How to disconnect and be more productive in your work

How to disconnect and be more productive in your work

One of the joys of freelancing can also be the hardest to master: moving from work to life. Disconnecting can be near impossible. With technology advances, it seems like we’re always connected in some way or another. But not disconnecting from work can lead to burnout, exhaustion and depression. In turn, this can wreak havoc on both your professional and personal lives. So what can we do to combat working 24/7? Let's take a look at how you can be more productive in your work, and not kill yourself trying.

Create a to-do list for tomorrow

Creating a to-do list before you end your workday can help release work-related tasks from your mind. This way you won't be worrying about pending work while you spend time with family and friends. If you do think of something that can't wait, quickly add it to your list, but refrain from working on it!

While I tend to like paper and pencil for most activities, I love my Any.DO app. There are options for Today, Tomorrow, Upcoming, and Someday. You can oh-so-satisfactorily swipe across an item to check it off. There is also a counter on the app's icon with the number of items on your “today” list. The developers have also begun work on team integration, so you can connect with coworkers and friends. And did I mention it's free? (Available for iOS, Android, and Chrome.)

You can also try emailing yourself ideas, so you’ll see it the next morning. It keeps everything in one place, and it’s a quick, app-free way to remember what you need to do. Sure, it’s a bit silly, but it works, believe me!

There are a multitude of applications that can help freelancers with their work. Do they always need to be open? No, probably not. Photoshop, MS Office, and Quickbooks projects can all be saved and re-launched.

I often don’t like to close out of sites I use regularly. So, I dedicate one browser window to work, and another window to life. When I’m not working, I’ll minimize the work window and I can ignore it. Out of sight, out of mind. With that window minimized, you can’t see what you were working on. Now you can focus on life, not work.

Find a "work-only" space to run your business

In the same way that a dedicated workspace can help you focus on work, it can also help you leave work. If possible, dedicate a work-only space to your business. Stepping away can help you mentally disengage from work.

The space does't need to be large or fancy. A simple desk with any needed accoutrements can serve as your office. Work hard and complete tasks, then leave once you’re finished for the day. This also means you won't need to move your laptop to make the dinner!

Create a work schedule

Creating specific work times may be something you wanted to avoid as a freelancer, and this is understandable. But, even setting loose guidelines can help you distance yourself from work. A loose schedule, like “work four hours in the morning, then four in the afternoon” still gives you a work time.

A schedule helps you complete work efficiently, because you only have a limited time to finish tasks. Additionally, it gives you a shut-off time. As soon as you reach that four-hour limit, make yourself step away.

Keep your phone out of arm’s reach

Our smartphones give us access to the world 24/7. With users compulsively checking smartphones over 100 times a day it can be a good idea to keep them out of arm’s reach. By all means keep the ringer on so you’re informed of any emergencies, but setup some "no go" times when you can ignore email and Twitter notifications. You can even make custom ringtones for your personal contacts. This way, you'll be able to tell who's calling, and if you should answer.

Another way to ween yourself away from these "mobile moments" is to try not checking your phone in 30 minute increments, then gradually increase the time when you feel you can (or should). You can respond to real life communication, and ignore work-related communication and procrastination. This will also help you stay focused on the task at hand, that of living.

Close your email

I’m guilty of this! I can always tell when I get new email because the number in my alert tab pings, and it’s too easy to go check. So, when not working, close out your work email. It can be tempting to take a quick look, even if you’re online for something unrelated.

Because many people sync their emails with their phone, it can be hard to entirely ignore it. Try removing your “Badge Count” setting. Do you really need it? It just reminds you of the work you have waiting for tomorrow, which won’t help you disconnect!

Activate “Do Not Disturb”

If you can, turn on your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” setting during off-hours. This will send callers to voicemail, leaving you undisturbed time. This works best if you have a work-dedicated phone, so you don't ignore friends and family. You can also use “airplane mode”, which will do essentially the same thing.

iOS devices allow you to create a schedule, which is ideal if you have consistent hours. You can allow calls within certain parameters, which helps you filter work and life. These parameters include all calls, no one, favorites, and groups of contacts.

For Android users, there are also parameters to modify the Priority mode. This works much the same as Do Not Disturb.

Actively “try” to disconnect

This may sound confusing but often, and no matter how hard you try to distance yourself from work, your brain can pull you right back in. As soon as you think of something you need to do, or a new idea, write it down, then “push it” from your mind.

Focus on being present. Enjoy time with friends, playing with your children, and taking time for hobbies. Work will be there tomorrow, and time with loved ones is precious. Work on being present, the here and now has already gone.


  • What has been your biggest challenge about disconnecting from work?
  • Or, are you able to do it with no problem?