Respect your time. Leave work at work
For quite some time, it was habitual of me to leave Slack open and monitor work messages outside of work hours. (If you’re not familiar with Slack, it’s a communication tool where you can have multiple teams and workspaces, and multiple channels for different topics.) I have my work email on my phone and I’m periodically looking at emails – mostly deleting, because of more Git notifications and less actual important announcements.
I do use my computer at home and in my spare time for writing, watching videos, and various other hobbies. I am and always have been against doing work when you’re not actually in the office, but this behaviour came out of being delighted about work, enjoying my job, and genuinely wanting to keep in touch and stay in the loop.
Until a few months ago, I had forgotten what it was really like to be stressed out about work-related things. I found myself panicking over things that shouldn’t have been that urgent (whether or not this was catalysed by others is another story), and constantly thinking about solutions to problems when outside of work. I don’t have any notifications present on my phone except text messages, and only from certain people. This leaves me to manually – and mindfully – check my email and other apps. But I was anxiously checking Slack outside of work hours, fearful that I’d be dragged into a conversation that concerned me, worried that I was being messaged against my will.
The thing is, while I might have been messaged against my will, I wasn’t reading messages against my will. I was deliberately opening applications and choosing to read messages in my own time, when I could resist, and have every right to.
I don’t need to discuss this point and why you should leave work at work, but the reason people struggle to disconnect from it in their spare time and also talk about their struggles frequently is because they know it’s not the right thing to do. We know that work is something that has a potential to impact our lives in both positive and negative ways. We know that habitually working in our spare time is unhealthy.
You have a right to your own time and space.
It was a small avalanche of events that led me to do a few simple things to disconnect more from work, especially after hours and on the weekends.
- Quit the Slack app on my personal computer at home. I chat with some friends there, but I also have my work Slack there.
- Avoid using my phone on my commute to and from work. I’ve left the office; there’s no need to be connected. If something is urgent, my phone number is in my Slack profile.
- Refrain from checking my email outside of work hours and on weekends.
- I already had my notifications off, but I really tried to make use of status updates to indicate that I am Very Unavailable and my notifications are snoozed, so good luck trying to get in touch with me.
After trying that for a good while, I found a small negative effect. You start to notice that people can still be invasive and try to control your time. Within your work responsibilities, you have the right to decide how to allocate your time and determine your priorities. You have to be clear about your boundaries at work (but in your personal endeavours too, of course).
We’re in a world where distributed teams are common, and sometimes we need to contact people when we know they’re not working, so leaving a message is appropriate. I’ve noticed that beyond these acceptable scenarios, people sometimes disturb you when they feel it’s an urgent matter. People still continued to message me when I updated my status to say I was in a meeting, and when I blocked out my calendar with the tasks I was working on. Sometimes I had multiple people message me about the same thing, which got confusing. If I engaged in any conversation outside of work, it would become increasingly frustrating because I would be interrupted from whatever I was doing.
It helped to be explicit about when I was leaving the office, and when I would be available, and to communicate and respond to people in a timely fashion, even though it may not have been immediately. Being clear about expectations and your boundaries means you feel less guilt about leaving work, especially if you initially struggled to completely disconnect from work.
My focus improved and I felt a lot more positive in general.
I didn’t think it would do much, but leaving work at work made a world of difference for me. Because I made the conscious decision to leave everything at work, it meant that my personal time was off-limits for anything related to work. I had the responsibility to make sure I was making the best use of my time while in the office. As a result, I was a lot more focused during my tasks.
I felt more relaxed at home because I didn’t have an overhead of things to worry about. Anything that came up would be tomorrow’s problem, or the next work day’s problem. I saw things like emails and messages as less of a distraction and more of a task or a to-do to help dictate the direction of my work day. I was less on-edge or anxious at work, as I felt refreshed enough and like I’d taken a proper break to continue working each time a new day started.
You owe it to yourself to leave work-related things at work. Even if you have an office at home. 🙂 You don’t need to be forever connected. You’re not obligated. Being connected or doing work in your free time might not necessarily mean you’re doing better/harder work. It might not mean that you are are more productive. You might find, like me, that it makes you a more productive and optimistic person when you’re at work.