How to get the best from home working and avoid burnout
First of all, put some clear boundaries around your work. Have a proper start and finish time, and develop a disciplined way of managing the day. Have a shower, get dressed and then get started. If you’re an extrovert and get your energy from being around others, ensure that happens. Try to plan the day that you would like to have, or you will be at the mercy of other people’s plans.
A ‘to do’ list can be a tyranny, where you never catch up and you feel overwhelmed. Instead, just block out time in your diary with things you need to do - and don’t forget to include breaks and exercise time.
Remember to do the things that make working from home enjoyable. Play the music you like, have a nap if you want and focus on the pleasurable things about your situation.
All these are fairly obvious ideas. Let’s go a bit deeper now.
Consider your personality
If you want to get the most from working from home, you need to do a bit of self-reflection. Think about the five factors of your personality and the person you are. Are you extroverted - do you get a lot of your energy from being around others? Are you an organised or disorganised person? Are you a worrier or more of a happy-go-lucky, ‘everything will turn out fine’ sort of person?
The key to having an enjoyable time working from home is self-awareness. Once you’ve done this self-reflection, you can organise your work time in a way that plays to your strengths and compensates for your weaknesses. This is why a lot of advice you’ll see on social media about working from home misses the point. Advice that will be helpful for an extroverted person will be useless if you are an introverted person - in fact, if you follow it, it might make you feel a lot worse. So, you need to start with your personality and pick the advice that fits your personality and your strengths.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Let’s say you are a conscientious person. You’ll find working from home to be a doddle. The enormous danger for you, though, is workaholism. There will be no-one there to notice when you need a break and tell you to go home. So, set some boundaries around your work. Have a specific time to start, break times and a definite finish time - and stick to them. You’ve probably heard of Parkinson’s Law, which says that work expands to fill the time allocated to it.
When you are working, minimise any interruptions. Switch off your email and mobile phone. If you can, only check your email messages maybe three times a day - otherwise leave it switched off. If you do this, you will be amazed how much work you get done.
In his book Deep Work, American academic Cal Newport suggests removing all distractions from your workplace when you are working (Newport, 2016). Switch off your email if you can, or at least switch off the email notifications. I know that in practice many people find this hard - and of course the internet can be a distraction too. If you struggle with this you could try using a distraction blocking app like Freedom (https://freedom. to/dashboard). I use this app and it’s extremely effective. You set a list of all the things it should block, like the internet (or certain websites) and email, and then you can run scheduled/timed sessions so that you can focus on your work. The schedule aspect really helps with working for short bursts and taking a break, as you get a notification that the session is ended and this tells you it’s time to pause. The same goes for your phone.
Work in short bursts
In Deep Work, Newport also recommends structuring your work time into short bursts of activity broken up by rest periods. For example, do half an hour of intense deep work, then have a ten-minute break, and then go back to work for another half an hour.