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Switching off from the 24-7 work ethic

By Bob Dorf, Special to CNN
updated 7:32 AM EDT, Thu July 12, 2012
"Switching off" is more vital than ever, says entrepreneurship expert Bob Dorf.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Entrepreneur and workaholic Bob Dorf says "Switching off" is vital for your work, and private life
  • Try turning your back on your inboxes after 5pm, he advises
  • Dorf saus exercise breaks and gym workouts can help you re-energize

Editor's note: Bob Dorf founded seven companies before co-authoring The Startup Owner's Manual with long-time friend Steve Blank. He lectures, consults, and also teaches entrepreneurship at Columbia Business School.

(CNN) -- Just as it's tough to ride 100 miles on my bike without a few good snack or stretch breaks along the way, today's 24-7 "always on" world of work makes "switching off" even more vital than ever to maintain productivity, focus, and energy at work -- and to preserve some form of a life with friends, pets, spouses -- and yourself.

The work marathons demanded by this challenging decade need programmatic, regular recharge respites if you're in it for the long haul.

Bob Dorf
Bob Dorf

Having flunked retirement twice, I'm addicted to my work, which I love -- even after 42 years of flat-out entrepreneurship, including these latest two exhausting and exhilarating years writing, publishing, and traveling to lecture about "Startup Owner's Manual," which I co-authored with customer development pioneer Steve Blank.

As a 42-year confessed workaholic captured by a nonstop stream of 200-plus daily emails hitting multiple devices, I've developed (and stolen) dozens of "turn off" tools and tricks to pull myself away from the info onslaught besieging millions of us worldwide. This "nonstopitis" disease affects entrepreneurs like me most of all, and I hope to cure the "disease" before I find myself too busy to attend my own funeral.

See also: Don't let e-mail run your work life

My favorite and newest trick decouples brain from electronic communication devices for a few hours at least once or more every single day -- a major life improvement -- just as many did in our parents' generation, who decoupled simply by leaving the office in the ancient pre-iPhonian era.

Ask yourself, "will anything bad really happen between 5pm and 6am if I turn my back on my inboxes completely?"
Bob Dorf

Another trick: simply ask yourself "will anything bad really happen between 5pm and 6am if I turn my back on my inboxes completely?"

To save your own life, create your own list of "tricks" and of rules to impose on yourself. Some of mine that work:

• Switch gears: When tired of "project A," switch to something else on the list -- easier, different, faster-paced or (gasp) fun. Changing rhythm is restorative and you return to the tougher project fresher in an amazingly short time.

• Change chairs and media -- draft that important thing in (gasp) longhand in a club chair or on a sofa.

• I sequester all devices in my home office no later than 10pm each night, knowing that friends, daughter, and business partner all know my home phone "just in case." But it helps make the day actually end!

• All devices stay in the car when we visit or go out with friends. The break from each is immensely liberating.

• "No device" mealtimes are de rigeur for wife Fran and I, but we're still working on liberating our daughter and her husband. A glass of wine at dinner (not two) slows me down just enough to return to the keyboard with fresh energy.

• A mid-afternoon cigar or swim. Those 15-20 minutes change all the energy and clear the head, like pushing "restart" on a device.

• A 20-minute exercise break, ideally coupled with a five-minute shower (easiest for work (at-home)aholics).

See also: How to cope with too much work

My business partner and co-author Steve Blank, a workaholic Silicon Valley legend, imposed this discipline I recommend: "date night" with his wife Alison. Only rare and urgent business can keep them from their Thursdays.

There are few better power tools in my book than exercise in almost any form.
Bob Dorf

There are few better power tools in my book than exercise in almost any form, especially something like bike riding or skiing -- my two personal favorites -- where it's near impossible to focus on anything other than the cars or moguls whizzing by.

Gym workouts are almost as good, provided you "zone out" watching CNN or Law and Order reruns, rather than reading work-related stuff. Speaking of reading, I forced myself to read a David Baldacci thriller last week, and remembered why the genre is called "escape" fiction. Onward to more such escapes.

Entrepreneurs consider 60-80-hour workweeks their trademark, it seems. Add 10 hours of breaks to the week to make the other 60-plus more productive.

Before you toggle back to your inbox or another web page, make a list of three tricks that will work best for you and try them before the weekend. I guarantee it'll enhance your productivity and encourage longer lists.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Dorf.

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