As remote employees, one of our biggest challenges is learning how to disconnect from work. When you work at an office, it’s easier to set boundaries. You know that once you arrive at the office, you need to work. And once you leave the building, you also leave all your work problems there. However, when working from home, these boundaries become blurred.
If you struggle to build healthy boundaries between work and life as a remote worker, you’re not alone. We’ve all been there! But in this article, we will discuss more in-depth what are the signs of recognizing you’re overworked and, most importantly, how to mentally disconnect from work.
Once it’s 5 pm, we lie to ourselves by saying, “just 5 more minutes, and I’ll close everything,” knowing that those 5 minutes will likely turn into 1 or 2 hours. We think that overworking will make us excel and give us better outcomes. When the reality is that overworking tends to make us more stressed, burned out, and anxious.
This can be due to a particular type of stress called Anticipatory Stress. It’s the anxiety or worry caused by things that we know are coming in the future; for example, if you anticipate a busy week next week, you may be inclined to do extra hours this week to get ahead.
You can love your job and what you do and still feel stressed and burned out constantly if you don’t know how to disconnect. A couple of weeks ago, besides feeling stressed and tired, I felt angry. I felt angry because I was behind on some tasks and due dates despite being an organization freak. I thought I did a lot, but at the same time, the results weren’t showing. What was happening?
When you work from home, it’s easy to lose track of time. You feel you always have the time you need to finish your tasks, and that’s why we think that overworking for 1, 2, or even more hours is harmless. Of course, there are days when unexpected things happen, and we need to take care of them. But that’s not usually the case. And the problem is when those overworking days become part of your routine. That was exactly what was happening to me.
I had so many things to do that I felt the more I worked, the better it would be. That was my first mistake. I later realized that the more I worked, the more angry and tired I felt, and consequently, I wasn’t giving my 100%.
Even remote-work dinosaurs can tell you about how many times they had to change their routine. The problem is that when you don’t disconnect from work, your mind and body start suffering the consequences. You can develop metabolic syndrome and diabetes, and even increase your risks of getting a heart attack. In terms of mental health, overworking can lead to depression and anxiety.
Currently, as companies are shifting towards hybrid and remote work models, unplugging after work becomes more challenging. If I have learned one thing in these past months, it’s that when you disconnect from work, you connect with yourself and your surroundings. You feel happier, and ironically, you have more time and energy.
At the start of the pandemic, Remote Tools conducted a remote work survey and found out that 44% of respondents worked more than 40 hours a week. A few months later, on a different survey, 32% of respondents said they were working longer hours than before, and another 33% said their biggest challenge was to separate work and personal life.
Being overworked and feeling you can’t have the work-life balance you desire is something that happens to most remote workers, which reinforces the importance of disconnecting from work. And many times, it’s because it’s hard to tell what are the signs of being overworked.
These are the 5 most common signs (with questions) to help you identify if you’re overworking and you need to disconnect ASAP:
- Do you always feel behind on your tasks? You work more than 8 hours, and yet you still can’t finish your to-do list?
- Do you feel tired all the time? Do small to-dos or unexpected things at work make you more stressed than you should actually be?
- Does pouring a cup of coffee feel like a heavy task? Is making time for your friends or other people almost impossible? Do simple activities like paying the bills or going to do the groceries have become more stressful?
- Do you constantly feel unmotivated and unhappy at work? Does work feel more like a burden? Do you start your workday feeling stressed and tired?
- Do you find yourself snapping at others frequently? Do you feel being anxious has become part of your daily life? Are you constantly having mood swings?
Other common signs of being overworked are feeling sick continually, not remembering things, being more disorganized, feeling that you lost your passion, and having problems sleeping. All these are signs it’s time to think about unplugging.
Now that you understand the theory, it´s time to put the practice into action. If you´re wondering, ´how can I disconnect from remote work or home working?´ here are a few suggestions for how to unplug from work.
If you work from your bed or any other place you would normally rest (like your couch, for example), your brain won’t know the difference between rest and work.
You don’t need to have a big house, a private home office, or other fancy things to create a dedicated workspace.
All you need is to work in a place where all you do is work. It could be in the corner of your room or living room. If you live in a small place, you could consider buying folding desks to help you save up space.
What matters is that once you sit in that space, you’ll know you have to work. And once you are in your bedroom, couch, or kitchen, or any other different area than your working area, you’ll know it’s time to disconnect.
There are days at work when we feel so busy that we would never consider leaving the house. However, sitting in the same chair for more than 4 hours without standing not only affects your posture but also impacts your mental health.
When you’re feeling stressed or tired, a great way to disconnect for a few minutes from work is by going for a walk. Take 15 minutes to go outside and enjoy the weather and your neighborhood and blow off some steam. In the beginning, you might feel as if you are wasting time, but then you’ll realize that power walks help you to return with a fresh mind to get back to work.
Surprisingly, going out for walks increases your creativity and problem-solving skills as well. A study at Stanford proved that a person’s creative output increases by 60% when walking.
Okay, this one might be a bit controversial, but trust me, it works like magic. If you’re the type of person whose Mondays to Fridays are all about work, then it’s understandable that you’re overworked and stressed. I used to be the kind of person focusing fully on work on the weekdays and always looked forward to the weekend instead of enjoying the present.
Obviously, we would always crave weekends because we have more time, but my point is that if you don’t do anything else but work in the week, you’re missing out on a lot of great things. Making plans throughout the week is a great way to add more balance and set strong boundaries to your work-from-home life. It could be going on a coffee date with a friend, going to the movies, or reading a book in the park.
If you struggle with discipline and find it difficult to do all your tasks while working from home, the perfect solution is to build a schedule. Having a schedule will help you set clear boundaries and define your working hours. It will also help you prioritize other aspects besides work that matter to you.
If you enjoy cooking, exercising, going to ceramic classes, or have any other hobbies but can’t ever find time, with a work-from-home schedule, you’ll make the time. Additionally, it will rescue you from early burnout.
Doing exercise has so many benefits for our physical and mental health. As we are working at our desks most of the time, when we finish, we are too tired to even think of exercising. However, good physical activity helps you reduce stress and increase productivity. Consider it as an energy injection.
According to Mayo Clinic, as a general goal, we should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity and reduce sitting time. Sitting during prolonged hours increases the risk of developing metabolic problems.
What are some ways to start exercising if you don’t have the habit?
- Try new activities: Sometimes, we think we hate exercising without even giving it a try. We might know the basic abs, legs, and arms workouts, but there are many exercises we have no idea about that we could enjoy. You could try yoga, pilates, kickboxing, dancing, swimming, etc.
- Download exercising apps: If you don’t want to spend money on any activity, there are many free alternatives and guides that will help you get started. Some of them are the apps of Puma, Adidas, Nike, DailyYoga, Runtastic, and FitOn.
Prioritize breaks as much as you prioritize work.
Remember when you were a kid, and you were playing with your friends in the pool and challenge who could hold their breaths for the longest time? When you got out of the pool and started breathing again, it was the best feeling ever.
That same feeling happens when we take breaks. We re-energize, avoid mental blocks, and it even helps to change our perspective. Sometimes we feel we have a huge task that is actually not that huge. All we needed was to breathe for a few minutes, go for a walk, have a healthy snack or do a different activity outside our workspace to realize it was much simpler than it seemed.
I have a question for you. When you start your day, what’s the first thing you do? Read your work emails? Start automatically thinking about work? Turn your laptop on to start your work day?
If your answer to all or any of the above is yes, then it’s time to get rid of that routine and create healthy habits while working from home. Before you start working, make time for yourself. If you love reading, why not read a few pages? Or take time to eat your breakfast without stressing out about all the things you need to do at work.
Having a morning routine or a pre-work routine helps you put into perspective what matters to you. While work is an important part of our lives, it is not the only one. Starting your day with the things that are important to you, whether it’s a prayer, meditation, reading a book, cooking a big breakfast, or going for a run, allows you to mindfully prepare for your day.
Make a list of the 10 things you enjoy doing the most. Those that make you feel happy and believe that the world is a beautiful place. Next to each item, write when was the last time you did that. The results might surprise you.
Believe it or not, 2021 is ending. Time is passing by so fast that we barely take time to think about the things we enjoy. We always think we will have more time to do them, but days keep passing, and we keep postponing them.
I don’t want to get all existential here, but when I did that exercise, I was shocked. Many of the things I loved doing I hadn’t done for months. It gave me a new perspective on how I was managing my time.
When we do what makes us happy, we are better at everything. We are happier and more energized, and overall we feel our life is more balanced.
Last but not least is to cultivate the habit of gratitude. There are so many things to be angry, scared, and stressed out about. It could be work; it could be someone who yelled at you, a bad relationship, the pandemic, etc. However, there are also so many things to be grateful for. It all depends on what you prioritize more and how conscious you are about those little but meaningful things.
According to several Harvard studies, cultivating gratitude daily has a direct correlation with happiness. One particular study showed that people who are constantly grateful tend to be more optimistic and feel better about their lives.
Cultivating this habit can be as simple as starting your day by listing five things you’re thankful for. You can also write letters, write in your journal, thank someone mentally, or through meditation.
If you’re an employer or manager, here are some suggestions for helping your team to understand the importance of disconnecting from work and supporting them to do that.
- Focus on productivity rather than hours – if work is being done, it doesn’t matter if it was done 9-5, 7-3, or 12-8!
- Check workloads – make it a regular working practice to check in and make sure that the workload is manageable.
- Take time yourself – lead by example and take time out to look after yourself
- Don’t contact outside working hours – even if you’re working late yourself. If you need to send emails, then use a delay so they get delivered when work starts the next day
- Support the individual – everyone has different needs and life challenges. Juggling kids, mental health issues, neurodiversity, or physical health challenges can all require different tactics.
Did you know that, as workers, we have the right to disconnect and prioritize our life-work balance? In this video, we reflect on it with Luis.
Here are some suggestions for ensuring that you get a break when you’re on vacation:
– Make sure everyone knows you’ll be away in advance.
– Signpost people to whoever is looking after your work while you’re away.
– Set up your out-of-office response.
– Leave your work phone and laptop at the office or at home.
– Let people know what you consider an emergency and what you won’t – be clear about when they can contact you.
– Resist the temptation to check-in.
Learning how to disconnect from work at home takes practice, as there is always the temptation to go back to your laptop or just add a few minutes to the start or end of the day or over a weekend. Ensuring that you have a dedicated office space (or office in a box) and closing that down at the end of a work day is a good signal to your brain that it’s time to switch off.
Working from home has been challenging for everyone, from setting new schedules and learning to use new tools to building boundaries between life and work.
With these 9 tips, you’ll be able to unplug from work and make time for the things that matter to you the most. Remember that your life is much more than what happens at work. Having a balance will help you reconnect with yourself and give your best in everything you do.