Take Back Your Time Off: 7 Tips for Unplugging from Work

unplug from work

It can be hard to completely escape from work when the day’s done—especially if you’re working from home. It’s so easy to just stay on your computer past 5 p.m. or answer a few emails throughout the evening. But for many Americans, this work-centered mindset also creeps into vacation time.

In fact, one study showed that while Americans received 15 paid vacation days on average, they took only 12—leaving a collective 375 million vacation days on the table. Plus, nearly 70% of people admit to checking work emails while on vacation out of a fear of falling behind.

While it might feel impossible—and even unwise—to completely disconnect from work more often, it’s actually important that we do. Having more downtime refreshes us and helps spark creativity, improve innovative thinking, and increase productivity. On the flip side, a work-life imbalance has a number of negative effects, such as stress impacting personal lives, difficulty sleeping, eye strain, and depression.

Let’s explore some ways to help yourself unplug, recharge, and spend time with loved ones—which becomes especially important during the holiday season.

1. Stop Checking Your Phone

Most of us have a bad habit of looking at our phones too much. But when you’re constantly checking work email and messages, you might be even more distracted than if you were just checking social media. To help break this habit, turn off your push notifications and alert sounds for your email and work messaging apps. You can also leave your phone in another room and only answer it for a non-work call.

2. Establish Boundaries

If you’re worried about the ramifications of a coworker not being able to reach you immediately, it can help to set some boundaries. Let colleagues know ahead of time when you won’t be online or answering email/calls. This way, people can either get your help beforehand or at least know they need to wait and won’t (or shouldn’t) be upset about it.

3. Set No-Work Zones

It can be helpful to relegate your work to specific rooms in your house, especially if you’re working from home. If you have a separate office, try to make that the only room in which you work. But if you normally work in your living room or at your kitchen table, make it a point to establish one place where you might work after hours.

4. Say No

This might be one of the hardest things to do at work. Many of us keep taking on projects because we want to be helpful, get ahead, or are afraid to say we can’t do something. But if all this new work starts leaking into your personal life, it’s time to start saying no. If you don’t feel comfortable completely turning down a request, try suggesting a way you could help that doesn’t involve a big-time investment on your part.

5. Delegate

It’s hard to let go of projects—especially when you believe that no one else could possibly do them right. But this way of thinking can lead to always feeling overloaded and overwhelmed. Learn how to divide work among your team and even ask for assistance when you need it from your peers.

6. Dive into a Hobby

To unplug from work, it can be helpful to plug into another activity. This way, your mind is focused on something else, and you’re less likely to be tempted to check in on work. And of course, doing something you love is a great way to de-stress. Whether it’s playing the guitar, woodworking, or baking, do something that brings you joy when you’re off the clock.

7. Be Present

This is easier said than done, but try to throw yourself into the moment, so you’re not only less tempted to check emails but more likely to enjoy your time off. Focus on what’s happening right in front of you—from family dinners to opening presents to good conversations with friends—and save your professional worries for the workday.

You know how restarting a computer often fixes whatever problem you’re having? The same goes for unplugging from work. So take those vacation days, savor the moment, and enjoy the magic of the holiday season.