Five years and one month ago, I wrote a blog titled, “Work Martyrdom: Get Over It.” A Time Magazine article asking, “Who Killed Summer Vacation?” was my inspiration.
I’m a veteran public relations professional, and it forced me to reflect on how I had arrived at a place where I was working all the time; checking and responding to emails, writing, posting, researching, and stressing.
“This is how I—and apparently the rest of America—have been working for roughly the last 15 years. It started with that first Palm Pilot, accelerated with my Blackberry, then went into overdrive with the acquisition of a smartphone and a laptop. And my own business.
“The first time I was able to handle a work issue from a beach or a back yard, I thought, ‘This is so cool. I can work from anywhere!’ A few ‘I-hate-to-bother-you’s’ later, I realized, ‘This bites. I’m expected to work from anywhere.’”
As the years went by and people stopped making a pretense of not wanting to bother me, I made some changes, beginning with working out of a home office. It seems counterintuitive but moving to a home office allowed me to create more balance, set boundaries, and exhale.
When Covid-19 pushed the entire world into home offices, not everyone—okay, hardly anyone—found the peace that I did, mostly because it was forced on them and everyone else in the family on very short notice and with no roadmap.
There’s a good chance that for many newly homebound workers, this situation may never change. Employers are looking at the cost/benefit analyses of not paying for office space or work travel and liking a lot of what they see.
If what you thought was a temporary setup becomes permanent, these tips can put you on the road to happier work-from-home head space:
- Keep to a schedule that includes relaxation time/rituals
Do something relaxing before you start working or take a bath before dinner. In mid-afternoon, open a book for a half hour and don’t answer the phone.
- Break up your screen time
In the office, you get up and go to meetings or to another office or cubicle or you go out to lunch. You can’t sit home and look at your screen for five straight hours. Go walk around the house. Go outside. Grab some binoculars and watch birds. Just get your eyes off your computer for more than 20 minutes.
- Hold some time each day when you can’t be available
You have to be present for other people. Whether it’s dinner time, play time, or just down time. If you have a family, there must be time for them when you’re not checking a screen or talking on the phone. If you live alone, there must be time for you.
- Get some perspective on what’s a work emergency and what’s not
Does this situation need immediate attention, or can it wait? That can be a difficult assessment in the 24/7 world that demands immediate responses, so this one may take time to achieve, but it’s a big step toward regaining your balance.
- If you want to do “home” work during the “workday,” go ahead—but try not let that force you into doing “work” during “home” time.
Want to get that birthday cake made or that grill cleaned? Great. Just don’t be answering emails during the party or the cookout.
- Move around, change your scenery
In line with breaking up your screen time, but this can mean taking your laptop and heading for a park bench or just a different room in the house.
- Have a clear shut down time
Give yourself a reasonable time at which you can close your laptop, or at least stop using it for work. What works for you? Make it a time you can reasonably put the day to rest so that your mind can relax as well as your body.
- Don’t do any work just before going to bed
And try to make that shut down time at least 90 minutes before you go to bed. Your brain needs to unwind just as much as your neck and shoulders need that massage.
If there’s anything that the Covid-19 pandemic has underscored for us, it’s that life is fragile and short. If you haven’t found that balance yet, now is an excellent time to start looking.