top of page

How do you switch off?

"Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you." - Anne Lamont

There are at least two problems with today’s corporate life.


Firstly, the once impermeable line between work and leisure has been blurred. Technologies have allowed us to access work outside the office and whilst it has had its benefits it has also encroached upon time once reserved for non-work activities. A temptation to ‘quickly check my emails’ means that 15mins later I have used up leisure time with low priority work matters.


Secondly, after a day of high action, it is tough to taper down the intensity. That feeling of being part tired and part wired leaves people uncertain how to relax and without a strategy to switch off, it takes longer to unwind and eventually sleep.


The important topic of switching off was requested by a long-time reader - thank you. We are going to cover what switching off is, its history, myths, importance and how to differentiate between rest and time wasted.

What is switching off?

Switching off is unplugging ourselves in an always-on world. It is both a physical and mental act. We need to switch off from work, health and relationship stress or any other intense mental focus.

The History of switching off

In many cultures there is still a Sabbath day or day of rest. This was a normal feature of UK weekly life and it was considered wise and noble to observe it. Many shops were not open on Sundays until relatively recently - the UK only allowed supermarkets to open on a Sunday in 1994.

Rest is also culturally integrated into daily cycles with siestas in hot climates, set prayer times in many countries and copious cups of tea - made into longer breaks by tea rituals.

There is also a seasonal aspect to life where rest is allocated to the time where there is less going on. In many cultures there are festivals after the sewing and reaping of crops and summer and winter festivals.

Culturally, festivals, daily rituals and natural seasons, punctuated time so that there was allocated time for switching off. This is not the case for corporate jobs where there is always one more thing you can do, and very little daily, or seasonal rhythm to work.

Myths around switching off

We need to bust a few myths before we get started:

  • "Switching off is unproductive" - it is not. You are less productive if you overdo things.

  • "Rest is inactivity" - it is not. You could choose to do something active and still feel rested afterwards

  • "It's a sign of weakness" - it is not. People respect those who use their time wisely.

Not switching off can lead to burnout. The signs are unmistakable: exhaustion, irritability, reduced productivity and that flat feeling where nothing is as exciting as it once was.

Why do we need to switch off?


In any training or working plan I have seen, there is time for high intensity, low/medium intensity, and rest. The purpose of high intensity is to stretch meet imminent deadlines. The purpose of low/medium intensity is for endurance - sustainably working for long periods on the priority.


But the purpose of rest is not spoken about enough. It is the time that people reflect, spend with family and friends, pursue hobbies and interests, and otherwise get to feel that their life is richer than duty.

In crafting a life that includes dedicated 'off' time, we not only enhance our own well-being but also enrich our contributions to our work and relationships. Embracing the act of switching off isn't a luxury; it's a fundamental component of a balanced, thoughtful life.

Switching off - the building blocks

In a book that I have recommended before "The art of rest" by Claudia Hammond, the top 10 ways to rest are discussed at length. They all have most of the following building blocks:

  1. Giving yourself permission to switch off and expecting nothing from that time

  2. Being alone or not engaging with anyone

  3. Something of low intensity so your mind can wander away from your worries

  4. Reducing visual stimulation

  5. Activating happy hormones

The Top 10 ways to rest:

There are obviously many other activities that might be more restful for you individually - a massage, jog, or speaking to someone whose I'mcompany you enjoy. Not all non-work activities are restful though.

What isn't restful?

Before we try and put together a switching off strategy, there are some activities that are neither productive nor restful and it is useful to identify them to eliminate them as mush as we can:

  • Doom-scrolling the news or social media browsing

  • Watching low engagement TV

  • Procrastinating

  • Complaining

  • Worrying about things out of your control

  • Comfort eating

5 point plan to switch off

  1. Give yourself a mission to switch off more. This recognises rest is essential and is worthy of planning.

  2. Choose when to switch off. On the commute, when you walk in the door at home, the weekends, the long holidays in August or some other daily/seasonal event.

  3. Recognise before you switch off that you are about to spend some time doing it.

  4. Find the restful activity that works for you, either from the list above or something you know works for you. Right now, I am in a better groove with switching off. I try and get a few 10-15min walks in, during the day, use commutes home to listen to comedy podcasts, read 20-30 minutes before I sleep and when ferrying the kids around, use the waiting time to walk, read or watch episodes of "The Wire". It is good to be prepared for what to be able to do when you have 10minutes of dead time. A long series or some favourite podcasts works very well.

  5. Remind yourself at the end of the day, that you have had some respite and whilst it might not be as long as you would like, you made the most of your time.

So what?

  1. Acknowledge the need to switch off to prevent burnout and enrich your day, recognising it as a productive and essential part of a balanced life.

  2. Plan your switching off moments, whether daily or seasonally, and engage in activities that truly provide rest and detachment.

  3. Reflect on your restful moments to appreciate their value and avoid some of the time-wasting activities we all do to make sure you recharge effectively.

Happy switching off!

Thank you for joining. Next week "Critical thinking - the basics". Sign up to the subscription list on Blog | Deciders ( Follow me on twitter: @Decidersblog 


bottom of page