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Four fun ways to unplug from work without feeling guilty (and a plea for everyone)

We all know that work isn’t everything, and we also know that part of living a full life means unplugging from work.  But for many of us, it’s really hard to disconnect – with phones and emails and that constant feeling that we should be DOING SOMETHING, we can’t seem to turn it off. Why […]


We all know that work isn’t everything, and we also know that part of living a full life means unplugging from work.  But for many of us, it’s really hard to disconnect – with phones and emails and that constant feeling that we should be DOING SOMETHING, we can’t seem to turn it off.

Why is it so difficult?

Part of the reason is our culture’s definition of success, which is focused on achievements, accomplishment, external accolades, and financial rewards.  In order to be successful, we’re told, we must be working all the time. We talk endlessly about how busy we are, and we run ourselves ragged answering emails on nights and weekends.  We are jointly complicit in rewarding and recognizing those who never disconnect – as loyal, committed, and productive – without actually stopping to question whether results are improving or if we’re just creating more activity and busy work.

So… If you want to live your life by the definition of success that says you should be busy all the time, and if you want to live to work, then go for it.  You should be very happy in our current culture.

But if you want to live your whole life, not just your work life, then here are some ways to unplug, guilt free.  

  1. Get Pampered.  When I lived in Hong Kong, there was a foot massage studio next door to my office.  At least once a week, I would slip away during my lunch break, go into the dark space, zone out (or fall asleep) under a blanket while my feet were being massaged, and leave feeling like I’d had a break and was taken care of.  I could always grab a quick salad and eat at my desk afterwards, but having those 30-45 minutes of self-care in the middle of the day were … magic. Other people I know go to get their nails done or a blow dry or just wander a store trying out new hand lotions.  Whatever it is, incorporate self-care somewhere into your day!
  1. Get Physical.  It’s hard to check your phone for emails when you’re out for a run or biking or surfing or doing an intense workout class.  And because physical fitness is essential for good health, get outside, take a walk, play a sport, jump rope, stand on your head, or do whatever else gets your blood pumping at least once a day.  I know you’re going to say you don’t have time, but I would argue that you don’t have time NOT to. Skip the binge watching and get moving instead.
  1. Be Creative.  Experiencing life involves being creative.  Some of you may be thinking, “But I’m not the creative type.”  Yes, you are. Just expand your definition of creative. You can cook, paint, sing in the car, play an instrument, write, doodle, draw, garden, woodwork, decorate, act, take photos, or engage in any other activity where you’re enjoying the activity in and of itself.  Notice I am not saying you need to be particularly good at any of these things! You just need to enjoy doing them. Personally, I like to paint with my hands (aka finger painting). I love the feel and smell of the paint, and while I don’t think my paintings are ever going to hang on the wall of a museum, that’s not the point.  I enjoy the creative experience and process, and that’s enough. And when your hands are busy and covered in paint, there’s no way you can check email!
  1. Get Social.  I used to want to make sure I got home early during the week so I could get a good night’s rest to be fresh for work the next day.  Then I lived in Argentina, where people stay out late during the week and still go to work the next day. (The secret is they’re not drinking heavily so they may be more tired than usual but they’re not hungover.  And an espresso can cure the tired…). I learned that it was more fun to go out and be social – even if just for an hour or two – than stay at home watching TV and getting into bed early. I’m an introvert so I didn’t do this every night, but I definitely expanded my feeling of living a full life by expanding my social engagements on weeknights!  

And I’m suggesting you do these things not because they will make you more productive at work.  I’m suggesting you do them simply because they will be enjoyable and they are fundamental parts of living a whole life.  

And now for my plea… When I lived in Latin America, I noticed that no one responded to emails after 7pm or on weekends.  It didn’t matter how much I wanted to progress on an initiative or resolve an issue or how many emails I sent. During those times, people were not going to respond.  It wasn’t because they weren’t dedicated to their work. It was because they were with their families and friends and enjoying their personal lives. And you know what?  The business didn’t suffer because they weren’t answering emails on nights and weekends. The business continued doing fine and life went on.

When I moved back to the US, I realized how much work we create for ourselves and others by always being connected and by answering emails at all hours of the night and day.  I get emails from coworkers that are sent at 9pm, 11pm, 2am, 4am, and 6am, and I wonder when does anyone sleep or enjoy personal time! So instead of continuing with this practice, why don’t we agree to stop sending work emails after 7pm on weekdays and on weekends?  In 99.9% of the cases, the impact to the business will be zero, and if something really important comes up, we can make the pledge to call or text each other. But not email. Let’s stop making work for each other just so we can brag about how busy we are.

Let’s stop wearing our workaholic tendencies as badges of honor and start spending time living our whole lives not just our work lives.  

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