Between socializing, parenting, running errands, and working, the coronavirus has significantly altered the way we live our lives. For many people, the public health crisis has meant a sudden shift to remote work environments as officials stress the importance of social distancing.
While there are certainly benefits to working from home, the transition can be difficult and finding balance within your life can become more complicated. If COVID-19 has left you feeling burnt out, overworked, and stressed, here are some ways you can manage your work-from-home environment to create a better work-life balance.
Manage Your Expectations
Although some might interpret the remote work setting as a chance to buckle down and use free time for maximum productivity, others might feel overwhelmed by the number of changes in such a short period of time. When it comes to creating balance, Jefferson Center clinician Angela Quinn says that one of the first things you need to do is manage your expectations and give yourself understanding and forgiveness.
“Imagine you’re standing on one leg and you’re putting all of your weight onto that leg,” Quinn says. “Your bones will have to adjust, Your muscles will have to adjust. If your leg became a little weak or fatigued because it’s suddenly balancing all of your weight, you wouldn’t criticize yourself for it. This is how we should approach ourselves and our reactions to this situation.”
Approaching your new working environment and your ability to be productive with a little extra grace and patience will help you navigate the transition more smoothly.
Create a Dedicated Workspace
At work, you have a dedicated workspace, whether that’s a cubicle, an office, or a coworking area. You know where your tools are and you have all the equipment and devices needed to complete your daily tasks. However, when your company suddenly switches to remote working, you might not have those same tools, the same private space, or even a desk to work at. This is especially true for parents and caregivers who are tasked with homeschooling during the coronavirus.
Creating a designated workspace is essential to creating balance and making a clear divide between your work hours and your free time. This might mean claiming a portion of the kitchen table or a specific room in the house. Wherever you decide to set up your work area, make sure other people living with you know this is your “office” so you can create healthy boundaries.
Take Regular Breaks
In a normal workday, you would have probably stopped to chat with a coworker in the hallway, get up to refill your coffee or tea, and left the office for a lunch meeting. When you’re working from home it can be more difficult to find those break times, especially if you’re feeling extra pressure to perform and “show your worth” to your employers. In fact, one study found that the average working day has increased by three hours in the U.S. since mid-March.
Be sure to schedule regular breaks throughout your day and hold yourself accountable to those rest times by putting them in your calendar. Eating lunch with a family member or going on a walk are great ways to spend some mental time away from work. By regularly removing yourself from the work environment for 10 or 15 minutes, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to be productive when you get back to the computer instead of exhausted and unable to focus.
Establish Transition Times
When you physically go to work, you tend to have a routine that you follow that has many visual and physical cues. For example, when you wake up, you probably get ready for the day by getting dressed, eating breakfast, and gathering your things to begin your commute. At the end of the day, you might clear out your email inbox, say goodbye to coworkers, and settle into the commute back home. For people that are working remotely, these transition times are lost, which means it can be easy to have your work seep into your home life.
Create cues for yourself to know when it’s time to begin working and when it’s time to stop working. For some people, mimicking a commute might be helpful. If you’re used to driving to work, consider taking a brief walk around the block each morning to help you set your intentions for the workday and another walk in the evening to help you clear your mind. Additionally, turning off your computer can be an easy way to create boundaries between your work time and your home time since you’ll be less likely to send just one more email.
Establish a Routine
Routines and schedules help us feel a sense of control in our lives. When our work routines are significantly altered, we can feel like we don’t know where to begin or how to be productive during the workday. Creating a new schedule can be beneficial to regain that sense of control, but you should approach the schedule with some flexibility. “Keeping a regular schedule before the pandemic probably looks significantly different than keeping a schedule now,” says Quinn.
Whether you’re living with roommates, alone, or taking care of children at home, establishing a routine that works best for your situation will be key. Just remember that not every day will go according to plan and that’s completely normal.
Communicate Your Needs
One of the best ways to weather a rough transition is to be open and honest about your needs. Overcommunication is essential, especially during a time of social distancing and increased isolation. Your boss won’t be able to see if you’re having a hard time managing tasks and your family might not know you’re working on an important project if you don’t tell them.
Be upfront with your family members by telling them what you have going on and being respectful of their responsibilities. This applies to your professional relationships as well. If you feel overwhelmed by your workload or you’re struggling to make connections in a remote setting, talk to your manager and look for solutions together. Proactive communication can help prevent messy situations and frustration down the road.
Be Kind to Yourself
Recognizing and acknowledging the complexity of the situation is a key element in creating a work-life balance. Quinn emphasizes the importance of carving out time for yourself as a way to prevent burnout, especially when you start saying things like “I don’t have time for self-care” or “I don’t have time to worry about myself.” Consistency and keeping commitments to yourself are key to maintaining your mental health during this time. If you find yourself often forgoing self-care or moments of pause, enlist the help of others to hold you accountable.
If you find that you’re still having difficulties making adjustments or your mood has dropped significantly, monitoring your emotions and physical responses throughout the day can be a good way to determine when you might need professional help. Quinn suggests using a simple tracking system where you rank each day on a scale of one through ten. If you notice the rankings for each day are dropping, you should consider speaking to a therapist, doctor, or counselor.
If you are in a crisis, please call us at 303-425-0300 or by calling the crisis line at 844-493-8255. The 24/7 crisis walk-in center and withdrawal management program is open at 4643 Wadsworth Blvd, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033.