Remote Work: How to stop working all the time

Written by Peter Cosgrove

January 29, 2021

We are almost a year into remote work, while people were quite quick to get themselves a home monitor, maybe even a home office chair it is clear that almost a year in many people still struggle with the challenges of separating work life and home life. Here are some ideas from experts in the area:

Routine: perhaps the obvious one everybody has heard of is having a “getting ready” routine as we used to, possibly going for a walk, taking a shower, dressing in work clothes, to essentially highlight the start of the workday. Many of us did this at the beginning but we have stopped doing this which means we are struggling with when work starts and stops.

Rituals also are important. Many veterans remote workers maximise lunch breaks and make sure they symbolically leave the workplace at the end of the day. They would even do simple things like use a work coffee cup only when they were working, or specific clothes only for work hours.  They also negotiated with family and colleagues the boundaries that they would hold up e.g.as a couple, no speaking about work before breakfast. As regards the desk we sit at, many do not have a specific office so the advice would be to throw a blanket over desk when done or pack it away so it’s out of site. You need to get a physical separation. If you see your work computer or work folders while you are watching TV with the kids, you cannot help but transport your brain back into work mode.

Have a mindful end to the day: It used to be quite natural that we turned off our laptop and left the office and we travelled home. This became our decompression time, where we reflected on the day, read a book, listened to the radio or music, and then got home sometime later. This time is particularly important, however now we can turn off the laptop and get home instantaneously. It is important to tell yourself that the day is over and it is time to relax and possibly build in a buffer to decompress after the day.

Plan your non-work life as much as your work: We would never miss a scheduled call with a colleague, so use the same logic out of work – we know we are more likely to go for a run if we have committed with somebody else, so commit to doing things with one other person. This does not need to be exercise; it could be TV or a game or cooking. We are nowhere near as good as scheduling our home life as we are our work life therefore in the present lockdown, we end up defaulting back to work, if we do not have a plan.

Devices away: I’m not going to pretend that this is easy, it is probably harder now than it has ever been. However, it is not just about banning screens, it is about being more mindful about when you use them. When you are doing something you enjoy, just do that. Try to single task and not switch between tasks, this can lead to the more stress and eventually burnout. We all know the situation, you are sitting watching television with your partner and they leave to get a cup of tea and in that micro-break you start looking at news, Instagram, Twitter, email etc. Suddenly you are in a different place and not focusing on the activity you want to. The only way to stop this is to not have the device within arm’s length. Difficult yes impossible no!

We have more time than ever with no commuting and no travel, but we are often working longer and harder than ever, its time to stop working such long hours, life is hard enough right now!

Peter Cosgrove is a future of work expert and Managing Director of Futurewise Ltd. His book “Family Fun Unplugged” a book to designed to help families take time away from their devices is one of the top children’s book in Ireland at present.

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