How to switch off from work over the holidays

Christmas : New Year decorated home living room. Beautiful woman working on laptop, switching off this Christmas, Happy Holidays

Portia Hickey is a Chartered Psychologist and co-creator of the Thrive Matters Platform

The need to stay involved with work while on holiday can be driven by natural cognitive processes.

For example, the Zeigarnik effect is where tasks that are interrupted or unresolved remain in our memory, making them more likely to nag at us. Cognitive rumination is where you are still processing or working out the solution for something that is bothering you.

The need to stay involved with work while on holiday can also be driven by personal beliefs around work. Driven people often see ‘relaxing’ or ‘taking a break’ as a reward that they get after they have completed their work, which tends to foster a strong work ethic, but these days, there is often no end to the work that needs to be done. That means that, if you’re not careful, you can end up never taking a break or feeling guilty when you do take one.

If you’re struggling to switch off from work this year, here are some tips for you to try out.

Reframe your holiday as an enhancement tool

Reframe your holiday as an opportunity to enhance your performance back at work. A change of scenery can shift you into a more constructive mindset and spark creative problem-solving ideas, especially if you are taking part in activities that enable your mind to wander. Uninterrupted time away from work helps enhance wellbeing and help you immerse in non-work activities.

Schedule time to check emails

Uninterrupted time doesn’t mean that you can’t check email for your whole holiday, it just means not-being interrupted by your work if possible. Put an out of office on explaining that you are on holiday with only intermittent access to your email. Ideally set aside a specific time to check your email if you need to and allow time to action the most important or urgent items with minimal disruption to your holiday. Turning off notifications will help to make sure you stick to your allotted time.

Identify what is urgent vs. important

If you are the type not to give yourself permission to take a break, prepare for your holiday a few weeks before by identifying what is urgent versus what is important. Identify a couple of high-value, important deliverables that are feasible to achieve before your holiday and will feel like accomplishments. Then don’t let yourself get too distracted by delivering urgent actions set by other people. Focus on getting the most important actions resolved. This will make you less likely to be plagued by ruminations triggered by incomplete tasks.

Just because someone else tells you something is urgent, doesn’t mean that it is. Ask yourself (or them) if it is actually urgent, if it can wait until you get back or if someone else could do it.

Make worry appointments

Anxieties about job security tend to come from insecurities about ourselves that are not based on evidence. And even if they are based on evidence (because you know for a fact that your job is at risk) worrying about it is likely to be a waste of time and emotional energy. If you are committed to worrying about your job security, try making worry appointments. Then, any time the worry comes to your mind, take a mental or physical note of it to think about at your worry appointment. Set the worry appointment to coincide with an activity that requires little cognitive resource and enables mind wandering such as going for a walk. This will help you to stop the worry being on your mind all the time and interrupting your holiday.

About the author

Portia Hickey is a Chartered Psychologist and co-creator of the Thrive Matters ‘accelerator’ platform. Portia advises Fortune and FTSE 100 companies as well as some of the largest law firms in the world on leadership assessment and development. She has recently launched the Smart Collaboration Accelerator, a psychometric test for collaboration skills, particularly useful for engaging staff while working remotely.


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Alison Simpson
About the author

Alison is the Digital Content Editor for WeAreTheCity. She has a BA Honours degree in Journalism and History from the University of Portsmouth. She has previously worked in the marketing sector and in a copywriting role. Alison’s other passions and hobbies include writing, blogging and travelling.

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