The idea of remote work, once purely conceptual for many companies, has recently become a widespread practice. The number of remote workers worldwide was already on the rise, but the arrival of COVID-19 lockdowns significantly boosted the ranks of people working from home.
As the WFH trend has extended from days into weeks into months, it’s begun to show some cracks. For many, the line between their work and home lives has become less clear. With no boundaries to define work/life balance, schedules are blurring from one hour to the next and adding an average of three hours to each workday.
Combine this with COVID-19 pandemic-related stressors, and you've got a recipe for disaster in which people become anxious, overtired, depressed, and, ultimately, burned out. If you hope to avoid feeling the symptoms of burnout while working from home, here are five tips you can use to mitigate this serious health problem.
1. Claim a defined workspace.
If you have a separate room for conducting business, it can be your physical line between work and leisure. With an entire household trying to work from home (spouses, kids, roommates), functional workspace might be at a premium. Don’t settle for the couch! If you can’t occupy a room, at least set up a desk or small table in a quiet corner. Then make a pact with yourself to avoid this nook before and after work hours.
2. Respect the clock.
Speaking of “work hours,” one of the common denominators among people who experience burnout is that they don’t know when to quit. If you fall into this category, ask yourself: Is your health worth it?
When you work from home, it's easy to lose track of time (or even the day). For those who are burnout-prone, quitting time becomes an arbitrary boundary with no meaning, rather than a hard and fast indicator that enough is enough. To reinstate the usefulness of quitting time, try these techniques:
You need a firm split between your professional and personal lives if you want to stave off the symptoms of burnout. This can also help you avoid putting in hours for which you don’t get paid or even recognized. Respect the clock, and in the long run, you’ll be doing both your body and mind a favor.
3. Find creative ways to stay in touch.
For customer-facing employees, serving clients is tougher than usual during these unprecedented times, and it comes with a lot of stress – especially if you are working remotely. Will your customers be there when the pandemic is over? How can you make sure they’ll remember you when the world opens up again? Stay in touch with these tips:
Remember to err on the side of compassion and avoid using heavy sales or promotional wording. You don't want to come across as insensitive or tacky. In the long run, people will remember the companies who were caring and genuine during this pandemic.
Following these principles can also decrease your stress by fostering some added human connection. We all feel alone right now, but once you get in touch and demonstrate your concern, chances are, your audience will be there for you when you need it.
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4. Address your financial fears.
Is your WFH workload slower than normal, causing you to worry about your financial standing? Financial worries are one of the top causes of stress, which is, in turn, a top contributor to burnout. Add in the fact that in a lockdown situation with less to divert the mind, it's easier to fixate on a negative idea. We often don't realize how much energy we put into worrying about money — especially when no one knows where the economy will be once the COVID-19 threat passes.
To get a handle on these fears, get proactive: Set a budget, and if you don't have an emergency fund, try to set one up ASAP. Pay down debts as best you can, and work on your credit. (You'll want access to credit and reasonable interest rates if you find yourself in need of a loan down the road). Once you have a financial plan in place, you’d be amazed at how it can reduce your stress levels when working from home.
5. Set daily goals — and take breaks
Setting daily goals that you can tick off as you finish them helps you feel more productive. This can give you a little buffer against burnout when you work from home. The more you feel you’re producing, the less pressure you’ll put on yourself to get more done. This will make it easier to walk away when your quitting-time alarms go off.
Remember, if you don’t reach every single goal, that’s OK. Just move what you don’t complete to the top of the list for the next day. Slow and steady wins the race. Running endlessly at top speed can lead to injuries (both physical and mental), so avoid putting yourself in risky positions.
In addition to the above tips, remember to make time for leisure activities. Go for walks, do some gardening, play games, learn a craft, and go for drives. If it strikes your fancy, even drive barefoot. It’s fully legal — and talk about a feeling of freedom!
Currently, states are slowly beginning to reopen, and hopefully, it won’t be too long before you can return to some semblance of normalcy. Keep in mind that you may be working from home for the foreseeable future, so learn to keep yourself in check when it comes to establishing a work/life balance.
Make a concentrated effort to take care of yourself and avoid unhealthy habits. Setting WFH boundaries for yourself isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but it can be one of the best steps you take to preserve your mental health.
About the Author
Jessica Larson is an entrepreneur who runs The Soloprenuer Journal.