Setting Digital Boundaries: 6 Tips on How to Disconnect After the Workday

Knowing how to disconnect from your devices is crucial to your work-life balance. Learn how to unplug and make the most of your downtime.

Technology was supposed to lighten our workload, allowing us a more relaxed state of being. But the opposite may be true. Now, it's a rare moment when we're actively engaged in what's going on around us. The lines between work and home have blurred, and navigating our time and relationships is trickier than ever.  

So, how can you be your best self at work and at home? The first step is to form new habits by taking action. Whether you're working from home or the office, here are six useful steps for training yourself on how to unplug once the workday is over:  

1. Establish boundaries. 

You've heard the term over and over, but how do you truly set boundaries with your family, boss and yourself? It's easy to blame employers for making us work 24/7, but in reality, it's our own habits that drive us to check our phones at all hours or reply to one more email. Try not to return emails outside of work hours so others will learn not to expect your replies. If you have a hard time keeping these boundaries yourself, try using technology features like 'do not disturb' and 'sleep mode' to ensure notifications are limited or minimized during predetermined hours of the day. 

Tip: As bedtime approaches, give your eyes a rest from the blue light on your phone with night mode apps like Twilight or Night Owl. 

2. Put down the phone.

Our phones have become extensions of ourselves. We keep them on and with us at all times, which makes it difficult to disconnect. Set up a charging station in your home and get into the habit of placing your devices on their chargers when you sit down to dinner each night. Not having your phone in your hand will ease the temptation to check it constantly. 

Tip: Put your phone down at least one hour before bedtime for a more restful night's sleep.  

3. Set your 'out of office.'

You know that handy message you use when you go on vacation? Putting an 'out of office' message on your voicemail and email lets colleagues know when you're available for meetings and phone calls, or when to expect a reply to their email. You can also try blocking off your calendar so coworkers can see when your availability is limited. Remember, once you set these expectations, you must follow through.

Tip: Get in the habit of doing this every day, even if it's just for an hour or two.

4. Know your peak hours.

Depending on the goal, it may be beneficial to schedule brainstorming at different times of day. If you're a morning person, schedule your most difficult tasks for first thing. If you perform better after a couple of cups of coffee, mid-morning may be your sweet spot for productivity. Understanding your personal productivity zone can allow you to accomplish more work in less time.

Tip: Plan out the next day's work so you can maximize your output (and set your mind at ease outside of work hours).

5. Schedule something fun.

If you have trouble leaving the office at a reasonable hour, schedule non-work activities for the end of the day. For example, sign up for a 6 pm spin class, which will force you to leave work on time. 

Tip: If taking public transportation is an option, this will require you to keep a set schedule.  

6. Leave it behind.

If you use a work computer or phone, consider ditching it when you log out (or just close your home office door) for the night. This will reduce your temptation to continue working beyond your intended hours. If possible, use a separate laptop for work and personal use, or set up a different email account. If you don't see the messages rolling in after hours, you won't try to sneak a peek.  

Tip: If you must bring devices home, turn them off at night. Consider a smart plug to automatically turn off your devices (or your home office lights) at a set time. 

Learning how to disconnect and de-stress can be a challenge with all the technology now available to us. Giving yourself a break and taking time to decompress and recharge is critical to maintaining your peak performance in and out of the office. If you're giving a little bit to everyone, all the time, you're never living your best self. That can place strain on your personal relationships and impede professional development. Setting digital boundaries creates an effective balance that will lead to better productivity and overall satisfaction.