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6 Tips to Crush Remote Work (Without it Crushing You)

March 5, 2020
5 min read

I don’t know about you, but I hate the term “work/life balance.” It implies that there’s some kind of perfect equilibrium that we should all be striving for. If that’s true, I’m not sure I’ll ever find it. I prefer to think of it as “work/life integration.” You make tradeoffs, and you do the best you can to find a healthy way to incorporate your work life into the rest of your life. It’s messy and it’s a moving target. I think this is especially true for people who work remotely. After all, when “the office” is just a few steps away from your bedroom, it’s only natural for the lines between work and non-work time to blur.

After almost three years of working remotely, I’ve made every mistake in the book. And I’ve paid the price – coming to the brink of burnout a couple of times. I want to pass on what I’ve learned to help you, whether you’re new to remote work or have been working remotely for decades.

But first, a disclaimer. This blog post is about the things that work well for me. They may not work the same way for you. The key is to be aware of your relationship with your remote job and find the right balance for yourself.

Create Morning and Evening Routines

When you go remote, you automatically get time back in your day that you would’ve spent stuck in traffic or sitting on a train. While that’s great, the lack of travel time means that we miss out on the mental signal that the workday is starting or ending. It can be hard to get into the groove in the mornings, and it can be even harder to get out of “work mode” at the end of the day.

That’s where morning and evening routines come in. While it may seem monotonous, having a routine can add purpose to your life. In one study, scientists reported that people who said they do “pretty much the same things every day,” found life more meaningful.

Not sure where to start? Buffer has a great blog post to help you get your remote work routines in tip-top shape. Once you’ve decided on a routine, I highly recommend the Productive app to help form your new habits and to keep yourself on track when you’re just not feeling it.

Take Short Breaks

Spending the majority of your time sitting at a desk puts you at a higher risk of heart disease, depression, obesity, and diabetes. Getting out of your chair to stretch, take a short walk, do yoga or any other kind of activity can reduce the negative effects of too much sitting. Experts say just five minutes an hour can improve your health.

On top of the health benefits, short breaks can prevent decision-fatigue, restore motivation, increase creativity and productivity, and improve learning. Plus, I’ve found that spending just 10 minutes tidying up my workspace, starting a load of laundry, or working on that pile of dishes in the sink can make my evenings less hectic.

Have a System for Dealing with “After Hours” Ideas

One thing I’ve struggled with my whole career is the idea of “turning off” the work side of my brain when the workday is done. I’ve found it incredibly helpful to have a system for reminding myself of ideas, worries, or to-do’s that come to me after I’ve put my computer away or when I’m on vacation.

I send myself an email with just a few words to jog my memory (from my personal email so I don’t accidentally fall down a work email rabbit hole). You might prefer to have a notebook in your bedside table or to use a note-taking app. Whatever your approach, find a way to log your after-hours thoughts so you can put them out of your mind until you’re back at work.

Work in a Space That’s Distinct from the Rest of Your Home

I find working from home a lot less distracting than working in an office, and that’s in large part due to the fact that I have a dedicated workspace that’s separated from the rest of my house. This is especially important for me because my husband works three days a week as a nurse and is off (and at home) for the other two days. When he’s home, he knows that if the door to my office is shut, I’m “at work” and shouldn’t be disturbed. Having a dedicated space for work also makes it far easier to unplug at the end of the day. If I worked from my couch, I’d be much more tempted to let work time bleed into my evenings.

Mind Your Appearance (And Not Just for Video Calls)

I have a confession – when I started working remotely there were days where I never got out of my pajamas. Of course, if I had a video call with someone, I’d get dressed, put on my makeup, and do my hair. But if I didn’t? I wondered, “Why bother?”

There are a couple of reasons my approach was flawed. First, unexpected meetings can pop up at any time, and I hated the feeling of scrambling to make myself presentable. But more importantly, many studies show that the clothes you wear can affect your mental and physical performance, and I’ve found this to be true for myself. Wearing pajamas all day left me feeling lethargic and made me more likely to hop back into bed during my lunch break.

“A paper in August 2015 in Social Psychological and Personality Science asked subjects to change into formal or casual clothing before cognitive tests,” according to an article in Scientific American Mind. “Wearing formal business attire increased abstract thinking-an important aspect of creativity and long-term strategizing. The experiments suggest the effect is related to feelings of power.”

I’m not saying you need to wear a power suit, but acknowledge the effect that your appearance has on your own mental state and adjust accordingly.

Take Advantage of Being Remote – Travel!

One of my favorite things about working remotely is the ability to travel and work at the same time. Since going remote, my husband and I have been able to take more trips, visit my in-laws more often, and see out-of-town friends more regularly. These trips always leave me feeling refreshed even though I work my normal hours. If you’ve got the travel bug (like I do), here’s a blog post with tips on how to work effectively while traveling.

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