How To Shut Off Your Work Mind

"Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.” ~ Lin Yutang

One of the most common reasons for engaging a coach is “time management”. Everyone struggles with how busy they are and how complicated their lives are. You have all these modern gadgets that are supposed to help you get more done in less time. Personally, what I find is that they work more as tethers than tools if we are not conscious of how we use them.

Now that vacations are over and we focus more on the last quarter of the year it may be helpful to reflect on how you spent your time off.  Did you bring your cell phone, laptop or iPad fully intending to be checking it on vacation. Do did you only travel where you could find an internet connection nearby?  

It's not that this is "bad" but there is no intention to rest or reflect when you take your electronics on vacation. You haven't set limits on your work.

There is actually a neurological reason that makes it so difficult to shut down your work-mind. It's called the Zeigarnik Effect.

Jennifer Deal, a senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership and an affiliated research scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California explains, "What is going on is that the brain holds on to something when it is incomplete. Think of that snippet of a song you can’t get out of your head. No matter how hard you try to forget it, it keeps bugging you. That’s the Zeigarnik Effect. But it doesn’t just happen with songs, it happens with work, too."

Your mind is still working on what you left behind or left incomplete. Your mind is still "full" of work. This may explain why it takes days for many people to actually begin to relax on vacation.

Personal trainers will tell you that one’s muscles actually become stronger not when you are working them, but indeed, when they are at rest. That is the time your body recovers and sets itself up to work harder the next time. Your mind is not unlike your bodies. You need rest and you need open “mental space”, time for reflection, in order to be at your most creative, efficient and optimal capability.

When you are tired, you don’t see opportunities, let alone leverage them. When you are overwhelmed, you miss important details and you communicate poorly often leading to conflict. When you are over-scheduled, you have no resources to fight any unexpected “fires” that inevitably crop up during your day.

To be truly productive, you should not allow yourself to be too busy.

Wouldn't you be more effective if you had rested?  Would your relationships be better if you communicate clearly and are present to another individual? What would having the space to daydream achieve for you in terms of your creativity, your well-being and your ability to anticipate future events, challenges and possibilities?

How to shut off your work-mind

Ms. Deal suggest that distraction and immersion in something else is the key to shutting down the work-mind. She writes, "One way to reduce the Zeigarnik Effect is to become so immersed in something else that your brain can’t hold on to the incomplete task any more...Another way is to turn the phone off and put it physically away, such as locking it in a safe. If you can’t look at it – that is, you can’t without going to substantial trouble – the brain itch will eventually die off because you can’t scratch it."

Back at work

When you return to work you can be more productive and less busy by focusing your efforts and being conscious of the decisions you make around how you spend your time. By working smarter and aligning with your natural abilities and focusing these on the outcomes you want you will eliminate distractions that consume time with little or no accomplishment. Identify what actions add value to the organization or to your goals. Consistently chose these actions over “busy-ness”.

Think in terms of 3 D’s – Do it. Dump it. or Delegate it.

Each call, each email, each person at your door is making a request for your time at that moment. It may require denying the request at the moment, scheduling a less intrusive time to address the request or consciously choosing to address the request if there is real value in it.

We all strive to make our lives work. There is no one formula for everyone. You must choose what it is you will keep and what you will eliminate, say no to or delegate. Take some time now to build in quiet spaces in your day.

And the next time you decide to take a few days vacation, consider engaging in an immersive activity, learning something new or simply putting away your phone or computer for some part of the time so your mind can take a vacation also.


If you'd like to identify where you are spending your time and how to better manage your time, DOWNLOAD MY TIME MANAGEMENT EXERCISE HERE.