Do nothing – five fast ways to turn work off so you can have a life (again)

Updated to Habits on June 28, 2023.

When I was young, work ended at 5PM. Done, that’s it, pack it up, time for family. Sure, there were exceptions, but nobody packed a smart phone, took calls in their car, or worked all night on a laptop. Nada — there was work and there was life, no blurred lines. We need to re-learn the art of turning work off.

Before I show you how to turn work off, let’s talk a bit about the cost of not turning work off.


We are designed to hunt and hibernate (this is a model I’m borrowing from Younger Next Year authors Crowley and Lodge).

In hunt mode we are “ON”, making decisions, responding to requests, thinking strategy, and fuelled by adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine. This has a cost. A recent study published in the journal of Psychosomatic Medicine connected overwork to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. According to the Mayo Clinic  job burnout can lead to: fatigue, insomnia, depression, heart disease, stroke…(need I go on?).

When we hibernate our body heals, we are mindful, we allow creative thinking to replace reactive thinking, and we have time for relationships.

Here are five ways to turn work off, turn life on, and reap the rewards of a balanced life.


A lesson I learned from the late Richard Carlson, author of the Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff series, was to switch from work-mode to home-mode as a ritual on my way home.

I use a telephone pole, three blocks from my home, as the anchor. On my way home from my office I’m usually listening to a podcast and thinking about what happened that day. My head is buzzing. But, once I pass that telephone pole, I switch.

The anchor is to say “End of work, beginning of home.” That’s the trigger for me to switch to thinking about home, what everyone was doing, what I’m going to enjoy doing that evening, and to stop thinking about work. It works like a charm (I’ve been doing it for almost 10 years).


At the end of my speech last week, a man, looking quite perplexed, came up to me and asked “How do I turn work off?”

I asked him what kind of activities completely occupy his mind – when he’s doing them he can’t think about anything else. Nothing. The best he could do was watching movies. Without a new focus, the mind returns to the path of least resistance and that’s usually work or fussing over something you can’t change.

Without a new focus, the mind returns to the path of least resistance and that’s usually work or fussing over something you can’t change.

Here are some alternatives to take your mind off work:

  • walk and talk – on weekends my wife and I hike in the hills behind our home. Before we know it, an hour flew by, we feel great, and we had some exercise.
  • a hobby – whether it’s music, writing, woodwork, singing, or scrapbooking, most hobbies are a practice in mindfulness.
  • read a novel – my favourite time is just before bed, and preferably a mindless who-done-it.
  • exercise with audio – if you aren’t going with a partner, plug in a podcast, music, or entertainment and enjoy some mental distraction.
  • being mindful – focussing on the present (meditation, sitting quietly, walking), without judgment, is mindfulness and the benefits are becoming well documented.


One of the more popular lessons in my keynote Think, Plan, Act is boundaries. It’s such a simple technique and the results can be huge.

A boundary is a protected chunk of time that happens everyday. It’s what I call becoming Strategically Unavailable.

I have a boundary every morning (like right now) between 5:00AM and 7:00AM. It’s when I do all my writing. No Internet, no email, no distractions, just a cup of tea and writing, thank you very much.

I have another boundary from 9:15 to 10:30AM, at my office, when I only work on the hardest 50% of my day. Sales calls, decisions, proposals, planning – work that grows my business.

Throughout out a typical day I will have four or five boundaries that allow me to be strategically unavailable. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Create one boundary, to start. Communicate your intention, as needed, and protect that time for what really matters. You’ll thank me.


A week in Cabo is nice, but what about unplugging where you are? Getting off the Internet, putting your phone on silence, and keeping TV off can feel like a mini vacation, but without the mini bar.

I feel visibly analog, but it’s wonderful to just think, write, and muse about possibilities without distractions.

When I’m creating a new keynote or doing some planning I grab a journal and head to a local cafe. I feel visibly analog, but it’s wonderful to just think, write, and muse and about possibilities without distractions.


Here’s a test, go through a whole day without checking your phone between activities. No checking in line-ups, at stop lights (really?), at business functions, with the family, at doctor’s offices, or in the bathroom (which is seriously weird).

Can you do it?

One study reported that the average smart phone user has added 72 minutes to their work day. Yikes! How about taking that time back?

I often point out to my audiences, they have been with me for a full hour (poor darlings) and haven’t checked their phones once. The world kept turning.


I’m as guilty as anyone for pushing the margins and allowing work to become my life. The weird part was I thrived on it. That was then.

I know I need to switch gears and every day turn off the mental machinery that loves to worry, scheme, and fuss over the past. And here’s the good news: I’m learning the better I turn work off, the better the results when I turn it back on.

What about you?

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