How to Avoid Burnout While Working from Home (Because Your TV Room Is Your Office for the Foreseeable Future)
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According to the World Health Organization, burnout is “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.”
While many folks have experienced this phenomenon, some are experiencing it in a different way now that COVID-19 has forced some people who are used to commuting to and from an office to work from their homes indefinitely. That’s why I turned to a few of my colleagues—and productivity studies—for tips on how best to avoid (or at least minimize) burnout while working from home.
1. Find Joy in Your Routine
Working from home can feel very monotonous. Instead of resisting the idea of a routine (and inviting more chaos), embrace it and come up with ways to make the things you do every single day feel a little more enjoyable—luxe, even. For example, my morning always starts with a glass of ice water and an iced coffee. After brushing my teeth and changing out of pajamas (even if I’m just changing into more loungewear), I head to the kitchen, light a favorite candle—right now my rotation includes Aerangis's No. 1 The Beginning, Rigaud’s Chevrefeuille and D.S. & Durga’s ’85 Diesel—and start making my morning drinks. Though I used to stop by the Starbucks outside of my subway station for coffee every morning, I’ve taken to getting my caffeine fix at home. My personal favorite is Wandering Bear’s Extra Strong Organic Cold Brew, which you can buy as a subscription so you never wake up to—gasp—no coffee in the house. Even though I’ve always started my morning with coffee and water, I’ve found that sprucing up this very quotidian event makes me feel happier to open my laptop each morning.
2. Reclaim Your Former Commute Time
For my coworker Dena, getting back the 45 minutes she used to spend on the train in the morning has made her more grateful for her new WFH life. “The time I used to spend on the train in the morning is now my time to clean up my room or get a quick task done before signing on for work (which makes me feel accomplished before my first meeting),” she tells me. “And at the end of the day, I've been dedicated to scheduling workouts at 5:30 p.m. Mostly because I can close my laptop at 5:29 p.m. and actually be on time, because said workout is on Zoom and can be done in my living room.” Silver linings, no?
3. Prioritize Your Workspace
Whether you have a full-on home office or you’re trying to make the most of 350 square feet, creating a space that’s comfortable, inspiring and promotes productivity is of the utmost importance. First, consider temperature. Researchers from Cornell University tinkered with the thermostat in an insurance office and found that lower temperatures (68 degrees) resulted in employees making 44 percent more errors and being less productive than when the office was warmer (77 degrees). Finally, the evidence you need to win the never-ending thermostat war with your partner who “runs hot.” Next, think about ordering some plants—even if they’re of the faux variety. Surrounding yourself with plants won’t just help you live longer (and freshen up a dreary space), it can also make you more productive. A study led by Cardiff University monitored two large offices over a period of months and found that a plant-rich workspace could increase productivity by 15 percent. Go figure. Depending on your setup, you might also want to invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Between dogs barking and kids running around, they could be an absolute game changer. Not sure where to start? Here are some of our editors’ go-tos.
4. Schedule Breaks
The more time you spend working, the more work that gets done, right? Not quite. According to research from the University of Illinois, taking scheduled breaks can improve concentration. Conversely, working nonstop can lead to deterioration in performance. If you’re so busy that you can’t even remember to take a breathing break or drink some water, try using an app like Time Out that will make sure you hit pause on the reg. One of my coworkers, Rachel, tells me that as soon as she signs on the in morning, she checks her calendar. “I schedule a 30-minute block so that I can take my dog for a walk outside. Now that I don’t have any distractions throughout the day to pull me away from my desk, I can sit in front of my computer for hours without even realizing it.” Once she’s on said walk, Rachel unplugs by not checking her phone or email, which she says helps her reset her head and focus.
5. Exercise (Yes, Even If It’s Just a 10-Minute Walk)
We know, we know, exercise is important regardless of whether you’re feeling burnt out, but it bears repeating. My coworker Katharine told me that making time to exercise in the morning—especially outdoors—has helped her immensely. “If I can fit in a run (even just 20 minutes!) before I glue my face to a screen, I feel refreshed and ready to tackle the day,” she told me. Another coworker, Abby, said that even a brisk walk around the block can be a gamechanger. “If I’m really feeling frustrated, overwhelmed or burnt out during the workday, I go for a walk around the block,” she said, adding, “It takes less than ten minutes and always makes me feel better, even if it’s just marginally. It’s just a good way to reset and get your blood flowing. Even if it’s raining or super cold or windy, I pull on an extra layer and go anyway.”
6. Take Time Off
It can feel weird to take time off when…there’s not a ton you can do but taking a day to not thinking about work here or there could be a key to staying focused and happy. Abby told me, “Even if you don’t go anywhere, take a Friday or a Monday off to make it a three-day weekend and really give yourself at least one of those three days to focus entirely on what you love and want to do, whether that be going for an extra-long run and grabbing an outdoor lunch someplace or plopping on the couch and binging an entire season of Girlfriends all day.”
7. If You’re Experiencing Burnout…Talk About It
Be open with your friends and colleagues if you’re feeling stressed or anxious about the changes to your work routine. Not only will it feel better to open up and be heard, but chances are they’ve also experienced some of the same things and might be able to suggest things that have worked from them.