When the COVID-19 pandemic began, millions of people transitioned to working remotely from dining room tables, living room couches and modified home offices, but almost all struggled with maintaining a work-life balance. Most people dedicated more time to their work tasks, but study after study has shown that regular after-hours work eventually leads to job burnout and decreased productivity.
The key is setting boundaries and learning how to unplug. Tryon Medical Partners knows how important these boundaries can be to a person’s overall health and well-being. During the pandemic, providers have heard from increasingly more patients who are concerned about their stress levels, anxiety and overall mental health. While you’re working remotely, follow these tips for a better work-life balance.
1. Create a Schedule
It is important to establish a routine and stick to it. Everyone will benefit from the creation of a schedule and being able to see the family’s commitments.
“Having a consistent routine worked for our family and really helped me keep work hours dedicated to work and home hours dedicated to family,” says Dr. Claire Wilder, an internal medicine specialist at Tryon Uptown.
If the routine is set, everyone will know when and where they should be for important calls, meetings or virtual online learning events. Make sure this schedule is in a common area that is visible to everyone and can be reviewed each week or at the beginning of each day.
2. Create a Dedicated Workspace
Having a dedicated, ergonomic workspace can help with maintaining focus. Make sure you have the right chair and desk height to support your lower back and reduce fatigue. It’s also important for switching off when the workday is over and makes it easier to mentally move from work mode to home mode.
“When the pandemic happened, I was pregnant with our first child and wasn’t prepared for working from home,” says Dr. Wilder. “We had turned our spare bedroom into a nursery, and I needed a dedicated workspace to keep my materials organized and maintain privacy for phone calls and virtual visits.”
Leaving the home office and closing the door can put closure on the workday, but If people are using the dining room table it can be much harder. Try keeping work items in a bin or packing a work bag to ‘leave’ the workspace behind when it’s time to be in home mode.
3. Take Breaks and Disconnect
When people work from home it can feel like the workday never ends. People need to disconnect from work and feel they have space to unwind. It can be as simple as setting a rule to not check email in the evenings or not responding on weekends. People should allow for moments of calm instead of rushing to complete every task.
Take a walk or go for a bike ride as soon as the workday is over. This will help with the switch to home mode. If there isn’t time for an outing, do some exercises or stretches at home. This physical activity can help take the mind off of tasks and keep people healthy.
4. Practice Self-Care
Usually, exercise is the first thing dropped when routines are disrupted, but it should be the first thing people make time for. It reduces stress, pumps up endorphins, and lifts the mood. If visiting a gym or in-person classes aren’t an option, try searching for online virtual or free classes and follow along. Tryon physicians often recommend a variety of books and apps like Calm and Headspace that are designed to help reduce stress and anxiety. Setting aside even just a few minutes for meditation and deep breathing exercises can have powerful effects.
5. Don’t Strive for Perfection
People can get caught up in trying to make everything perfect, but during a pandemic, it’s time to adapt. People won’t have all their files, printers, scanners or work conveniences, but a small mental shift can make a big difference. There isn’t one tried and true rule to finding work-life balance, especially in this ever-changing situation.
6. Don’t Forget to Socialize
It can be hard working from home and isolation can make every day feel like Groundhog Day. It is important to stay connected with colleagues by having a virtual coffee break to catch up on their family news or to share that joke or meme. These breaks in the day can make a big difference in mood and work-life balance.
“It can be frustrating creating this balance when working from home, but it’s important to be flexible, embrace the chaos and maintain social ties,” says Dr. Wilder. “We really connected with friends and family over Zoom and FaceTime and continue these calls because they helped bring us closer.”
Working from home might be more like a work-life juggle – balancing spreadsheets while your kids do crafts or having a call with the boss while prepping dinner. People are fitting things in where they can, all while making sure it gets done the best way it can.
“Go with the flow and focus on the positive things,” says Dr. Wilder “There is a huge learning curve to working from home and we have to let go of things we cannot control and remember to give grace.”
Everyone has their own unique priorities and that’s ok! Remember to be kind to others and yourself and listen to your body for signs it’s time to ask for help. Tryon doctors often discuss stress, anxiety and depression concerns with patients in person, via virtual visit or immediately through virtual urgent care.