Achieving good work/life balance is increasingly important, especially amongst the fabled millennial generation. Most discussions around the topic look at things like our commute, flexible working and the impact digital technologies have on our ability to distinguish between personal time and professional time.
Many criticisms have focused on the increasingly blurred lines between work and personal lives, and the impact this has on our ability to switch off. It seems counter-intuitive to suggest, therefore, that thinking about work may be the crucial first step towards achieving that, but that is precisely what a recent study from Ball State University, Indiana, suggests.
How to switch off from work
The study asked participants a range of questions about their various goals at work. When the data was analyzed, it emerged that people generally had difficulty switching off when tasks were left incomplete. This was particularly the case when those tasks were important to them.
To try and mitigate this, a section of participants were asked to create a plan for how they could go about completing these various unfinished tasks. They were then tested again to see if their ability to detach had changed compared to peers who made no such plans.
“If you have an important deadline looming on the horizon, for example, your brain will keep nudging you with reminders, which makes it difficult to get a break from work demands. It seems like we have the ability to ‘turn off’, or at least ‘turn down’, these cognitive processes by planning out where, when, and how goals will be accomplished,” the author says.
“This is primarily true for people that already have a difficult time forgetting about work during leisure because their job plays a central role in their life. For them, a simple change to their work routine like task planning near the end of the workday would likely make a real difference,” he concludes.
It should be said that the sample size for this study was pretty small at just over 100 participants, so it would be reckless to read too much into the findings, but if you’re struggling to detach in your own life, it might be worth formulating a plan on how you can finish those unfinished tasks so they’re not looming over you during your free time.