Working from home or remotely can be pretty fantastic. There’s little to no commute to worry about. Coworkers don’t distract you from your tasks. And you have the freedom to listen to your favorite songs, wear your favorite clothes, and kick your feet up even as you do your job.
On the other hand, working remotely can be taxing. There’s no reason to go outside, and there are no colleagues or supervisors to keep you focused or provide you with some much-needed human contact. If you’re not careful, there’s only one way this ends: burnout.
The good news is that because I’m so familiar with burnout—because I’m so familiar with the havoc that a poor work-life balance can wreak on a remote worker’s life—I know exactly what you need to do to avoid it.
1. Keep Your Office and Living Quarters Separate
Your environment has a huge influence on how you think and feel. Take clutter, for example. It’s been proven time and again that even when you aren’t directly aware of it, disorganized surroundings can cause stress, shame, and distraction. They can kill your productivity just as surely as your mood.
In that same vein, if you don’t clearly separate your workspace and your leisure space, you’re going to constantly be thinking of the former—even when you’re actively engaged in the latter. You need to dedicate an area of your home, however small, to serve as an office. Ideally, this should be an entire room.
If you don’t have space for that, you can get creative. Buy some portable wall dividers. Get a small desk or table that you only take out when it’s time to work. You can even take things a step further and use separate devices for work and personal time—or just have separate logins.
The important thing is that you establish an association. If you’re in your office, you’re working. If you have your work desk out, you’re working. And it should go without saying that, in both cases, take great pains to keep things organized. Because, again: clutter.
2. Establish Clear Working Hours
Something I see a lot of telecommuters struggling with—especially those that are self-employed—is the ability to say “no.” They seem to operate on the belief that they need to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That isn’t healthy.
If you’re a remote, full-time employee, you should work when everyone at the office is working. For the self-employed, figure out the hours when you’re most productive. In both cases, that’s your window. That’s when you’re at your desk, when you’re available to respond to work emails or accept incoming requests. Anything that comes up outside these pre-established hours can very likely wait until later. And when the clock runs out, your workday is finished. Stop what you’re doing. It’s time to relax.
Sure, there will be situations where you need to put in a bit of overtime. These can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Most of the time, however, there’s something to be said for learning the word “no.”
To help you better keep to your hours, I’d advise setting an alarm. Once that goes off, shut off your work devices, mute any work notifications, and relax. Give your personal number out sparingly to clients and supervisors for when there’s an emergency and they have to reach you.
Otherwise, just remember that the world isn’t going to burn down simply because you took some time off.
3. Take Care of Your Mind and Body
You wouldn’t expect a car to run without a well-maintained engine, gas, and regular oil changes. Yet for some reason, plenty of remote employees are perfectly fine with sacrificing sleep, food, and physical health in the interest of their career. I have one word for anyone doing that: stop.
Your body is a machine like any other, and your mind relies on your body to function. If you don’t take proper care of both, you’ll be less productive at best. At worst, you might end up with some serious health problems.
Find some exercise you enjoy doing, and do it regularly. Practice meditation. Start doing meal prep instead of constantly ordering in. And don’t ever sacrifice sleep just to get a few more hours in at the office.
Fitness, diet, and sleep habits aside, the level of social isolation that often comes with self-employment isn’t healthy for anyone. Even the most extreme introverts need to see a friendly face every once in a while. For that reason, I strongly recommend pursuing a few hobbies that get you out of the house.Join a club. Start going for runs. Even just visiting the coffee shop every day to sit and drink some tea can go a long way towards staving off cabin fever.
A final note
Working from home is pretty awesome, but it can seem akin to a prison sentence if you let it. The key is to establish healthy boundaries. To actively separate your career from your personal life, and ensure your home remainsa home rather than becoming another office.
Brad Wayland is the Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton, a site with high-quality, easy-to-design custom t-shirts.
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