In order to be productive, to truly be able to focus, you need to also be able to truly disconnect from work. If we are "go, go, go" all the time, we never have a chance to reflect, to relax and to recharge. In much the same way that our bodies and brains need adequate sleep to function properly, we also need wakeful time that isn't focused on work to function at our best when we are at work.
We live in a world where being "busy" is valued, where people try to one-up each other about how few hours they slept and where people feel that because it is possible to be connected to work all the time (via mobile devices and internet everywhere) that they are obligated to do so.
But a lot of those expectations we place on ourselves are ours alone. We think we need to act this way, because it seems that everyone else is. But let me tell you something: save a few % of the population, no one really wants to work this way. We all desire time to ourselves to not feel as though we have to be thinking about work problems, to not be on edge that an urgent email is going to come through and ruin our weekend or evening.
Some countries, like France, are taking a stand against overwork and constant connection, enacting a shorter work week, and no emails after work hours. But this will likely never happen in the US. It's not how we're built.
So, we've got to take matters into our own hands if we want to preserve out sanity, and really, truly up our game on the productivity and creativity fronts. Here's how:
In the evening:
- Pick a time that you are going to stop working. Then stick to it. (Turn off email notifications to make this easier, but also as a general rule for productivity.)
- Set Do Not Disturb on Slack or other messaging systems during this time.
- If you are typically someone who is "on" 24/7, you might need to inform your boss and co-workers that you're trying out a new strategy out, and that you won't be responding to work messages between, say, 7pm and 8am. You might be scared to do this, but I think you'll be surprised that most bosses will be fine with it, and most co-workers will be envious and want to try it out themselves.
- To help you truly disconnect, spend the last 10 minutes of your work day planning for tomorrow. Take stock of what you didn't get to today. Re-prioritize it for later. And be ready to put your work aside, knowing that you've got a plan.
On the weekend:
- You're basically doing the same thing as in the evenings, but on a grander scale.
- Pick a time to stop working on Friday. Stick to it.
- Spend the last 30 minutes of your Friday workday planning for the following week. Ensure that you've re-prioritized what didn't get done this week, you've written down all your tasks so you won't worry about forgetting them, and make the plan for the week ahead.
- Actually take all of your vacation days! (Americans tend to leave most of their vacation days on the table, for reasons that honestly elude me, despite the fact we typically earn less vacation that other countries) It's yours. You've earned it. Take it. If you don't have the funds to get out of town, plan a staycation. But whatever you do, take time for yourself.
- Find a co-worker who is willing to handle any urgent issues while you are away. This won't be hard; you can trade.
- Set up your voicemail and Out of Office email reply to state that you are on vacation and will not be checking email or voicemail while you are away. Reference the phone number and email address of the (super-nice) coworker who will be handling any emergencies while you are gone. Let people know that if it's not an emergency, then you'll respond to them when you return.
- Block off the afternoon before you leave to tie up loose ends, and give your friendly coworker the run down on what he or she can expect.
- Block off at least 1 full day when you return for catch up. No meetings on this day.
- Then actually take your vacation.
The above may sound impossible to you, but I've been doing it successfully for years.
The reality is, if someone really needs to talk to you in the evening, on the weekend, or on vacation, they will figure out a way to get to you. They have your phone number. But the reality is that they won't. Almost nothing is that urgent (assuming you work in an office, and not at, say, a hospital).
I take all my vacations every year. And I NEVER check email or voicemail on vacation. Not once has my boss, or any of my co-workers, needed to reach me so urgently that they had to call me on vacation.
If I can do it, you can too.