Feeling burned out at work? Here are 10 ways to find your “off switch”

How to stop thinking about work, unwind, and actually have fun at the end of the day.

Feeling burned out at work? Here are 10 ways to find your “off switch”
[Photo: Jorge Vasconez/Unsplash]

For many people, leaving the office at the end of the day is much more complicated than simply walking out a door. It feels nearly impossible to mentally leave behind to-do lists, memos, deadlines, Slack, and the email inbox at the end of the day. According to a 2016 study by the Academy of Management, employees tally an average of eight hours a week answering work-related emails after leaving the office. A 2015 Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association found that 30% of men and 23% of women regularly bring work home. And when you don’t have access to the all-sacred work-life balance, you’re headed to the booming metropolis of “burnout” with a one-way ticket. In fact, a 2018 Gallup study of almost 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of respondents felt burned out at work very often or always. The boundaries of where work happens have blurred far beyond any office building’s blueprint.


But the most successful (and dare we say it . . . sane) professionals know the value of being able to stop obsessing about work amid this “always on” culture. Studies have found that the ability to psychologically detach from work not only helps your sense of well-being, but it helps you engage better with your job.

So we asked a handful of CEOs, founders, and innovators, “What’s your off switch?” What do you do to clear your head at the end of the day? Here are their 10 best tips for how to check out of the office and check in to the rest of your life.

[Photo: courtesy of Houzz]

Focus on your home . . . literally

Nothing can keep our attention away from an urgent email or memo assignment quite like dreaming of a new farmhouse sink and custom concrete countertops can. That’s why focusing on what’s under your own roof can keep work stress from creeping in. “When I’m sitting at home after work, I open up the Houzz app and look through inspirational photos of bathroom and kitchen renovations,” says Janet Comenos, cofounder and CEO of data research firm Spotted. Download the Houzz app (for free!), and say hello to your new addiction.

[Photo: courtesy of Shinola]

Write it out

Sometimes, grabbing your journal and a good pen is all it takes to escape the blue light of screens. That’s why Shopbrain CEO James Cunningham uses his after-hours to reflect on work in a different way. “At night, I take out my journal and write down the three things I learned that day,” he says. We love the Shinola Hard Linen journal ($22) —which is produced using paper sourced from sustainably managed American forests—and Le Pen’s Marvy pen ($17 for a set of 12), complete with a microfine point and smooth ink that doesn’t bleed.

[Photo: courtesy of Brooklyn Candle Studio]

Safe space

Meika Hollender, cofounder and CEO of Sustain Natural, goes to a place where her phone cannot to unwind. “At the end of the day, I like to light candles, get into the bath, and plug my phone in far, far away,” she says. Want a lusciously scented candle to take into the bathroom with you? Both the Santa Fe ($38) and Montana Forest ($24) scents from Brooklyn Candle Studio are handmade and worth every penny.

And now that we’ve mentioned baths . . . 

[Photo: courtesy of OY-L]

Go ahead—soak in some alone time

“I take a bath every night with lavender and sea salt . . . even when I travel. Reading a book, usually a memoir, helps, too,” says Christene Barberich, global editor-in-chief and cofounder of Refinery29. Bath Salts by OY-L (starting at $22) combine both lavender and pink Himalayan salt (no sea toxins!) along with two other ingredients that you can pronounce for a completely relaxing and tranquil experience.

[Photo: courtesy of Class Pass]

Commit to it

“Whether you work from home or the office, if you enjoy your work, it’s easy to lose track of the day—and even into the night,” says Zack Onisko, CEO of Dribbble. “Having a commitment, whether to family, a gym class, or meeting up with friends for dinner and drinks, helps you find a healthy work-life balance and time to unplug.” The $20 no-show fees imposed by all-access fitness app ClassPass (membership plans starting at $9) are more than enough to keep us committed to leaving the office in time to make our HIIT class.

[Photo: courtesy of Hatch Baby]

Set the scene

Sometimes, it’s just about putting yourself in a place where you don’t want to work. “I sit with my 4-year-old as she’s going to bed,” says Anna Blue, co-executive director of Girl Up. “Between her sound machine and string of purple lights, it’s a cocoon of relaxation and the perfect way to wind down.” With programmable warm lights and white noise patterns proven effective for better sleep by science, we’re convinced that the Hatch Baby Sound Machine ($60) is perfect for any age—even ours.


Read (Yup, that’s it)

One of the most common “off switch” responses we get at Fast Company is: “I like to read.” And Frank Yang, founder and CEO of simplehuman, is no different. “I like to read a book at the end of the night,” he says. “Right now I’m reading the Trillion Dollar Coach (by Bill Campbell, $15). I like other inspirational books and stories like Little Black Stretchy Pants ($15, by Chip Wilson)—which is based on the Lululemon story.”

Spin out

“During the summer, I really like to go cycling after work,” says Charles Girard Tremblay, founder and CEO of Charles Simon. “I usually warm up on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal and then I like to climb the Mont Royal Mountain a few times.” For those off-season rides, the NordicTrack Commercial S22i ($2,000) with iFit technology allows you to take studio classes or ride routes in the most famous destinations in the world without touching a resistance knob: the bike’s programming controls your incline, decline, and resistance in real time.


Wash your face

Having a ritual can be relaxing, that’s no secret. But that ritual can also give you glowing skin—as is the case for Neha Gandhi, COO of Girlboss. “In the past few years, I’ve realized that building a ritual around caring for my skin in the evening feels relaxing and indulgent in the most wonderful way,” she says. “It also feels like the clearest signal I can send myself that the day is ending, and anything that lies ahead is about unwinding, relaxing, and ideally, avoiding screens.” She swears by Grown Alchemist’s Gentle Gel cleanser ($40) and the Luna Retinol Sleeping Night oil from Sunday Riley ($105).

[Photo: courtesy of Baboon]

Pack up

“To quiet my mind, I grab a duffel for the gym and/or soccer and pack what I am going to wear the next day. That way, I can hit the ground running in the morning when I wake up at 5,” Joel Flory, CEO and cofounder of VSCO, says. We love the just-big-enough 40L Go-Bag from Baboon ($150). It takes itself just not-serious-enough with an astronaut- and squid-themed silk liner in a basically indestructible waterproof shell.