Feeling Burned Out? 9 Ways to Shake Up Working From Home
Change your to-do list format, eliminate lunchtime indecision, and try some of our other top tips to help your remote work routine better work for you.
By Jill Duffy
Anyone who started working from home in the last two or three years has likely experienced some benefits and some drawbacks to their new situation. I want to focus on the good things here. Working remotely comes with some wildly fantastic advantages. How can we use those advantages to shake up our routines when we feel like we’re in a rut?
Recently, I posed this question to some friends, colleagues, and acquaintances: “What changes have you made since working from home that have had a positive outcome?”
Their answers point to ways you can try changing your work-from-home routine if it’s feeling arduous, unproductive, or stale. I talk about some of these points related to productivity, personal enjoyment, and better work-personal life balance in more detail in my book The Everything Guide to Remote Work.
1. Review Your Agenda First Thing
Without a commute, you might have more flexibility in the morning in terms of time and how you use it. When one of my sisters started working from home, she changed her morning routine completely and for the better. Instead of riding the subway, she looks over her email and to-do list while having coffee and breakfast. She then goes for a walk before really digging into anything in her workday. In other words, she orients herself to the day’s agenda and then gives herself time to process it.
While it’s new to her, this strategy of reviewing what needs to be done before starting work has been around for a long time. It’s common among people who are organized and efficient because it prevents surprises, like forgotten calendar appointments, and creates an opportunity to adjust their outlook and intentions for the day.
2. Take More Breaks
More than a few people told me that since working from home, their relationship with breaks has changed dramatically and for the better. In particular, I heard that people are taking more frequent breaks when they need them. Doing so can prevent eye strain and other injuries. Breaks also help prevent burnout.
When working in an office, it’s easy to feel silently judged if you walk away from your desk too often or for too long, and that can prevent people from taking the breaks they need. At home, this pressure might not exist at all, making it easier, mentally speaking, to take a pause when you need one. The trick is that you have to actually do it. Because you may have fewer interruptions (Zoom Meetings aside) you might find that you actually forget to take your breaks. If it happens, set alerts, alarms, and reminders—whatever works for you.
For people with care responsibilities, being home likely means that some or all of your breaks go toward helping children, other people, or pets. In that case, your breaks might feel like obligations or distractions, rather than moments of relaxation. If you really struggle to have breaks that are rejuvenating, try taking them right where you are. Set a timer, close your eyes or stand up and stretch your legs, and take a few minutes to yourself to breathe.
3. Sleep More
When you don’t have to commute and you don’t have to spend as much time making yourself presentable for the day, you might have earned back a little slice of time. If you’re using that extra time to sleep longer, bravo! Don’t underestimate the power of sleeping more. If you can get an extra 25 minutes of sleep per day, that’s more than two hours of additional sleep over the course of a five-day workweek.
Sleep helps us recover from the day, as well as function at our best when we’re awake. If you want to be able to focus and put in good hours of work, you need to also put in good hours of sleep. Sleeping enough and getting high-quality sleep takes time, and an extra 15 or 30 minutes each day adds up. For some ideas about how to get more and better sleep, read our article on how tech can help (and hurt) your sleep. We’ve also collected the best technology for getting a good night’s sleep.
4. Write Your To-Do List Differently
Jodi Harris is a personal coach who has been running her business from home for several years. She told me that when she switched from office life to that of a self-employed person working from home, she made one tiny change that had a huge positive effect. She stopped writing a daily to-do list and instead created a weekly list.
Doing so, she said, helped her think differently about how much she could move tasks and appointments around to make them work together. A daily to-do list was too restrictive.
If you’re hitting a wall with your ability to work from home, try shifting how you write your to-do list. You could try a weekly list, or you might try another method of organizing your tasks altogether—for example, switching from keeping lists to using a kanban board.
5. Change Your Working Hours
Dedicating yourself to fixed working hours can be a great habit. If you’ve been working from home for a while, however, and need to shake up your routine, changing your hours is certainly one way to do it.
If you can set your own hours (not everyone can) try shifting your day by an hour or two in either direction. Or split up the day differently. What happens when you work for two hours early in the morning and then do yoga for an hour and take a hot shower before getting back to business? How would it feel to stop working an hour earlier than you do now but make up for that hour after dinner? Remember, the change you make doesn’t have to be permanent. You can try a new schedule for a week just to experiment. If it’s not working, go back to your previous schedule. Don’t be afraid to play with your hours, though, if you need a change.
6. Eliminate Lunchtime Indecision
Working closer to your personal refrigerator can be a pain point, but it also allows you to eat differently while you work. If you used to buy lunch out when you worked in an office, you might notice that you’re saving a lot of money by eating at home. The decision, however, of what to eat and when can really sap some people’s energy. So what can you change about your lunch habits while working from home?
My partner, who has been working from home since mid-March 2020, has found that removing the decision about what to eat and when really helps him not get preoccupied with food. He makes the same lunch every day and at the same time every day. For a while, it was a sandwich on toasted bread. For the last few months, it’s been a homemade protein smoothie. He doesn’t have to think about it, and he knows exactly how much of each ingredient to buy when we shop for groceries. This tactic is great if you struggle with eating at home.
Meal kits and prepared meal delivery services are great options, too. They also remove much of the planning and decision-making surrounding meals. Fresh N Lean has great one-plate meals, and Daily Harvest’s smoothies, soups, and bowls make for excellent healthy lunches.
If you prefer more variety and don’t feel wiped out by lunchtime choices, then working from home lets you experiment with new foods, which is such a perk.
You can also make lunches social. Put a lunch date on the calendar with a friend, partner, roommate, or colleague who lives nearby. If you can get out and see people face-to-face, breaking up the day with a coffee or lunch date might boost your mood.
7. Dress for the Occasion
A lot of people told me they love being able to dress down while working from home. PCMag managing editor Jeffrey L. Wilson mentioned that being barefoot all day has made him noticeably more comfortable. Others say being in pajamas or loose-fitting clothes not only feels better but also makes them happy.
If you’re in a rut with your work-from-home life, however, changing your outfits might change your mindset. Putting on a work-appropriate outfit, shoes and all, makes some people feel confident. Similarly, some people find that getting dressed at a specific time of day helps them get into the habit of starting work at a specific time. Try it before your next meeting or for phone or video-based job interviews. You can kick your nice shoes off when it’s over.
8. Customize Your Workspace
In an office, we can’t always choose the furniture, lighting, temperature, proximity to windows, and other elements of the workspace. At home, you may not have an office and you may not be able to buy all new furniture for your workspace, but you can customize your work area in other ways to brighten your day.
Start by checking that your space is comfortable and safe, ergonomically speaking. An ergonomic expert I interviewed explained that you can use common objects around the house, such as a small pillow for lumbar support, to improve your setup. At home, you can also add candles or aromatic diffusers, which aren’t usually welcomed in a shared office environment. Bring in a few potted plants to boost your mood and clean the air.
Additionally, if there’s something you need to work comfortably, such as a mouse, keyboard, or monitor, ask your employer whether it can cover the costs. It’s not unusual for organizations to have a budget for supplies—ask!
9. Stretch, Play Music, Read
The reality of being in an office is that you’re constantly seen by others: your colleagues, your boss, the head of the organization, and the interns. In these shared spaces, there are certain things people tend not to do because they might look bad. For example, if you picked up a book and read at your desk for 10 minutes, someone might jump to the conclusion that you’re slacking off rather than taking a needed break by doing something you enjoy.
In the comfort of home, it’s much easier to do activities we enjoy as a way to take a short break. Get on the floor and stretch. Play an instrument or dance around to music without headphones. These kinds of breaks not only enrich our lives but also give us a much needed mental switch so that when we return to work, we can see a problem in a different light or have fresh ideas.
More Tips for Working From Home
If you’re new to working remotely or are still adjusting, see my other tips for working from home. Some of them are specific to living in a COVID-19 world, when children, partners, and roommates might also be home with you, and you might not have options for secondary working locations, such as coffee shops and co-working spaces. Other tips apply to working remotely at any time. It can take a while to adjust, and it helps to check in with yourself from time to time to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t.
Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.