While we hesitate to call anything associated with the pandemic "the good ol' days," we have to admit feeling a bit wistful for the early weeks of lockdown, when working (and doing everything else) from home felt like a novelty. We picked up (and sometimes quickly abandoned) new hobbies. We binged every new show across every streaming platform. We did our workouts via YouTube and made whipped coffee simply because everyone else on our newsfeed was doing it.
In the face of a global health crisis, we did what we had to do to take care of ourselves. But eventually, reality set in. Work still needed to get done, and doing it from home meant it could be done anytime, anywhere. The lines between work time and personal time got blurred, and we found ourselves on a rapid trajectory to burnout.
The last year hasn't just impacted those suddenly thrust into the remote work life. It was also a significant challenge to digital nomads and the work-from-anywhere crowd, who found their wandering spirits confined by travel restrictions and closed borders.
In fact, 76 percent of workers said stress on the job led to a decline in their mental health and exacerbated symptoms of depression and anxiety. The answer to increased burnout and dissatisfaction? It's a lesson we've forgotten since the early days of the crisis: self-care. And it's critical to remote workers, whether in a pandemic or not. Here, we're guiding you through some tips to take care of yourself, avoid burnout, and live your life in harmony.
Self-Care 101 for Remote Workers
Rituals are basically just habits, usually done in a particular order at a particular time. Rituals give us a needed break from the grind and provide comfort and stability. Creating a morning and evening ritual is a great place to start and allows you to both begin and end your day with something both enjoyable and meaningful. Here are some of our favorites:
- Coffee Ritual: You don't need a high-priced, top-of-the-line coffee maker to enjoy the process of brewing and sipping a great cup of joe. A French press or pour-over set is inexpensive and, while easy to use, requires you to be methodical and focused on the task at hand. Be sure that part of your ritual includes sitting down and enjoying the end result, perhaps while reading the newspaper or chatting with your partner.
- Outdoor Ritual: Nature is healing, and even if you aren't "outdoorsy," you can still benefit from some fresh air and vitamin D. Take a quick stroll around the neighborhood, or simply sit in the garden while being mindful of your surroundings. Remember that this is your time, so avoid the temptation to pick up your phone or check work messages.
- Exercise Ritual: Going to the gym doesn't always sound like fun, but physical activity is a great way to combat burnout and lower stress. Challenge yourself to work toward a new fitness goal, add some relaxing yoga to your nighttime routine, or incorporate meditation and mindfulness into your workouts.
- Nighttime Ritual: Turn off the TV, silence your phone, and go analog in the hours before bedtime. Read a book, prep the next day's meals, or pick up a hobby. Switching from one screen to another until you pass out doesn't give your brain any downtime, and it's more distraction than relaxation.
Get Out of Bed
No, seriously. Get. Out. Of. Bed. In the morning, set an alarm and start your day as if you were going into the office. Get up, complete your morning ritual, and get ready to face the day ahead. Also, avoid the temptation to work from the comfort of your California king. It lessens productivity and makes you feel more tired, but it can also make it harder to fall asleep when it's actually time for bed because you'll associate it with being "on" rather than being at rest.
Give Yourself Permission to be Off the Clock
Most employers or clients don't expect you to be available 24/7, and general wisdom is now leaning away from the traditional 40-hour workweek. One of the downsides of remote work is the disconnect of not having in-person interaction or set hours in an office environment, and it can lead to an over-reliance on technology or a sense of FOMO if you aren't at your desk or on your phone. The key to maintaining a remote work/life balance is to separate one from the other, so you can give your attention more fully to each. Here's how:
- Set your work hours, and stick to them. Don't check your email the minute you wake up or send a few IMs right before bed. Stop trying to surreptitiously eat your lunch while on a Zoom call. And most importantly, learn how to say "no." Do it respectfully and professionally — just make sure you do it. Communicate your work schedule with clients or employers, and make sure you're available when you say you'll be. And when your workday is done, don't feel guilty about going offline.
- Take breaks. There's nothing strange about taking a lunch break in the office, so why does it feel so weird to do it when you're home? Make time to eat a healthy meal without checking your calendar or making phone calls at the same time. Get up every hour or two and stretch or walk around. Call a friend and catch up. Remote workers are generally more productive than office workers, but they often burn out faster. Remember that taking breaks is healthy and necessary for your mental well-being.
- Block your time. Some people thrive on deadlines, and some people collapse under them. Whichever type you are, deadlines are a part of remote work life. Manage them by staying on top of your schedule with time blocks. Dedicate blocks of time throughout the day to specific projects or certain tasks, like responding to emails or handling your administrative responsibilities.
Use Productivity Tools to Stay Focused
There are countless apps and tools out there designed to help you manage your time and maintain work/life balance. The popular choice is Todoist, and it can be a game-changer. It's a simple, user-friendly app with very little learning curve and lots of functionality. Create to-do lists separated by project, set deadlines, tag different types of tasks, and even attach files for easy access. The free plan offers plenty of features to get you started, and if you decide to upgrade, the annual pro plan is low-cost and completely worthwhile. Plus, even if you're not super into organization, the satisfaction of checking off tasks and hitting your targets is second to none.
Get Back on the Dating Scene
No, we don't mean looking for Mr. or Ms. Right. But maintaining relationships is critical to taking care of yourself, and making time for them is key. Loneliness is a huge challenge for remote workers, but it can be combatted. Plan a date night with a good friend, have a nice dinner with your partner, or give your kids a "yes day" where they get your undivided attention. After more than a year of being socially distant, it's time to reconnect with the people who bring you joy (even if they've been living in the same house with you all these months).
Build a Community
Remote workers often feel isolated, especially when they're working primarily from home. However, as their ranks continue to rise, more companies are catering to their specific needs. Visit a coworking space to get your office fix, or join an online digital nomad community to make connections with like-minded professionals.
Put Yourself First
Give yourself permission to focus on your needs, and remember this truth: self-care is not selfish. You can't pour from an empty pitcher, and you can't care for those around you without first caring for yourself. Burnout damages your career, but more importantly, it damages your relationships and your health. Prioritize your basic needs, like eating, sleeping, and taking care of your mental health. Plan fun activities you can look forward to. Nurture your curiosity, and learn new things. Identify your passion, and make time for it. Give yourself the gift of saying "no," and be open to saying "yes" to the important things.
Remote work is challenging and at times, overwhelming. But it's also flexible, freeing, and empowering. To reap the full benefits of the remote work lifestyle, you have to make your own well-being your top priority. Want more insights into the work-from-anywhere lifestyle? Check out our Remotely Cultured podcast!