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How to Forget About Work When You're On Vacation

10 November 2021

We often forget to take real work breaks. 

Yes, we may be running wild in Amsterdam or basking under the sun in Tulum but our mind is still at work, thinking of everything we have to do once the vacation is done or if a client hasn’t been stolen by the competition. The to-do list just keeps on going in our head while we try to stay present drinking margaritas in Bali with our friends. 

The benefits of taking a break are clear. The time can be used to recharge oneself and come back to work with full attention to tasks and assignments. Time away allows an employee to gain a fresh perspective, especially after being subjected to solving complex problems all the time. The lack of motivation results in sitting long hours at a desk job without doing anything—counterproductive at its best and in dire need of a pause from work life. The boss even demanded you to take a break. 

bring our laptop to the beach to check emails

Yet even though we know we need to refresh or restart, it’s just hard to keep our minds off of work. It’s what our brains have been trained to do in the past couple of months, even years. It’s almost second nature for us to check one last assignment even if we signed off at work early, bring our laptop to the beach to check emails while we’re supposed to be out for a few days, or mentally go through every task in our to-do list. Sometimes, people even dream about work. 

If your mind is like this, it means you won’t be able to reap the benefits of a work break. It does not mean however that you should just go home and cancel all your planned trip activities. There are habits that cognitive-behavioral therapy has taught us and you could apply by following these tips: 

dedicating time to hobbies such as painting

Focus on what you would do rather than thinking about what you are not going to do. 

According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), people tend to gear their goals on what they’re not going to do; for example, the goal for this trip is to not think about work. Having this kind of “negative goal” would most likely fail because a habit system only works if you perform an action. You won’t be able to create a habit by avoiding action. Second, according to HBR, having negative goals means “constantly being vigilant about your behavior” because if not, you would end up doing the action you are avoiding. 

This is why you have to change your negative goal of “Do not think about work” to actionable goals such as “I will do 10 laps in the pool today” or “I will eat three full meals at the hotel restaurant.” You must create a very specific plan on what you will do on your free night or during your three days in Fiji. Again, the plan must center on activities that will be performed in place of finishing work. 

It can be dedicating time to hobbies such as painting or playing a musical instrument. You may also plan to learn a new language or to take a baking class. You may want to take up a volunteer project at a cause that matters to you or commit to a rigid, strict workout plan with a gym trainer. These mindful activities will be filling in your free time that you would have less energy to even have one thought about work.

You are still human though and it can’t be avoided that your mind may continue ruminating about your to-do list at work. Harvard Business Review has two tips to deal with these intrusive thoughts. The first is to do a mindful activity such as reading a book, solving a puzzle, or talking to a friend. If it doesn’t work, the other tip is to always have your journal with you so that you could reach for it anytime and write down what is currently bothering your mind. “It is often helpful to get the things that are bothering you outside of yourself,” HBR advised. Because sometimes, or most of the time, our thoughts about work are not only the tasks we have to do but also what’s making us stressed, anxious, and insecure about our work. 

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Change your environment. 

Your work and leisure environments must assist you in achieving your goal of mindfully doing things outside of work. Avoid diving back into old habits by deliberately removing in the environment things that remind you of the hobby you are trying to eliminate. For example, if you used to be a chain-smoker, leaving cigarettes on your desk won’t be helpful to stop the addiction. Or if you want a work-life balance, leaving the computer on and always being on your phone isn’t gonna help you develop a new behavior. 

One way to not be tempted to do work is to make it difficult for yourself to give in to that action. For example, you work as a social media specialist. You never really forget about work while you’re just casually scrolling down your feed, right? To take your mind off of it, one solution is to uninstall the application on your phone. It would be such a hassle to reinstall and uninstall the app which will make you think twice if you really want to check the app for work. 

You may also dedicate an area at home that is not for work. This place should be solely and strictly used as an area for nonwork things so that your mind and body will actively associate it to the nonwork agenda. Take for instance your personal bedroom. Don’t bring work once you step foot inside that room because it should be a place of relaxation and rest. Having an Electric Adjustable Bed Frame may even make the bedroom more irresistible and guarantee you a work-free and relaxed mind. FlexiSpot has the EB011 that will help you have a good night’s sleep or a luxurious nap within the workday.

Expose yourself to your fear at work

Expose yourself to your fear at work and learn that it’s actually not scary or threatening at all. 

What exactly is it about work that you’re fearing about? Do it and see for yourself that you won’t actually be in trouble if you probably reply to an email the next day or do not check your email for the whole weekend.