Articles, Blog

How to turn off work thoughts during your free time | Guy Winch

January 21, 2020

Translator: Ivana Korom
Reviewer: Krystian Aparta I wanted to be a psychologist
since I was a teenager, and I spent years pursuing that one goal. I opened my private practice
as soon as I was licensed. It was a risky move, not getting a day job
at a hospital or a clinic, but within one year,
my practice was doing quite well and I was making more money
than I ever made before. Of course, I was a full-time
student my entire life. (Laughter) I could have worked at McDonald’s and made more money
than I ever made before. That one-year mark
came on a Friday night in July. I walked home to my apartment and got into the elevator with a neighbor
who was a doctor in the ER. The elevator rose, then it shuddered
and stalled between floors. And the man who dealt
with emergencies for a living began poking at the buttons
and banging on the door, saying, “This is my nightmare,
this is my nightmare!” And I was like,
“And this is my nightmare.” (Laughter) I felt terrible afterwards, though. Because I wasn’t panicked and I knew what to say to calm him down. I was just too depleted to do it, I had nothing left to give,
and that confused me. After all, I was finally living my dream, so why wasn’t I happy? Why did I feel so burned out? For a few terrible weeks, I questioned whether I’d made a mistake. What if I had chosen the wrong profession? What if I had spent my entire life
pursuing the wrong career? But then I realized, no,
I still loved psychology. The problem wasn’t the work
I did in my office. It was the hours I spent
ruminating about work when I was home. I closed the door
to my office every night, but the door in my head remained wide-open and the stress just flooded in. That’s the interesting thing
about work stress. We don’t really experience
much of it at work. We’re too busy. We experience it outside of work, when we are commuting, when we’re home, when we’re trying to rejuvenate. It is important to recover
in our spare time, to de-stress and do things we enjoy, and the biggest obstruction
we face in that regard is ruminating. Because each time we do it, we’re actually activating
our stress response. Now, to ruminate means to chew over. The word refers
to how cows digest their food. For those of you unfamiliar
with the joys of cow digestion, cows chew, then they swallow, then they regurgitate it back up
and chew it again. (Laughter) It’s disgusting. (Laughter) But it works for cows. (Laughter) It does not work for humans. Because what we chew over
are the upsetting things, the distressing things, and we do it in ways
that are entirely unproductive. It’s the hours we spend
obsessing about tasks we didn’t complete or stewing about tensions
with a colleague, or anxiously worrying about the future, or second-guessing decisions we’ve made. Now there’s a lot of research
on how we think about work when we are not at work, and the findings are quite alarming. Ruminating about work, replaying the same thoughts and worries
over and over again, significantly disrupts our ability
to recover and recharge in the off hours. The more we ruminate about work
when we’re home, the more likely we are
to experience sleep disturbances, to eat unhealthier foods and to have worse moods. It may even increase our risk
of cardiovascular disease and of impairing
our executive functioning, the very skill sets we need
to do our jobs well. Not to mention the toll it takes
on our relationships and family lives, because people around us can tell
we’re checked out and preoccupied. Now, those same studies found that while ruminating
about work when we’re home damages our emotional well-being, thinking about work in creative
or problem-solving ways does not. Because those kinds of thinking
do not elicit emotional distress and, more importantly,
they’re in our control. We can decide whether
to respond to an email or leave it till morning, or whether we want to brainstorm
about work projects that excite us. But ruminations are involuntary. They’re intrusive. They pop into our head
when we don’t want them to. They upset us when
we don’t want to be upset. They switch us on
when we are trying to switch off. And they are very difficult to resist, because thinking of all
our unfinished tasks feels urgent. Anxiously worrying about the future
feels compelling. Ruminating always feels
like we’re doing something important, when in fact, we’re doing
something harmful. And we all do it far more than we realize. Back when I was burned out, I decided to keep a journal for a week and document exactly how much time
I spent ruminating. And I was horrified by the results. It was over 30 minutes a night
when I was trying to fall asleep. My entire commute,
to and from my office — that was 45 minutes a day. Totally checked out for 20 minutes during the dinner party
at a colleague’s house. Never got invited there again. (Laughter) And 90 minutes during
a friend’s “talent show” that, coincidentally, was 90 minutes long. (Laughter) In total, that week,
it was almost 14 hours. That’s how much “downtime” I was losing to something that actually
increased my stress. Try keeping a journal for one week. See how much you do it. That’s what made me realize
that I still loved my work. But ruminating was destroying that love and it was destroying
my personal life, too. So I read every study I could find, and I went to war against my ruminations. Now, habit change is hard. It took real diligence to catch myself
ruminating each time, and real consistency
to make the new habits stick. But eventually, they did. I won my war against ruminating, and I’m here to tell you
how you can win yours. First, you need clear guardrails. You have to define
when you switch off every night, when you stop working. And you have to be strict about it. The rule I made to myself at the time
was that I was done at 8pm. And I forced myself to stick to it. Now people say to me, “Really? You didn’t return
a single email after 8pm? You didn’t even look at your phone?” No, not once. Because it was the ’90s,
we didn’t have smartphones. (Laughter) I got my first smartphone in 2007. You know, the iPhone had just come out, and I wanted a phone
that was cool and hip. I got a BlackBerry. (Laughter) I was excited, though, you know, my first thought was,
“I get my emails wherever I am.” And 24 hours later, I was like, “I get my emails
wherever I am.” (Laughter) I mean, battling ruminations
was hard enough when they just invaded our thoughts. But now they have this Trojan horse, our phones, to hide within. And each time we just look
at our phone after hours, we can be reminded of work and ruminative thoughts can slip out and slaughter our evening or weekend. So, when you switch off, switch off your email notifications. And if you have to check them,
decide on when to do it, so it doesn’t interfere with your plans, and do it only then. Cell phones aren’t the only way
technology is empowering rumination, because we have
an even bigger fight coming. Telecommuting has increased
115 percent over the past decade. And it’s expected to increase
even more dramatically going forward. More and more of us
are losing our physical boundary between work and home. And that means that reminders of work will be able to trigger ruminations
from anywhere in our home. When we lack a physical boundary
between work and home, we have to create a psychological one. We have to trick our mind into defining work and nonwork
times and spaces. So here’s how you do that. First, create a defined
work zone in your home, even if it’s tiny, and try to work only there. Try not to work on the living room couch or on the bed because really, those areas
should be associated with living and … bedding. (Laughter) Next, when you’re working from home, wear clothes you only wear
when you’re working. And then at the end of the day, change clothes, and use music and lighting
to shift the atmosphere from work to home. Make it a ritual. Now, some of you might think that’s silly. That changing clothes and lighting will convince my mind
I’m no longer at work. Trust me, your mind will fall for it. Because we are really smart,
our mind is really stupid. (Laughter) It falls for random associations
all the time, right? I mean, that’s why Pavlov’s dog
began drooling at the sound of a bell. And why TED speakers begin sweating
at the sight of a red circle. (Laughter) Now those things will help, but ruminations will still invade. And when they do, you have to convert them into productive forms of thinking,
like problem-solving. My patient Sally is a good example. Sally was given
the promotion of a lifetime, but it came with a price. She was no longer able
to pick up her daughter from school every day, and that broke her heart. So she came up with a plan. Every Tuesday and Thursday,
Sally left work early, picked up her daughter from school, played with her, fed her,
bathed her and put her to bed. And then she went back to the office and worked past midnight to catch up. Only, Sally’s rumination journal indicated she spent almost every minute
of her quality time with her daughter ruminating about how much
work she had to do. Ruminations often deny us
our most precious moments. Sally’s rumination,
“I have so much work to do,” is a very common one. And like all of them, it’s useless and it’s harmful, because we’d never think it
when we’re at work, getting stuff done. We think it when we’re outside of work, when we’re trying to relax
or do things that we find meaningful, like playing with our children, or having a date night with our partner. To convert a ruminative thought
into a productive one, you have to pose it
as a problem to be solved. The problem-solving version
of “I have so much work to do” is a scheduling question. Like, “Where in my schedule can I fit
the tasks that are troubling me?” Or, “What can I move in my schedule
to make room for this more urgent thing?” Or even, “When do I have 15 minutes
to go over my schedule?” All those are problems that can be solved. “I have so much work to do” is not. Battling rumination is hard, but if you stick to your guardrails, if you ritualize the transition
from work to home, and if you train yourself
to convert ruminations into productive forms of thinking, you will succeed. Banishing ruminations
truly enhanced my personal life, but what it enhanced even more was the joy and satisfaction
I get from my work. Ground zero for creating
a healthy work-life balance is not in the real world. It’s in our head. It’s with ruminating. If you want to reduce your stress
and improve your quality of life, you don’t necessarily have to change
your hours or your job. You just have to change how you think. Thank you. (Applause)

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  • Reply sofia漂亮 January 21, 2020 at 3:58 pm

    hey ppl

  • Reply Rémy January 21, 2020 at 3:58 pm

    Niice !

  • Reply ĎUB MAN V January 21, 2020 at 3:59 pm

    Great content….

  • Reply nawshad king January 21, 2020 at 3:59 pm


  • Reply Fajer Mubarak January 21, 2020 at 3:59 pm

    "The only person who works will think about working"

  • Reply Renum Aall Moussa January 21, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    Useful vid

  • Reply Samir Besirov January 21, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    a very beautiful apple

  • Reply Blaze Incendio January 21, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    Can you instead teach me how to turn off free time thought during work

  • Reply Ross Campoli - Leadership & Business Videos January 21, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    In his autobiography, “Grinding it Out,” Ray Kroc said he would clear his mind before bed by picturing a blackboard full of writing, and imagining himself erasing all the writing off the board. He said that process really cleared his mind.

    He said he recognized he needed a good night’s sleep to be able to perform well the next day so he felt a responsibility to get himself the best rest with the clearest mind possible.

  • Reply Tabacchum Taba January 21, 2020 at 4:01 pm

    Who love Ted?

  • Reply JungJoel January 21, 2020 at 4:01 pm

    Just sleep

  • Reply Mark C January 21, 2020 at 4:02 pm

    Gee how hard is it to just focus on whatever you're doing. If you're cooking, focus on the cooking. If you're playing football, focus on football. If you're making love, focus on your partner. Gee this stuff doesn't need a Ted talk. Has the human race really regressed to the level we need advice on the most basic of things ?

  • Reply TatuGamer03 January 21, 2020 at 4:03 pm

    Next video: How to turn off free time thoughts during work

  • Reply Tammy Lee January 21, 2020 at 4:04 pm

    Interesting information

  • Reply gun kid January 21, 2020 at 4:07 pm

    i already turn off work thoughts while im at work

  • Reply chaitanyasai chunduri January 21, 2020 at 4:08 pm

    How to turn on ? 😃

  • Reply sunny smile January 21, 2020 at 4:10 pm

    I love Guy!!

  • Reply Pyrrus January 21, 2020 at 4:10 pm

    During my free time?! Which free time? D:

  • Reply Pascal W. January 21, 2020 at 4:17 pm

    How to starts at 6:45

  • Reply ritesh kumar January 21, 2020 at 4:18 pm


  • Reply Ayman Hosny January 21, 2020 at 4:20 pm

    I completely translated this video into Arabic for TED, and I wish to be useful for Arabian audience and to help Arabic speakers to address this unpleasant experience.
    Have a nice watching!

  • Reply joshx022 January 21, 2020 at 4:23 pm

    Like Nike, just do it. 😉

  • Reply Nguyên Đinh January 21, 2020 at 4:23 pm

    Việt sub please.¡

  • Reply Bell's Theorem January 21, 2020 at 4:27 pm

    How do I turn off free time thoughts during work?

  • Reply Vincent Fischer January 21, 2020 at 4:32 pm

    When I want to go to sleep I watch 1 minute of TED. Then I'm gone

  • Reply by Daniel Chiotis January 21, 2020 at 4:37 pm

    …title says: ' how to be a shallow robot sheep and live in an illusion that's your own lie"


  • Reply Maxima January 21, 2020 at 4:42 pm

    Problem is, there's so much work, there is no free time

  • Reply ABC XYZ January 21, 2020 at 4:46 pm

    All is bs. If you want to excel at your job, don't turn off your mind

  • Reply Rosabella January 21, 2020 at 4:48 pm

    He also has a wonderful talk "How to practice emotional first aid "
    I highly recommend it .👍

  • Reply Johnny Butoch January 21, 2020 at 4:52 pm

    will power + self awareness = full self control and well being

  • Reply -I'm nobody- January 21, 2020 at 4:54 pm

    @ 0:14 Opening Statement
    @ 6:46 #1 – Clear Guard Rails
    @ 7:20 #2 – Trojan Horse
    @ 8:00 #3 – Switch Off
    @ 8:52 #4 – Physical Space
    @ 9:32 #5 – Our mind
    @ 10:00 #6 – Sally
    @ 12:00 Closing Statement

  • Reply Feeber Izer January 21, 2020 at 5:02 pm

    My first job was working on classified DoD projects. Couldn't talk about it away from work, so it was easy to shut it off. I still don't talk or think about work away from the office out of habit 35÷ years later….and people think I'm weird because I don't talk about work.

  • Reply ilove2929 January 21, 2020 at 5:05 pm

    Self discipline is self love

  • Reply ilove2929 January 21, 2020 at 5:08 pm

    I even need this ritual just to fall asleep at night. Sad

  • Reply Dan Chavez January 21, 2020 at 5:11 pm

    This is something that needs be addressed/trained at a young age….Example: Picture this… little Johnny sitting in class at his desk, with his book open, but his elbows are on his desk, with his hands under his chin…busy day dreaming of how fantastic this coming Saturday is going to be fishing. Remembering the last big catch, and how much fun it will be….Then Saturday arrives and he's holding on to his fishing pole…but instead of having the fun he was anticipating…he's busy thinking about his homework that he is behind on…

  • Reply glockman1727ak47 January 21, 2020 at 5:12 pm

    Solid stuff, gotta love Guy

  • Reply 303StreetMachines January 21, 2020 at 5:12 pm

    Ok, now I need to figure out how to turn on my work thoughts during work.

  • Reply Tanvi Gusain January 21, 2020 at 5:21 pm

    I thought maybe thinking about chandler will solve the thing 😵

  • Reply hirosh h January 21, 2020 at 5:23 pm


  • Reply Lala January 21, 2020 at 5:40 pm

    How about, how to turn off angry thoughts during work time?

  • Reply Matthew Dean January 21, 2020 at 5:42 pm

    I'm not lazy….but I fucking hate work. As in, being on the treadmill so I can afford to go to work again next month. I never had any passion for any job I've done and that ultimately gets me down and makes me resent the work I do. I've not got a bad life, I just want to feel like I've won.

  • Reply Manoj Kumar January 21, 2020 at 5:44 pm

    One way to solve all problem = meditation

  • Reply Lala January 21, 2020 at 5:50 pm

    His suggestion about changing clothes is real. I never get out of my pajamas and my mindset is about chilling 24/7.

  • Reply Health and Wellbeing TV January 21, 2020 at 5:52 pm

    Quit your job if it’s that stressful, it’s not worth it

  • Reply Andre January 21, 2020 at 5:53 pm

    Changing ones work environment, along with clothing does have an impact on defining when one is working.
    Yet, when one wants to enjoy life, without focusing on work, how much does purchasing power affect his/her ability to question work. Am I being paid enough for the time I’m contributing to this employer?
    In my case, no, not being paid enough.

  • Reply Afnan Emhlawy January 21, 2020 at 5:55 pm

    I would like to thank my God for knowing such a good person as dr guy winch.he appeared in my life when it was dark to tell me that sadness is not exaggeration but real and needs treatment .i said yes he is talking about me .so i would like really to thank him

  • Reply Andre January 21, 2020 at 5:57 pm

    Employment is co-dependent relationship.
    The control the employer has with monetary exchange and candidate compensation is akin to abusive co-dependent relationships.
    Are you in a relationship because you want to, or because you must. And are you in a relationship with the employer of YOUR choice, or the other way around.

    This is my impression based on current hiring managers and the atmosphere around work place employment. It is indentured servitude and the master is not debt free and possibly incompetent!.!

  • Reply phixion. January 21, 2020 at 6:06 pm

    Have a fat J

  • Reply The GOAT January 21, 2020 at 6:11 pm

    I wish i could stop thinking so much when im trying to sleep.

  • Reply ariwl1 January 21, 2020 at 6:23 pm

    Anyone else watching this at work?

  • Reply Powerful U January 21, 2020 at 6:43 pm

    Closing the door to your office, doesn't mean you closed your mind to your thoughts to your work. Great point Guy! I think that being able to leave work at work is so important. Appreciate this talk.

  • Reply Daniel Thybo Mouritsen January 21, 2020 at 7:04 pm

    People who watch YouTube clearly don’t have this problem lol

  • Reply Sad Eyes January 21, 2020 at 7:05 pm

    How about free time thought while working….. Lol… J/k 😉🙄🤷‍♀️🤫🤭🤦‍♀️

  • Reply Luke Sandison January 21, 2020 at 7:22 pm

    "Ignorance of one's misfortunes is clear gain." Euripides

  • Reply obgfoster January 21, 2020 at 7:53 pm

    Brilliant! In order to change how you think, you have to change how you think! :-p

  • Reply Trinidad Molina January 21, 2020 at 8:11 pm

    Just became my all-time favorite TED talk.

  • Reply Miyankochan January 21, 2020 at 8:20 pm

    oooh this is how I burned out by the age of 28!

  • Reply David Daniels Craftsman January 21, 2020 at 8:54 pm

    I wish I could separate my personal facebook page and my facebook work page as it comes within the one app. I can be looking through my personal fb at 11pm and get notifications and messages from my work page at the same time. Technology is great but also a pain.

  • Reply William Hendrick January 21, 2020 at 9:15 pm

    If using the same computer for work and for leisure, have to accounts, one for work, one for personal use. Your mindset will be associated with the setup for each.

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