On the Job

3 steps to a work detox

Working hard can be exhilarating and rewarding. But go-getters might find it difficult to tune out work when it’s time to take a break. Any time I take a few days off I spend the first day or so with that tension-in-your-chest-must-breathe-deeply feeling that comes up when you arrive for a busy day of work. I’m in need of a detox … a work detox.

“Taking time to rest mind and body, and to ensure there’s balance between your work and home commitments is important to your overall productivity and satisfaction,” says Laurie Mitchell, assistant vice president in Global Wellbeing and Health at Colonial Life. “I’d advise both managers and employees to prioritize time off to boost workplace morale and effectiveness.”

With this advice in mind, here are 3 tips Mitchell offers to rid yourself of that anxious feeling and get to relaxing more quickly when you do take a break.

1. Prepare.
“Work ahead so you aren’t worried about big projects or assignments and can ask for help on those things you won’t be able to cover while you’re out of office,” Mitchell says. “It’s not just helpful for you, but also for your teammates.”

Look at your calendar and move meetings. Think about commitments the week following your time out and alert relevant people that you’ll be unavailable. And, of course, communicate your time off as early as possible so your team isn’t caught off guard.

Planning can also illuminate opportunities to train others and give them a chance to try something new, as well as highlight holes in documentation for how you do what you do. Developing tutorials or even one-pagers on your work processes can serve you and your team well long term.

At home, try to slate a few hours to cross off to-dos that have been hanging over your head, too, so you aren’t spending your whole break running errands.

2. Set boundaries.
With a physical detox, there are some strict no-nos to your diet, right? Likewise, with a work detox you’ll have to ensure you’re not welcoming stimulants that cause you unrest. There aren’t a lot of occasions where you truly can’t be reached, despite what your out of office message may say. But that doesn’t mean you should be available at all times.

“You can set some expectations — for yourself and for others — on what merits chiming in and what can wait until your return,” Mitchell says. “It can be very helpful to provide clarity and talk through scenarios if you’re going to be out of office for an extended amount of time.”

For example:

  • If you have a big project that will stress you out more to leave alone than not, ask a coworker to call you with updates or needs so you aren’t having to check email and see the onslaught of messages that will be awaiting your arrival back to work.
  • Don’t respond to non-urgent emails. It’ll just pull you into the vortex … and you may never get out.
  • Ask your manager for his or her preferences or needs of you before you’re out so you can be sure to make necessary handoffs or prioritize the right work.

3. Take in the good stuff.
Now it’s time to focus on what you can do during your break to kickstart your work detox and leave you feeling refreshed.

“Among the top ways to reduce stress is exercise,” Mitchell says. “Physical activity is proven to release endorphins, which literally make you happier. Even a short walk outdoors, alone or with a friend, is beneficial.”

In addition to exercise, indulge in some of your favorite things: Find a good podcast, book or TV show and allow yourself to get totally sucked in.

Finally, make time for hobbies and people that make you happy, and the earlier the better. If you love hiking, schedule it for the first half of your day so you are, in some ways, forced to disconnect from work. If you enjoy writing, set aside time to take yourself on a coffee date for just you and your journal. If your dog is your best friend, plan to take him on a walk or to a nearby park on day 1.

Next time you’re taking some time away from the office, help yourself detox from the day-to-day with proactive attention to detail, clear communication and some fun. You’ll enjoy the time more and come back to work ready to be productive.

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