Working remotely can seem like a pretty sweet deal: no commute, flexible hours, the freedom to travel and a better work-life balance. But staying away from office politics or eliminating a long, daily subway commute doesn’t magically translate into remote workers being spared from stress and mental health woes that can come with the job.
The problem is that flexibility can sometimes be both a boon and a curse. It can definitely help you thrive, but it can also lead to burnout if you’re not careful. So, let’s avoid the latter, shall we? Here are six tips for remote workers to maintain your mental health and optimize your work-life balance.
Set expectations about your working schedule
Try to have a set schedule. And then turn off. Make things easier on yourself by creating a definitive workspace and normal hours of work. Admittedly this is much simpler at an office, as people arrive and leave near or around the same time. But as a remote worker, you can find your usual “office hours” getting murky if your not careful, and logging work 24/7 will most likely eventually lead to burnout. Disconnection from work is an vital component to feeling refreshed and motivated for what’s next. So, put down your laptop at the end of the day and relax.
Be mindful of professional/personal boundaries
It can be difficult for family or friends to understand that when you’re working from home, a cafe or in a coworking space, the same respect needs to be paid to your time as if you were in an office. Be mindful of interruptions and let the people around you know that your work time is valuable and separate from your personal life—it’s not free time to chat or run errands for your significant other. Treat your working hours as if you’re in the office with standard job expectations.
If you get dragged into too many personal tasks or conversations, there are generally consequences. First, you end up having to work additional hours to complete your projects. This defeats Tip 1: Set expectations on your working schedule, and increases the odds of burnout. Second, you are forced to start and stop your work more regularly than your natural productivity cycle calls for, preventing you from getting into a smooth workflow. Be aware of this and try your best to preserve those professional and personal boundaries.
Remember to socialize
Don’t turn into a remote work hermit. Working remote doesn’t mean you need to be alone all the time. Connecting with others plays a significant role in our well-being; it can assuage the loneliness that is sometimes associated with working remote, lift spirits, and generate a sense of belonging. Look for regular ways to socialize during the week, perhaps by spending a few days at a coworking space or meeting up with friends for lunch. Keep in touch with teammates as well throughout the day via email, on Slack and with video chats as a reminder that you’re not working on an island—you’re part of something much bigger than your home office or cafe table workspace.
Get outside or exercise
Getting outside to take a walk in the park or heading to the gym for an afternoon workout are both extremely helpful for relieving stress. This is one of the major perks to remote work—you have the flexibility to turn off for 30 mins or an hour and go get your sweat on. So, take advantage of that fact and when you return, you’ll be energized and ready to tackle that next project. Oh, and these kinds of physical activities can help increase productivity, too.
Break throughout the day
This is somewhat similar to the point above, but you don’t necessarily have to exercise during each break. If you’ve been working on a task for 2 hours and are starting to feel like you have rectangle eyes from staring at your computer, take a break. Read a book for 15 minutes. Meditate. Make a little healthy snack. Do a crossword puzzle (this one is for me). Little breaks here and there can relieve stress, and again, actually help you be more productive.
We need to take care of our mental health with the same attention we take care of our physical health.Jennifer Bruno, Vice President of Global Health Services at Johnson & Johnson
Take an occasional mental health day
Sometimes taking a mental health day—a day off that’s specifically geared toward stress relief and burnout prevention—is the best thing you can do for yourself. It can provide a much-needed break to pause, recenter, and return to your work with renewed energy, focus, and a less-stressed mind. Just make sure your mental health day isn’t entirely spontaneous and will end up conflicting with work deadlines. If you take a day off knowing that a particular project needs to be completed ASAP and will suffer, you will probably be thinking about this all day… which defeats the purpose.
Prioritize mental health as a remote worker
Maintaining a solid work-life balance takes planning, effort, and intentionality. But don’t let your mental health take a backseat. With the six tips above, you should be less likely to experience burnout as a remote worker and more likely to enjoy the many benefits that come with working outside of the office.
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