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4 ways to make the most of your time off the clock—without thinking about work

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The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has prolonged businesses' return-to-office plans and increased workplace stress and burnout. Many people's homes have now doubled as their office, making it much harder for employees to separate work from leisure time.

According to a survey of 2,000 workers by Apple Vacations, an all-inclusive vacation provider, Americans need 4 days to unload work stress while on vacation. Nearly half of millennials (47%) feel guilty for even taking a vacation in the first place. 

No matter how demanding or hectic work may be, making time to rejuvenate is very necessary, especially with added workloads due to the Big Quit. CNBC Make It spoke with UGA professor and employee well-being researcher, Dr. Malissa Clark, to discuss 4 ways to make the most of your time off the clock:

1. Delete your email app

We all know that taking a break from technology is good, but in this digital age, it can be hard to unplug. Simply putting down your cell phone may seem beneficial at first, but the urge to check it may cause you to cave in. A study from the University of Chicago found that even the presence of your smartphone can reduce available cognitive capacity.

Clark suggests deleting your email app may help you unplug.

"If you find that it's very difficult to resist the temptation [of checking your phone], consider taking your work email off your phone," she says. "If you don't feel comfortable doing that on a normal, everyday basis, definitely try to do it on the weekends and especially on vacation. Making that conscious effort to disengage is extremely important."

2. Practice proactive recovery

Burnout has been a major issue among employees in the last year. Practicing proactive recovery, which consists of exercises and activities that help you regain your physical, emotional, and mental energy, is a great way to recharge. In fact, according to a study by the International Journal of Workplace Health and Management, exercising not only improves well-being, but it improved their study participants' time management and workload completion skills by 72%. 

"Getting even a brief bit of exercise can lead to increased worker engagement... It's all about making working out a priority," says Clark. "In my interviews with workaholics, a lot of them say to me, I work so much that I forget to work out or I just don't have time to work out. But just something brief, like a brisk walk, can help you cope with work stressors."

3. Distract yourself

According to Clark, it's often easy to just stop working, but it's not so easy to stop thinking about work. If making the conscious effort to detach is still difficult for you, doing something else to stay busy may be your solution.

Hobbies that require concentration, like cross-stitching or woodworking, allow you to focus on finishing that specific task and can improve cognition and memory. Clark enjoys completing jigsaw puzzles as a pastime.

"I'm the kind of person that has to be doing something all the time," she says. "I personally like puzzles, because you have to focus right on finding that piece. And it's a challenge, but it's also fun."

4. Communicate with your manager beforehand

If boundaries and proper work-life balance aren't in place, going the extra mile can be overwhelming, and both work and life could be negatively impacted. Simply being transparent with your manager can be beneficial.

Taking care of your physical and mental well-being will make you a better employee overall, according to Clark.

"A good manager would be very responsive to an employee that came to them and said I'm having a hard time finding balance... I really need to start taking care of myself. Being communicative about not checking your email after hours and having to disengage helps your manager adjust their expectations and be more supportive."

Check out:

Why economists say you should ask for a raise in the New Year

The 5 best books to help you live a happier, more balanced life in 2022, according to a burnout coach

'The most guilt-ridden, nightmare time of year': how to avoid holiday season burnout at work

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