The Struggle with Switching Off

By Andy Venables
21st July 2021

When was the last time you took a break from work? Actually switching off from your role and responsibilities.

I don’t just mean go on holiday, I mean actually switching off your phone, emails and social media?


Let’s Set the Scene…

2020 has been without question one of the most challenging years for decades and we are only in August! I’ve seen from a farm business perspective the challenges of operating in lock-down with reduced staff, challenges in getting deliveries, and having to reduce production due to the closure of the food service industries.

At Hillsgreen we were very lucky to have systems in place to smoothly move to home working but like a lot of businesses, we spent March and April fire fighting for our clients. Working closely with them to understand their circumstances:

  • which businesses couldn’t operate
  • which businesses needed to increase their marketing activity due to increased demand
  • and which businesses wanted to use this time to explore new opportunities

I am fairly certain that a lot of people that have worked through lockdown have been running on adrenaline, the challenge is adrenaline can’t last forever! As lockdown has started to be relaxed and we start to get some clarity on the “new normal” it is clear the adrenaline with many people has subsided and they have reached burn out!

Many have not only continued to work during lockdown, but also have had the added juggling act of childcare! I have had plenty of Zoom meetings (sometimes even a Rural Roundtable!) where I have had my 1-year-old sat on my knee, my wife trying to teach secondary school kids via Zoom in the next room all whilst our 2 boys are turning our living room into a playroom! I for one was in need of a holiday!

Taking a holiday or taking a break?

Holidays used to be a time to switch off, relax and spend time with friends or family, but in recent years with most people having their phone on them 24/7 they have been unable to take a break from work. In fact, according to research from RescueTime, on average we pick up our phones 58 times each day. Smartphones are great, but connecting up your emails, social media accounts and the ease of taking a quick call or replying to a WhatsApp means they never actually allow you to switch off.

You can be on holiday, but still checking emails, taking calls, and following what’s going on via Social Media. Your body may be taking a physical break from work, but your head is not! You may feel like you are helping your team, clients, or yourself by keeping on top of work while you are away, but actually you are doing the opposite. If you have reached burn out you are continuing to let your body’s fuel tank run on empty and not actually charge up. You don’t then return to work feeling refreshed and ready to go, you get back to work and feel like you have never been away!

Not only this but even if you think your nearest and dearest do not mind you checking emails, taking phone calls, or even think they don’t notice…..they do! Especially the kids! They will definitely tell you if you have not been present with them and are distracted by work. Give them a break too from your work and make them see you are spending quality time with them.

Top Tips for Switching Off:

Plan in advance
Schedule some time off ideally 1-2 weeks, but at least a few days.

Before you break delegate any urgent and important work to someone to see to while you are away

Let people know
Give your team and key clients (if applicable) notice that you will be away and most importantly won’t be checking emails!

Put on your out of office!
Set up an automated out of office reply to emails and a voice mail message if applicable on your phone. Don’t just say… “You are on annual leave, but if it is important to please call!” Tell them you are having a holiday and direct them to someone in your team who can deal with something in your absence. Even if you work for yourself you need to have a break and good clients will respect that and wait for you to return.

Give your team permission to get in touch
If your team isn’t able to sort a problem, let them know they can send you a WhatsApp. That way they can ensure you are only contacted for something that needs your input and can’t wait.

Don’t just turn off, delete!
Turning your emails and social media off isn’t good enough, it is too easy to login for a sneaky look! Delete your email account and social media apps.

Don’t be tempted to check in until your first day back!
You’ve enjoyed your time off and you want to start preparing for your next week…well don’t! One of “those” emails is bound to be in there and could put you in a negative mood before you head into work. End your time off on a high, you can deal with catching up on your first day back when you are in the right frame of mind.

Give it a go!

I recently followed these tips, I deleted my emails off my phone for the first time in 4 years and it was just what I needed! As an MD of a digital marketing agency it may seem counter-intuitive, but I also deleted all Social Media Apps off my phone too. Completely switching off from work-related content allowed me to spend some quality time with my family and re-charge!

Not only did this mean that my wife commented that she felt I was actually “on-holiday” with them for the first time in 4 years, but it actually meant I was able to do a lot of quality thinking time.

I once attended an event where I listened to Kate Marshall speak and one thing that stuck with me. The importance of scheduling 30-40mins a day thinking time. At the time I remember thinking, is that really going to add value? Well after a week where I had no work distractions and plenty of time to think I am definitely an advocate of this! Just because you are switching off with work, it doesn’t mean you don’t think about it. But, from experience this time allowed me to come up with several ideas and solve a couple of challenges. Not only this I returned to work feeling like I was match fit and keen to get stuck in!

Avoiding Burn Out

Now back in work refreshed and starting to adapt to the “new normal” it is important that you look after yourself to ensure you stay match fit, so make sure you make time to do the following:

  1. Eat Well
  2. Exercise
  3. Plan in daily thinking time (even if it is while you are exercising!)
  4. Spend time doing something you enjoy

If you haven’t done so already, book some time off work to switch off. And if you have already taken “annual leave” from work, ask yourself if you switched off? Or better still ask your nearest and dearest if you switched off….and if you get the answer that you didn’t, ensure you do next time!

If you have any other top tips for switching off, please share them in the comments below.

Stay safe and most importantly look after yourself!

Originally published August 2020.


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