Whenever I talk to people about working from home and the question of productivity arises, I find that it’s not the discipline to get on and work that’s the biggest challenge, for a lot of people, it’s the discipline to stop working. Work-from-home burnout is a real problem.
Add in a global pandemic, you might find you’re trying to work from home with many other concerns, decisions about schooling, trying to care for and home educate children and keep a household ticking over. There are lots of stress factors and burning out could creep up on you quicker than you realise.
It’s not just the suited and booted in big corporate offices clocking up the hours. When you’re sat at home in a pair of yoga pants at the kitchen table, you’re statistically more prone to pull longer hours. There are a few factors that lead to this:
• No visual cues or reminders from colleagues to stop, take breaks or leave work.
• No physical separation between work life and home life.
• The feeling that as you’re home, you don’t really need a proper break.
The last reason is perhaps the most subtle and one that I found myself slipping into when I started working from home. It’s that feeling that because you’re at home, you’ve already got it a bit ‘easy’. There’s an element of guilt that sitting in the comfort of your sitting room brings. It’s a mindset shift that’s required and there are ways to help which can also help to avoid work-from-home burnout.
Establish an end of day routine
All too often, we stress the importance of the morning routine to get into ‘work mode’ but don’t forget the importance of an end of day wind-down routine to help you come out of it.
Putting in boundaries for yourself is something we talk about a lot at The Homeworker. You can prevent work-from-home burnout by achieving a better ‘work-life balance’ and that involves being able to switch off.
Anything which you start to associate with finishing work can trigger you to behave differently and means you’ll be less tempted to return to replying to emails or checking social media.
For remote workers, a final end-of-day virtual meeting can be a good way to debrief, connect socially and signal a close to the working day. If you’re self-employed, have a similar end of day ritual. It might be a scheduled chat with a friend or a daily task that you save for last so you know that’s you finished for the day.
If there’s two of you working from home, you can help each other by scheduling a coffee or perhaps an end-of-week drink to mark that work is over and you can both enjoy downtime.
Establish physical boundaries
When you work from home, those first hazy days of lying in and starting work at 10 am in your pjs might seem like bliss. They aren’t conducive to sustaining a successful work-from-home routine.
You might hear people talk about making sure you get dressed. It is one way to set a good boundary around work and home. You can read here about why getting dressed for work is important in other ways. As well as getting dressed in the morning, consider changing out of work clothes at the end of your ‘working day’.
Think about how you can book-end your day, not just with a change of clothes, but a second commute. The change of scenery is a powerful way to shift your energy. In fact, a change in environment can act as a reset for your brain and stimulate different thoughts and behaviours. In this way, getting outside and putting some physical distance between you and where you work is an effective tool to help you switch off and therefore avoid work-from-home burnout.
Establish temporal boundaries
Giving yourself set work hours can be really hard when working from home but really important to avoid working all the time. The hours aren’t necessarily 9-5. I know for myself, they often start earlier or end later but know for yourself, when those hours are.
Equally important is communicating those hours to clients and colleagues (if you have flexible working arrangements). You can set your email auto-responder to let people know your schedule and manage expectations. During Covid-19, you might just want to let people know that response times or hours might change while in lockdown.
For remote workers, it’s important that managers and leaders set the example and expectations. It’s hard not to feel compelled to reply instantly to messages coming through late at night from your boss. The Flex issue of The Homeworker magazine takes a look at how people can become better managers with a remote team.
Take a holiday at home
Take time off. When was the last time you took leave or an actual holiday?
It’s important to remind yourself that just because you’re at home, you’re not on holiday, having a rest or taking it easy. You’re working, probably longer hours than before and in a more stressful situation (during the pandemic).
During the Covid_19 pandemic, long-haul travel isn’t possible but you can create a mini-holiday feel at home. (I should add that good weather helps and if you have children, I fully understand you’re never fully relaxed, but then that doesn’t change even if you’ve jumped on an aeroplane).
To take time off, particularly when you’re running your own business requires planning. You need to look at what you can automate while you’re off, perhaps look at outsourcing some help and finish any time-critical work so you can fully relax. It might also involve asking for help with children to give you a few hours just for yourself.
Be very clear that you’re taking time off. Switch off work phones or computers. Put your out-of-office on, let people you work with or for know that you’re not available.
Create your to-don’t list
When you’re on holiday, you can still be very intentional with your time so that you’re not slipping into old habits. Make a list of things you’re not going to do while you’re off. For example:
Answer work calls
Read work-related material
Wear any clothes you associate with work
Create a to-do list
Look at things you want to achieve with your time off. That might be absolutely nothing bar enjoying time with family. It might be that you have a couple of fiction books you’ve never had time to read or music you never listen to because you’re always looking for a work-related podcast. Perhaps you want to do more cooking or learn a new recipe.
You could order a takeaway instead of going to a restaurant, take walks in the countryside, eat ice cream, buy some pampering products to give yourself a more indulgent spa bath.
By focusing on activities that bring you joy and that you feel are reserved for ‘holidays’, you can create your own holiday at home. Make your new to-do list fun and a way to help you really relax.
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