As someone who has worked from home for years before the current quarantine, my therapist and I have had many discussions on why it’s important to separate life from work.
Since I began working from home, I found my hours extended. If I’m awake and I don’t have to commute, can’t I start working now? Or if I don’t have to go to team lunches or I don’t have to go pick up food next door to the office, why can’t I just work on my laptop while eating? In time, I started to realize that I was working virtually around the clock.
My paychecks were higher but my mental health was decreasing by the minute. I’m willing to bet that, especially right now, I’m not the only one who needs some help disconnecting. Here’s a few tips to keep your mental health in check while working from home.
1. Any work that doesn’t have to be done in bed, shouldn’t be
If you’re filming from bed, that’s one thing. But if you’re writing or editing or basically doing anything else, keep it off your bed. The bed is for sleeping. If you are working from bed, you’re more likely to begin to associate the bed with work. If you’re thinking about work in bed, you can kiss a good night’s sleep goodbye.
What happens when you don’t have any other space to work in? As someone living in a very small studio, my options for work spaces are the floor or my bed. So most often I do opt for the bed for comfort’s sake. But a workaround for that is to work in a position you don’t associate with sleep. I work sitting on my bed. Because I would never sleep in that position, I don’t associate work mode with sleep mode.
2. Keep your workspace chaos-free
Regardless of what the rest of your home looks like right now, your workspace should stay relatively tidy. There’s a lot of things that are out of our control right now, but, as the old adage goes, mess causes stress.
If you’re in a messy space, you’ll have more trouble focusing and you’ll be more likely to procrastinate. Basically, if you’re in messy surroundings, it’s likely that you’ll have quite a bit of trouble getting as much work done as you may want to get done and you will likely have to work more hours to catch up.
3. Define your own time
Not working 24 hours a day seems like a no-brainer. Of course you know that working all hours will burn you out. But what about all the things that you do that are associated with work that you might do on your off hours? You might be inclined to check your email at the end of your night “just in case” and end up online for another hour. Or someone associated with a project you’re working on might send you a text and you end up responding, engaging in a long conversation that really could have waited until the next day.
If you have a separate phone for work, as soon as you’re done working for the day, it should be off. But if you have a phone that you use for everything, consider putting it on airplane mode for the night. Even better? Take your email off your phone. That way you will never be tempted to answer an email at 10 pm ever again because you won’t be able to “quickly” email someone back if you have to break out your laptop just to check your email so late.
4. Weekends are your time
Especially right now, you need to take a weekend off. Now, “weekend” can mean different things. Have you ever noticed that many stylists and bartenders, for instance, have their “weekends” on Mondays and Tuesdays? This is because their workplaces are (ordinarily) booming on Saturdays and Sundays, while Mondays and Tuesdays are slow.
Regardless of when one’s weekend is, the point is that you need to factor in time off — your weekend can be on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, sure. The point is to make sure you have one.
When you work from home, there’s little that your brain can distinguish between work time and home time. That’s why weekends are so important. If you work on weekends, even just for a little time, your mind and body will feel like you’re working all seven days of the week. Your weekends need to be different from how you spend the week. That means no working but it also means putting other events and experiences on your calendar that you only do on weekends.
Set aside time on weekends to do something that is just for you and stick to it every weekend as a way to remind yourself that it is, in fact, the weekend. Make sure it’s something you look forward to. Doing laundry, while necessary, should not be the only thing that distinguishes your weekend from your weekday.
5. Your time can and should remain your time sometimes
We all know social burnout is a things. But social distancing social burnout is also a thing that we’re starting to see now too.
You may have several friends and family groups who are trying to use this time to connect or reconnect. Even if you already didn’t see each other a lot, it’s not uncommon to be talking to them on a Zoom call once a week. You may also be having to go to happy hours for work teams or for your whole company. And, while you may have felt like you could opt out of those happy hours in person, you may be less inclined to opt out on a virtual call just because you feel like you should do it since you’re home.
Don’t forget that being social on a remote call is still being social.
It’s okay to say no if you’re not feeling up to talking to people or if you just really want some quiet time. It’s not selfish to put yourself first. Taking every single Zoom call is a surefire way to accelerate your burnout. You may have to do some or even many Zoom calls for work that are mandatory, but make sure that the ones that are optional are the ones you’re really up to doing and not ones that you’re pushing yourself to do.
It can be a challenge to find and maintain balance in this “new normal,” but you are worth the time, care and effort it takes to do so! Remember: This is a marathon, not a sprint.
JackieMichele is writer and marketer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared on Yahoo, Food and Wine and the Huffington Post. She’s been an editor, an influencer strategist and ghostwriter, a librarian and a teacher. Follow her Instagram at @jackie_gualtieri and contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org.