I used to think of being able to “WFH” as a glamourous opportunity—the ultimate privilege. Considering that I am working at all during a time when many people are jobless, it remains a privilege that I am thankful for.
However, my energy levels dipped to an all-time low near the end of summer and I realized that my old mindset of working from home had not been updated to that of a daily routine. It was really dragging me down.
Like any operating system, your mindset needs constant updates to match reality. When you don’t update your system, things are eventually not going to perform at their best.
You see, I have been approaching working from home the way I used to when it was a rare opportunity. This meant that it was a thrill to sleep in, work in my pyjamas and maybe even do so from bed.
But I’ve realized that with remote work being the “new normal” for the foreseeable future, all these behaviours I used to revel in are no longer serving me.
This simple failure to shift my mindset caused my energy to leak from the very moment I woke up, leaving nothing left to use for work or my relationship throughout the day.
Old “WFH” habits were fine when remote work was a rare occasion, but it’s time to audit these habits.
Here are 3 effective changes I’ve made on my quest to reverse remote work burnout.
1. Start the morning inside-out, not outside-in
This advice came from former monk turned life coach, Jay Shetty. If you are someone who stays tuned in to the spirituality/wellness world, you may already be familiar with his work and maybe have caught some of his interviews in the wake of his recent book launch.
In a conversation with Yoga Girl, Jay Shetty recommended that we begin our mornings inside-out, not outside-in.
“When you pick up your phone, first thing in the morning, you are now starting your day off reactively; people are sending you messages, people are sending you different notifications. So you now are not starting the day feeling centred and grounded, and you’re not starting the day inside out, you’re starting the day outside in”.
Essentially, turn your phone on airplane mode as you get ready for bed, and keep it that way till you begin work the next morning.
Expanding even further on this, I’ve realized that in order to start my day inside-out, I need more time in the morning to just be. If I can’t connect with myself before I try to connect with others for the rest of the day, how can I expect communication to flow easily?
A month ago, I wouldn’t have believed what I’m about to say but…set your alarm to give yourself at least 1.5 hours before you need to be online for work.
In the first couple weeks of my office going remote, I took advantage of the fact that the hour it used to take to leave the house, catch the subway, and trek to the office, was now spent sound asleep.
However, for the past couple of months, my brain activity in the first half of the day has been as effective as taking a brick to a cheese grater. I’ve never tried this but I imagine it would yield little to no results.
I thought that to get ahead of my day, all I needed to do was stroll from my bed to my computer, review what notifications had popped up from the previous evening and launch into it with some coffee.
Boy, was I wrong.
Now, after hearing Jay Shetty’s interview, I’ve been setting my alarm 1.5 hours earlier than I used to. It sometimes feels like a punishment to drag myself out of a warm bed but since I’ve been doing so, I’ve had a massive increase in energy and focus each day. It’s been so consistent and rewarding, I’m afraid to wake up too late for fear of losing whatever magic power this has given me.
In the early moments of the morning, I sit on the couch and drink water while the sun begins to filter through the window. When some brain fog clears, I read or just dive straight into writing. Then, with half an hour until work begins, I have a healthy breakfast (usually oatmeal) and make coffee. Through all of this, it’s important that up until you sit down at your desk, your phone has not been opened or taken off airplane mode from the night before.
By the time I check Slack notifications and emails, I greet them with a much more positive attitude than I had when I was trying to sift through things with what felt like only one functioning brain cell.
So adjust your bedtime accordingly to get enough sleep, and wake up earlier than you think you can. Start the morning inside-out and you will begin to feel like you can handle whatever gets thrown your way.
2. Be a body—not just a brain behind a computer
Since remote work does not require you to leave the house each morning, it’s possible that your body is experiencing significantly less physical activity than pre-pandemic times.
Even if the gym or physical activity was not part of your life before, leaving the house meant that you had to commute somehow. And throughout the day, you likely walked more around the office, up stairs, to a coffee shop or to run errands on your way home.
To make up for my lack of commute and casual gym routine, I like to do 10–20 minutes of bodyweight exercises each day to remind my muscles that they can do more than sit in an office chair. Since these exercises only require your body and nothing else, it’s easy to just jump into them before convincing yourself out of it.
On the days I feel like a real slug, it’s hard to slip into spandex and get sweaty but ultimately, I am always shocked at how alive I feel after a few minutes of increasing my heart rate.
When I take these bodyweight breaks, it feels like there’s an internal dialogue taking place where my body says,
“Look, I can support you. Every last pound of you.”
It’s a little affirmation of resilience that feels necessary during the chaos that is 2020.
When you regularly make a habit of doing bodyweight exercises, you can strengthen more than just muscles. It feels like I strengthen trust within my own body. Finding limits and working towards passing them a little bit each time also establishes a mindset that you are able to progress, even when you want to fall flat on the floor.
For folks with varying physical abilities, you may be even more aware of the limits of your body and how to work around them. If you have a physical disability that makes bodyweight exercises a hard pass, what is something you can do each day to feel more supported in your own body?
Set a timer, close the door behind anyone you cohabitate with and just make time to reconnect to your physical being. This is especially important as we head into colder months where we generally become less active.
3. Keep your sleep and work zone separate
The main purpose of the bedroom is to be a place of rest. How can you expect your mind to calm down for bedtime when you are trying to sleep in the same place you’ve been working? The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School suggests that “It may help to limit your bedroom activities to sleep and sex only. Keeping computers, TVs and work materials out of the room will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep.”
You heard the doctors: if you aren’t getting busy in there, you better be getting some zzz’s! Even if you are just scrolling on your phone in bed, the blue light from our screens reduces the production of melatonin, making it even harder to fall asleep.
Depending on the size of your home, separating a workspace from your bedroom may not be possible. At the very least, create firm energetic boundaries in zones around your home so that if you need to work in your bedroom, the workspace is confined to one zone in a corner.
When you enter your bedroom tonight, make an effort to remove all electronic temptations and shut off the lights. Your devices and their many notifications can wait in the next room till morning (when you begin your new “inside-out” ritual).
When my office closed down in March, there was a part of me that was excited to sleep in later than normal, work in a comfy setting and avoid the intensity of a public transit commute through Toronto’s rush hours.
However, it's possible that these perks that I was looking forward to actually ended up contributing to my feelings of WFH burnout.
Since making these three small changes to my remote work habits, I am more able to cruise through the day with an ease I have not felt since March.
Sure, I still wear the same hoodie and joggers each day and no longer brush my hair for Zoom calls, but I have more energy. And that’s all my colleagues really notice.
Some things are going to slip during these times. As long as that isn’t your health, who cares?
Now pick up your phone and change tomorrows alarm.