Learning How to Switch Off Again

This weekend I did something novel – I took time off. That might sound pretty standard for most people, but over the past few years, I think I’d be lucky to amass more than a couple of days off in a row. Even at that, my weekend off was unintentional and purely down to the fact that I was too ill to do much other than binge watch The Office from the comfort of my bed. Add in the fact that Paddy had to forcibly remove my laptop from my hands to force me to rest, and you’ve got a pretty clear idea of my bad habits and how difficult I find it to switch off.

A pair of glasses sitting on top of a smartphone and a book titled Why Social Media is Ruining Your Life

This weekend served as a stark reminder of how much I struggle to switch off nowadays and how little I let myself take a break from work. I think this has a few contributing factors, one of which being the fact that my main “hobby”, aka this blog, is primarily based online. Add in the joys of being self-employed, with a large chunk of my work dependent on social media or at the very least a WiFi connection, and you’ve got a recipe for burnout.

I’ve spoken before about the pressure I put myself under and how I struggle to be less busy. It took me a while to realise just how detrimental this has been to my health, and it’s only been recently that I decided it was time to make a conscious change for the sake of my sanity. 

This was spurred, in part, by the release of Apple’s Screen Time feature, which painstakingly documents every minute you spend on your phone and lays it out in shiny graphs to really hammer the point home. After just one week of activating the feature, I was shocked to discover that I was spending an average of 38 hours a week on my phone. That’s over a day and a half glued to that little screen, and it doesn’t even count the endless hours I spend on my computer, either.

It’s probably ironic that I’m turning my mission to get better at spending time relaxing into a blog post, but hey, I’m nothing if not predictable. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of the ways I’m teaching myself how to switch off after a long day.

Apple iPhone 8 Plus showing Apple ScreenTime function, on top of book titled Why Social Media is Ruining Your Life

Setting Limits

I lack good boundaries when it comes to my phone, so my first port of call was attempting to break my habit of picking up my phone as soon as my concentration starts to dwindle. Previously, I found myself easily wasting an hour scrolling through Instagram or getting lost on Reddit before bed. It wasn’t productive, it wasn’t helping me prepare for the end of the day and it certainly wasn’t doing any favours for my mental health.

When Screen Time was introduced and I first received that dreaded notification informing me that my weekly report was ready to view, I decided to put the time limits to the test. For the last month, I’ve limited myself to 2 hours of Instagram a day, and after 9pm the only apps I can access on my phone are Whatsapp, Headspace and my Podcasts. This week, I’m cutting it down even further so that I can only spend a maximum of one hour a day on Instagram, and my apps will be locked after 8pm. 

It was an adjustment at first, and I’ve definitely had blips, but I’ve noticed a definite difference in how much I use my phone just from putting these limits in place. Although my usage crept back up over the weekend whilst I was ill, I’ve already cut an average of 18 hours from my weekly usage time, and it’s decreasing every week. Hopefully, this continues!

Turning Off Notifications

My phone is definitely my crutch, and it’s something I know I need to tackle more. Inspired by this post about how to switch off at the end of the working day on the RookieOven blog, as well as a chat with Julia when I was in Liverpool last month, I decided it was time to have a look at my notifications. 

Whilst I haven’t turned off my notifications entirely (hello anxiety telling me my loved ones will die in a plane crash if I put my phone on flight mode), I have managed to cut the distractions down a lot. Nothing bad has happened just because I didn’t see a tweet straight away, and the messages are still there waiting if I wait until my lunch break instead. Now, I only get notifications for direct messages and important contacts, so I’m less prone to being distracted by my phone lighting up with “breaking news” alerts that leave me in a Twitter black hole.

I’ve also stopped keeping my emails open all day, and I’m trying to stick to checking them twice a day. I put an autoresponder on my inbox explaining that I have a high workload and that I try to reply to emails on a Monday, so I’m checking my messages a lot less and feeling less overwhelmed overall.

Close up photo of Apple iPhone 8 Plus showing the ScreenTime function

Creating Structure

I don’t know how I’d get anything done without a serious organisation system, and I’ve been taking this a step further recently. Instead of allocating a few tasks to a day, I’ve started breaking down my entire daily schedule in my calendar and time blocking the shit out of my life. This is a practice that I want to continue into the new year, to the point that I’ve specifically bought a planner that breaks the day down into hourly slots.

My calendar now contains a breakdown of my day down to tiny details like what time I’m waking up, when I have to take breaks and when I need to turn my computer off. I include my travel time for my commute to uni, schedule in time for getting ready and – most importantly – set myself clear cut time off. I am not good at taking breaks, which would probably be a huge help when it comes to figuring out how to switch off, so I’ve made sure to pencil them into my agenda for the day so that they’re a priority.

Get Moving

I think one of the main issues with my struggle to switch off comes from the fact that I do work from home a lot, and I have a bad habit of picking up my laptop to finish coursework on the couch after dinner. I’m trying to make more of an effort to get outside of the house during my working from home days and just move more in general.

I’ve fallen out of the habit of going to the gym, but I’m taking part in a step challenge and since picking up a fitness monitor I’ve realised how painfully little I move during the day. I’m trying to combat this by making more time to walk and exercise, which in turn is helping me get better at switching off. 

This part definitely needs some more work, but know that I know the difference exercise can make for helping me to switch off at the end of the day I’m making more of an effort to include it in my daily routine. I’ve signed up for an online fitness programme now too, so that even if I can’t make it along to the gym I can still fit in a quick workout at the end of the day.

Apple iPhone 8 Plus showing ScreenTime graph on top of book titled Why Social Media is Ruining Your Life

Indulging Offline Hobbies

The Sims counts as offline, ok? Like I said earlier, a lot of the ways I enjoy spending my time revolve around the internet, which has blurred the lines between work and play and left me struggling to know how to switch off. Since making the conscious decision to make more of an effort to switch off properly, I’ve started trying to focus more on the hobbies that don’t need an internet connection.

For the most part, this has looked like reading more, which is never a bad thing for me. I’ve completed my Goodreads Challenge for 2018, meaning I’ve finished over 40 books this year. Getting lost in a good book has always been my favourite way to switch off, so I’m making more of an effort to pick up a book instead of scrolling through Instagram for another hour.

Although this is just the start of my mission to learn how to switch off properly, there is definitely more work to be done. I find it really difficult to properly relax, as I’m always beating myself up about getting ahead with work or working on my coursework, but I’ve noticed a real difference in my behaviour and attitude towards relaxation.

This is just a small step towards getting better at switching off, and I’d love to hear how you combat the pressure to always be busy in the comments. Tell me what I need to be doing better, and share your top tips for breaking the scrolling habit.