It can be hard to switch off after work, particularly when so many of us are guilty of answering emails, messages or calls from our bosses after hours. There are ways to help signify the end of the working day, however – such as switching off your work phone at 6pm, or shutting down your computer and leaving it in the office.
For those of us who work at home, it is a little more difficult to stick to your ‘office’ hours. If you can see your laptop and your work in a pile on the kitchen table or in the lounge, it will always be at the back of your mind as you watch Netflix. It’s far more tempting to check your work messages or to fire off a quick email to a client at 10pm, rather than properly disconnect from work.
When you are self-employed, a freelancer or if you just work remotely, the pressure to be “always on” can be intense. You may feel worried about leaving an email until the morning because of the fear of missing out on work, or you may feel the need to be more responsive to messages from a boss if you’re a home-worker.
So when work is never really out of sight, how can you keep it out of mind?
Hide your work
It’s tempting to leave all your work out, particularly if you are getting back to it the next morning, but putting everything away signals the end of the working day. Whether it’s in a drawer or in the wardrobe, make sure your work is out of the way so you can properly disengage with it. Having an unfinished project in view is only likely to stress you out, or encourage you to keep working on it – even if it can wait.
Have a specific home office area
For many people, a separate home office where you can shut the door behind you at the end of the day is a pipedream. However, it can be possible to organise your living space separately from your working area, even if you live in a one-bedroom or studio flat or a house-share. If you have the room, keep a small desk behind a stand-alone screen so there is some distance – mentally, at least – from your laptop.
Co-working spaces can also be an affordable way to keep your work and home life separate. Desk hire rates and memberships can be extortionate, so it’s important to do your research first. Heading further out of the city may be a cheaper option with added benefits, such as an easier and less busy commute. Check out Coworker, Share My Office and Coworking London, or local businesses in your area. Hotdesking doesn’t have to be pricey – a place at The Assembly in Manchester’s Northern Quarter costs £10 a day for 24-hour access, including free tea and coffee.
Signal the end of the working day
We are creatures of habit and tend to benefit from certain routines that keep our days on track. Doing something to signal to yourself that it is time to finish work is a good idea – particularly if it means leaving your home.
There are obviously some days where you can’t clock off at 6pm and close your laptop, but it can help to stop working at roughly the same time each day. Going for a short walk, going to a gym class or meeting friends is a good distraction from work, meaning you’ll be less likely to think about it all night.
Remember the risks of being ‘always on’
If you’ve got a heavy workload, it can be tempting to carry on working even if you can feel your eyes shutting and your brain beginning to turn off. The internal pressure of being self-employed can contribute to this, but it is also the product of a culture that demands we go on working – even when our internal resources are running dry.
As many of us know, there are a number of risks associated with rarely “switching off” from work, including exhaustion, stress and physical health problems such as headaches. Burnout, estimated to affect 28% of the general workforce in the US, is also a growing problem. By definition, it is a complete system breakdown as a result of unmanaged chronic stress and manifests itself in a number of ways, including poor quality work, detachment from your job and problems with confidence and self-worth.
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Each person experiences burnout differently, but signs can include emotional, cognitive, and physical exhaustion, racing thoughts, constant worrying and feeling overwhelmed. The physical effects include muscle pain, sleep and digestive problems. It is also linked to a heightened risk for mental health problems, too.
So the next time you suggest “just another hour” – it might be worth considering if it is really worth sacrificing your health for, or whether the work can wait until the morning.