5 Ways to be Productive and Avoid Burnout
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
When the pandemic began, many of us immediately started planning our productivity hacks. With all the free time granted to us by lockdown, it was a great opportunity to learn a new language, pick up the guitar collecting dust in the corner, or lose 20 pounds.
But as the weeks became months and quarantine continued, it became clear that this was not going to be a short-lived phase. Remote life was becoming the "new normal," and we slowly started to realize that just because we were no longer going to bars or restaurants did not mean we needed to fill that time with hyper-productivity.
To the contrary, now more than ever, we need to understand our limits.
Without commutes into the office and open office plans distracting employees, working time has skyrocketed, and with it, productivity. Many companies are reporting increases in output since going remote, but at what cost?
On the other side of the productivity coin is mental health. According to a NY Times article, "business is humming along, but executives said working so hard in isolation could, in the long term, lead to burnout and loneliness and fray corporate culture. Satya Nadella, the chief executive of Microsoft, lamented the loss of in-person interactions, even as he said productivity was ticking up."
Because we can no longer tap someone on the shoulder, employees are expected to be available on Slack, email, text, and phone at a moment's notice. Although it might be counterintuitive, working from home has made us more vulnerable to the random "quick chat" from our boss, who might think it is helping in the name of transparency, but it is actually piling on to the pile of anxiety.
So how do we combat the dangers of remote work?
How to Avoid Burnout
Set boundaries: Your working day is your working day. Anything outside of those hours is your personal time, and should not be infringed upon. Unless you are an on-call doctor, set working hours in line with the expectations of your job, and make sure those are clear to your manager and peers. Set your availability on your calendar, put away messages on your Slack, and don't check or respond to your email. Whatever someone is asking you at 9pm can wait until the following morning, I promise
Set goals: It can be very easy to work until the clock strikes 5pm (or 6, 7, or 8, depending on your company culture). But if you start your day with clear goals and accomplish everything you set out to do, you should feel empowered to close your computer and move on when everything is complete.
Separation of church and state: This one can be tough, especially for someone living in close quarters, but if possible, try to create separate "working space" and "living space" in your home. Different spaces in your house carry different energies with them, so if you physically move from your "working space" over to your couch, kitchen, or bedroom, you will immediately feel better. If your couch, kitchen, or bedroom become your working space, your brain won't know when to turn on and when to power down.
Active breaks: Gone are the days of water cooler chats or walks to the coffee shop with coworkers. But that doesn't mean it's not still important to give yourself a break every once in a while. In fact, the human brain is not designed to maintain consistent focus for longer than 90 minutes. So every hour and a half, block out an "active break" on your calendar. And by "active," we don't mean checking Instagram or email. Get away from screens and do something mentally or physically active. Some of my favorite active breaks include taking a walk, doing some pushups, or reading a chapter in a book.
Vacation: In addition to periodic active breaks throughout your day, don't forget to schedule proper vacation time. I recently took a 2 week vacation, and many friends and coworkers asked why I would do that during a pandemic when we can't really go anywhere. The answer is simple: because vacations aren't just about sunbathing. They are also about getting away from occupational stress, shutting down, and recharging. And with the ideal vacation time starting at 8 days, don't be afraid to stretch it beyond one week.
Hopefully, these are some useful tactics for you to combat the dangers of WFH, but above all else, remember that just because you haven't picked up a new language during quarantine does not mean you haven't been productive.