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Download: The Right Ways to ‘Switch off’ When Working from Home

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Employees urgently need to find their ‘off’ switch

72% of workers report spending some time after work worrying about their job, and 22% report that they worry regularly

That’s 22% too many considering the extreme health risks associated with not being able to ‘switch off’ — from insomnia to increased risk of coronary heart disease, to anxiety and depression. The scary list goes on.

Research also suggests these risks are amplified for remote workers because they tend to take fewer breaks and work longer hours than their office-based counterparts.

Since we’re all about people-enablement at Impala, we’re sharing the most-effective strategies for ‘switching off’ according to research in clinical psychology.

Read on and download our ‘Proper Wind-Down Pledge Template’ to create your best-ever after-work routine!

The best ways to unwind (do ‘this’ not ‘that’)

1. Practice positive self-talk and affirmations (instead of feeling guilty)

One of the most common barriers to unwinding is the idea that it’s ‘selfish.’ But sleep deprivation can kill, so this simply isn’t reality.

In other words: Your laptop isn’t selfish for needing a recharge — neither are you!

Clinical psychologists advise practicing positive self-talk and affirmations to overcome unnecessary guilt associated with ‘switching off.’

(I know what you’re thinking — but seriously, talking to yourself is effective! Evidence from MRI studies shows it can change your brain.)²

But what are some effective affirmations?

Note: The act of verbalising affirmations is key here. Say your affirmations aloud, and repeat them regularly for maximum benefit.

2. ‘Eat the frog!’ (instead of ending your day with ‘deep work’)

We facilitate effective detachment from work by easing out of the day — not easing into it — so structure your calendar accordingly!

Engaging in ‘deep work’ late in the day is a no-no.

But why?

For the same reason exercising too late in the evening is inadvisable:

It overstimulates the brain, which poses a barrier to proper rest and recovery.⁴

What should you do instead?

Eat the frog!

Mark Twain famously wrote: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

Eating the frog means tackling your largest, looming project asap. This gives you an early sense of accomplishment that translates to lasting momentum for an easier, more enjoyable rest of the workday.

Don’t calendar block large projects for the tail-end of the workday. Instead, spend this time on easy admin and planning the following day. Start mentally winding down a few hours before it’s time to go offline.

3. Plan where, when, and how unfulfilled work will be complete (instead of ruminating on it)

Organizational Behavior expert and Assistant Professor at Bentley University explains:

“Given that human cognition is strongly biased towards goal completion once a goal has been activated, problems can ensue when goal pursuit is tabled.

When goals remain unfulfilled, these focal goals continue to be accessible because the mind presses towards goal completion to alleviate ‘goal tension.’”⁵

But creating a plan for unfinished work can help you to alleviate that tension by freeing up cognitive resources and attention for other matters.

A study of over 100 employees found that people who spent time at the end of their day planning where, when, and how they would complete unfulfilled work goals/tasks were able to disengage with their jobs more effectively than employees who did not.⁶

But take heed! Simply creating a list of unfinished tasks won’t help you. Specifically detailing where, when, and how work will be completed is what makes planning effective.

This is how you’ll reduce the amount of mental attention being directed toward any outstanding tasks.

4. Choose immersive or focus-demanding activities to relax (instead of passive activities)

If you’ve ever found yourself tempted to plop down on the couch, indulge in a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and binge-watch Netflix’s docuseries, Tiger King, at the end of a long day — well, you’re not alone.

Too bad television is the worst among the common ways we try to ‘relax.’

Why?

Because it’s passive AF.

And this allows the mind to easily wander back to work.

Paradoxically, the most relaxing activities require active engagement and attention. Simply ‘vegging out’ actually sabotages our goal.

The best ways to unwind are those that distract us fully from job responsibilities by “facilitating learning opportunities.”

So, how should you unwind when you work from home?

  • Exercising
  • Cooking a meal
  • Reading a book
  • Writing (non-work-related)
  • Developing a skill
  • Socialising
  • Gardening
  • Playing an instrument
  • Playing a video game
  • Learning something new

Any of the above help to facilitate detachment from work, but neuroscientists and occupational health therapists agree: the best of all these is physical exercise.

5. Relax in a space that puts you in touch with nature (instead of where you work)

It’s hard enough to ‘switch off’ from work — let alone when you live ‘at the office.’

Research into psychological recovery from work tells us certain environmental features can better aid recovery from work — nature being chief among them!

Appreciating the importance of staying at home during our global health crisis, you’ll be relieved (if not fascinated) to hear that getting outdoors isn’t the only way to reap the recovery benefits of a natural environment.

University studies have found that bringing the outside in (à la office plants) can still produce similar effects, and so can exposure to photographs or sounds of nature.

Where should you relax when you work from home?

  • If you’re lucky enough to have one, the garden is a great option!

  • Alternatively, near a window that looks onto greenery or water (windows offering cityscape views did not positively influence restoration during breaks in the aforementioned study).

  • An area that exposes you to nature. You could grow herbs on a windowsill or set up a corner with lots of houseplants, nature photography, etc.

The key thing to remember is this: wherever you choose to work, it should be a distinct space from where you choose to relax. And when this crisis is over — it’s recommended to relax outside!

Build better after-work habits with a written plan

You can power down your laptop with just a few clicks, but powering down your brain isn’t quite as simple.

Refraining from engaging in work activities during our off-time is one piece of the puzzle. The other is refraining from thinking about work responsibilities.

That’s why, we want to empower you to create an action plan that supports proper closure and psychological detachment from work — so you can rest and recover, for real!

With clear and approachable goals, you’ll set the basis to form great after-work habits that make it easier to transition from work to relaxation mode.

Download our ‘Proper Wind-Down Pledge Template’ and build habits that help you to switch off with greater ease and consistency!

Footnotes:

  1. Gallie, White, Cheng, & Tomlinson, 1998
  2. Cascio, Christopher N., et al. “Self-Affirmation Activates Brain Systems Associated with Self-Related Processing and Reward and Is Reinforced by Future Orientation.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, vol. 11, no. 4, 2015, pp. 621–629., doi:10.1093/scan/nsv136. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4814782/
  3. “[A study of more than 100 entry-level accountants] found that those who believed they could accomplish what they set out to do were the ones who ten months later scored the best job performance ratings from their supervisors. Amazingly, their belief in their own ability was an even stronger predictor of job performance than the actual level of skill or training they had.” Achor, Shawn. The Happiness Advantage: the Seven Principles That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. Virgin, 2011. (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228079856_All_in_A_Day's_Work_Boundaries_and_Micro_Role_Transitions)
  4. Cascio, Christopher N., et al. “Self-Affirmation Activates Brain Systems Associated with Self-Related Processing and Reward and Is Reinforced by Future Orientation.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, vol. 11, no. 4, 2015, pp. 621–629., doi:10.1093/scan/nsv136. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4814782/
  5. Smit, Brandon. (2015). Successfully leaving work at work: The self-regulatory underpinnings of psychological detachment. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. 2015. n/a-n/a. 10.1111/joop.12137. (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/284132125_Successfully_leaving_work_at_work_The_self-regulatory_underpinnings_of_psychological_detachment)
  6. Smit, Brandon. (2015). Successfully leaving work at work: The self-regulatory underpinnings of psychological detachment. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. 2015. n/a-n/a. 10.1111/joop.12137. (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/284132125_Successfully_leaving_work_at_work_The_self-regulatory_underpinnings_of_psychological_detachment)
  7. “Psychological Detachment — How to Get the Most Benefit from Your down Time.” Umbrella Wellbeing Ltd, 17 Mar. 2020, umbrella.org.nz/psychological-detachment-how-to-get-the-most-benefit-from-your-down-time/. (https://umbrella.org.nz/psychological-detachment-how-to-get-the-most-benefit-from-your-down-time/)
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