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How not to be ‘on call’ at all times

a girl on a laptop with a white mug next to her

Nowadays, with so many pressures, we might feel like we have to be available, ‘on call’, at all the hours of day and night.

But it's a slippery slope as you agree once to after-work tasks, even if only ‘quickly’ check your emails and you are trapped. It will be harder to say no to yourself next time need arises.

But the funny thing is that the slippery slope of always being on call arises not from tough deadlines or urgent commitments. Oh no, those come later and quite often we can manage those a bit better as they trigger fight-or-flight response in us. No, it all starts out of boredom or ‘I’ll do it very quickly’.

And then again and again. And you are hooked. When urgency arrives, you might not be able to tell the difference between real and self-imposed urgency.

So what do you do?

You need to break that circle of ‘i’ll just go it very quickly’ because what is happening here is similar to a reward zone being activated in your brain. It's like checking social media feeds 300 times a day, even when you know there is nothing new.

Breaking this habit won't be easy; hence the best option is going ‘cold-turkey, possibly over the weekend, with intentionally removing all work-related apps or accounts on Friday.

Then I would recommend to practice self-reflection therapy where every time you feel a compulsion to check your work email, write down your feelings and emotions. Answer these simple questions:

  • Why do you need to open it?

  • Where does this desire sit in your body?

  • What would be the worst thing that could happen if you don't open it?

  • Pretend you have opened it. Describe how you feel. What words would you use to convey your emotions?

Repeat this exercise every time you feel sadness, desire or an itch or compulsion to check your work emails out of hours.

It will not be easy to begin with. But it should get better with time. Because our habits are trainable and they will do whatever you tell them to. Be the master of your habits, not the other way round.


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