For those with discipline, disconnecting from your phone, laptop and other devices once the workday is complete can be easy.
However, your brain is not so easily turned off from the stresses of the day. Turning thoughts off is not as easily done as disconnecting yourself from the work “grid.”
So the question remains: is there a way to get your brain to let go of work issues and switch off after work? Thankfully, science says there just might be.
In a recent study, which was published in the Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, participants were asked to record the complete and incomplete goals they left at the workplace on a particular day, and how many times the thought of those goals entered their mind during their time off.
As expected, the incomplete goals were the most frequent “fun-killers.” They are what makes it hard to switch off after work.
The research helps to confirm an existing psychological principle known as the “Zeigarnik Effect,” which simply states that incomplete tasks are much more likely to be remembered than completed ones. It is named after a Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik, who observed that waiters in a restaurant only remembered orders which were in the process of being served. However, once the orders were finished, they vaporized from their memory.
What makes the current study interesting is the simple (but effective) techniques put forth to help keep work-related thoughts from entering your mind at unwanted times.
They asked a subset of participants, once they’d described their incomplete goals, to clearly plan and write down where, when and how they would tackle/finish each one.
For example: ‘I will get to work at 9:00 AM, make a list of documents I need to arrange and people I need to call, in order to execute the transaction. I will do this by 2:00PM…..’
Specifying the context for action, helped participants put the incomplete goals out of their mind when they were not at work, and as a result these goals produced fewer intrusions, almost as if they had the same status as completed goals.
Data from a measure of work detachment also suggested that using this strategy made it easier for participants to switch off and let go of work in general.