As public health experts warn that the new coronavirus causing COVID-19 will continue to be among us for some time, we're settling into a "new normal" full of social distancing, wearing cloth masks and staying at home as much as possible.
And while spending time at home is great, spending so much time at home comes with some challenges — such as, ironic as it sounds, relaxing.
You may be struggling to unplug after a long day of working from home. You may be a busybody who sees being home as "less productive," and is cramming extra activities and chores into a day that was actually already productive. Or maybe you're just finding that staring at a computer screen all day, followed by staring at your devices or TV all night is, in itself, draining.
When each part of your day is being conducted from the "comfort" of your home, it can be easy to think that you don't need as much time to relax and decompress. But now more than ever, we all need to make sure we're setting aside time to unplug.
Don't let working from home turn into working all the time
Working from home has some obvious benefits: no commute, comfy clothes, access to your refrigerator and pantry. But if you're noticing the line drawn between your personal and professional life starting to fade, you're not alone.
When your home becomes your workplace, the spatial, visual and audible cues you've grown accustomed to in your office disappear. You aren't walking out of your building at the end of the day, you aren't waving goodbye to your coworkers, you aren't sitting in traffic — all of which help you switch from "I'm at work" to "I'm at home," so you can begin a relaxing evening. Instead, it's one last task or one last email on loop for what seems like the whole evening.
While working from home can increase your productivity and job satisfaction, it can also make it harder to get away from your work at the end of the day. And, no surprise, this can take its toll. A 2019 survey found that over half of remote workers worked longer hours than their in-office counterparts, and more than 80% felt they were experiencing burnout.
Plus, to be sure your boss and manager know you're being productive, you may find yourself overworking altogether. In the same 2019 survey, almost half of remote workers reported feeling that they needed to work harder than their in-office counterparts.
How to unplug while working from home
Sure, we're all guilty of answering emails here and there on our phones in the evenings. But these tips can help you avoid the trap of becoming so plugged into work that you can't unplug when it's time to relax.
- Set your work hours. Whenever your work day began and ended when you were in the office, stick to it when you're working from home — seriously, stick to it. Don't log on as soon as you wake up so you can start answering emails. And when it's time to log off, power down completely.
- Set expectations with your manager. Looking productive doesn't mean overworking yourself. Ask your manager what he or she expects you to do each day and work together to decide what's realistic, as well as what's not. Don't be afraid to say, "This is too much," just because you're working from home.
- Make tomorrow's to-do list at the end of the day. Spend the last 30 minutes of your workday outlining what you want to accomplish the next day. This may keep you from panicking about things that didn't get done every time you walk past your laptop just to go to the bathroom.
- Convert your workspace back into a home space. Out of sight, out of mind, right? At the end of the day, put all of your work away. If your kitchen table is your work desk, return it back to a kitchen table at the end of the day. If you have a home office, shut the door as you leave for the day.
- Have a wind-down ritual. When you're working, your brain is on — but now it's time to give it a break. Reset your attention span by listening to music, taking a shower or helping with dinner. Just be sure to choose something that will help transition your mind from the go-go-go busy-ness of work to the relaxing evening you need.
Beware of digital overload
With social distancing orders keeping us at home more than usual, it's easier than ever to overdose on technology. You're on your device to check social media, read the latest news, order food, watch another episode of Tiger King — maybe even all of these at once. In fact, you might be looking at Tiger King memes on Instagram as you're streaming it on Netflix because...what else are you supposed to do?
To make matters worse, if you're working from home you're probably using your devices during the day more, too. Without the ability to meet in person, many of us are sitting through video call after video call after video call. In some cases, you've probably already had your fair share of screen time before the evening even hits.
At the end of the day, it's important to know that our devices can be addictive, the content we engage with can be stressful, and being connected through social media doesn't necessarily translate into feeling connected. And, keep in mind, staring at your device before bed can affect your sleep.
How to detox from your devices
Right now, spending your fair share of time staring at screens while you work or while you socialize with friends via video chatting is inevitable. But here are tips for reducing the rest of the time you spend on your devices:
- Make your evenings tactile. Instead of plopping on the couch and scrolling through social media while streaming TV all night, consider doing something. There's always working out and cooking dinner, but you can also try walking your dog, eating dinner on your patio, watering your plants, doing a puzzle, reading a book or playing a game with your kids.
- Set limits. There's nothing wrong with watching an episode of your favorite TV show every night, but try to avoid binge-watching. If you need to, set limits on how much you watch and when you watch. And with the huge number of shows available to stream, avoid watching TV for the sake of watching TV — find something that actually interests you, or, better yet, do something else altogether.
- Be honest with how social media actually makes you feel. Ask yourself: Do I feel happy when I get off Facebook? If the answer is no, consider putting your phone down and doing something that does make you happy.
- Make your phone functional, not fun. Instead of filling your home screen with social media and game apps, fill it with tools — such as those that help you: plan a workout, measure your sleep quantity and quality, track your diet, keep up with your grocery list, video chat with family and friends, and listen to music.
Don't forget to unwind
Being stuck at home can sometimes just make a person feel, well, less productive. You've got things to do and people to see. But now that you can't see the people and you can't run the errands due to social distancing orders, you may be trying to compensate by keeping yourself very busy at home. Just keep in mind, being stuck at home doesn't mean you need less time to relax and unwind.
A busybody's guide to relaxing
I get it. Some people are just task-oriented and like to get stuff done. But you also need to take a break sometimes. Use these tips to help yourself unwind:
- Put down your device. It's hard, but shutting down your email, your calendar and your task list every now and then is good for you.
- Make a list, but not one full of to-do's. Instead of making a list of things you need to do, make a list of things you're grateful for or things that make you happy.
- Enjoy some alone time. Spending time focusing on yourself is good for your mood and your productivity. Whether it's a walk by yourself or a long bath before the day gets started, try to carve out some alone time for yourself every day.
- Give yourself relaxing rewards after completing tasks. For each to-do item you complete, give yourself 10 minutes of zen. Whether you spend it reading a good book in a comfy chair, cozying up for a cup of tea in your robe and slippers, or practicing yoga while enjoying some aromatherapy, make your rewards calming activities.
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This article was updated on May 29, 2020 to reflect the current state of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.