As much as we’d love to leave our work at work, letting our to-do list follow us home on the weekends is a trap that many of us fall into. With the rise of hustle culture, our always-online tendencies, and our trouble setting boundaries, it’s all too easy to let work time spill into personal time. “Many people feel like they can’t afford to turn off work for the weekend,” says Elana Feldman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of management at UMass Lowell’s Manning School of Business.
Here’s the rub: When we don’t disconnect, we risk sabotaging our own weekends, Traci Stein, Ph.D., M.P.H., a clinical psychologist and adjunct professor at Columbia University, tells Thrive. “The problem with bringing your work home with you is that doing so means you can’t fully engage with family, friends, or make time for self-care.” On the flip side, a work-free weekend not only allows you to enjoy your time off, but also helps you start your week on Monday feeling truly recharged. “When people allow themselves to experience a true break, they generally return to work feeling less tired, more positive, and better able to expend the effort required to be effective in their jobs,” says Feldman. “What’s more, research shows that downtime can help prevent burnout over time.”
Of course, completely separating from work is easier said than done — but these tips can make it easier:
Be clear about your preferred communication
Detaching from work takes a bit more effort than simply staging a protest against your inbox all weekend. “It also requires an open conversation about boundary-setting,” says Feldman. If the boundary you’d like to set is to stop responding to non-urgent work emails outside of business hours, be clear with your manager, suggests Feldman. You could let your boss know you may not see an email until Monday, so if something truly pressing arises, she should text or call you.
Restrict your schedule
In his book, Deep Work, tech expert Cal Newport encourages establishing designated blocks of time to focus on your job duties (i.e. 9 to 5, Monday through Friday). Newport says the benefit of setting strict limits around work is something called “fixed-schedule productivity.” The basic premise is that if you know you’re clocking out (for real) at a certain time, you’ll be more efficient during the workday so there will be less temptation to take what you haven’t finished home with you.
Designate one “working late day” per week
The reality is that we don’t all have jobs that are predictable. So designating one “working late day” can help you get through a project that requires extra time — with the goal of preserving your weekends. Ideally, your late night will be a set night each week, so you can plan for it and also make any necessary arrangements at home in advance (i.e. having your partner or nanny pick up your child from school, if you’re a parent).
Get comfortable with incompletions
If you find yourself incapable of sticking to work boundaries, you might have to set more realistic expectations around your to-do list. “Ask yourself what would happen if you stopped trying to do everything under the sun,” suggests Stein. “Ask yourself what actually needs to be done today, and what can wait.” When you apply some honest perspective to your tasks, you’ll feel less guilty about shutting the door on work until Monday. Feldman suggests setting aside a few minutes before leaving for your weekend to make next week’s to-do list. “These types of lists can be comforting because they capture the tasks that are on your mind, and you’ll feel less stressed about losing sight of them.” Cheers to the weekend!
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