WHY DO I FEEL MORE TIRED WORKING FROM HOME?
(And ways to cope)
– By Mon Macutay, CEO of Big Ideas Philippines
(Manila, Philippines. 6 May 2020) – – Because of the nature of my job and my businesses, I’ve been working from home for about 7 years now. My team, who are all freelancers doing outsourced work for our clients, are all working from home too. Which means, the ECQ (Enhanced Community Quarantine) here in the Philippines did not affect us drastically.
Some pundits have called these past few months of 2020 “The Great Pause”. And a lot of people were suddenly thrust into a planet-wide experiment to see if working from home was a viable alternative to the “butts in seats” way of thinking in the corporate world. Will it succeed? Well, we have to wait a few more months to find out.
Meanwhile, a lot of my friends – who suddenly found themselves working on their boxers or “pambahay” (Filipino for ‘house clothes’) seem to wonder why they’re more stressed or more tired working from home rather than office?
The answer, from my personal experience, is that those who are new to this work arrangement have failed to set up both physical and mental boundaries between “work time”, “me time” and “family time”. Let me explain;
1. ROUTINES AND HOW TO TRICK YOUR MIND
There are certain “triggers” or “flags” that send signals to your body and brain that “Hey, I am no longer at home and this is the start of my work schedule”. For most of us, it could be as simple as getting into your uniform or business attire and heading off onto the dreaded commute.
Our bodies (and mind) will instantly recognize the boundaries and condition ourselves that we will be focusing on work and I will be leaving all personal and family things at home.
Working from a home environment may not set up the proper triggers, which means both your body and brain get confused as to when “work time” begins and “home time” ends. There are several ways to adjust and there are ways to condition ourselves for this. One of the easiest is to stick to a routine, get up on the same time you would on any other work day, take your shower, put on clothes (even if it’s just a nice shirt for your Zoom calls later), have the same routine for breakfast and get ready to “leave the house”. Of course, you CANNOT leave the house due to the Pandemic, so you just have to pretend (and allot some productive time) during your “digital commute”.
Instead of doing nothing during your digital commute, you could some meditating, listening to music, read a book or even watch inspirational or education videos. Why are you doing this? This is to condition your mind and tell yourself that “I am preparing now to put everything aside and focus on work for the day”. Once you’re done, prepare your work place and get down to work.
And when your work day ends, you should also condition both mind and body to leave everything behind, and you will be picking it up tomorrow (more on that later).
2. PHYSICAL AND FAMILY BOUNDARIES
If you don’t have a big house or even a separate home office, this can be tough. But there are ways or shortcuts for this even if you live in a small home or a condo. First, make sure that your physical work space is free from distractions, that the kids won’t wander off into it when you’re having a Zoom call (but hey, at this point in time, a lot of people understand and it’s not a big deal). Try to talk to every member of the household “When daddy (or mommy) is at the computer, that means we’re working and we may not have time to talk to you or answer your questions”. Kids, being kids, will (100%) break this rule, of course. But try to remind them (in a nice way) and you will have less and less distractions.
Even if you’re just using your own bedroom as your home office, if you tell the kids (or members of your household): when the door is locked, “please do not disturb me unless absolutely necessary or an emergency”. Having those “Do Not Disturb” door signs from hotels is a good visual cue! If you don’t have one, it’s practically super easy to make one.
It doesn’t matter if you have a big or large desk or just sit down at the kitchen or have your notebook at your lap. The key here is to have “rules” and making sure that family members know the rules and for you, to be firm (yet fair) in your execution.
3. FOCUS, SPRINTS AND BLOCKS
The most common culprit to having stress would be extended hours of viewing into the same (or multiple) screens. You have your laptop where you check your e-mails, log into Google Suite, do some excel spreadsheets or finish a powerpoint. Your phone will be where you check incessant Whatsapp, Vibers and Facebook messages both from colleagues and non-work related friends.
You don’t need a study or white-paper to validate that extended screen-viewing CAN be exhausting. At the office, this is broken up when you have a few minutes of small talk with colleagues (the typical water dispenser chat sessions). The monotony is further broken up at the office with jokes, laughter or just friendly banter and goofing around. Sadly, you won’t have that alone working from home. So, how do you cope?
You do this by working in chunks or blocks of time. Whether it be 1 to 3 hours of focused work, try to stick to that block of time where you are the most productive. And when that’s done, take a break – have a snack, stand and walk, go play with the kids, talk to your spouse, prepare or marinate chicken, or even check messages from non-work friends. Once you’re ready to get back into the rhythm, dive right back. Trust me, this will make you feel better!
4. WORK HAS TO END FOR THE DAY
Yet another reason why you’re feeling more tired is that you aren’t stopping work while at home. It’s so easy to get complacent. Because of technology, a Whatsapp from your boss will appear on all of your devices and you’re bound to get back and start working away.
You know what? Just stop.
Work SHOULD stop at the end of the work shift (but there will be work emergencies or “fires” that will be the extreme exceptions). And you should discipline yourself to stick to this. That whatsapp notification that just popped at 10pm? You know what? Answer it tomorrow. In fact, it would be great if you could turn off these distracting notifications from your devices during the night (the iPhone has a great “Do Not Disturb” feature where you can set the time. Am sure Android phones will have those too).
The point is: Just like pre-pandemic, when you arrive at home, it means that you’re “really home” and you’ve left all work-related stuff (and worries) at the office.
I was once diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and my doctor ordered me to leave all work at the office. When I was doing corporate, I used to take my laptop home and was a workaholic. Ever since I left the laptop at the office and tried to enjoy “me” and “family” time, my stress and anxiety levels decreased and I eventually recovered.
The key takeaway here is: Working from home can both be a blessing and a curse. If you do not know to place boundaries and condition both your body and your mind on how to separate the “work” from the “home”, then you will have problems adjusting. But, I hope that with the tips I mentioned in this article, it would be a great catalyst to identify those boundaries and start enjoying work while in your boxers and at arms length with your loved ones.
Stay safe, everyone! Feel free to share this short piece to anyone who might benefit from it.