Tips to help you disconnect from work (yes, it’s possible)

PR pros, marketers, and others in the communications field can feel overwhelmed by the constant connectivity that technology affords them. Here’s some guidance.

The thing about smartphones and iPads and constant email access is they make it possible for media professionals to work around the clock. That means, instead of clocking out at 5 p.m., you’re answering emails at midnight and taking conference calls while on vacation.

Why is this a problem? Simply put, when you’re overworked, you’re easily burned out. What’s more, without an appropriate work/life balance, you can quickly become less productive, less creative, less focused, and more stressed.

That’s why it’s in your best interest, as any kind of communications or public relations professional, to look for ways to disconnect. Here are a few ideas:

Regular workday breaks

Prioritize breaks throughout your workdays. The execs at Google saw this idea as important enough for them to install office recharging spaces—also called energy pods—for their employees to detach for 20- or 30-minute breaks. So take a page from the world’s leading search engine and build rest into your schedule to help yourself regularly recharge.

Flexible schedules

Talk to your boss about the possibility of a flexible schedule. The truth is, a flexible schedules benefits both you and your employer: Research shows that workers with some level of control over their hours are less likely to get into household fights about work and more likely to be satisfied with their jobs.

Vacation email forwarding

Ask any PR professional what the worst part of returning from vacation is, and the answer will most likely be, “catching up.” That’s why German auto company Daimler instituted its vacation email forwarding system: In Daimler’s system, employees don’t deal with clogged inboxes when they return from time away. Rather, they find that all their incoming work mail has been deleted after an auto-responder told senders whom to contact instead.

Implement this strategy yourself by setting up an auto-responder and forwarding system in your email while you’re out of town. This allows you to unplug without having to worry about the catchup period.

Work phone blackouts

This is particularly helpful if you’re a self-employed or freelance communications professional: Set specific work hours. Decide you’ll be available to email, chat, and go to meetings between certain hours each weekday, and stick to that schedule. This is also valuable in the traditional workplace.

At Chicago’s Empower Public Relations, for example, employees take part in what the company calls its BlackBerry blackout policy. Between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays, the entire team shuts down its work phones. What’s even more fascinating: Doing so has increased the company’s productivity.

Separation from the office

Understand and appreciate that you are more than your job-and take the necessary steps to feel like it. This might simply mean thinking through the idea of work/life balance in your life, or it might require signing up for workouts at the gym or scheduling social activities. Realize that taking time to live life will inspire your work and boost your creativity and will help you make space for other pursuits.

What do you think about disconnecting from the office? What does it look like in your world?

Shanna Mallon is a writer for Straight North, a Chicago Web design firm providing specialized SEO, Web development, and other online marketing services. Follow Straight North on Twitter and Facebook.

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