The ever-elusive work-life balance is something that’s been chased for a long time, even by remote work veterans. Now, employees who were once commuting into the office five days each week are trying to find that balance while working remotely due to COVID-19.
Finding balance in a remote world adds more complexity to the struggle, so we’ve compiled some ideas you can use as you walk the fine line between work and home life.
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Develop a Daily Schedule You’ll Follow
Create a schedule that works for you so it’s one you’ll stick to. Working remotely forces us to rely heavily on self-discipline. Make it easier on yourself by structuring your workday in a way that suits you. If you know when you feel most energized during the day, align your work accordingly. Dan Martell, a well-known startup coach and advisor, is a huge proponent of this methodology and breaks this down well with a quick YouTube video.
If your energy levels are highest in the morning, block a few hours at the start of your day to fully utilize that energy. If your kids need active help with schoolwork in the morning, plan to do your more focused work in the afternoons. As Lexi Jones, VP of People at SecureLink said, “All of us are doing our best, but work-life balance just looks different now. Those lines are more blurred than ever and we have to remember to be forgiving of each other and ourselves as we cope with these dramatic changes in our lives.”
Embracing a more flexible schedule relies on your company offering flexible work schedules, but it’s a great opportunity if it’s made available to you. Discuss with your manager if moving to a more flexible schedule would better suit you.
Better Transition Into Work Mode
Try to avoid logging on immediately after waking up. When you were still commuting into the office, you had time in between waking up at home and sitting down at work. That time was filled with readying yourself for work, eating breakfast, commuting — a number of things specific to your personal morning routine. Take advantage of that time now and create a new daily routine. Give yourself a chance to wake up, drink some coffee, and prepare yourself for the day. Now that commuting isn’t necessary, you can put that time toward something else, like reading, getting some exercise, or catching up on your podcasts.
You can create a separate and distinct workspace for yourself as well. For others who don’t have extra space (hello, New Yorkers!), find a comfortable spot that allows for good posture and easy access to whatever tools you need. Exposure to some natural light wouldn’t hurt, either! Finding a hard surface to work on can also be a challenge, one solved by a spacious windowsill if you’ve got one. Plenty of desk alternatives exist, including trays and pop-up coffee tables. Those with the DIY spirit can also try fashioning their own makeshift desk using online tutorials or ideas from others.
When you’re blocked or hitting a wall, try a change of scenery — sometimes relocating can provide you with a fresh perspective. While we’re staying inside, use your imagination to identify places around your home that can serve as a palette cleanser of sorts. Try the perching on the kitchen counter, sinking into the bathtub (water not required!), or having a seat near a big window.
Take Breaks Throughout the Workday
Make sure you take a few short breaks throughout the day, and do it consistently. Many struggle to take regular breaks in a remote work environment. The office distractions and coworkers are no longer there to tempt and beckon, so people may find themselves in a daze after three hours of straight work. To avoid this, try building breaks into your daily schedule or using common timed methods like the Pomodoro Technique to help you remain consistent. You can also try using household chores to carve out quick breaks — take a quick breather to water your plants, feed your dog, or grab the mail.
Make time to eat a proper, healthy lunch, too. It’s so easy to just grab a granola bar, but your body will feel much better if you nourish it well. Think of food as fuel when it comes to its impact on your productivity — the higher quality the fuel, the better it powers your mind and body. Taking the time to prepare a nutritious lunch will also give you time to recharge before tackling your afternoon tasks.
It can also help to move your body. For just a moment, let’s put aside the numerous health benefits of movement. Light exercise alone, like walking, can increase blood flow to the brain, resulting in increased creativity and productivity. During quarantine, do what you can in the space that you have. For alternatives to moving outside, try going up and down your apartment building stairs, practicing with that old hula hoop, or letting your limbs loosen up with a dance video on YouTube.
Better Transition Out of Work Mode
Five o’clock comes quickly, and there never seems to be enough hours in the (work) day. Even so, it’s important to hold fast to whatever signals the end of the workday for you. For some, this may be when the clock hits a certain time. For others, this could be when their kids are done with school. Nationwide’s CEO Kirt Walker shared that when his employees start their work day, they put their photo badge on, and take it off when they end their work day. “Psychologically it allows you to start and end — and also lets your family know whether you are 'at work' or not,” he said. Whatever that end-of-day signal is, identify it and use it.
Many of us are used to simply packing up our belongings and heading home after the workweek is over. But because many people are living and working in the same place, just walking away from a temporary workspace might not have the same impact. Justworks’ CEO Isaac Oates has experienced this. “A lot of people have talked about the ‘-day’ phenomenon — that is to say, you can’t tell what day of the week it is. I feel that too,” Isaac said. What helps him is getting his workspace out of sight. “I make a point of disassembling my WFH setup every Friday afternoon. Obviously I can still use my laptop or talk on the phone, but it’s just a mental shift.”
Making plans for after-work virtual activities can also help with feeling more balanced. Again, Zoom fatigue can be a real blocker for some, but try to push through and get a little social interaction when you can. Making plans gives you something to look forward to, breaks up the monotony of quarantine, and might even force you to log off at a reasonable time. If you’re feeling less-than-social, devote time to activities you enjoy. Drawing, baking, or gardening all count, but the options are endless.
This is the time when employees should be prioritizing self-care, and that includes taking a day off when needed. Justworks’ Isaac knows this and still struggles to take time off. "The truth is that I could use a day or two off, and in the next week or two I’ll probably take it. It’s important that everyone else is doing that too, especially now,” Isaac said. “If you burn out, it’s really hard to come back from that. It’s better to rest and recharge before that happens."
Finding the balance is key to avoiding burnout, but it’s also necessary for your mental health and wellbeing. While COVID-19 continues to be a risk, it’s important to take care of yourself in all the ways you’re able. Making an effort to maintain balance and care for yourself now will help you become stronger in the future, and ready to face whatever challenges come next.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.