Life Lessons

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The Importance of Disconnecting from Your Work

By Mar 11,2011 Follow Me on Google+

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Summary

Some of the happiest, most well-adjusted, and most effective people I know are also people who have a profound ability to disconnect from their work.

They can disconnect rapidly and put themselves in another state of mind that does not involve work. Some images that come to mind are people like Richard Branson, setting records in balloons; captains of industry, leisurely golfing their days away; people in bars slapping each other’s backs while drinking martinis and making deals; or CEOs in their early 60s running marathons.

One of the most important things you can do for yourself and your life is to disconnect from your work.

Many people never disconnect from their work or do not even know how to disconnect. You can see these people walking around with telephones in their ears wherever they go, getting up from dinner to talk on the phone, screwing around with their Blackberrys at any given moment and, in general, working every second of the day.

I have a secret for you: The most important people never behave like this. The most important people simply do not work when they are not working.

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If you are working all the time, you are not being nearly as productive as you could be. For example, typical German workers, when they are working, are models of efficiency. When they are working, they are typically being more efficient, more detail-oriented, and more focused than the average worker. When they are not working, however, they are not working. They stop work and they are done.

There is a saying–“work hard and play hard”–that I believe exists for a reason: people who work hard and play hard are better all-around workers and contribute more value when they are working.

Think about the people (you may be one of them) who inform you of how “stressed out” they are about work when they are not even working. Think about the people who are glued to their e-mail and Blackberry and cell phone all weekend, everywhere they go. Think about the people who work on their laptop when they are sitting in front of the television with their family at night.

None of this is generally productive.

In fact, behavior that keeps you constantly attached to work is counterproductive. Your body never has time to recharge. Your mind never has time to recharge. You are constantly at the beck and call of a job and never get perspective.

You never see the world, you just see the job.

I believe that this problem is far more serious than people realize. Success should not necessarily be defined by how much you work, how stressed you are, or how dedicated you are to working all the time. Success should, instead, be defined by your ability to approach each problem you face at work with a “fresh” perspective, to maintain a cheery disposition and be an all-around happy and well-balanced person. Success should also be defined by your ability to enjoy your life when you are not working.

You should not think that your entire existence is tied to your job. There is a lot going on in the world besides your job and the work you are doing. When you come home at night, it is not productive to be focused on your job. Your mind should be somewhere else–on your family, on the weather, on a book, or on a hobby. When you are away from work on the weekends, you should not be focused on your job.

Be very aware of what goes on inside of your head when you think about work. When you are thinking about work, you are thinking about how you can control and manipulate the objects of your work. If you are a writer, you are thinking about what you are writing; if you are a salesperson, you are thinking about what you can sell; if you are a cashier, you are thinking about the transaction in front of you.

You are focused on the people you are working with and what they are doing. You are focused on your clients. You are focused on how all of this affects you, what it means to your livelihood, and whether it makes you angry, happy, or sad. You are focused on a raise, a demotion, getting fired, getting a new client. Once you truly get into your job, this focus will get more and more profound and pronounced.

I am sure you have met people whose minds are totally focused on their jobs and the work they are doing. If they are attorneys, for example, they may be overly logical when you speak with them. It is important for people like this to get outside of the state of mind they are in when they are working and start focusing on items that are not work related (i.e., the external). The state of mind that goes along with work is needed to do the work you are doing. However, for you to be even better at your job, you need to be in another state of mind as well.

The reason it is so important to disconnect from work, in my opinion, is that much of work is an internal, introverted process. When we work, we are fixated on the object of our work. In order to get out of the work mind-set, we need to focus on objects outside of our work. There are lots of ways to fixate ourselves on objects outside of our work. These include exercising, socializing, taking a walk, or simply doing something entirely unrelated to our jobs.

There are lots of clichés about work. There is the man who returns from the office and snaps at his wife. There is the person who throws himself or herself on the couch the second he or she gets home from the office. There is the person who gets home and talks and complains on the phone to someone for hours about a supervisor or a job he or she does not like. There is the aggressive driver on the road who yells at people on the way home from the office.

High school football players apparently get better grades during football season than the average student. A reason for this, I believe, is that these players are able to disconnect from their studies and come back with a new perspective after playing. It is important to always have a new perspective on your work and to ensure that you never have the same perspective twice.

Give yourself the luxury of disconnecting from your job. Remember that your life is made all the better when you can see the world around you outside of your job.

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