The COVID-19 pandemic, by forcing so many of us to work from home, has blurred the boundaries between work and personal life. It leads to so many of us being overworked, on the verge of burnout, and carrying the destructive feeling that we are failing.
If you want to know more about why this is happening and why we feel so powerless and guilty about it, check out the article How COVID Is Wiping Out Your Personal Life.
If you are ready to fix the problem, here are 5 easy steps you can take right away. Not everyone will need the same approach, of course, but the 5 strategies below will help you get started and have already helped many regain a sense of achievement and productivity in their everyday life.
Claim back your commute time
Go back to the schedule you had before working from home. Wake up as you would if you had to physically go to work and make sure you use your “free” time for healthy activities such as a workout, a stretching routine, preparing a healthy breakfast and eating it slowly and mindfully, meditating, etc. Don’t “fill up” time with activities that won’t give you a sense of achievement. If you need help visualizing what you achieve every morning, have a small pre-work to-do-list and get things checked off that list. It will be empowering to start the day by being productive, will put you in a more positive mindset, and will set you up for success.
Schedule blocks of focused work-time
Make sure you have blocks of time set aside each day to tackle your most important projects without distraction. Have a plan of what you want to achieve during that block of time and stick to it. Don’t let other people or tasks interrupt you. If you find it hard to stay focused, start small. Maybe 30 minutes of uninterrupted work is a good place to start. Then you can increase to 1 hour and keep going until you feel that you are being productive enough. If other people tend to come into your workspace at home, put up a sign and keep them away. It won’t happen overnight, but you can inform them and help them respect your “working privacy”.
Set phone on do-not-disturb
If you can’t put your phone away while focusing on a work project, make sure that it is at least on do-not-disturb mode. This way, only the people you have selected will be able to reach you directly. All others will leave a message that you can address once you are available. Getting calls, text messages, and notifications during work is extremely distracting and we waste a lot of time looking at every incoming call or message and deciding whether it’s worth interrupting our work or not. Not to mention the time it takes to go back to our task after the interruption. Most phone calls, texts and notifications can wait. Let’s keep in mind that WE are rarely that important. Turning off notifications from Slack and other team chat tools could really make a difference. Try it for a day or two and see how it goes.
Plan for a true lunch break
I have to say, many of my clients have been really dedicated to their lunch break and preparing a healthy lunch for themselves almost each day. That’s great! While you are at it, you might also use the opportunity to go for a short walk before lunch if you can, stretch your body, or do a little strength training session. 10 minutes can go a long way if you do it 5 times per week!
If you like to be social but don’t have anyone to eat lunch with at home, maybe you can offer a “Zoom lunch” with your colleagues. Don’t make it formal; just turn on a camera and have lunch together, the way you used to do it before COVID-19. Not only will it feel refreshing to chat with your peers about random stuff, but you could also benefit from the casual work conversations that often play such an important role in understanding what else is going on in the workplace.
“Leave” work at a specific time
Most of us had a routine when we were in the office. Maybe we had a bus or a carpool to catch. Maybe the office closed at a certain time or we had to pick up the kids on the way home. We need to recreate that time-limit to make sure work does not spill into our personal life. For some people, just setting an alarm at the end of the day is enough. Yet, many need more than that to be able to turn off their computer. Maybe you can commit to grocery shopping for dinner on certain nights. Or you can plan a game with the kids and make sure they hold you accountable for being on time. You can also schedule a walk with a friend, or a jog in the neighborhood. You can commit to calling an elderly parent at a specific time. Why not sign up for an online class that you really look forward to and won’t want to miss? The sky is the limit, but you must find what is going to motivate YOU to stop working at night.
This strategy works best if you give yourself the possibility to go back to work after the activity in question is over. Otherwise, you might keep pushing it back, or cancel it all together. It is best to stop working with the idea that if you really need to, you will go back to your computer a bit later, rather than not stop working at all. The thing is, if you turn off your computer and go for a walk, when you come back, you will have to make a mindful decision as to whether or not you want to work longer. If you don’t stop in the first place, you are just mindlessly letting your workday eat up your personal life.
Remember, change doesn’t happen overnight. Give yourself grace and proceed slowly. When you are trying to establish a new habit and you find it really hard to stick with it, don’t assume that you are failing. There is nothing wrong with you, but most likely something wrong with the change your are trying to implement. Tweak your plan, try again, talk to someone and brain-storm. Whatever happens, if you keep an open mind, you will learn something about yourself, and that is personal growth my friend…
Best wishes… You got this!