The Off Switch, written by Professor Mark Cropley is a thought-provoking book and had been recommended to me and was in my growing pile of lockdown books purchased but not yet read, so at the start of the Bank Holiday weekend when I was switching off I picked it up. This was the right time, as I could give myself the reflective time I needed to take on board the messages about damage to health, damage to family life etc. and think about how I and my husband both need and could make positive changes. My husband has a similar approach to me to work and I can see that we are both as bad as each other, although right now he is cross with me for writing a blog as he sees that as work, whereas I view it more as a sort of hobby. I’m sitting out in the garden at least!
If you don’t like where you are, move. You are not a tree.
Hobbies are something Cropley recommends and I’ve realised I don’t have many partly because over the years I’ve replaced them with studying at weekends and in the evenings. I would argue that lockdown has also deprived me of one and that was searching for and booking and then looking forward to nights out, days out, weekends away, adventurous bonkers experiences. Live comedy is my favourite thing, I’m sure laughing until I cry helps reset any unbalance between my thoracic and diaphragmatic breathing, which Cropley says is important as defective breathing can actual contribute to certain negative conditions such as anxiety, tension, headaches and fatigue. (We should aim for more of the deeper diaphragmatic breathing). I really miss this hobby, and now console myself with the spreadsheet tracker I’ve created for all the fun things planned for 2020 that have been cancelled, postponed or are in the process of being rebooked (some for 2022!!). Cropley encourages us to not be too leisurely about our leisure and to plan our evenings and our weekends, to have something to look forward to, I tried Cropley, but 2020 had other ideas! I’m thinking about hobbies I could explore. I know that a few SBLs have taken up painting in 2020 – @accidentalSBM’s are stunning and others have beautiful gardens like @SpecialSBM, I’m no painter and my gardening skills are functional, I’ve got an uncanny knack of killing plants rather than nurturing them, so they’re unlikely hobbies for me, but Cropley argues that a good hobby is one that is pursued for its own sake, it doesn’t really matter what the end result is, so long as the person enjoys the experience. To be fair I’ve really enjoyed growing my own tomatoes this lockdown as has @Miconm, so maybe I could make a hobby out of it yet.
“The cultivation of a hobby and new forms of interest is a policy of first importance to a public man” – Winston Churchill
I particularly liked the section about how to deal with interruptions at work on page 213, which included the suggestion of keeping bags or papers on the chair in your office to stop people from sitting down. It reminded me of someone I used to work with in the Personnel Department of the local Electricity Board, yes it was last century…this chap, let’s call his Bernie Wigg used to surround himself and I mean surround himself with the personnel files of anyone he was going to have to write to or there was an outstanding query he was trying to resolve. It was before the concepts of a clear desk policy or scanning in documents and holding them in the cloud had been heard of. He created a little cave of personnel files to hide within. This meant that people often unable to approach him safely for fear of tripping over a pile of personnel files or see whether he was even at his desk instead stopped him in the canteen and tried to have a conversation with him there. His response was to promptly get out his bible and ask them whether they would like to join him for lunch as this was his reflective time and he liked reflecting on god’s work. So, it sounded like Bernie Wigg knew some of the tricks of how to access his off switch, as he tackled interruptions at work and always made sure he recovered and was rested by having a lunch break.
It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?” – A. A. Milne
A couple of years ago in Term 7 SBMs on Twitter were encouraging each other to have an #SBMLunch and I think Cropley would strongly agree with this – he recommends putting it in your diary as an appointment with yourself. At one point during working from home, my husband and I did try to sit and have lunch together, but the first day we couldn’t schedule a time we could both make and the habit has never been formed since. I really think though we need to revisit this, along with some of the other suggestions Cropley makes. None of them are rocket science, we know and already understand how important our health is, this book encourages us to look at it again. The section on working from home is quite short. I imagine a revised version would have a significant addition to this chapter because of our combined experiences of 2020. I know that when posting on Twitter that I was about to read this book it triggered a few school business professionals to voice publicly and via DM their own concerns that they had lost their off switch, last seen March 2020 or sometimes earlier and didn’t know how to find it again. Can I suggest that you join me in taking a deep breath, plan some time in your leisure time to hunt out your off switch, rediscover old hobbies or create new ones, leave work on time, have a lunch break and start to make the little steps and little adaptations or tweaks to make the rest of 2020 a more enjoyable and productive time. If we’ve recognised that something is wrong, we need to make the change.
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes. Including you.