Until COVID-19 came along, there was a widespread perception that working remotely meant that employees would be less productive.
However, research in the past couple of years has shown that workers are actually more productive, overall, when they are working remotely. But that increase in productivity can come with an increase in stress, hours worked, and—if not managed properly—burnout.
Burnout is an emotional and physical condition brought on by an extended period of stress. When people are constantly busy, taking on multiple roles and never getting a break, they begin to feel overwhelmed and strained. These feelings are often worsened by lack of personal time; if we are so busy that we do not have a moment to ourselves, trying to do something as simple as reading a book can cause guilt and make us rush back to our work. And that, of course, just makes our burnout worse.
Burnout usually starts at work but affects all aspects of a person’s life. Symptoms of burnout include insomnia, excessive feelings of stress, anger, or irritability, and even medical issues such as high blood pressure, heart issues, and anxiety or depression. To keep ourselves on a healthy track, we should think of burnout as a condition we need to manage actively, rather than waiting for it to happen.
Managing burnout can be difficult, and it presents special challenges to those of us who work from home. When you work from a desk set up in your bedroom, you might find yourself logging back in at all hours to do work without taking a proper break. This ends up being counterproductive: ignoring the symptoms of burnout often leads to some kind of mental or physical crash, which will take you away from your job for much longer than if you had taken periodic breaks from work.
Whether or not you are currently feeling the symptoms, taking steps to manage burnout now can prevent problems in the future. Here are three things you can start doing today to help prevent burnout and achieve a better work-life balance:
Log out, physically and mentally
Most of us have jobs in which there is always more that we could be doing. There is always one more email to send, one more call to make, or one more meeting to schedule. When working remotely, you might find yourself in an endless cycle of working if you do not set a hard cutoff for the end of your day. Some jobs work longer hours than others, so adjust to the needs of your role, but find a time when you will stop working, and commit mentally to the idea that you are done for the day. Physically log out of your emails, put your phone on do not disturb, or do whatever you have to do to stop yourself from thinking about work after your day has ended.
Change your location
If you have the space for it, make sure that your work station and your personal-time area are separate. It is much easier to get dragged back into a work mentality if you are sitting at the same desk for the entire day, whether you are on the clock or not.
If you do not have the additional space, schedule field trips for yourself as your job allows. Work from a library or a coffee shop for a few hours, or visit a friend who also works remotely so the two of you can work together. Even taking your laptop to the kitchen table or the back porch for an hour or two can help increase your focus and help you feel more productive and in control.
Prioritize the ordinary
Finally, prioritize the things in your life that might otherwise seem unimportant. When deciding what you have to do throughout the day, tasks like filing reports and doing laundry seem like essentials that should always be your top concerns. But make sure that you are also making time for yourself. Right alongside working on a PowerPoint presentation, schedule time to read that book that you’ve been meaning to finish, or call your parents, or watch that new TV show all of your friends have been obsessed with.
If we let ourselves, we could shove aside the ordinary things indefinitely. But these activities are not thoughtless or time-wasters. Prioritizing time to do the things that you love will help your work hours be more productive. So take your lunch break, see a movie, or go to that painting class you’ve been keeping an eye on. Your work will be all the better when you return to it.
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