It’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking you need to always be “on.” When we talk about being productive, our minds usually jump to ideas of how to do more in less time. Today, I’d like to change the perspective a little bit and focus on something that far too many people overlook: setting boundaries to respect your time off.

I remember it like it was yesterday.

One of my team members, Nikola, said something during our daily call that struck me. I could tell he was tired, but he was the people-pleaser type who never wanted to disappoint anyone.

“Guys,” he said, “you know I’m going to take the day off tomorrow, but if anything comes up, I’ll have my phone on me. You can just shoot me a message and I’ll jump in right away.”

Thinking about it now, it’s hard not to wince.

Nikola thought that this approach was the productive and responsible one. I admit, our whole team, myself included, had gotten caught up in this trap.

Back in the day, I was working all the time – including weekends and holidays. It wasn’t unusual for me to be up until 5 am, just to make sure I was done with all my work (newsflash: the work is never “done,” you will always find more to do).

Even when I was on vacation with my lovely family, surrounded by breathtaking new scenery I would instinctively reach for my phone and check for work updates.

My mind would swarm with all kinds of questions: “How’s the Facebook campaign going? What happened with that blog post? Did I add that meeting to my calendar?”

Even though I was physically there, I wasn’t actually there.

Does any of this sound familiar? A lot of us struggle to truly unplug from work.

And I can tell you from experience, it’s not a recipe for long-term success.

My team and I had to learn this lesson the hard way.

Boundaries Are the Key

To find productivity and happiness, you need to take time off – and put clear boundaries in place to respect that time off.

It may not be the most intuitive thing to do at first, but trust me, it’s a crucial part of your long-term success.

In my case, I decided to move our entire team to a four-day workweek. It’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made and we’ve never looked back.

I had to come up with clear guidelines for what I and my team members would and wouldn’t allow during our time off, as well as what my schedule and work lifestyle looked like in general. Here are some of the boundaries I came up with:

  • No work after 6 pm
  • No working weekends or holidays
  • No messaging on Messenger, Viber, Skype, WhatsApp or any other personal channels – use only one channel (Slack) for work communication
  • If there is an emergency, I can be tagged on Slack. I will only respond to emergencies, otherwise it will wait until I go back into work

Each one of these boundaries is clearly defined. They let everyone know what is and what isn’t allowed – not just for you but for your entire team.

Choose how you will (and more importantly, won’t) communicate. When you take off, set your email to autorespond, letting anyone who emails you know that you’re unavailable.

In fact, if your email inbox is overwhelmed you can even consider declaring “email bankruptcy”. I’ve been using this approach for years now and it pays off every time. Interested to see how I implemented it and what my autoresponder looks like? Learn more with our email bankruptcy guide here

If you don’t make your boundaries clear and simple, then most of the time others won’t respect them. It’s not because they don’t respect you, but because people need things to be clear and simple.

This is maybe even more important when you manage a team: for everyone to have mutual boundaries and mutual respect, everyone needs to be on the same page.

Boundaries help you avoid that chaotic breakdown between the line of where work ends and time off begins.

The Law of Diminishing Returns

When I started taking my time off seriously and respecting my own boundaries, I discovered something amazing:

Because I was getting the rest and relaxation I needed, I was able to come up with fresh and new ideas and perspectives.

Not only was I recharging so I could go back into work feeling “normal” – I was actually feeling even better than before, with new insight I wouldn’t have had on a normal workday. The feeling of overwhelm was gone.

There’s a phenomenon you may have heard of called the Law of Diminishing Returns.

It essentially works like this: energy or resources invested into something over time eventually begin to have a proportionally smaller output.

It was originally applied to economics, but it’s arguably true for the workplace as well. For our purposes here, we can rewrite it along these lines:

After a certain number of hours at work, you start to hit a wall and your productivity declines.

To be more productive, you need to take time off in-between.

You’ve probably noticed how after a seven-hour day of sitting on your desk, it’s a lot harder to get anything meaningful done in that last hour.

Despite trying to pay attention and plow ahead, your brain is maxed out on its ability to focus on the same task.

If you’ve reached this point and find yourself beginning to spin your wheels, it no longer makes sense to stay in work mode. At this rate, you might as well be walking your dog or spending your time doing something you actually enjoy.

Once you hit that ceiling, you run the serious risk of burnout. You can’t think, you can’t come up with fresh ideas, and it’s harder to be there for the people you want to be there for.

Clear boundaries create a healthy work-life balance, allowing you to be true to both of your life perspectives: personal and professional.

That’s how you get the energy to show up every single time.

That’s how you come up with new ideas and insights.

That’s how you maintain your excitement and focus.

So go ahead and put down your phone. If you need permission to do so, I’d be glad to be that person for you. Not only that, I’m urging you to start implementing more time off in your life, so you can start reaping the benefits.

Here are the key points I want you to take home with you:

  • You need to take time off to recharge, refresh and reorient your mind. Taking time off is just as important (and productive) as showing up for work
  • In order to successfully recharge, you need clear boundaries in place. It’s important that you are free from work obligations or distractions during your time off
  • Everyone deserves time off, including you. Listen to your needs and take care of yourself

Hopefully I’ve convinced you by now that it’s okay to completely unplug from work-related activity!

If this was a message you really needed to hear, please share it with others on your favorite social media platforms. If it helped you, it will definitely help someone else as well.

As always, I look forward to seeing you next week, same time, same place, for more managerial insights!

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