Disconnecting from work is a lot like sleeping eight hours a night. We all know we should do it, but actually managing it is another story. You’re excited about getting time off when you schedule it, but as you get near the date, you might start thinking about all the work you’re supposed to be doing. Maybe you’re worried about a project that’s still in the air, or you’re looking to your first week back from holiday and all the catching up you’ll have to do.
You might be tempted to keep your phone near you during your time-off, or worse, check Slack daily while you’re away. We get it. There’s a very real fear that you’ll miss something crucial, and that you need to stay on top of your projects.
But disconnecting from work can be far more beneficial than catching that one email. Here’s why.
What does “disconnecting” mean, really?
“Disconnecting” does not mean “only checking your work email once a day.” It doesn’t mean browsing through your work management tool and checking off notifications. And don’t you dare open Slack.
By disconnecting, we mean a complete detachment from work. No opening your tools, no checking notifications, and no thinking about work either. Don’t worry about that project that’s still ongoing; don’t think about how the designer hasn’t gotten back to you on that infographic yet; just stop and breathe.
For however much time you have off during the holidays, “disconnecting” means your job doesn’t exist. Focus on yourself, the people around you, and everything else you might not have given as much time to during the year.
Got it? Great. Now let’s talk about the benefits of such a strict approach.
4 benefits of disconnecting from work
You’ll come back stronger
We know what you’re thinking. “If I take time off, I’ll have so much to catch up on when I get back.” You might figure that you’re on a roll right now, and if you just keep working, you’ll keep this productivity train going and you’ll be able to take it easy in the new year when everyone else is struggling to catch up.
Unfortunately, that’s not really how it works.
Productivity isn’t a campfire. There isn’t a perfectly linear relationship between how much fuel you put in and what comes out. As you work more and more hours, you’ll definitely get a greater number of tasks done, but you’ll hit a plateau where you’ll need more and more time to generate even slightly more output.
Worse; eventually, productivity drops off. Once you reach a certain threshold, your productivity actually decreases the more you work. That means that taking time off, slowing down, and disconnecting is better for your productivity than just powering through the holidays.
Your body will thank you
Your job is probably bad for your health. Whether you’re working in an office right now or had to shift to remote work like many people around the world, the way you work might be damaging your health.
You’re likely familiar with the research; staring at screens for extended periods is bad for your eyes, sitting too much can be fatal, and working too many hours is devastating for your heart.
By disconnecting, you have an opportunity to undo some of that damage. Try going for a daily walk. Read a book instead of a blog post (even if it’s as good as this one). Take your health seriously and stay out of your project management tool during the holidays.
You’ll be more creative
Are you in a creative role? That’s actually a trick question; creativity matters for every role. Whether you’re leading a team, spending your days fixing bugs, or executing a marketing campaign, creativity helps you do your job better. It helps you find new ways to deal with problems, come up with new initiatives, and improve on processes your organization takes for granted. So how does disconnecting from work help with creativity?
Have you heard of writer’s block? Ever looked at a blank page where words needed to appear and they just wouldn’t come?
In The Adweek Copywriting Handbook, Joseph Sugarman suggests that copywriters take a walk before tackling a new project. By putting the work out of their mind completely, they’re giving themselves the time and space they need to attack it creatively when they come back to it.
Now imagine if you did that over your entire holiday break? Disconnect from work, and your rejuvenated mind will come back to your tasks with a fresh outlook.
You can focus on your well being
If you work yourself too hard — and working through the holidays counts — there are probably lots of things you aren’t doing. Maybe you’re not sleeping right, or you’re not eating as well as you should, and so on.
You probably already know what you need to do, but you just haven’t had the time to set up those habits to make things better. How can you sleep eight hours a night when you lie in bed thinking about everything you need to do the next day? And eating right? Forget it, you barely have time to make something quickly in between your meetings.
Taking some time off creates a window where you can take a hard look at some of these bad habits and troubleshoot them. Want to eat better? Spend your time off finding easy, healthy recipes you’ll be able to whip up when you’re back to work. Need to sleep better? Well not having the stress of checking your work management tool constantly during your vacation will definitely help.
Beyond just setting up great habits, time off is crucial for giving yourself a mental break. Overworking leads to stress, and too much stress can lead to some serious mental health issues. When you give yourself time to disconnect from work, it’s like hitting a release valve. By putting your job out of your mind, you’re giving yourself some breathing room. If you keep checking your email, not so much.
4 steps for actually disconnecting from work
It’s one thing to commit to really taking time off, but making it happen is another. Here’s a 4-step guide for doing just that.
Define the word “crisis” with your team
The first step is to let your team know you want to disconnect during the holidays, and that you should only be contacted during a crisis. Part of this step means defining what a crisis is together.
Unito’s marketing team did something like this in the weeks leading up to the holiday. Every member of the team was asked to describe what they considered a crisis that would require their attention over the holidays. This applied to everyone, even managers. Examples of crises included a security breach, damning PR articles, broken websites, and major deals being at risk.
Once “crisis” is defined for your team, make sure those definitions are written somewhere, like in your project management tool. That way, everyone can refer to it.
The important thing was that everyone got to define their own crisis as it relates to their role. Try this with your team; set the boundaries for when you can and cannot be contacted.
Give people a way to reach you during a crisis
Now that you’ve defined when people should contact you, let them know how they can do it. If you don’t, you’ll feel the pull to check your email and your notifications.
The actual method of communication isn’t that important, but it has to be something that can be used to reach you urgently and that you won’t miss. A cellphone number is probably your best bet, though if you’re the kind of person that lives in their email inbox, that can work too.
Turn off notifications
This step is crucial. Turn off your notifications. Whether it’s email, Slack, or your project management tool, make sure it can’t send you notifications during the holidays.
You’ve already established a way for people to contact you, so you don’t need notifications. It might feel strange at first, but you’ll have a much better holiday if your phone isn’t chiming every couple of minutes.
Log out of everything
The last, extreme step for disconnecting is to log out of everything you use at work. Your work management tool? Log out. Slack? Log out. Email? You know the drill. Hell, if you have a work computer, shut it down and stick it in a drawer until the new year.
By putting up as many obstacles as you can between yourself and your work, you’re making it that much easier to stick to your commitment to disconnect over the holidays. Don’t worry, if something truly devastating happens to the organization, someone will reach out to you. Enjoy your time off.
Disconnect and reap the benefits
Actually taking time during the holiday season to be away from work will make you better at your job. You’ll come back more creative, more productive, and you’ll help stave off some of the health concerns that come with working yourself too hard.
In that spirit, the Unito blog will be on holiday until January 4th, 2021. We’ll be back in the new year stronger, better, and ready to help you take your work to the next level. In the meantime, happy holidays and stay safe.