We’re coming up on nine months of the pandemic. Which, for many of us, means nine months of working remotely. And while it might have felt like a dream come true at first – work from my bed? In my PJs? With no commute? Yes please! – the setup offers its own unique challenges.
As more and more of us seem like we’ll be working from home indefinitely, the perks of increased flexibility threaten to be outweighed by isolation, lack of motivation, decreased efficiency, and burnout.
“We toss the term around pretty casually in our society,” says psychologist Jolie Weingeroff, Ph.D. “But burnout can be really devastating and lead to severe symptoms of depression.”
If we’re going to thrive, not just survive, this new normal, we’re going to need some new coping mechanisms. And they include setting some hard-core boundaries, according to experts.
Create Morning and Evening Rituals
One of the simplest ways to prevent burnout right now is to keep your time structured. It’s really tempting to look at your work email on your phone before you even sit up in bed – especially if you’re stressed over a project or deadline. But don’t do it.
It’s important that the time you used to spend getting ready and commuting in the mornings isn’t just enveloped by your workday. After all, just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean your hours have changed.
Instead, take time to create new rituals for yourself in the morning. Work in meditation, exercise, quality time with your family or roommates, or cooking yourself a good breakfast.
Also, as comfy as it might be to work in yoga pants and slippers all day, getting ready in the morning signals our brains to get into work mode. I’m not saying you need to be in business casual or a full face of makeup to work from your home office. But getting into real clothes changes your mindset.
And don’t forget to give yourself the same space that you used to have in your evening commute. Shut down your computer and close your office door (if you have one) at a set time. Maybe change your clothes and take a walk. And start cooking dinner (or ordering takeout) at a reasonable time. Do whatever you can to ensure that your work life and your home life are still two separate things.
Give Yourself Regular Breaks
It’s important to schedule real breaks during your day and stick to them. Just because it only takes 15 seconds to walk to the kitchen and grab a Pop-Tart doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a real lunch break. (Or a real lunch. Pop-Tarts? Really?)
Take time to get up and away from your desk for a while. Stretch. Take a walk around the block. Cook something nutritious. We’re afforded so many luxuries in working from home. Are you actually taking advantage of them?
And on the subject of getting away from your desk, don’t just plop down on the couch on your “break” and scroll through your phone. We’re being exposed to so much more screen time right now, which can contribute to some pretty gnarly eye strain. Take breaks from your screens, invest in some blue-light blocker glasses, and maybe take notes with these old-fashioned things called a “pen” and “paper” every once in a while to change things up.
Communicate Clearly with Others
It’s important to set boundaries around your schedule with not only your co-workers and employers but any other people living in your home. Be clear about your work hours and workspace.
Let them know ahead of time if you have an important meeting or a tight deadline coming up. And maybe come up with a signal like hanging a post-it or a scarf on your door when you can’t be interrupted.
This will go a long way in cutting down on the distractions of normal life that will make your job more difficult than it should be.
Multitasking is a Fool’s Errand
Everyone thinks they’re fantastic at multitasking, but studies have confirmed that, overall, it’s just not effective. So, if you’re trying to “stay on task” in the midst of distractions like chores, pets, family, roommates, or the temptations of social media, you’re expending more mental energy than you should.
“Working from home poses the challenge of being in a reactive, ‘go, go, go’ mentality, especially as multiple areas of your life may be converging in difficult ways,” Weingeroff says. “It can be easy to just establish a frenetic pace of trying to multitask a lot and one thing we know about multitasking from research is that it is definitely not effective.”
Instead, help yourself out by breaking down your tasks into small, measurable goals that you can finish in one sitting. To-do lists are your friend here.
It’s also a good idea to identify the most productive time of your day. For you, that might be in the evening, or just any time there are fewer distractions. Then see if you can work with your employers to adjust your schedule accordingly.
Make Time for Connection
Sometimes it can be easy to compartmentalize “work friends” from “real-life friends.” But when we were removed from our co-workers, many of us realized just how integral to our social lives they really were.
Beyond missing those friendships, though, we might be missing something else. We often generate our best work and ideas in a group. Being isolated can go a long way in dampening that creative fire.
“Many individuals have experienced apathy and demotivation due to prolonged remote work,” says psychiatrist Leela R. Magavi, MD. “There is a sense of monotony that decreases the yearning to try innovative things or learn new material.”
So make an effort to regularly check in with those co-workers you might not have seen for months. Not only to get the latest gossip, but also for a random brainstorming sesh now and then. You might be shocked at how much it can improve your work performance and your mental health.