Career advice

Trouble letting go of work in your spare time? Here are 7 ways to detach from your job

Many IDA members find it difficult to let go of work in their free time, even though they know that the brain needs rest. So here are some ideas on what you can do to shift your mental focus in your downtime.

You know you should not be doing anything other than driving when you drive your car. Similarly,  you ought to leave work behind when you're off work. However, IDA's work life consultant Eva Jakobsen knows that it is much easier said than done. A study shows that many IDA members find it difficult to let go of work in their leisure time.

The brain needs recovery in the same way as the rest of the body. It's an organ that needs to be looked after every day - and not just during the holidays. But how do you give your brain a rest when you can't turn it off when you decide to stop working?

Here are some ideas from Eva Jacobsen on successfully detaching yourself from work by giving your brain the best conditions for shifting its focus.

Be patient and practice taking time off

There are no quick fixes to give your brain a break from work if it's already hard for you. You need to start building some good new habits. It takes 3 months to build a habit, but after 14 days most people will feel an effect.

The list of ideas presented here is not a complete package that works for everyone. Therefore, you should pick out a few and try them out for a month. Maybe you're already doing some of the things, but need inspiration for more ways to break your habits. Be curious and inquisitive - and practice the art of letting your brain take the time off it needs.

7 tips to get away from work in your free time

1. Create a transition ritual between work and leisure

The downside of flexible work, where you can work anywhere at any time, is that it has become harder to define when we go to work and when we "just" sit with our tablet, mobile or PC. With some kind of transition ritual between work and leisure, you set a boundary that actually gives your body and brain a chance to adjust from performing and doing - to being and enjoying.

Transport to and from work is an obvious transition. However, it doesn't work as a rite of passage if you already start the morning by checking work emails on the train. Try a book, look out the window or close your eyes and let your mind wander aimlessly. If you have the time, get off one station earlier than usual and walk the rest of the way to work or home.

On the bike and in the car, many people listen to radio and podcasts, and maybe it works as a good transition for you. But try - especially with the return trip - to make your transport time free of brainwork. When you give your brain time to process your workday, thoughts about work will take up less of your time when you get home.

If you work at home, start and end the day with a short walk in the garden or neighborhood, paying attention to your surroundings.

Changing clothes can also be a kind of rite of passage, as it gives your body a signal that you're changing focus and need to do something else.

Finally, 3 deep breaths is a very simple way to create a small transition or distance to the work. And breathing you can do everywhere, fortunately.

2. Have work-free zones at home

The home workplace can give the impression that work has invaded the home. You can therefore define places at home where you work and where you can have work-free zones.

If you have a spare room at home, it's easier to confine your work to a space that you can close the door to when you're not working. And let the room be just a place to work. After all, your body remembers and will send your brain into work mode if you sit in the same place during your free time.

If you are not lucky enough to have a spare room for an office in your home, choose a chair and a place on the table where you have an "office". And create zones that are work-free - your bed, for example.

Maybe you work at home to save commuting time, but you don't actually enjoy it or find it hard to let go of work when you have time off. In this situation, you could try working elsewhere, for example at the local library, a café or borrowing a room from a nearby friend or neighbour.

Read about your rights when working at home

3. Pack away work-related ideas

You're probably familiar with finding the solution to a work-related problem in the shower, while walking or cleaning. And what do you do with those good ideas when you want to take some time off?

Don't use your work PC or work email to jot it down, as your brain will typically be distracted by other work-related content. Instead, pack away the idea by writing it down - preferably on a piece of paper or as a note on your phone. Spend a few words and a short amount of time on it, just enough for you to come back to the idea when you're back at work.

Instead of taking notes straight away, you can also think of one word in the solution that you can remember until you get home. If you can't remember the solution after an hour, it might not be that good after all.

4. Control your mobile phone and don't let it control you

Work emails on your mobile phone pose a challenge to letting go of work when you take time off. You might find yourself just checking your work email while your kids play. But if there's a pesky email, it can take a long time for your brain to get back to the playground or dinner with friends. This kind of "chores" may seem innocent, but they damage your ability to clear your mind and be present.

Most people have separated their private and work inboxes, but if you don't, you might want to start here. Then mute notifications of new work emails on your mobile, and finally, you can put the app with your work email at the back of your mobile so you don't see when new messages arrive.

If you don't want to have two mobile phones, you can check whether your mobile can contain two SIM cards, one for your home number and one for your work number.

Many IDA members have their mobile and phone usage paid for by their workplace, but that doesn't mean you have to check and answer emails when you're off work. Of course, there may be times when there are urgent tasks that you are responsible for getting done, and in those cases you can arrange with your manager and colleagues for them to call or text you. That way, you don't have to go around checking your email at all hours.

If you have not already discussed or have rules on how and when to be contacted in exceptional situations, have a dialogue about it with your colleagues or ask your manager. It might be a good idea to make a prioritised list of which channels (phone, text, email, teams, etc.) to use.

Read about your rights regarding your employer's collection of data when you use your mobile phone in your free time

5. Make clear agreements on availability so you don't work for free

A clear agreement with your manager about whether you will be available in your free time is hugely important to be able to let go of work outside work hours.

However, you also need to set expectations with yourself. It may not be your workplace that expects you to be available, but your own idea of what it takes to be a responsible employee. Think of it like taking a pay cut if you work too much without recording it. Your work in your spare time helps to depress your salary and can create unrealistic expectations of what you should be able to achieve in your position.

Also remember to use your union rep  and health and safety representative to find out what the rules are at your workplace or if you need support for a conversation with your manager.

IDA's legal advisers are also ready to advise you on negotiating additional pay if there is a requirement for you to be available over and above your hours or if you are employed on a non-exempt basis.

Find out how you can get help from your elected representatives

Log in and write to IDA's legal advisers

Learn about rules for working hours

6. Take breaks, be a time realist and shut down before leaving work

It's easier to let go of work in your free time if you also have mentally healthy habits during working hours. If you take breaks during the working day, you'll also be better able to take time off during the big breaks between working days.

It can be extra hard to let go of work when you take time off if you never get to the tasks during the working day that you had envisioned. If you have a never-ending to-do list that never gets checked off, you may be a time optimist and need to adjust your demands to what you can actually achieve.

Set aside 5-10 minutes in your calendar at the end of the day to shut down properly before you go home or leave the home office. Close the tabs and documents you've finished, and if you have emails you've started but can't finish, save them as drafts.

Get 5 tips for breaks that give you peace and energy

Use the immersion pyramid from BFA for a brain-friendly way of working (In Danish)

7. Find out what makes you happy to do in your free time

You best release your work by getting caught up and preoccupied with something else. If you have a family at home, there are naturally the needs of others to deal with. But that's not necessarily enough to mentally let go of work.

Many IDA members perform a great deal of complex brain work at a screen, and it's too taxing on the brain if you're also primarily up in the air, so to speak, in your spare time. You need to take time to focus on your body, for example, in the form of practical work or sport.

If you are very analytical on a daily basis, it can be beneficial for the brain to use other parts and do something creative and sensual, for example. Activities that take your mind off time and place are a healthy way of restoring the brain - and for some, this can be screen time.

For many people it is not easy to answer which activities are good for them. If you feel this way, it can take some time to feel and find out. One idea might be to go for a walk with a good friend, who will ask what activities you did in the past that did you good, and maybe you need to go all the way back to hobbies of your youth.

Doing things that make you happy while allowing your brain to recover makes you better able to do your tasks the next day - and also makes you a better friend/parent because you are more present and can talk about something other than your work.