Working remotely offers an array of benefits. Along with not having to set aside time for a lengthy commute, you can work from anywhere, and thus, can accept jobs far from where you’re based and open up a world of career opportunities. A remote lifestyle allows you to work in an environment that suits your creative workflow best, and you can avoid the many distractions that stem from working in an office environment filled with people.
Additional perks may follow, but anyone who has worked remotely full-time will tell you it can present its own unique set of challenges. It can be difficult to turn your “work mode” off at times, and for those who live alone, a feeling of isolation can sink in now and then. We live in an always-connected world these days, and yet, we often forget how meaningful it is to have face-to-face contact with the people we email and message all day long. We also tend to overextend ourselves and let lines blur and boundaries turn into a gray area.
Whether you’re brand new to the life of working on a remote team or are a long-time remote contractor, you’ll benefit from these 5 tips on pushing through the remote work mind block and finding your ideal work-life balance.
Create a routine that works best for you.
Your peak performance hours may be different from those of your team members. Some people crank out their best work early in the morning, some are great with normal daytime hours, and some people find working late at night is optimal since there are fewer distractions at midnight (fewer emails coming in, not as many messages, etc.). One of the most desirable perks of working remotely is that you can often set your own hours, or at the very least, get important projects knocked out during the hours that suit you best even if you’re required to be available during a certain timeframe.
Regardless of when your work hours take place, you should set a morning and evening (or before work and after work) routine. An effective morning or pre-work routine signals to your brain that it’s time to get into a productive mindset. It can be difficult as a remote contractor to distinguish between work and non-work time. You can easily find yourself slipping in and out of work mode and taking longer to complete projects and wind up scrambling and rushing to meet deadlines, or working from sunup to sundown and feeling drained. Have a hard start time, and make sure the time spent beforehand gets you ready to switch into work mode.
Additionally, give yourself the freedom of having a hard stop to each workday. Having a post-work routine allows your brain to reset. When you work remotely on long term projects that can take days or even weeks to complete, you have to accept that there will always be work to be done, and it’s just not possible to finish it all in a day. If you keep at it even when your brain begins to fry, you will burn out entirely and be completely off your game the following day. Establish that hard stop each day, and do whatever you need to do to effectively wind down. Similarly to the pre-work routine, your post-work routine will signal to your brain that it’s time to rest and reset.
List your priorities for each day and honor them.
As mentioned above, the workflow will never magically stop. Sure, there may be lulls here and there, but for the most part, you’ll find yourself constantly working and ending the day feeling that not enough was accomplished if you don’t prioritize what needs to be worked. Certain emails can wait, as can certain messages and tasks. Focus on quality, not quantity. You are most vulnerable to mental blocks and burnout if you lose track of what is most important in your work.
Your first step is to identify what is essential and what is not. Next, organize yourself and plan out the day or week. Block out time for the most important tasks, and honor the schedule you created for yourself by saying ‘No’ to distractions. This creation of boundaries is crucial, not only to your own mental health but to the team members who rely on you to finish time-sensitive work.
Make time in your schedule for breaks, both long and short.
Whether taking a short break means going on a walk, enjoying some coffee and lunch in peace, or reading a book to take your mind off work, be sure to make time for it. Stepping away from your screens is an important way to maintain your mental health and keep yourself from burning out. Teams that work all day in an office are given lunch breaks, and it’s common to see people chatting it up here and there and giving themselves a few minutes to unwind after a few hours of staring at a screen. When you work remotely, there’s no one at the next desk to invite you to lunch or take a break. You’re the only person who can give yourself time to step away.
Take vacations when you can, just like anyone working in an office would do by requesting time off for a long weekend. And if you want to bring your work with you on a week-long trip to visit family, do it. Changing up your work environment can spark creativity and productivity. That said, you should really allow yourself time off with zero work distractions as well. If there’s a lull in the pipeline, take advantage of it. If you’re in between contract work, give yourself a bit of a vacation before diving into the next project. You work hard and deserve a true break now and then.
Identify a hobby and make time for it.
If you work primarily from a home office, you can find the very place in which you should feel most comfortable can become a source of stress. This is especially true for people who live in small apartments and studios, where your desk is in a living room or in their bedroom. Sometimes you don’t have the option of turning just one room into an office, and this can make your brain think you always need to be productive when you’re at home.
But being home doesn’t mean you always need to be “at work.” When you create opportunities for yourself to focus on something that brings you joy, you can allow work to live in one corner of your homelife instead of taking up the entire space.
Maybe you’re working on a novel, or maybe you love yoga or video games. It doesn’t matter what that hobby is, as long as it makes you happy, be sure to incorporate it into your time spent at home.
Make time for human contact.
Those with roommates and families who live with them may have an easier time changing up who they see and talk to daily. But if you live alone, you can find yourself going days without human contact aside from Zoom meetings with clients or teammates. The quarantine and social-distancing guidelines that have come about due to the recent COVID-19 crisis has certainly made human interaction challenging for everyone, but remote workers have dealt with some semblance of this for much longer.
If you’re able to, try to make time for face-to-face contact with family and friends. You can set aside time to talk to your manager and other members of your team if you want, of course, but you should also put an effort into socializing with non-work friends or family. If you’re new to a city, join a community sport or hobbies group, introduce yourself to your neighbors, or head to a restaurant and chat it up with the bartender.
Even if you absolutely love your work, you need to talk about other things with other human beings. Have a good laugh, and get outside of the work bubble when you can.
Remote work burnout is real, and even the most seasoned remote workers can fall victim to it. Remember that work is not your entire life, and when you are in work-mode, you can set yourself up for success by creating a schedule that works best for you and allows you to get out and breathe fresh air, rest, and reset.