The Skill of Switching Off

Updated: Jul 8

female switching off from work on a swing

By the time you read this, I’ll have switched off the computer, put away my notebook and be about to start a week-long break in Cumbria. This will be the first time staying somewhere away from my house since Christmas. I’m looking forward to seeing my parents and sister - it's been a long 8 months. We’ve cancelled a big family holiday and a couple of minibreaks and not seeing my elderly parents when COVID has been present has been hard.

I’m also looking forward to a rest from work. Starting a new business is tricky at any time, add in a global pandemic, homeschooling and then what feels like a very long summer holiday, and it has been fairly exhausting. I am fortunate to have older children who are largely self-sufficient. However, keeping on top of school communications and the latest COVID guidance whilst fitting work in around domestic commitments and not in fixed hours in an office has been a bit of a struggle. Work-life balance has gone out of the window. I have a fairly high level of resilience so my heart goes out to those who have been struggling so much more.

figure switching off from work on paddleboard with mountains and trees

Last month I posted on Linked In about another week off on staycation, and how I felt rested even though we hadn’t gone anywhere. It gave me enough energy to keep me going for another three weeks before this trip. In the past when I was on holiday I was in full-time employment - so leaving the work phone and laptop at home was easy and I couldn’t do much work even if I wanted to. This time I have the one phone and despite mostly working off a desktop, a large amount of my work is on a secure cloud so I can access it from anywhere if I wanted.

The scientific evidence of having a break is well documented. One of the clearest benefits is lower stress levels. One study suggested that having a holiday can reduce blood pressure by up to 6% and also improve sleep quality - a key factor of stress. Other benefits include increased creativity - from opening your mind to new experiences and new places. I find that a holiday gives me the time to get away from all the niggly, microaggression aspects of work so that when I return I have more of a focus on the bigger picture of what I am trying to achieve and remember why I do it in the first place.

How to leave work behind when you staycation

I’ve had two conversations in the last week with people who have taken time off on staycation and said how hard it has been to not work - feeling that they needed to help out busy colleagues or were worried that things wouldn’t get done without them. So how do you get a break when faced with a staycation in your own home or when your mobile device and ubiquitous wifi means even if you are away the option to work is ever-present?

  • Have accountability with others. If you are going away with your partner, family or a friend, then keep each other accountable. Agree on the “ground rules” for checking work emails and hold each other to account

  • Turn off devices when you don’t need them- I always find it best to put mine out of sight in my bag or another room

  • Get some good quality sleep. There is always a temptation on holiday to have more late nights and drink more. Alcohol affects the quality of sleep for many people, including me, so have some early teetotal evenings.

  • Ensure that managers, colleagues, team members and key clients know that you are away before you go and make some contingency arrangements.

  • Remember this is your annual leave and you are entitled to it!

If you are still feeling anxious, then it may be helpful to think about why you are feeling this way. Is it because of a fear of missing out on an opportunity or a