“Job creep” isn’t just a person at work you can’t stand — it’s a way of living once your workday is done that can set you up for failure the next day. New pyschology research shows that when you keep doing work-related activities after business hours, the infringement into your personal life puts you at risk for insufficient sleep, cognitive recovery and energy to accomplish what you need to do in the morning.
The two-year study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that seemingly innocuous (and very ubiquitous) after-work activities may do you more harm than good if they’re connected to your job. When workers email, text and communicate on social media with colleagues and supervisors beyond their actual work hours, they end up crunched for rejuvenation time.
Another key finding: When study subjects did “low effort” activities, such as listening to music, reading or watching TV, the effects were opposite those correlated with work activities. Such low-effort actions helped participants detach from their work, fueling their personal resources for the next day. Even household activities you might associate with stress, like cooking dinner and caring for children, were instead associated with improved sleep quality.
[See: 16 Low-Stress Jobs.]
The research suggests that it isn’t smart to blur the boundaries between your work and home life. While spending the evening in close contact with your smartphone might be the path of least resistance and can make you feel like you’re staying on top of things for tomorrow, the study shows that making an effort to shift gears and switch off your “work brain” for a while is important both cognitively and emotionally.
If you want to be at your best throughout the week and enjoy the quality sleep and recovery that you need for optimal productivity, reset your work-life balance. Here’s how:
Be selective about your screens.
Television and movie viewing might be better for you than you think — at least when it comes to helping you segue from office to evening. Research suggests watching a TV program for pleasure rather than professional progress can help you detach from your work worries. If while using your smartphone or laptop for entertainment, you’re tempted to quickly check your work email inbox, text or tweet to a co-worker or work on a business presentation, resist the urge and consider a screen-free activity, such as reading a book or listening to music.
Create a new after-work routine.
If you’re in the habit of constant connection with your workplace, building a new routine can help you separate home and office life. The first step is to figure out what you can do to fully disconnect from your work tasks when you’re off duty. That might mean finding a reliable way to separate yourself from your “vices,” whether that’s reading updates from your work group on Facebook or double-checking business email before bed.
Checking your smartphone can feel addictive, so do what it takes to free yourself from this temptation. Start a new routine to divert attention away from digital devices that serve as an umbilical cord to the office. Whether it’s giving yourself the luxury of reading before bed or joining a sports team, figure out something that will help you unwind and disconnect from your cares about your work for a while. And give your new habits time to stick: Research shows that it takes a median of 66 days for a new habit to form.
Whether you live alone or with roommates, children or a significant other, take a page from the job creep research to engage in nurturing household activities after work to create some separation from your business projects. Puttering around your home, cooking nourishing food and taking care of your surroundings are proven ways to replenish your personal resources, which can help you get better sleep. If you have kids under your care, put your time and attention into helping them eat up and wind down, and you’ll benefit alongside them in being more ready to face the next day’s challenges.
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