Soar above the job
The most productive, energetic and happy managers I know find ways of seamlessly switching off from work after a very productive day in the office. Conversely, people who constantly find work-related thoughts intruding into their leisure time find themselves becoming increasingly anxious, fatigued and, therefore, less effective. This is especially true in today’s digital age, where office-goers are constantly tethered to their mobile phones, only an email away from their next point of stress.
We have all been taught how to work well, but who will teach us how to unwind equally well, so that we can begin the next day fully recharged once again? Empirical evidence shows that you are unlikely to find your Guru of Switching-off if you search in conventional places such as your boss, or your business school professor, or your neighbourhood human resource manager. All of them will have lots of advice for you, on how to work smart and exceed your targets, but if you are really smart, you must also learn to SOAR—switch off and recharge. This column takes great pleasure in introducing you to some key tenets of the SOAR principle.
Empty your Brain
A very effective method of switching off is to empty your brain just before you leave the office. You can achieve this by spending a few minutes at the end of each day to plan how and when to complete pending tasks. Prof. Brandon Smit of Ball State University, Indiana, US, who has researched this interesting area, says this simple method tricks your brain into thinking that these tasks have actually been completed. This perhaps happens because your brain is now reassured that you have a well-thought-out action plan to resolve the incomplete tasks, and therefore feels liberated until the next day. So empty your brain into a small end-of-day plan, and then switch off with ease.
Commute with a friend
Use your commute at the end of the day to speak to a friend. Whether you travel by train, bus or car, phone a friend who is not from your workplace, and talk about a couple of your common interests in life. Food, sports, girlfriends or boyfriends, movies, a funny piece of news, weekend plans, friendly gossip.... There are so many interesting, even salacious, things that your friend and you can share happily over the mobile phone, which are not rooted in our workplaces. By doing this, you will also be temporarily transforming the mobile phone from an official work device to a friendly personal accessory. From personal experience, I can tell you that talking on the phone to a friend while commuting works brilliantly, and helps me switch off from work almost completely by the time I reach home.
Create a physical buffer
Any physical activity after a long day at work provides an excellent buffer zone where switching off from work happens gradually but surely. For those of us fortunate to live in cities where we can cycle to work, the process of cycling itself achieves this objective. A brief, intense evening workout in your gymnasium, or a nice, brisk late evening walk with your partner, has the same switch-off effect. I have no doubt your imagination will conjure up other equally interesting formats of physical buffer activity, but then who am I to define the limits of physical activity that humans can engage in? The point is, you can SOAR any way you wish to.
Talk with a familiar stranger
An excellent way of switching off, even in the midst of a stressful day, is to talk with a familiar stranger, in or around your office. This could be the liftman, the catering boy, the receptionist, an executive in a totally different team which has nothing to do with your work, or even the paanwala or newspaper vendor who sits just outside your office. They have all the comfort of familiarity with you, yet they are relative strangers to your workplace. Talk to them about inane topics, including what they have eaten for lunch, or the popular colours that lift-commuters wear, or the low points of last week’s cricket match, or why pigs have wings. SOARing in this manner, even for a brief while, is very helpful and relaxing.
Get yourself a hobby
A hobby that you immerse yourself in is an excellent way of SOARing. This could be running, or music, or photography, or bird-watching, or cooking, or yoga. A hobby that you can undertake virtually every day, or at the very least every weekend, is best suited to switching off. Hobbies also help you plan your weekend wonderfully, and well in advance. Because a weekend with nothing to do often ends up being two miserable days when your mind will wander back to the unresolved stresses and tensions of your workplace. Cultivating a hobby requires both inclination and discipline, until it eventually becomes a positive addiction that is integral to your life. You long for it, and the possibility of engaging in it on the weekend creates positive expectations throughout the week. This way, you SOAR throughout the week too.
This is easier said than done, but the best way of switching off in today’s hyper digital age is to be very disciplined with your digital devices. Some countries in Europe have mandated times beyond which official emails cannot be sent or read, but then we are in India, where we email when we wish to. So a practical solution is to fix a time at night at which you stop looking at your email. For me, this is 10pm. You could also agree with your partner that the bedroom is off limits for digital cruising. I have not succeeded in this yet, but hope to make a breakthrough soon enough. Similarly, wake up to a nice cup of coffee and your morning newspaper, before you rush for your email or social media feeds. Do not become a slave to your mobile phone, because it will never let you switch off. Over weekends, if at all you need to look at your email to scan for anything urgent, do so only for a few minutes and then forget that email exists. This is a tough ask, but if you wish to SOAR, you have to bite the digital bullet.
Harish Bhat works with the Tata group. He SOARs when he writes, which he does assiduously over weekends. He is the author of The Curious Marketer.