In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “No Cliffhangers.”
Living in the digital age is a double-edged sword. While we instantly have access to vast amounts of information, news, opinions and real-time world updates, we are also instantly contactable and have the potential to work remotely, anywhere, at virtually any time. It can be hard to stop working, to refrain from checking and responding to emails, to find a way to switch-off from our business life and switch-into our personal life. This is especially true if – like me – you find it difficult to say “no”, tend to over-think and over-analyse things, or are afraid to let people down.
The problem is, working after hours will likely damage your productivity, according to health experts. Imagine it this way – if you are training for a marathon, you run, rest well, take frequent breaks, eat healthy, and keep up a daily routine. If you were to just run constantly, you would quickly grow fatigued, damage your muscles, run down your energy and wear out your body. This is exactly what you are doing to your mind when you force it to work overtime, pushing it until weariness takes over, working it into a state of anxiety when you can’t switch off from the myriad of tasks that start to churn through your brain.
On top of this, working overtime at home or on the move is more likely to make you tense and irritable, which will inevitably take its toll on your personal life and relationships. You are more likely to consume sugary and fatty foods and may become emotionally withdrawn and/or take out your stress on loved ones.
But its not all bad. You can take a few simple steps to improve your work-life balance and ensure that you’re your personal time is quality time:
- Switch-off: I love being online and find reading, blogging and visiting forums to be a creative process, so switching-off doesn’t necessarily mean getting off the grid entirely. It means shutting off your work phone and turning off your work emails. It can be tempting to check these but I have a rule that I DO NOT look at or respond to work messages once I leave the office when I shut down for the day. There may be times I bend this rule, such as before big deadlines or when we have events on, but for the most part this has worked really well for me. On the flip side, I do not message my colleagues out-of-hours; any questions I have for them can wait until the next morning.
- Do not ruminate: Did something go wrong at work today? It definitely helps to talk to others or go over what happened, but obsessing over what you should have done or agonising over decisions you made will only cause unnecessary stress and anxiety. It’s easier said than done, but try to take a positive learning from the experience and move on. Own your mistakes and learn from them. Follow tip#3 to help you unwind.
- Do something creative and relaxing after work: I always wanted to try yoga, and when I finally got round to going to a class after leaving the office for the day, I found that it really helped me get into “personal life” mode. It took a lot of concentration to do the positions and with the soothing music and attentive teacher, I completely forgot about my work to-do list. Have some ideas or hobbies you always wanted to try? Why not use your week night evenings? Paint, write, cook, bake cakes, go running or play music – you might be surprised how quickly your focus shifts away from work.
- Plan holidays: Work can be really overwhelming at times but a great way to keep motivated and switch-off after work is to plan your next holiday. Read about different destinations, research the food and culture, plan your itinerary. Even if you are staying close to home, I bet there is a lot to discover in your own backyard – are there local markets? Monuments you always pass but never visit? Art galleries and museums? If you aren’t going far afield, take the opportunity to re-discover your local area.
- Keep healthy and active: It can be tempting after a long day at the office to throw a ready-meal in the oven or order a takeaway. Try to resist the urge to do this and cook your meal from scratch instead, even if it’s a simple stir fry or a hearty salad (here are some quick and easy meal ideas). Cooking takes focus and will force you to concentrate on something other than work, while eating sugary, high in fat foods is more likely to increase stress and anxiety. Additionally, exercise is the perfect way to clear your mind and keep your body fit and healthy, so try to go for a run, walk home from work, dance or hit the gym a few times a week.
Take care, be kind to yourself and appreciate life. There was a time when work stress used to invade my time off and stick to me like a shadow. I started doing the above and being kinder to myself. Gradually, things got better…and all was well with the world.