Many adults struggle with unplugging from work. We’re inundated daily with more information than any generation before us has had to deal with; as a result, we spend hours consuming, sharing, and interacting with data and with one another digitally.
It’s easy to get distracted, to struggle with focusing on one thing, and to believe that multitasking is a virtue.
In this era of 24/7 news cycles and always-on/accessible technologies, it can feel as if a silenced cell phone is a radical move. As boundaries between our work and personal lives continue to blur—especially so for remote workers—it’s critical to put strategies in place that actually allow us to experience our lives, sans screens.
Here are seven tips on how to unplug when you work remotely:
1. Set expectations regarding your availability.
Many remote teams collaborate with a variety of online tools; some, like Slack, even indicate when you’re present or available. Resist the urge to “lurk” on these networks for the sake of appearing involved. Not only do you need to get actual work done, which can’t happen in a private or group chat—you need genuine offline breaks from work. If you have teammates or a supervisor in another timezone, tell them when they can expect some overlap with you.
Otherwise, you (probably) are not a surgeon, and therefore you don’t need to behave as if you are “on call.”
2. Schedule regular blocks of time away in your calendar.
You know those important projects that get done because you’ve set aside time for them? Your life ought to be one of them. That’s right, in our calendar-driven day, few things happen spontaneously or are accomplished without some forethought and planning. Albert Einstein once said that if he had an hour to solve a problem, he’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem, and five thinking about solutions.
Sadly, we often get so caught up in producing in our day-to-day lives that few of us spend the requisite amount of time in deep contemplation. (All the more reason to schedule it!)
3. Have an accountability partner.
Technology can be very addicting. App developers and product managers focus on the kinds of details that will bring us back for more, whether those are bright red notifications or other reinforcements for frequent use. Some studies have found that when we’re left to our own devices (pun intended), American adults check their smartphones an astonishing 80 times per day. Breaking this kind of habit will be nearly impossible without the help of a close friend, partner, or coworker.
Consider choosing someone you trust to be an unplugged accountability partner; someone who can steer you away from technology (and from work) to prevent you from being engulfed by it.
4. Embrace your hobbies.
The majority of remote workers enjoy a rare form of flexibility that allows them to get work done in a timeframe that works best for them, provided that specified milestones and deadlines are met. Why not use your high energy part of the day for a workout? Or find an hour to wind down with a relaxing activity?
Add in your long runs or yoga classes; block out time to spend with your family or make art or music. Not only will this make you happier, it will actually enable you to be more productive once you return to the grind. Your future self (and those around you) will thank you for it.
5. Tackle your biggest or most urgent to-dos sans tech.
A few decades back, having a computer on the job was a rarity, and so work was accomplished using handwritten calculations, by making notes, through concentrated reading, and in meetings or on calls. You, too, can experience the old school work world by ditching your technology for an hour or two several times per week.
Naturally, this approach may not work for everyone—though some software developers might be able to jot down a program in a notebook. For the rest of us, think about the creative or analytical projects that you’ve been putting off; how might some time in front of a whiteboard or as part of a productive discussion help you?
6. Have a contingency plan in place.
While it’s true that you can’t predict when an emergency might happen, you can most certainly prepare for it. And if you are the “go to” person in your organization on a given topic or task, you’ve got to have a number two person designated for those times you’ll be out of pocket. (Same goes if your role involves being accessible on nights or weekends.)
This kind of redundancy will alleviate colleagues’ concerns, and will ensure that you don’t become an unnecessary roadblock when you’re away. Beyond this, it means you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your time outside of work!
7. Focus on being present for those around you.
If you find breaking away to be a struggle (and I agree, the struggle is real!), consider doing so for those you care about. Does your dog really want to tug you down the street as you stare vacantly at your phone? Do your kids feel like you’re paying attention to them when you’re half-listening, half-glancing at your laptop? Does your partner or close friend get the sense that your notifications are in control?
I recommend banning screens for specific periods, starting with mealtimes. Stifle the urge to Google something or check one more email, and instead, make eye contact with someone you care about.
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