Back when I was in the thick of it in my job, when it had completely taken over my identity, I had no idea how to not work. I was so disconnected to myself that I couldn’t stop checking email and doing random tasks in the middle of the weekend because I was scared to just be me. But I was also so burned out that I had a hard time focusing at work – and would often distract myself by checking email and trolling the internet when what I really needed was to take a real break.

This “leakage” of non-pertinent thoughts and tasks dilutes focus from what you’re doing, making us both less effective at work and less able to enjoy our personal lives. I’ve noticed that this lack of focus can turn into a nasty habit, seeping into every area of our lives if we’re not careful. It means we’re never completely working and never completely not-working.

To combat this “leakage”, the last few months I experimented with focused productivity: focusing all my energy on one thing at a time so that I get more done and can then enjoy my time off. Work hard, play hard. At work, I noticed my productivity skyrocket. Things that would normally take me hours were done in a half hour. Rather than avoid things on my to do list, I tackle them head-on. Getting good at focused productivity creates more free time in my life.

A few weeks ago I had dinner with my friend Julie and told her I was taking a three-day weekend because I finished everything I needed to do a day early. I was going to “not work” for three days. She asked me a great question: “What does it mean to not work?”

Her question made me realize that while I’ve gotten really good at focused working, I’m still learning how to “not work”. Since our hyper-connected world makes it really easy to slip back into work mode (especially when you run a business that includes social media and blogging), NOT working requires ground rules and discipline just like focused productivity does, especially if your fun muscles are a little weak.

Since a holiday weekend is coming up here in the states, it’s a great opportunity to practice “not working.” Let’s make a pact NOT to work at least one day this weekend – all four days if you can help it. 

how to not work

To help you define what “not working” means to you (and to give me some new ideas), I reached out to a few of my online communities, and got some additional great ideas about how to NOT work. 

Make some rules

These are things I do regularly, not just on off days, to keep work from creeping in to my down-time:

  • Rather than bargain with myself, I make hard and fast rules so I’m “not allowed” to do something: Set a time when you’re not checking email, social media, or whatever “working” means to you. I like to go on Facebook Fasts, where I abstain from logging on to the ‘book for a certain amount of time (once I did a whole month).
  • At the end of the day, clean up your desk and put everything away. I even hide my computer in my desk drawer. Tidy up your desk every day, and you’ll have a calmer start when you return to work.
  • Screen curfew: Something I try to implement (but regularly fall off the wagon), is to have a screen curfew – between 9pm and 9am, I don’t look at any screens (computer, phone, iPad). It ensures that for at least half of my day (even if most of it is asleep) my eyes aren’t glued to a screen.

Make it harder to work

Reduce the temptation to work (the fact that we are “tempted” to work means we need to get better at being fully present in our down-time!) by making it harder to actually work with these strategies:

  • Turn off email and social media from your phone. If it’s really a temptation, sign out of your accounts or even delete the apps from your phone.
  • Out of sight, out of mind: Put your phone away if you don’t need to make a call. Put your laptop out of sight. Take work email off your phone.
  • Don’t bring your work home: If you work from an office, don’t bring any work home on the last day before the holiday. Leave your laptop at work. If you bring it home, turn it off and store it out of sight.
  • Take work email off of your personal phone: You should do this all the time (if it won’t get you fired).

Plan ahead

As with trying to develop any new habit, having a plan is a big factor in being successful. Create the structure so that you can take time off without guilt.

  • Craft a beautiful out of office message: Sara Mazenko said “It makes me still feel like I’m caring for the people sending the message which frees up my energy to take for me.” Erin Stutland gave this beautiful example that you can customize:

“So lovely to hear from. This holiday season I am giving myself the gift of slowing down and spending less time on URL’s and more time IRL (in real life.) So, please pardon my extra slow response. I will back on email at X date and if it is an emergency, please XXX Have a wonderful holiday season and lots of blessings in the New Year:)”

  • Put your time off on your calendar WAY in advance: My rule of thumb – schedule personal stuff first! Once it’s on your calendar, factor it into your project planning so that when the holiday/weekend comes, NOT working is part of your plan.
  • Try to get all you need to get done while at work, and especially on vacation, and delegate things if you need to. Remember: the work will be there when you get back, and while you’re gone, someone else can probably take care of it. (Kirsten)
  • For online “solopreneurs”, schedule everything in advance: Blog posts, social media tweets and posts, newsletters, etc. can all be scheduled so you feel covered without sitting in front of your computer. Or just tell your community that you’re taking the time off (and when you’re coming back) – what a way to set an example!

Motivate yourself to NOT work

  • Create an open/closed sign: In a circle around the word Open or Closed, write a bunch of words and phrases to remind yourself why you do what you do. For example, around “Open” write clients, success, money, etc, and around “Closed” write garden, son, call your mother, etc. (Heather)
  • Use the time you would normally check work email for something you love to do and never have the time to do, even if it is having an extra cup of coffee or even better call a girlfriend and have a happy hour over the phone. (Linda)
  • Remember that it’s disrespectful to the people you’re with to constantly be checking your phone/email/Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. Look into people’s eyes, not your iPhone.
  • Only bring the fun stuff: Leave behind all work material (even personal development books), and only bring fun stuff when traveling or taking time off. Read a good fiction novel, enjoy a stack of magazines, or write in your journal. (Amanda and Sara)
  • Krysta Ann said “I find spending time with friends to be even more important than it used to be, engaging with others keeps me out of my head or worrying about stuff that’s irrelevant to the moment.”

Your turn

Hopefully this has given you some ideas about how to NOT work this weekend. In the comments, I’d love for you to define what NOT working means to you. How will you make sure that you don’t work on your time off? What guidelines do you have for yourself, or tricks to keep you from slipping out of play mode and into work mode?  We all learn from each other, so sharing what you’re doing will help someone else!

I’ll start us off. Here’s what NOT working looks like for me this weekend: On Thanksgiving day, for 24 hours, I’m committing to:

  • Not checking email
  • Not checking social media
  • Not turning on my computer (unless I need a recipe)
  • Only using my iPhone to make phone calls, snap photos, and listen to music (yes this means I’m not Instagraming my dinner – I think the world will keep turning)

The rest of the weekend (starting now!), I’ll check email and Facebook intermittently, but only respond to personal messages. I already set up my auto responder, so as soon as I post this I’m going offline until Monday. I’m going to focus on being present with my family and friends and getting as much crisp, fall air as possible. Happy Thanksgiving!