The Art of Switching Off: How to Do More By Doing Less
You are not a machine, yet I bet you spend over seven hours in front of a screen pretending to be one. Yes, I understand you have a lot of work to do, and it’s a sign of the times that most of it occurs digitally. Unlike your devices, however, you need more than a power source. You’re a complex organic organism that needs intervals of rest and stimulation to operate at your best. You work in one of the most industrious nations in the world. The US sets no limits on the working week and works more hours than nearly all countries in the OECD. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. The US loses $ 500 billion every year due to work-related stress, and burnout can affect everyone from the solopreneur to the Fortune 500 CEO.
You’ve felt the effects of burnout, the tiredness, the brain drain. Burnout is so common nowadays that the WHO recently recognized it as an “occupational phenomenon,” and is investigating how companies might better manage it. Problems you might once have easily solved can seem like a Gordion knot when you’re not thinking or seeing clearly.
Behave like a machine, and you’ll eventually become physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and intellectually blunt. Instead, learn how to switch off and watch your productivity and the quality of your work soar. You might even unlock new thinking that helps bring you closer to what you want from life and help you reestablish or deepen connections with loved ones.
But how can you switch off when you have so many responsibilities? You might run a business, manage one, or work in a small team where your absence would encumber those you leave behind. Plus, you need to put food on the table. Well, no need to pack up and move to the mountains just yet. Here are some practical tips to help you switch off wherever you are.
Automate Admin to Free Your Time
Think of all the little repetitive tasks you do each day: Checking and responding to emails, scheduling meetings, paying bills, paying salaries, helping customers, and so on. Rather than handle these tasks manually, automate them with software. Work smarter, not harder, and employ technology for one of its biggest selling points: freeing up time to do other things.
Consider creating email templates and canned responses to common inquiries. Synchronize your calendars with your teams. Use software like Calendly for booking meetings with people outside your organization. Ditch spreadsheets and write scripts (or buy them) that help you populate databases automatically. You might also install a chatbot to handle simpler inquiries.
You’ll find countless workflow automation software online to automate everything from payroll to task management to sales commissions. Google Workspace also has automation tools built-in, from smart labels in Google Mail to team calendars, that make it easier to organize your schedule and workload efficiently, lifting the burden from your mind (and your calendar).
Take Regular Device Breaks to Avoid Burnout
Over 80 percent of the global population owns a smartphone. Combined with your laptop, monitor, and TV, you probably spend more time in front of an electronic screen than sleeping. That’s not hyperbole: Work it out. Ironically, iOS does it for you (at least for your Apple devices). Compare those hours to time spent sleeping and I think you’ll be shocked.
“What’s the problem?” you might wonder. Aside from poorer eyesight, headaches, and insomnia, technology addiction is also associated with anxiety and depression. You might think your always-on connectedness helps your customers or employees, but you’re setting yourself up for failure and worse. Logging extra screentime isn’t a badge of honor: it’s a health risk.
Schedule regular breaks away from devices. Most doctors suggest a five-to-ten minute break every hour, but go further and take an entire day (or more) now and again. Switching off will be hard at first – you might even feel irritable – but in the long run, freeing your mind from the clutches of your devices will help sharpen your thoughts and bolster your mental health.
Go for a Walk to Stimulate Creativity
Today, Americans spend more time sitting than at any time in history. You probably sit for around 15 hours a day. A sedentary lifestyle shortens your lifespan, adds pounds, and might increase your susceptibility to disease. Take regular walks and not only will you protect your physical health, but this much-needed escape from the office will also help your mental wellbeing.
One study suggests that walking improves creativity by 60% (compared to sitting). When you’re inside, at your desk, ostensibly working on a problem, you might find a stroll in a local park offers you better progress. Just being around nature (grass, trees, sea, wildlife) reduces stress, slows your heart rate, and eases muscular tension – the conditions where great ideas thrive.
Whether you work in an office or the spare room, go outside once a day – perhaps at lunchtime. Leave the devices behind and let your mind wander. Take a notepad and pen to jot down ideas. Observe the world around you. The gentle exercise of walking combined with being in nature can do wonders for your concentration, mood, and cognitive function.
Practice Mindfulness to Open Your Mind
Do you remember the last time you did nothing? You probably occupy your mind from the moment you’re awake (and reaching for your smartphone) to the moment you sleep (when you put it on charge). Whether you’re checking emails, handling customer support issues, or just brushing up on the latest trends in entrepreneurship, you afford little time to the present.
Like a mechanical clock, too much activity and environmental stress cause wear and tear on the mind. Sleep recharges you, but occasionally you need to reset, attune yourself to the world, and synchronize your mind to your body. Practicing mindfulness helps to silence distractions, reduce rumination (the washing machine thoughts) and improve cognition, clarity, and focus.
But what is mindfulness? According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness is “a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment.” Yoga and meditation are two common examples of mindfulness activities, but even spending fifteen minutes focusing on your breathing can help still an overactive mind and reduce anxiety.
If you run or manage a business or are responsible for something you perceive as important, you’ll feel pressure to be successful. You’ll ruminate, judge your actions harshly, and feel stressed when things don’t go your way. You might lose objectivity and criticize yourself, reinforcing negative thought patterns. This is a fast track to hurting your business and you’ll burnout in a vicious cycle to do more. Practice mindfulness to refocus on what matters.
Socialize With Loved Ones to Remember What’s Important
We’re all on a deadline to break the mold before we die. How this manifests in your life depends on your goals. You might want to build a billion-dollar business. Maybe you want to land a rocket on Mars. It doesn’t matter. Just remember that true, lasting happiness doesn’t come from fame, money, or achievement but from the close relationships you build.
Of course, your professional goals are important. But will you be on your deathbed annoyed that you missed a deadline or revenue target? Unlikely. You’ll probably have other regrets, such as not spending more time with friends and family, or wishing you’d been kinder to them. We often recognize what matters too late to change things: We worked too much and loved too little.
Remember how it felt the last time you surprised a loved one? Fostering close relationships with others makes you happier. And when you’re happier, you’re also stronger, more confident, and more resilient to life’s challenges. Being generous with your time could make you more successful. Better yet, positivity is infectious, and your acts of kindness might inspire others.
You might sell your company or take a sabbatical, for example. While pausing momentum might seem counterintuitive, the extra time and space could afford some much-needed perspective. And when you’re ready to resume your career or start a new venture, you might go farther than you ever thought possible having given yourself the time to reflect.
Everyone is trying to make sense of their lives, to create the conditions for happiness. The world is chaotic, and societal systems give a semblance of order, but truthfully, no one knows (nor agrees upon) the right path. We simply do what we think is best for us at the time. No one is perfect. We’re all human. We’re all fallible. And we’re in it together.
Emulating the cold efficiency of a machine is a zero-sum game. We admire productivity because we link it to achievement and reward. But if our accomplishments come at the cost to our health, happiness, and relationships with others, who really wins? Not you, not your business, and not society. So switching off once in a while will help to stave off burnouts. You deserve it.
Image Credit: Mikael Blomkvist; Pexels; Thank you!
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