Unable to 'switch off' during the summer holidays? This will help

With summer comes the holidays and the gloriousness that is our Out of Office. But so many of us struggle to leave our work behind. So much so, the bulk of us never really do switch off. Career psychologist Sinéad Brady says learning Cognitive Shutdown is key if we are to feel rested over our annual leave. 


"Cognitive Shutdown is giving yourself permission to take the time that you need to rest, relax and recalibrate on a daily, weekly and monthly basis," Sinéad explains.

"We need this skill because we have what I call 'downtime guilt.' This is an overt focus on a singular type of productivity and the feeling that we should always operate at 100%, always leaning in. This means any time off, time out or time pursuing other parts of life is considered as not being productive and should be coupled with a feeling of guilt."

To combat this, Sinéad says we need to re-evaluate at how we view productivity, looking at it in a more multi-faceted way.

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"Productivity is not just about getting things done it is about taking time out so that you recharge your batteries to be fit and healthy in body and mind to be the best version of yourself both personally and professionally." 

"This means that sometimes the most productive thing you can do is take a break," she continued.

Applying Cognitive Shutdown 

"Cognitive Shutdown is simple but takes time to put into practice. It is your way of signalling to your brain that it is time to switch from one part of your life to the other."

"One really easy way of doing this is to have a different routine for going to work and a different routine coming home. On your morning commute, you might listen to the news, catch up on emails, make work-related calls, set out your results list, write your to-do list and name your not to do list, or read the news headlines. On your way home, you alter your routine making it a non-negotiable promise to yourself that you will begin to wind down on the commute home. Listen to a funny podcast, make a call to a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, perhaps get off a stop earlier every evening, or turn off email notifications. ?

"The key thing here is that you shift the focus on your way home to send the message to your brain that a different part of your day now begins."

Using your holidays properly

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If you have been practising Cognitive Shutdown on a regular basis, you should be able to switch off pretty quickly from work and go on holidays, according to Sinéad.

To help with this, the week before you go on holidays:

  1. Never start a new project.
  2. As you approach your holidays, make sure that you are handing over vital information to your team or colleagues so that your work is continued while you are away.
  3. Write your out of office at the start of the week. In it, clearly say that you will not be responding to emails while you are away.
  4. Create a results list for yourself. Forget a to-do-list. Be razor sharp in your focus outlining the 3 things that you are going to get a result in the week before you go on holidays. Be clear with yourself that you are not going to do everything instead give yourself permission to get the highest priority tasks completed.
  5. If you have the courage to do it, switch out your phone for a basic phone that has no WiFi that way you cannot be tempted.
  6. The one thing I would also say is that if you are a leader in an organisation, encourage your people to make no contact with emails or the office during their time off. Lead by example and while you are on your breaks don’t engage.

"As a society, unless we begin to change the way we work to suit the needs of our knowledge-based workforce burnout, stress, depression will reign supreme at the cost of an engaged workforce. "


Main photograph: Unsplash

Read more: What to do when your career goes to plan but you're still not happy

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Read more: Five Irish businesswomen weigh in on the so-called ‘work-life balance’

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