Three myths about disconnecting from work after hours

Summary:Mobile devices have made it easier than ever to be always tethered to work. This situation is worsened by mistaken beliefs that leaving work in the office will have negative consequences.

The insertion of mobile devices in our lives has led to many of us working all the time. We have the smartphone or tablet with us always, even during hours we shouldn't be working. We're convinced that bad things will happen if we don't deal with work stuff no matter the situation. This is not healthy, and truth be told the world won't fall apart if we stop working when we should.

Sitting on the dock of the bay
Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

I admit I'm one of those individuals who feels the need to always be connected so I can deal with work issues no matter the day or time. Work takes priority over downtime, even time spent with family and friends. Mobile devices have contributed to that mindset as they make it easy to be on the clock all the time.

This is very unhealthy for anyone. Downtime is vital for recharging the mental batteries that work saps on a continual basis. There is a good reason work is scheduled for only so many hours a day. Having time off is critical to letting the mind coast for a while. Vacations are crucial to get our thoughts in a good, relaxing place. That's true no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves that we must be on the clock all the time. There are three common misbeliefs about working after hours.

Myth No. 1 — Bosses/clients/customers must always be able to reach me

This sounds so good many of us convince ourselves that we don't like it, but we must deal with work stuff no matter what. The important people in our work life depend on getting in touch when they need something done, and they will be unhappy/disappointed if we don't respond to their outreach immediately.

No doubt this is true for some folks, but most likely if one of these people don't hear back from you at night, on a weekend, or when you are on a scheduled vacation, they will understand. They probably step away from time to time, and they won't judge others who do the same thing.

Failure to step away from work can even come to bite you on the backside. When I was a consultant handling many projects and clients I made it a point to always get back to a client within five minutes of a call or email. I convinced myself that my clients deserved my attention, no matter the day or time of day.

One client set me straight when I called him back quickly after hours. He stated he was glad my consultancy wasn't busy so I could get back to him so fast. That got me to thinking, as I was obviously sending him the wrong message. Truth be told my return call could have waited until the next morning.

My quick response during the work day to another client was even worse. He told me that he knew I was busy and my ability to call him back so fast made him hope that I wasn't calling other clients back while on his dime. That showed me that always having a rapid response, even during the work day, is not always a good thing.

Myth No. 2 — A quick work session won't hurt anything

The email about work comes in and you pick up the smartphone and dash off a quick response to whatever situation has cropped up. Your thinking is it can't hurt anything, you'll deal with it and get back to the leisure activity in progress.

We've all been there and done that. The problem is the mental recharge that was underway has derailed with that simple activity. Work is often stressful, and leisure is how we deal with it. Mental relaxation is as important, perhaps more so, than physically standing down from activity.

It's never just that one quick thing, either. We do it over and over again, forcing our mental state to bounce like a basketball on the court. We flip from relaxing to "full-on" in an instant, and we do it all too frequently. 

Dealing with these work issues on our own time sends a bad message to family and friends. It sends a clear signal that they aren't as important as work stuff. That's especially true of our kids, who learn by example. Mom or Dad may say they enjoy spending time with them, but their actions send a different message. They always end up pulling out the phone to deal with "something at work". That's not the message family should be getting during off hours.

Next: Myth No. 3; Recharge the mind

Topics: Mobility


James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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