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How to take the stress out of working from home for a while

For years, many of us dreamt of being able to work from home so that we’d be able to spend more time with our families. With remote working being most people’s new reality, the pressures of having household responsibilities crowding into your space can be overwhelming. 

You’re not alone if you feel this way. A recent US study of remote versus in-office employees found that 29 per cent of remote employees said they struggle with work-life balance, and 31 per cent said they have needed to take a day off for their mental health. 

Part of the problem is that people working from home often tend to work more than they did when they were in an office environment. Without water cooler chats or canteen breaks, remote employees find they are working 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts, resulting in more than three additional weeks of work per year. 

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As the world adopts new working structures brought on by Covid-19, it’s highly likely that many companies will carry on having employees working from home. A new McKinsey report detailing what’s next for remote work forecasts that more than 20 per cent of the workforce could work remotely three to five days a week. That’s good news for those wanting to work from home, but only if they’re able to create a good work-life balance. 

In trying to understand why working from home for prolonged periods can be stressful, it helps to view it in the following way. A parent going into the office dons an ‘office hat’ the second they walk into the office. While there, they’re a productive, efficient employee. At the end of the day, during the commute home, any unfinished tasks they couldn’t get to are processed in their minds, in a mental ‘downtime’ that allows them to switch off from work. Once home, they switch roles, and now clad in a ‘parenting/ partner hat’, they set to work on tackling home responsibilities.

The problem when you work from home, says Aisha Pandor, CEO of SweepSouth and a working mom of three, is that you often end up fulfilling multiple roles simultaneously, without the luxury of having a break between responsibilities. Suddenly domestic responsibilities are part of your work day, with dishes, washing up and receiving home deliveries added to your pile of work commitments.

To curb stress levels and mid-week burnout, Aisha suggests the following steps to create a calmer, happier, more balanced work and home life. 

Organise your day and be strict about working hours
In an office environment, there are set hours and routines, and a manager dictates the rhythm, whereas when you work from home you need to monitor your own pace and progress. Maximise your productivity by taking five minutes each morning to prepare. Create a to-do list, prioritising the most pressing things and address these first. That way, if things still need doing at the end of the day, they’ll be the lesser important ones that can be rolled over. Make sure to tick off tasks you’ve completed – it’s an affirmation that will encourage you to do the same tomorrow. At the end of your work day, make a to-do list for the following day. It will clear your mind and allow you to rest easy, knowing that uncompleted tasks have been listed.

Take regular breaks from your screen
It sounds counterintuitive, but one of the most effective ways you can stay productive is by taking regular breaks throughout the day. We aren’t computers that can run continuously at high speed – our brains need downtime so that we can go back to focusing and being creative. Experts suggest taking short breaks every hour – at least five to 10 minutes away from your computer screen. While you’re working, change your posture regularly, refocus your eyes to give your eye muscles a break, and do some simple stretching exercises at your desk.

Change your everyday routine
Working from home without the stimulus of engaging with co-workers can become dull. Avoid this by changing your routine – have lunch at different times, and in a different part of the garden or house each day. If you take a walk with the kids after work, ring the changes by doing so before work or during lunch. These small changes will break the tedium and create fun new memories.

Tame your tech
While tech has certainly made life a lot easier and our lives more connected, it’s also one of the biggest time zappers. Make your tech work for you by setting aside a specific time to answer emails, check Instagram and catch up on Facebook. Set limits for how long you, and everyone at home, can spend on screens and stick to it, otherwise it’s all too easy for everyone to spend dinner checking their phones between mouthfuls of food. A tip to counteract digital overload is to connect with nature. When you’re gardening or out having a lovely walk in a park and focusing on the beauty of nature, checking your Facebook feed suddenly just doesn’t seem that important.

Pinpoint stressful times
Red flag the moments in your day when there are stressful bottlenecks. For example, 5.30pm when the dinner needs to be cooked and you haven’t had a chance to shop for ingredients, the kids need to be bathed and work emails still need to be sent. Plan ahead to avoid these stressful times, like making a list of recipes for the week and buying ingredients in advance, and delegate tasks to other people in the house so that the family workload is evenly spread. 

Ask for help and give yourself time off
Life, particularly now, is full of demands, and if you’re so frantically busy that you’re left limping along at half steam, it’s easy to feel put upon. ‘Take a good look at where you can get help in the house,’ advises Aisha.

‘Kids can take on extra chores, hubby can pack his own lunch, dinner can be baked beans and eggs on toast at least once a week, and, if you don’t have a full-time helper, consider hiring one at least once a week to lessen the demands on you,’ she says.

It’s okay to say that life is leaving you exhausted, and it’s perfectly normal to want some space and time for yourself to do nothing, says Aisha. ‘We need to create time-out gaps for ourselves, where our minds can relax and our batteries can be recharged. No matter how much you love your family and your job, if you don’t look after yourself, you’ll have nothing left to give.”

Learn to live with imperfection
Lastly, letting go and accepting that everything can’t be perfect is an important lesson to learn. What is more valuable – spending a free half an hour with the kids in the garden or making sure the house is perfectly tidy? It’s good to take pride in a well-run household, but if you’re working from home while the kids are home schooling, be realistic. Aim for good enough – the extra time and effort right now to reach perfect will just exhaust you.

With adequate planning and, allowing room for disruption in your schedule, you’ll soon see that taking each day as it comes is a more realistic option versus barely surviving past noon.

ALSO READ: 5 ways to be kinder to yourself this year…

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