Avoiding work from home burnout

Covid-19 has had an unprecedented impact on our lives. Socialising has become virtual, we can be fined or arrested for meeting our friends in person. Our commute has changed from a slog through traffic or public transport to a short walk to a home office or dining room. We are no longer worrying about finding a meeting room, but instead making sure that everyone has the right dial in details. For those of us lucky enough to be able to work remotely, our homes have become our permanent workspaces.

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

The grass isn’t always greener…

As time went on and I worked from home more and more, I discovered that something was missing. The very things that I had thought would make working from home better were also things that I missed. My commute was non-existent, but I was working longer hours, and no longer had a buffer between my work and home life. There were no more frustrating interruptions from co-workers, but that also meant there were few moments that would break up my day. I was coming away from my desk at the end of the day more exhausted than when I had been in the office.

How can we make working from home more manageable and avoid burnout?

My experiences aren’t unique, evidence from NordVPN (via Bloomberg) suggests that since the lockdown, we have started to work longer hours. Given that a lot of people are now working from home for the first time, I thought I would share a few of the behaviours that have helped me maintain productivity over long periods of working from home.

Build a routine, and stick to it

This is probably the most important habit to form, I learnt it from a housemate who ran his own business. Although his office was only at the bottom of the stairs, years of experience had told him that he needed to stick to a routine in order to stay productive. He started work at 8am and finished at 5pm precisely. He took an hour for lunch, and very rarely worked at the weekends.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Create a space for work

I am very fortunate to have a room that I can dedicate to work. Prior to this I had a flat, and the only real option for a workspace was to sit at a table in the open plan sitting room / dining room. This lead to me being distracted far too easily. If I was working from the sofa, then it was far too tempting to turn the TV on as background noise.

Start and finish your day in the right way

I had always resented my long commute. Whether I was driving or on the train it felt like wasted time. What I hadn’t realised was how much it protected my personal life from being overrun by work. The time I spent travelling, it turns out, was a time that I was passively using to transition between work and home. In the mornings, it was time that I used to wake up, have a coffee and think about the day ahead. In the evenings, it was a time to reflect or take quiet time reading or watching a movie before interacting with my family.

Photo by Nikolay Tarashchenko on Unsplash

I used to have a big box that I would place over my monitor and printer. I decorated the outside with pictures of family and friends, so that instead of seeing a reminder of work I saw reminders of fond memories.

Get away from the screen

Home working is often more intense than our normal workspaces. Because we have to be more coordinated in contacting people, our diaries are often back-to-back with meetings. Instead of standing and moving from your desk to a meeting room, you close one Zoom call to open another. Even getting a coffee is often a short walk to the kettle, without the social opportunities that normally present themselves on the way to or from the office canteen or coffee machine.

Miles has been trying to help, and even sent his first Slack message last week!

Set clear expectations with family and friends

The final thing I wanted to mention is the importance of setting expectations with the people who live with us. Work can be stressful at the best of times, and with the added difficulties of remote working, social distancing and school closures we are likely to have less patience for the little things. I have found myself snapping at my partner because she has walked in during a call, or interrupted an important period of concentration.

Passionate product management advocate, trying to find and share ways to make companies and practitioners more effective.

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