Habits Health Productivity Technology

4 Ways to Unplug and Relax When You are Too Busy

By Jon Rumens on 17 February 2021

Learn to unplug and compartmentalize your time.

We’re all busy, and to avoid becoming overwhelmed, we do everything we can to stay on top of things. Work is important, and when we have a lot on our plate, we put everything else off and sacrifice our downtime to get the job done.

America is one of the most overworked developed nations in the world. According to the International Labour Organization:

“Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.”

With 85.8 percent of Males working more than 40 hours a week, that leaves little room to manage a personal life. And most of us end up neglecting our free time and ability to unplug and rest.

Unfortunately, this lifestyle is counterproductive. According to Alan Kohll (Wellness Mentor at Forbes,) insufficient breaks from work are the leading cause of chronic stress and job burnout. Breaks act as an essential opportunity to recharge and destress. Evidence comes from Korpela and Kinnunen (2016,) whose studies found that regular breaks from work lead to increased energy levels and vigor over time. It also helps us to care for our mental health, allowing us to reset our mood and promote positive well-being.

If you’ve got a lot going on right now, here’s what you can do to switch off and unplug during your downtime.

Embrace the Dolce Far Niente, and Do Nothing

man lying on cushion by window

The pressure of having a lot of work to do can get to us. And, when it does, we tend to feel guilty for taking a break, because we tell ourselves we’re not being as productive as we could be. But it’s this mentality that causes us to overwork to the point of burnout, and leaves us being less productive in the long run.

To overcome this problem, writer Lynn Daue, suggests that we embrace the Dolce Far Niente.

The concept was originally coined by Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book “Eat, Pray, Love: One Women’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia.” It translates as “pleasant relaxation in carefree idleness.” It’s the time we should set aside for ourselves, once a day or week, to do nothing without judgement, guilt or stress.

In short, it’s time for you to completely switch off, spend time on your own and do whatever you wish. The aim being to pick something that will help you unplug and recharge.

So, if you’re struggling to find some time to switch off and do what you enjoy guilt-free, remind yourself that having a break once in a while will boost your productivity in the long run. To avoid procrastination and to prevent yourself from taking too many unnecessary breaks, create a weekly plan of your workload, and put aside a few hours for yourself.

In doing so, you can switch off knowing that you have everything under control, and there’s no shame in taking some time out.


Of course, what you do during your Dolce Far Niente is completely up to you. Read a book, take a cooking class or wind down with a bubble bath. Whatever it is, just remember this is time away from work for you, and shouldn’t be interrupted.

Ditch the Work Distractions

Setting aside a few hours a week to work on yourself sounds
great in theory. But in practice, it’s difficult to stick to. From experience,
all it takes is a work text or email for my down time to be ruined.

Self-care means focusing on yourself. You can’t do that if
you’re fixated on the things you have going on at work. And receiving a text or
work email prevents us from forgetting about our stresses for a short while. It
intrudes and ruins our Dolce Far Niente.

Switching Off

This time out doesn’t just require you to cease all work communication, it requires you to switch off and disconnect from the outside world.

The average American checks their phone every 12 minutes. It’s no surprise that we get tempted to check social media during our break. According to Tristan Harris (former design ethicist at Google,) Social Media is designed to be addictive in the same way as a Las Vegas slot machine – it aims to grab our attention as regularly as possible.

And, once apps like Facebook and Twitter have our attention, they do everything they can to keep it. They tailor and curate a personalized newsfeed to specifically target our interests. It’s why when we finish watching a video on Facebook, we watch another, and another, because we’re suggested them by the platform.

Ex-Google engineer Guillaume Chaslot, calls this feature of websites a rabbit hole. And it can be detrimental to our time – once social media has captured our attention, we end up wasting hours of our valuable down time watching Facebook and YouTube videos.

According to Scott and Biello, overuse of Social Media is damaging to our sleep and downtime. It prevents us from switching off, and is an unnecessary distraction that stops us from working on ourselves. Therefore, to properly recharge – we should take time away from our phones during our Dolce Far Niente.

How to Disconnect

Taking time out from your phone can be difficult. All it takes is one ping or notification for you to be distracted and pulled back in. It’s for this reason, according to a study by Florida State University, that 43% of all US tech users never unplug. Yet their research found we almost always lose sight of a task when our phones are next to us.

Therefore, to stay focused on your Dolce Far Niente, you need to avoid technology altogether. Do so by:

  1. Channelling your energy into something. Take a yoga class, play a board game or learn a new skill. Choosing a task that requires conscious thought and effort will force you to forget about your phone and work.
  2. Creating a no-list. According to Counselling Psychologist Raiphailia Micheal, before you start your down time, you should set yourself rules and boundaries. Tell yourself work and technology are off limits.
  3. Use FocusMe.  Sometimes, despite our intentions, we just don’t have the willpower to stay away from technology. If you’re finding things difficult, you need the help of online blocker software. Make use of our Pomordo Timer, to set time restrictions on when you can access your email or social media – so you can unplug without being interrupted.

Compartmentalize to Get Things Under Control

Tidy desk with notepad, glasses and keyboard on

When you’ve got 101 different things on your to-do list, it can be difficult to stay focused and get anything done. But, by compartmentalizing our work, we are able to take one task at a time; and that makes things easier to manage.

According to leadership coach, Robin Sharma, compartmentalization involves shutting out all other distractions and focusing solely on what’s in front of you. A good analogy is to perceive different tasks in different rooms with closable doors. Compartmentalizing means closing those doors and focusing on the task at hand.

According to Forbes Writer Ryan Blair,  you can compartmentalize your tasks by:

1.      Isolating each job, and separating it from all the other challenges you have. Create an environment where you can resolve the task without running into others.

2.      Resolve the task by taking small, manageable steps towards your end goal.

3.      Once the task is finished, close the door to it, and open the next one.

This type of compartmentalizing is an easy way to help stress management, and reduce anxiety. It helps us feel in control of the events happening in our lives. And, once you successfully isolate and compartmentalize each task you have, relaxing and unplugging will become easier.

Treat your down time as a task in its own room. When winding down, imagine closing the door behind you. Tell yourself nothing will come between you and this time, choose an enjoyable task, and don’t let anything conflict for your attention. 

Make Sleep a Priority

Woman sleeping in bed

Up to 74% of us have our phones within reach while we sleep. And that distraction has the potential to ruin our sleeping pattern. At any stage in the night, a notification has the power to wake us up. Not to mention the temptation of staying up through the night scrolling through social media; a temptation we all succumb to now and again.

The modern world is a threat to us. We’ve swapped teddy bears for sleeping next to our phones, and they are damaging our well-being. They deprive us of sleep, and according to Harvard Health Publishing, that lack of rest poses a serious threat to our mental health and productivity. In some cases, it leaves us at risk of developing a mental illness.

Balancing sleep alongside our chaotic work schedule is difficult, but there are some things you can do to improve your sleeping pattern.


Develop and Stick to a Routine

Just like babies, we could all benefit from a consistent sleeping routine. Your internal body clock (also referred to as your “circadian rhythm,”) influences your ability to sleep; and you need to keep it in check. It’s regulated by melatonin levels in your body. As dusk falls, your levels drop, and as the sun rises in the morning – your body knows it’s time to wake up.

By having a regular sleep routine, you are helping to maintain a healthy internal body clock. Your body will expect to fall asleep and wake up at certain times.

In maintaining a habit of going to sleep at a certain time, you will naturally feel tired when it’s time to sleep. By listening to your body, you’ll avoid succumbing to the temptation of needlessly scrolling through social media all night.

Avoid Blue Light

The light emitted from your phone (also known as blue-wavelength light) emulates daylight, sending signals to your brain and influencing your internal body clock. In short, it convinces your body that you should stay awake.

Getting blue light during the day from the sun is a good thing. But excessive blue light before bed has been linked with depression and negatively influences work performance.

For that reason, Harvard Health Publishing recommends you avoid blue light for 2 to 3 hours before going to sleep. The best way to achieve this would be to avoid using your phone during that time. But if you can’t help it, turn your phones blue light off (IPhone’s have this feature built in).

Doing so ensure you maintain a healthy routine, and always have a good night’s rest.


Final Thoughts

When you’ve got 101 things going on, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. And, when that happens, we tend to prioritize our work at the expense of our personal well-being.

If you’ve got a lot going on right now, you can find time to unplug and unwind by:

1.      Embracing the Dolce Far Niente: once a week, schedule time away from work where you can focus on anything you like. Remind yourself that you can do this guilt free.

2.      Ditch the work distractions. Rather than having your attention diverted by a work email or falling into the Social Media rabbit hole, and watching Facebook videos for hours, take time away from your phone and these apps.

3.      Compartmentalize your tasks of the day. When its time to wind down, imagine stepping into a room and closing the door to all outside tasks and work. Focus on yourself, and don’t let work compete for your attention during your time off.

4.      Make sleep a priority. Rather than staying up all night scrolling through Facebook, respect your internal body clock and let your body get the sleep it needs.


In following these tips, you’ll find that your time off is more relaxed, better for your mental health, and will boost your productivity in the long run.