How to switch off your work brain after hours (infographic)

Are you old enough to remember a time when not only were you not expected to work in your free time, but also it was pretty difficult to do? An age before perma-connectivity, expanded business culture, and the perils of ‘taking it easy’ in the gig economy?

Actually, it’s partly an illusion. Yes, lots of us have jobs where the boundaries between on-time and down-time are blurry at best, but just as many of us have trouble switching off even when it’s ‘allowed’ – and we would have been just as bad decades ago.

The so-called Protestant work ethic has long since shrugged off its religious shackles to embrace secular Western culture – and by extension, most of the rest of the world – in a suffocating bear-hug. We associate work with effort, effort with pain, and pain with purity or goodness. We wear our breakdowns as badges of honor.

Naturally, it’s an attitude that business and political leaders are happy to cultivate. They’re on holiday or playing golf while our hard toil fills their coffers and balances their books.

But while there’s much to be said for taking your work seriously, whatever the nature of what you do, it is both counterproductive and unhealthy if you never switch off that part of your mind that deals with your professional life.

Reducing your stress levels in this way can also help improve your relationships. And it bears repeating, now more than ever, that people are more important than money.

Forgetting about work will also improve your job satisfaction. Because, you know, life is about more than killing yourself to get to the top.

But how to go about rebooting your mind in a culture of permanent digital connectivity?

Emergency reboot

If you Googled this article (or found your way here because you can’t put your phone down) then chances are you need some quick answers. Your mind may be spinning like a tired hard drive and you don’t know how to stop it. Even if that’s not where you’re at right now, these are the tips you need to unwind at a few moments notice and without prior preparation.

It’s not always as easy as just walking away from your work mind – otherwise you would have left your problems in the office (or on your laptop). But a simple form of self-therapy can help you work through things in just a few minutes.

Get a pencil and paper – yes, really, anything with a digital keyboard involved won’t work – and write down your thoughts. Simple bullet points or even single words that express what you’re thinking about regarding work will help to externalize them. If you’re concerned about a particular project or problem at work, try writing two or three sentences that explain, to yourself, what’s going on. You may even find you keep going and fill the page.
Try to set yourself a parameter so that you do it properly. Set a timer for five minutes, or resolve to fill a page of your notebook. Don’t worry about writing well for somebody else to read – you can throw this out when you’re done.

Even if the process of unburdening your thoughts into the physical realm doesn’t completely get them off your mind, it can help you to switch your mind state or to work through things. But often you will find that writing everything down then walking away will completely free you of those thoughts until the next morning.

Other emergency steps that involve a bit less introspection

Playing a video game or musical instrument for a while requires ‘cognitive absorption,’ a mode of thought that doesn’t leave much room for professional concerns.

Progressive muscle relaxation is a form of meditation that you do with your body and breathing. Check the infographic below for precise instructions, but basically you steady your breathing, then tense and relax every muscle in your body, starting with your feet and ending with your face.

And mindfulness can bring you back into the moment, away from your work worries and outside of your head. Focus on something in your environment. Count the sounds you can hear outside the window, or study which materials have been used to make the furniture around you. Think about where they came from, and how they make you feel.

The advantage of these last two choices is they can both be done in bed, when your mind won’t let you sleep.

Preventive measures

Prevention, as they say, is better than the cure. And it’s a long old working life, so chances are you’re going to find yourself caught up in work thoughts again and again if you don’t get into better habits.

A good way to switch off at the end of the working day and week is to create rituals. Some of these are about getting ‘closure’ on your work hours, for example by writing out a to-do list for the next day. (And of course ticking off yesterday’s list).

You can also go through your work internet browser and close down the tabs one by one, before shutting down all your software and the whole machine. Chances are you normally take short-cuts here – such as leaving the whole thing on overnight, tsk tsk – but this lets your subconscious know that work is over for the day.
On a more practical note, you might set up out-of-office auto-responses if you’re going to be gone for a while or are likely to be hassled by people with no right to your free time.

Setting yourself a commute and home time routine can also help shift your state of mind. Change clothes (or at least shoes) before you leave work. Listen to the same podcast each night on the commute. Make a ritual of always listening to your favorite bands from your teenage years on Friday nights. It’s a great way to tell your soul you’re getting your weekend on.

When you’re stressed and tired, it can be hard to make the effort to straighten out your mind. But the benefits are manifold and often instantly pleasant. For a full rundown of what to do to stop thinking about work after hours, keep scrolling to see an ace new visual guide from CashNetUSA.

How to stop thinking about work after hours
How to Stop Thinking About Work After Hours - infographic

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