The proliferation of communications technology makes it easier than ever to take work home with you, so how can you truly unplug from the office?
It was inevitable that it would happen. The early optimism about the internet, as espoused by the AOL commercials of the mid-90s, has now been replaced with ambiguous feelings.
If anything, people are now trying to unplug from the internet and free themselves from the vice-like grip of technology.
The issue of unplugging is particularly relevant in the working world, as technology has made it easier than ever to bring your work home with you.
This can arise in the form of fervently checking emails when you get home, letting your work bleed outside of your assigned hours, or fielding calls and texts from clients or bosses after you’ve left the office.
Implementing a few rules and good habits can go a long way towards helping you better unplug from the office and keep your leisure and work time satisfyingly separate.
Keep work-related apps off your personal devices
Having a separate work phone is also a great way to segregate your working and personal life, but not all employers will necessarily provide that for you.
If you use these apps for strictly work-related reasons, you don’t have much of a reason to keep them on your personal devices. Establishing this kind of digital boundary is a good practical step from disconnecting from the office after hours.
That isn’t always so clear-cut, though. You may keep the suite of work apps on your personal computer to use when working from home. You may like having the email and Slack apps on your phone so you can do a cursory check of team status updates and emails on your way into the office.
A good workaround is to turn off notifications for these apps on your phone so that you only see activity when you choose to. For your laptop or desktop, you can keep notifications off and then switch them on when you need to work from home.
Some forms of boundary-setting are common practice. Setting an out-of-office email, for example, is standard pre-holiday procedure to ensure that those trying to reach you know you won’t respond immediately.
Setting boundaries with a boss, however, is a much stickier situation. Obvious care is required in how you go about this.
When you receive an after-hours email from your boss, you may feel like you have to respond, especially if a precedent has been set whereby you have responded to these types of messages in the past.
Unless the email pertains to something extremely urgent, a good workaround is to respond to your boss with a timeline as opposed to actual work. Let them know you have acknowledged their request and give them an idea of when they can expect the work to be completed (within working hours).
If you get a call from a client after hours, a good way to keep the conversation from taking up too much of your time is to listen to their requests and ascertain what the call is about, and then let them know you will return their call in the morning.
These types of tactics can help you keep your work out of your personal life while placating clients and superiors alike.
Do something to unwind after work (that doesn’t involve technology)
I give this advice, but I want to quickly add that you’re not going to get any judgement from me if you find your Netflix and Facebook habit too hard to give up.
There are a bevy of articles advocating the virtues of unplugging from work that have a particularly grating sense of airy self-satisfaction to them. They scream (or whisper, because the people writing them are ‘zen’): ‘I don’t need my phone because I’m better than you and I drink kombucha.’
I don’t think this tone is helpful, and it perpetuates a lot of the toxic one-upmanship that is endemic on the internet these days, dissolving self-esteem left and right.
I’m not afraid to admit that I’m probably a little bit glued to my phone, but I also recognise that it’s not good for me.
Try to read more books and play more music to pull you away from your devices.
You can deepen the real-life interaction element by enrolling in a class in something that interests you, such as a fitness class that will force you to abandon your phone.
You could even meditate, go for a walk, or do a self-care-type activity that will keep you unplugged from technology.