5 ways to maximise your after work time to improve your health and productivity.
I don't mind working hard. And in my graphic design business I find it so enjoyable that I often work longer then normal hours and feel totally fine about it! However even if you are like me, it is still super important that we have down time. And what we do with that down time in the evening actually improves our health, our recovery, our personal resources and our productivity the next day.
If we continue to push ourselves with work demands, and don’t take time to recover, then research shows that we have higher risk of chronic physical and mental impairment, cardiovascular disease and even an increased risk of death. Scary right? But the solution is pretty simple, and actually pretty nice.
The answer is self care - but particularly self care that falls under 5 main headings:
This basically means detaching yourself from work related activities and mentally switching off. It could include things like not checking work emails all night long, not answering work calls in the evening and even trying to stop even thinking about work after hours. It means not just physically leaving the work environment, but mentally leaving it as well.
I think this one is particularly important to remember for those of us who work as freelancers or in self employed positions. It is easy for someone who works online or from home to never really leave their work. This might include things like researching a new blog in the evening, checking out new fonts and graphics, fiddling with their website, writing or responding to emails or looking at inspiring images on Pinterest. While these things can be fun and enjoyable (for me included!), it keeps us hooked in to the work cycle. There is no break. And this means no recovery. Which is why detachment - at least a few nights a week - is so important.
I like to do this through watching a TV series or a movie. Sometimes I am in the mood for something silly like reality TV (The Block - a renovation competition fuelled by drama and sleepless nights- really switches my light on), or easy watching TV comedies like Seinfeld, or old movies like the Harry Potter series, or Jurassic Park. It’s weird that old actions like Jurassic Park and Twister are some of my favourites, but the action and sounds in them just help me to really switch off and phase out.
This is when learn we something new and challenging. In order to achieve mastery we might still need to put some mental effort in - so it may not be as easy as detaching - however it can give us new skills, help our brain, give us a sense of achievement and reward, and can make us feel good.
This could include things like learning a new language, going rock climbing, or learning a new hobby. For me this has included trying to learn a new language (I say trying because I did get somewhere, but not that far! But I enjoyed it while I did it!). Duolingo is an awesome free app for language learning that also makes it feel like a fun little challenge. I also find learning new things like graphic design tools and tips rewarding. Or sometimes I might do something a little less challenging like knitting or drawing :)
This one is pretty obvious - most of us know what relaxation means! Relaxation helps to restore positive emotions, reduce stress and help the body to recover. Relaxation also can help improve your health.
Relaxation, however, can mean different things to different people. You can practice relaxation by focussing on the mind, like doing mediation or progressive muscle relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation is something I teach to my clients a lot. This includes basically focussing on one muscle at a time and tensing and releasing that muscle to help fatigue it and also really learn what it means to fully feel relaxed within the body.
Relaxation could also mean doing things like yoga, stretching, doing a light walk outside or listening to music.
This essentially means that we need to be able to choose our after work activity in order to recover our bodies. When we feel in control we generally feel higher levels of psychological wellbeing and less distress. When we don’t have control, however, we tend to feel stressed and experience lower self worth, which can be associated with anxiety and depression.
This makes sense to me. It sucks when we feel we “have” to do something after work, especially something we don’t want to! Perhaps an example of this could be meeting up with people for drinks or dinner, and even though you like them and know you could have a good time, feeling that you must go and that you can’t cancel can reduce the overall sense of control. This is even harder for parents, as they do often have less control - maybe picking up their kids from sport, preparing dinner or making school related projects.
While having control every night might not be possible, it is more important to have an overall sense of control. So while we might need to pick up kids, perhaps we could control what we watch on TV later that night, or even what we make for dinner. And we don’t have to have control every single evening in order to recover- this just needs to be more often then not.
In a recent research article they found that another key element of recovery was pleasure. It makes sense - we need to feel good in order to recover properly. Experiencing pleasure during the evening can help us recover not only that evening, but even throughout the next work day. And pleasure can also help to undo cardiovascular damage from negative emotions! So it’s pretty important.
This one is kind of an overarching element that needs to take part in each of the above. So finding pleasure because we are detaching is important. If we are sitting and doing a detached type of activity, like watching TV, but sitting there wishing we weren’t, then we probably aren’t finding it pleasurable and therefore it won’t help us recover as much. Or if the mastery is becoming too challenging, or too frustrating then our pleasure is reduced. This certainly has happened to me when trying to knit or draw - sometimes it is really fun and enjoyable and I feel a sense of achievement, but other times it can start to feel really frustrating and then I am definitely not feeling a sense of pleasure!
What to take away:
In order to properly recover - to increase our productivity at work and look after our health - we need to practice detachment, mastery, relaxation and control. Not every single one needs to be present every night as we might have a preference for one style (detachment is probably my favourite!) but we do need to make sure this happens more often then not. And to really get benefit from those things we need to make sure we are experiencing pleasure.
Basically in order to feel good, we need to feel good! Sounds good to me :) Do we need a better reason!?
What do you think? Do you prefer one type over another? Let me know!