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The art of switching off

Give your brain the tools and the permission to let go of things

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  • Published

    09 Oct 2014
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By Grace Marshall, Think Productive

In this day and age, when so many of us work with our heads rather than solely with our hands, switching off may not be as simple as leaving work and going home (or for that matter, leaving home and going to work).

When our heads are full of information to process, decisions to make, thoughts to formulate and things to remember, it’s not always easy to just switch off our brains, or to switch over from work to home mode or vice versa.

Even when we’ve switched off the computer, our work phone, emails, shut the office door and physically left the building, we might still find our brain ticking away in work mode.

The art of switching off comes from two things:

Have a trusted system

When my daughter was 4, she had a habit of hoarding toys in play areas. She would typically play with something, bring it over to me, and ask me to look after it while she played with something else. When I called her over for lunch, she would bring the scooter or bike she had been riding and wedge it between her chair and the table so that no-one else could get it.

She would only put down a toy if she felt certain that it would still be there when she came back to it. (We had some interesting conversations about sharing.)

In the same way we will only mentally let go of something when we feel sure we can come back to it later. That reminder we’ve written down, that date that’s in the diary, that shopping list we’ve made.

Our brains need to know that it’s safe to switch off, that we can put that piece of work down without it disappearing, exploding, being forgotten or coming back later to bite us!

In our workshops we show people how to develop their own trusted system, a ‘second brain’ to hold information, so that their actual brains can be free to focus on the present moment and task at hand.

Be purposefully present

Switching off is just one side of the equation. Switching on to the present is just as important.

Telling your brain not to think about something is like telling a child not to run.

“Walk please” works better than “Don’t run!” just as “Relax” works better than “Don’t panic!”

In the same way, it’s easier to switch off from work when you are clear about where your attention is going instead, whether that’s having fun with your kids, relaxing in a hot bath, beating your brother at a game of squash or enjoying a meal with friends.

Be purposeful about how your want to spend your personal, social and family time. Decide what’s important to you, how you’re going to enjoy it and let yourself be immersed in the moment.

And the result...

We get more done when we focus on what we are doing than what we’re not.

We do our best thinking when we can use our whole brain rather than have one eye on something else.

Switching off can often give us the break we need to refresh our brains and come back with quicker solutions and better ideas.

We feel like we have more time. Research shows that those who feel more time affluent, more rich in time, are people who regularly experience awe - that feeling of being captivated by the present moment.

Give it a try

  • Take ten minutes to download your brain before you leave work tonight
  • Use a trusted system to keep track of your ideas, projects and tasks.
  • Make plans for the weekend - what would make it time well spent for you?


About the Author

Grace Marshall is the author of the Amazon bestselling book, “21 Ways to Manage the Stuff That Sucks Up Your Time” and a Productivity Ninja with Think Productive, the UK’s leading productivity workshop company.


Grace admits she's not a naturally organized person. Her passion for productivity began when she got fed up of saying "I haven't got enough time."


She specialises in helping busy time jugglers find ways of getting things done with less stress, less overwhelm, more fun, enjoyment and fulfilment, and does her own juggling with two young children and a own coaching business at

Related Resources

Grace spoke at our October Masterclass - How to be a Productivity Ninja: Beyond time management.

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