 to 5 hours over and above regular working hours simply getting through email backlogs to avoid the anxiety of missing out on delivering something important.
Soon, I realized that spending extra hours at home was not giving any results. A couple of years ago, I decided to stop using my work laptop after 5 PM. or at the end of the day.
At the outset, there were temptations to open the laptop at home. Soon, the number of unaddressed or unread emails approached 1000, which continued to climb up with each day passing.
Initially, this was uncomfortable for me. I kept on thinking I might be behind on something I must do. The next day morning, I would go through a newly grown backlog of emails. But then I noticed that only one to two percent of senders actually bothered to send me follow-up reminders for action or response. This observation gave me a crucial insight – The remaining emails had lower priorities. Those emails did not need immediate attention and were not worth my evening hours beyond the work hours. Reading those emails could wait until the following day.
Seeing that nothing really collapsed night after night, I adopted it as a permanent practice to switch myself off from work emails at 5 PM every day.
The result of this has been incredible.
Within one year of beginning that practice, I wrote five books, delivered over 50 speeches, and got featured in over 100 media outlets while strategically using my late evening hours. I have never been so productive earlier when I used to think that I was doing much work.
Why must you switch off in the modern world?
My personal experience with success after switching off as a regular practice has taught me some vital lessons.
First, keeping yourself switched on is not always an indicator of great productivity. While it might seem counterintuitive, you are being far less efficient than you think by not switching off.
Second, it is imperative to understand that most of us think about productivity in the context of being effective in the workplace. However, it is equally essential to be productive in your personal life to enjoy time with your family and take your passions or hobbies forward. By switching off from work, you are balancing out the productivity in all walks of your life.
Third, staying always on could cause disengagement, contrary to our beliefs. The research titled How to Recover from Work Stress, According to Science, published in the Harvard Business Review, shows that the mere presence of your phone, the constant reminder of unresponded emails, or being logged in even after work, in an attempt not to miss out on any urgent tasks leaves you unable to detach from work. The inability to disconnect from work is not a sign of an efficient professional. Instead, it contributes to reduced well-being and work engagement.
Fourth, constantly being in work mode and refusing to switch off makes you more likely to get burnt out. The World Health Organization even classified burnout as an occupational disease in 2019. The experience of burnout includes feeling exhausted, energy getting depleted, increased cynicism toward the job, and an eventual decline in professional efficacy.
Such negative consequences on job performance and personal well-being call for making a permanent change in your perspective and routine.
What can you do?
Work smarter, not harder – this adage governs modern-day workplace productivity. Here are six tips for switching off as a tool for success.
1. Get over the fear of missing out (FOMO)
Modern professionals are fearful of being left behind or losing something significant amidst the perceived race or competition. The most effective way to combat this fear is by asking yourself – Am I truly being productive by staying “always on”?
2. Shift your focus on outcomes rather than hours
Productivity is no longer equated with the number of hours spent working or always being available. Productivity at the workplace is now determined by outcomes. For instance, a salesperson could be busy making a thousand cold calls for weeks in an attempt to fill the assigned quota, while one smart salesperson could just analyze ten top repeat buyers from the database in fifteen minutes and approach them to attain their quota with a single sale. The one who achieves the said quota (or outcome) in the shortest possible time is deemed highly productive. Thus, productivity is not about time spent on activities but how quickly you attain results.
3. Create clear boundaries when your work ends
It’s important to create clear boundaries not just for yourself but also to uphold these within your team. For example, saying, “I am unavailable from work after 5 PM” or “I’ll be offline.” “I can only respond to emails before 5 PM”. This practice not only allows others to know your availability but also gives you clarity and mental reassurance that you are not missing out on anything urgent.
4. A productive routine using time-blocking
Establish a daily routine that balances time for hands-on tasks that require immediate attention and presence. For example, dedicating the first 20 minutes of the work hours to respond to pending emails from the day before. Gauge the urgency of tasks and move the less urgent ones to the next day. Doing so makes you less likely to experience stress and burnout and more likely to be seen as a committed professional.
5. Negotiate more time
Ashley Whillans, behavioral scientist and Harvard Business School professor, explains in her TED Talk, 3 rules for better work-life balance, that it’s important not just to negotiate salary as an employee but also to negotiate more time. No matter you are a manager or an employee, negotiate reasonable deadlines and extensions when required so that you do not take work into your personal boundaries.
6. Lead by Example
“Permission to switch off and disconnect starts from the top,” writes Scarborough, Chief People Officer at Adaptavist. If you are a manager or a leader, it’s even more crucial to establish a work culture that respects time and boundaries. Many managers give in to unreasonable aggressive timelines of their higher managers and end up transferring it downstream. The managers need to set it right for themselves first. Begin by establishing your own routine and steps for switching off.
Switching off contributes to more productivity and overall well-being, as opposed to being constantly logged in or available for work, which negatively affects professional efficacy and personal health. Whether you are a manager, leader, or an employee, inculcating this habit in your daily routine is the need of the hour. Begin by establishing your own routine and steps for switching off.
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