Let’s set the scene for the 21st Century workplace:
- Our smart phone acts like a leash tying us to work. After 12 years we embrace the advantages of this technology and do not seem to be concerned about any downside.
- 24/7 everything has become normal and we love it… mostly. Global economy, 24/7 news cycle, 24/7 sports coverage.
- Work has infiltrated every segment of our lives, to the point that we must make a deliberate decision to switch off the phone to make ourselves uncontactable.
- Work almost always takes priority over all other aspects of life – “I’m afraid I am going to have to work tonight darling”.
- Work might be resented but it will rarely be challenged for our attention.
- Teddy Roosevelt, U.S. President (1901 – 1909) used to love going off hiking and camping into the National Parks of the USA where he was uncontactable for days. During the 20th Century it became untenable for a US President to be off the grid. In 2019 we are all that important.
What never switching off from work does to us
- Stress and burnout related illness have risen dramatically in our society.
- Income Protection Claims for ‘psychological injuries’ (anxiety, depression and other stress induced illnesses) are now overtaking claims for physical injury and major diseases like cancer (TAL Insurance, 2017)
- Many people are functioning but do not realise how burned out emotionally and mentally they are.
- Insomnia is epidemic. We rarely give our brains time to process the day.
- Burnout is a problem that happens slowly over time. Its effects are cumulative. And like the proverbial frog in the kettle we may realise too late.
- Not only is stress a problem, it is killing people. God knows what it is doing to our close relationships.
Why switching off from work is important
- Our brains need time to process the huge amounts of information with which we are bombarded every day. Information is never a problem any more. The ability to process information, to discern trends, and to problem solve requires creative space in our minds.
- Daydreaming is an important part of creativity. It is also an important part of processing information and allowing our brains to wind down and resolve issues. If you never have time to daydream, because you always grab your phone and scroll one of your many apps when you have a short break, you will rarely daydream. This overloads our brains at night and is a common cause of insomnia.
- We are not built for work 24/7. We are built for relationships. We are better suited for short bursts of work at say 90-minute intervals. Productivity is going down in an age of great tech advance because we have become more like automatons than human beings at work.
Switching off from work requires decisive action
- My contention is that we all need to be able to schedule an activity that totally absorbs us that we can do regularly. It could be gardening, reading a novel, writing, playing sport, fishing, walking in nature, exercise, going to the gym, or whatever is of interest to you.
- Holidays are important but not the same. We need to be switching off from work in the midst of our busy lives not just when we get away from our normal daily routine.
- Because work has infiltrated, interrupts and usually takes priority over all other parts of life, we need to decide to turn off our phone for short periods on a regular basis, to make this work for us.
- In some work roles you may need to communicate with your employer to ensure your self-care priorities are understood. The best way to negotiate this is to demonstrate that doing this activity helps you to refresh mentally and emotionally and makes you better able to focus when you are working.
- By ‘totally absorbed’ I mean to be so involved in an activity that you are fully present, are thinking of nothing else, and often you will lose all sense of time because you are enjoying it so much.
I speak with painful experience on this subject. I learned to function at a high level in my busy senior leadership role. No one, not even me, realised just how burned out I was. I was restless on a day off. I would gravitate to work related matters if I had some spare time. I used work as an excuse to avoid family relationships. I did not think about alternate ways of operating, making changes, investing in personal growth to better look after me. This was in the early days of mobile phones. I dread to think what I would have been like with my Galaxy9 in my pocket.
In the light of this article, is this an issue for you?
As a test, take a day per week, or at least a half day per week away from your phone. In that time do something you love to do and become fully absorbed in it. Try switching off from work for a few hours a couple of times per week. In 3 – 6 months, I am sure you will be glad you did.