The importance of switching off — Issue #12

In the 80s and 90s, a culture was created around the constant hustle to succeed. Making money at any cost and being business savvy would get you anywhere even without formal education.

Sharp style, consumerism and the double-breasted suits became a part of pop culture.

Sadly this created a culture of always craving more and always trying to achieve more. About aspiring to reach lofty new heights, rather than appreciating the smaller things in life. Not celebrating small achievements that in their own right may be astounding considering our current context.

Society has become about comparing ourselves to others. Social media lives have just added to that culture, creating unrealistic ideals and moving our focus away from the now.

The beginning of the change

With the growth of the tech and startup culture, associated to silicone valley, soon spreading to other parts of the world, we began to see a shift.

We started seeing a new type of executive who didn’t wear suits and didn’t needy flashy possessions. With the internet, we started seeing more and more self taught professionals, forcing formal education to start exploring other avenues of teaching.

Although the hustle culture actually got worse, with people feeling more pressured to be the next big tech creator, we also saw people talking about reseting and going on retreats. About balancing play and work better.

It would take at least another 10 years, but in the early 2010s, (rough estimate) we also saw many tech giants evolving the game further. Now with established products, many started creating a culture where the people are a priority in evolving the product. Having a work/life balance becomes a regular part of the conversation.

The office culture that feels more like a playground did create some confusion, because it blurred the line between work and play. Potentially increasing the amount of time employees work, because hey, it’s not really work.

The zoom bubble (or something to do with a pandemic)

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you were hit by the covid pandemic in 2020. A global event that forced culture and habits to change drastically.

Suddenly the remote culture that just didn’t make sense was the norm. Hours on back to back video calls. Being confined to our homes.

Up to this point, the world keeps evolving and so does the work culture, but it just seems just keep adding layers of complexity and overload.

We’re constantly being bombarded with pressure from all sides to try and achieve one or more of the following:

  1. Build the next big tech thing
  2. Become the VP, CEO or founder of something
  3. Achieve the perceived perfect life we see on social media
  4. Start the perfect side hustle
  5. Invest in stocks, crypto etc.
  6. etc.

All this while maintaining a perfect work/life balance. Easy right? No anxiety whatsoever… (they said ironically)

Finding the balance

Switching off becomes more import than ever, but with all the external stimuli, including bills to pay or family matters to attend to, it seems almost impossible to find that inner peace.

A few years back, a friend offered me the book A Monk who sold his Ferrari and it was a great book trying to give you a better perspective on life. The problem is that as wonderful as the teachings are, I’ll be honest, I didn’t feel it’s practical enough considering the real world and kids. I’m sure others have found it useful, but for me… nope.

So how do we find the balance without ignoring an important part of our life or losing control? I’m going to share some of my thoughts, but again, test out different approaches until you find what works best for you.

#1 — Reduce the need to rush

Start small. If you need to go anywhere, start leaving a bit earlier than usual to give you more time to arrive there, thus reducing the need to rush.

I personally prefer arriving a few minutes earlier, maybe grab a coffee if you have extra time. But you’re already near by. It makes it less stressful.

#2 — Stop taking things so personally

Someone cuts in front of you in traffic. Someone knocks against you in a public place. A colleague explodes for no apparent reason.

All of these situations may boil your blood or cause discomfort. Take a breath and understand that none of these situations are personal. The same would happen whether it was you or anyone else in front of that person at that time.

I don’t condone or suggest ignoring the situations completely, but consider how you react to them in proportion to how bad they really are. Was yours or anyone’s health or well being really in danger? If not, was it really that bad?

Maybe the other person is having a terrible moment in their lives. Maybe they were never taught to take life more easily or consider the feelings of others. Sadly, we were in the cross hairs at the wrong time.

#3 — Stop and smell the roses

We’ve heard that a million times, but what if we don’t see any roses in the immediate vicinity 😉

I read a book last year on Ichigo Ichi which explains the Japanese principle of being in the moment and really absorbing the full experience of that moment.

Unconsciously, I had started applying these principles a few years back when driving. I went from rushing from place to place to driving in a calm and relaxed manner. If I was late for something, I accepted that no amount of rushing would make me arrive on time.

I also started always driving in a calm pace and taking in my surroundings more during the journey. I found that most people seem to be going over the speed limit as a norm and I was suddenly at a more structured pace, which meant that I had less problems when joining traffic or when someone cut me off.

It’s strange, but everything seemed to go down to a much slower and calmer pace.

#4 — Read… whatever you like

I love learning and there are times I’ve become a machine that devours technical books, but I also admitted to myself that there are times when we just need a break.

Guess what, reading fictional books is okay. Sometimes I just go through a binge of reading fictional collections, from classics, fantasy, science fiction, mystery all the way to more light and fun books.

All I know is I need to explore a world where I don’t need to learn about product development, organisational design or change management for a while.

It’s okay. Enjoy those books without feeling guilty. You can get back to technical reading when you have the headspace.

#5 — Switch off. Really switch off

Start creating some habit of switching off. Apply working hours to your calendar to avoid scheduling anything outside those hours.

Turn off notifications from work related applications when leaving the office.

Find it hard to switch off when going on vacation because you have a lot of responsibilities and people who depend on you? Establish some ground rules.

I tell my colleagues I won’t be looking at messages or answering phone calls during the day. If they need something, they can send me emails or slack messages, but I will only be looking at them during an allotted time at then end of the day. Also, establish that you will only be active during that hour and no more.

I’ve often found that most issues can solve themselves or be put on hold until you get back. Or due to only having an hour at the end of the day, the message and ask become much more specific and clear.

It’s also okay to switch off from an idea and revisit it at a later stage. Forcing something can often lead to wasted time and effort, as well as a feeling of pressure to deliver.

#6 — Small steps

A few years ago, I decided I wanted a shift in my career, but realised I need to accomplish some milestones before I was prepared. I set myself a 2 year plan and started the journey.

At first, I was enthusiastic. I updated my CV, started building my network, attending conferences, reading books and attending workshops or online courses.

When I couldn’t spend 2 hours every night on building myself up, I would make an effort to spend at least 30 min. I would avoid feeling guilty on days when I didn’t achieve anything.

When I reached the 2 year milestone I was in the perfect position for the shift and so I started sending out CVs and taking advantage of my network.

I was getting called in to interviews, but none of the opportunities seemed right or I wasn’t getting the attention I had expected.

I reached a point where I had a huge spreadsheet to control all my submissions and status. I began to despair. The change I had expected just wasn’t happening.

Strangely enough, the habits I had created bit by bit kept happening. I was still submitting CVs, working on my network and constantly learning, without any effort.

I was finally presented with interesting opportunities and even the opportunity to teach.

It was done with such small steps that I didn’t feel pressured and by doing something a little every day, rather that expecting everything all at once, I built up a career and conditions for my professional evolution which are still in motion to this day.

#7 — Surround yourself with the right people

It’s something that is spouted in every self help book or online advice quotes etc.

The simple fact is that there are people that will challenge you to grow without pressuring you. That will show you how to understand success rather that just chasing it.

People who see success as purchasing a sports car or buying a mansion will only add to your stress. They’re focusing on the material, whereas there is so much more fulfilment to be had from finding peace.

In Conclusion

Success is not just about money or possessions. There is so much more. The sooner we understand that, the sooner we remove so many levels of anxiety.

The truth is that what so many are aspiring to achieve just doesn’t exist. If we work 8 or 14 hours a day, at the end of the day, what we are able to achieve is probably the same, but with the difference of burnout or destroying our balance.

Many are testing working even less hours with equal or better results… makes you think.

Our weekdays can also be just as fulfilling as the weekends we so look forward too. We just need to start understanding and appreciating the good during the week.

Make a habit of switching off. Really switching off.

Originally published at on April 6, 2022.




// Leading Product Operations at OLX Motors EU // Helping to make better products — Co-founder of @uxdiscuss with @whitingx

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Hugo Froes

Hugo Froes

// Leading Product Operations at OLX Motors EU // Helping to make better products — Co-founder of @uxdiscuss with @whitingx

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