When the pandemic started, Lina, a middle manager at a consulting company, began working 14- and 15-hour days, week after week. Even as offices begin opening up again, she has been struggling to pull back on those extended hours. For the last 16 months, she has been juggling remote work, remote learning, and the many complex logistics of childcare and family activities. She’s so worn out from running on empty for so long that she’s lost perspective. Lina talks about “only being able to see as far as her headlights;” she can barely think more than a few hours into the future, and certainly not a week, a quarter, or a year.
Lina (not her real name) confessed to me that disconnecting from her computer and phone for even just 20 minutes is a struggle because she’s anxious that she will miss something critical. She suffers from FOLO, or Fear of Logging Off—and it’s become pervasive in the workplace during the pandemic.
Even before COVID, we were struggling with addiction to our screens. We were checking our phones first thing in the morning and sneaking peeks during family dinners. But at least we were choosing to opt-in to those behaviors. Then the pandemic arrived—and that optionality vanished. Suddenly, we were required to be in Zoom meetings all day, and the workday no longer had any edges.
In this new remote work environment—where no one could see what we were doing—we were eager to prove that we were actually getting things done, which in turn caused us to overcompensate and work all the time. We were afraid to take 20 minutes for a yoga stretch because then we might fail to respond to an email immediately and our colleagues would think we were slacking.
Now, after more than a year of this breakneck pace, it’s time to start to rebalance our lives. If we don’t, companies will find themselves with a workforce that is mentally wiped out, inefficient, and ineffective. A Stanford University Study found that our productivity begins to drop after working more than 50 hours a week; it plummets at 55 hours. Most of us are well beyond that number now.
We need to get back to peak-performance behavior. When we step away from our desks, we gain perspective and can recharge our brains. The outcome? We become more innovative and empathic.
In short, we need to disconnect to be happy people—but also to be standout workers. Here are three things we can do to start that restoration process.
Cure Your FOLO
In order to combat this, you need to put up some reasonable workday edges. Let people know you are going to step away for 30 minutes to have lunch, or take a mid-afternoon break, or shut off at 6 or 7 p.m. for the night to have dinner with your family. Start to communicate and take breaks. This creates structure for both the “online” and the “offline” hours.
Re-energize Your Personal Life
During the pandemic, a lot of us fell into new, sluggish habits where we stopped doing things we once did routinely—like exercising and eating well. We were isolated. Now that things are opening up, we need to climb out of our ruts. Start by adding in one or two NEW ways to exercise, eat, socialize…things that may not have been available to you during the pandemic. The key is to add variety. That’s how you get your energy back, get your perspective back, and perform better everywhere.
Claim a Period of Recovery
After collectively enduring one of the most stressful and draining periods of the last century, we’re like a runner who has just finished a marathon and is completely depleted. We can’t just drink water and expect to be rehydrated. We need extra electrolytes, in the form of a neon sports drink or coconut water, to replenish the lost fluids.
Similarly, we can’t just take a week’s vacation and think we’ll be fully refreshed after the extended stress we’ve all been under. We need to build in booster doses of renewal and unstructured time so we can regain our focus and our energy. Talk to your boss or your team about setting up a schedule where for the rest of the summer, for example, you each get one or two half-days a week to leave the office early or come in late. Just for August, to help recover from our collective exhaustion.
It took Lina repeated coaxing from her boss and closest colleague to decide it was OK to take breaks from the screen during the workday as needed, as long as she gave her team a heads up. Lina started by building in 20 minutes to take a walk or listen to music every afternoon between 3 and 4, when her energy tended to lag. She had always taken 15 minutes away from the screen at 3 p.m. when her daughter got home from camp. But this new 20 minutes was different—it was for self-care. It gave her the energy boost and perspective to finish her workday strong.
Once she broke the spell of never stepping away from the screen, she gained the confidence to build back in other healthy habits. She closed her laptop at 7 and stayed off email until the morning; her team agreed they’d call each other if something couldn’t wait. In the evenings, she was able to be more fully present with her family, enjoying games, chats, and other relaxing times together. As Lina started to separate work and personal life, she actually became more productive in her job.
Setting boundaries for self-care is such a powerful thing and is something we can all do. As the world limps its way out of the pandemic, we need to be proactive in shifting gears back to a more sustainable pace.