I completely unplugged from work at night for one full week and this is what happened

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A thought occurred to me the other night, as I watched the love of my life typing on her laptop on the couch, nervously preparing documents for upcoming meetings.

“I’ve been there,” I said quietly.

It’s an alarming trend we can all probably relate to. Research indicates that it’s harder than ever for professionals to unplug from work at night.

In fact, a recent study by LinkedIn noted that 70% of professionals don’t fully unplug from work. What’s more, a study by Microsoft found that 40% of people work outside of regular hours in a manner that interferes with family time, shedding light on the battle that so many have with work-life balance.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic, during which many workers are operating from home offices, has made it tougher than ever to unplug from work. There are numerous tips for unplugging from work, even when you’re currently working remotely, like disabling notifications on your electronic devices at night. Still, it’s an endless struggle for many.

In my career, jobs have often become obsessions as opposed to vocations. Work-life balance is a concept I’ve always grappled with.

That’s why I recently issued myself a challenge. I decided to force myself, for five straight nights, to completely unplug from work. That’s a tall task these days — given the countless electronic devices available to us — yet it’s one that can noticeably improve your mental well-being.

The challenges

In recent years, my smartphone may as well have been tethered to my wrist. I always felt like I had to respond to every instant message at night or check my various email accounts several times.

I never completely pulled away from work, even late at night. And, as a result, anxiety was a constant companion.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my career, it’s that when you never unplug from the daily grind, work can become overwhelming. Research from Utah State University supports my claim, noting that a person’s use of their mobile device for work during family time leads to higher instances of burnout.

So, when I tried to unplug from work for five straight nights, it was like a coffee addict trying to kick caffeine.

My hand always wanted to reach for my iPhone or my laptop. By Tuesday night, I wondered: Is there a support group for this? Yet, I was determined to try and unplug at night, at least for one week.

The pleasant surprises

The only way for someone like me to overcome an addiction like frequent cell phone use is with distractions. Lots of them.

Fortunately, it didn’t take terribly long for me to notice some encouraging things when I pulled away from my phone and laptop after 5 p.m. For example, I took note of my infant daughter’s beautiful smile and pleasant demeanor.

In general, I played with my kids more, inciting tickle fights, or dancing to cheesy ‘80s music. I rediscovered how much my son’s laughter warms my heart. I took them for walks, played in piles of leaves, and observed vivid autumn sunsets.

And, instead of checking emails or thinking about my next big work project, I played with my dog. I meditated. I went grocery shopping.
And, for a few glorious days, I did not read texts from colleagues speculating how the presidential election would impact the business. I’ve got to say, it was refreshing.

The takeaway

Not gonna lie: It was difficult pulling myself away from work for five straight nights. And, it’ll be an ongoing process moving forward.

But I’m continuing to remind myself: This is the ultimate goal — to find a job that isn’t all-consuming, seemingly around the clock.

It’s worth noting: Our society survived just fine without cell phones in the past — not all that long ago, in fact. So, you can survive a few hours’ worth of withdrawal symptoms at night, as your iPhone sits on its charger.

In fact, your life, eventually, will be richer because of it.