If you find yourself glued to your work email account even in your off-time or your social media accounts when you’re meant to be relaxing, you’re not alone. It’s easy to stay attached to your phone, which means you never seem to get a break from work. For this reason, unplugging from technology has become mission critical when it comes to achieving work-life balance and avoiding burnout.
Burnout is often described as a state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by stress. It can leave you feeling completely overwhelmed and over time, it can result in a lack of motivation. To make matters worse, a lowered ability to disconnect translates into poorer work-family balance and affects job performance, according to a 2016 study by the Academy of Management.
"Burned out people will continue making the wrong decisions," said The Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington at the Entrepreneurship Summit hosted by The KIND Foundation and Venture for America on Nov. 17, 2016 in NYC.
Since you don’t want to burn out on work, it’s important to learn how to unplug from technology. Take a look at our top suggestions:
According to Huffington, it’s important to set boundaries when it comes to your relationship with technology. Huffington recently launched Thrive Global to help people bring balance into their lives. Part of this process includes declaring an end to your work day, she said. This takes discipline and means you have to decide when your work day ends and your personal time begins. More importantly, you need to stick to this, she said. Sometimes setting boundaries isn’t so easy, especially if you work for a company that expects you to always be "on" and reply to emails or requests late at night.
"Organizational expectations are the main culprit of individual inability to disconnect," said the authors of the Academy of Management study. "Even during times where there are no actual emails to act upon, the mere norm of availability and the actual anticipation of work creates a constant stressor that precludes an employee from work detachment."
If you find yourself in this boat with your employer, you may want to approach your boss about your own boundaries and try to shift the company paradigm. For example, you can discuss options such as days or times when you won’t be available to answer emails. Most employers recognize the importance of work-life balance and will respect you for coming forward. In fact, according to the study, companies are now developing policies that promote unplugging after hours. Boston Consulting Group, for example, was a pioneer in guaranteeing one email-free evening a week, while Northeast Topping, a health care consulting group in Philadelphia, prohibits email correspondence after 10 p.m. and on weekends.
If you’re self-employed, setting boundaries may be a bit easier as you make your own rules. On the flipside, time is money and you may feel it’s imperative to respond immediately to a client or manager -- even late at night or on a Sunday morning. If this sounds like you, you can choose to inform your clients that you’ll respond to their requests during regular business hours and then put your phone in another room so that you can enjoy your downtime.
In order to truly unplug, it’s a good idea to get away from work and take a vacation at least once a year. Time away from work means you can recharge and return with renewed focus and passion for your job or business. A vacation is also an easy excuse to turn off your phone, ignore your email or leave your laptop at home.
In fact, according to a study published in the Harvard Business Review in 2015, vacations can result in greater productivity at work. Among other things, spending less time at your desk forces you to waste less time and work more efficiently, according to the article.
To help you prepare to go on vacation, take time to organize your work ahead of time by creating a master list of tasks with deadlines that may include projects to finish before your departure or calling clients to tie up loose ends. Then, make sure you inform clients and coworkers that you will not be responding to email and work requests while you’re on vacation. Set up an out-of-office auto responder message on your email and allocate tasks to someone else in your absence.
Once on vacation, there should be no need to check work email or text messages. You might even consider only using your phone for emergencies. In fact, while at your destination, you can leave your phone in a hotel room or a safe, or perhaps turn your phone to airplane mode so you can only use it as a camera. If you’re worried that you might still have a difficult time ignoring work emails, you may want to install the Thrive Away app by Thrive Global. The app does the dirty work for you and deletes new emails while you’re away, letting senders know when you’ll return to the office. "Your time to recharge is more important than your inbox," states the app description.
Create a sleep ritual
For some of us, it’s hard to turn off at night and truly unplug. If you’re too busy checking your emails late into the night, this prevents you from getting enough sleep. If you’re not well rested, it will be difficult to function at the top of your game. Disconnecting from technology every night is also key to reconnecting with yourself.
Huffington recommends starting a ritual by putting your phone to bed at night and then putting yourself to bed. Sounds a bit corny, but Thrive believes in this premise so strongly that it even sells a Phone Bed Charging Station that is designed to look like a bed. The goal: To infuse a bedtime ritual that promotes unplugging and quality sleep.
"First we tuck our phones in, and then ourselves. By giving our phones their own bed - outside our bedroom - we can say goodnight to our day and get the sleep we need to wake up fully recharged," states the product description.
Hmm, a phone bed has a nice ring to it.
Image: Aaron Jacobs