How to Avoid Work Burnout and Stay Productive when WFH

The global pivot to hybrid work has given many professionals the flexibility to choose their own schedule, location, and format when they work remotely. However, despite WFH being such an in-demand perk, work burnout levels are continually on the rise.

Ways to avoid work burnout

The Age of Workplace Uncertainty report from MindEdge and the HR Certification Institute found that 80 percent of leaders have seen work burnout increase in 2021. In addition, more than 50 percent agree that turnover rates are higher now than before COVID-19.

More companies are offering benefits to help their teams deal with stress and burnout. But as the Workplace Uncertainty data reveals, 61 percent of business leaders or managers do not train employees to handle the challenges of remote work. And this is often the cause of work burnout in the first place.

This cycle of stress, low productivity, burnout, and eventual resignation tends to repeat itself in the virtual workplace. To avoid this pitfall of working from home, build a home work environment that empowers you to accomplish your tasks, while prioritizing your own needs.

Use these strategies to remain on-track without the drawbacks of overwhelm and burnout.

Create a non-distracting work environment as much as possible

According to this research, the average employee has to deal with nearly 56 interruptions on a given workday. Worse, it can take as long as two hours to recover from an interruption and refocus on the task at hand.

Some interruptions are unavoidable, especially at home with other family members who share the space. However, you can help minimize the frequency of distractions with a work environment that’s optimized to insulate you from external time wasters. Here are some practical, effective ideas to help achieve this.

Designate a home office that’s separate from your main living area. Find a way to make this space private, whether that means closing the door or sectioning it off with a bookshelf or room partition. When you enter this space, it should communicate to both yourself and others in the household that you’re in work mode right now.

Limit your access to email notifications and other digital time wasters. According to the same study, most professionals check their emails 36 times per hour, then spend 16 minutes refocusing after they answer each email. Virtual employees are also 2.54 times more likely to encounter digital distractions than onsite workers, Gartner reports. To whatever extent you can, moderate the use of email, social media, or other non-essential online touch points when you’re working.

Personalize the work environment to inspire creativity and motivation. Simple but  impactful touches will give the home office personality:

  • A direct natural light source
  • Colorful decor
  • Inspirational quotes
  • Indoor plants
  • Favorite books
  • Family photos
  • A clutter-fee desktop

In other words, curate the kind of space you want to be in.

Schedule in breaks

It can be exhausting to stare at your computer screen for hours on end without the usual pauses that occur in an onsite work setting. At the office you might have the respite of a water cooler chat in the break room or a chance to stretch your legs on the way to the coffee machine. But at home, it’s often much harder to allow yourself a timeout.

However, research shows that breaks can improve concentration and enhance overall job satisfaction, reports BBC Worklife. According to Sooyeol Kim, doctoral student at the University of Illinois and expert on microbreaks, a short, voluntary pause in workflow can increase positive feelings on the job. And this boosts productivity.

Be intentional about allowing periodic breaks, with these simple ideas:

  • Step outside for a brief walk and some fresh air.
  • Eat lunch away from both your computer and smartphone.
  • Do some physical stretches to increase blood flow and ease any joint or muscle stiffness.
  • Tackle a few chores around the house.

Put highest priority tasks first

According to a 2020 poll from Sleep Advisor, 55 percent of Americans check their inboxes within an hour of being awake. If this is you, beware that this can set the tone for a long day of wasting your time by checking your phone.

Instead of reaching for that phone to scroll through unread emails as soon as your feet hit the floor, change your schedule to focus on priority items. Think about which assignments must be completed as soon as possible. Determine which will require the most energy, focus, and brainpower. Dive into these tasks first before you pivot to anything else.

Answering emails while I drank coffee in the morning used to be a default part of my routine. When I realized how much time I wasted on this instead of focusing on a much higher priority task, I made a change to restructure the order of my workflow. Now I start with more urgent, time-sensitive projects that require the bulk of my attention. Once I finish what I need to accomplish, I move on to checking emails. It’s just a small tweak, however it helps boost my morning productivity.

This is how our 4PSA co-founder, Elena Carstoiu, changed her daily routine to improve her productivity. Find out more of her workflow tweaks, which you could use as well.

Reinforce healthy boundaries between work and personal time

Remote teams are often susceptible to the always on mindset. This can place a heavy burden of expectation to be available at all hours of the day. In a virtual work setting with instant access to communication technologies and platforms, it can be difficult to unplug completely from the job—even on nights and weekends.

Many teams have maintained the normal nine-to-five workday in this remote transition. Yet, this eight-hour window only accounts for 60 percent of the time most employees spend on the clock, according to Harvard Business Review. The other 40 percent of their work time occurs outside of regular hours. In fact, more than 10 percent of surveyed professionals work for least 30 minutes as early as 4 AM.

Set boundaries for your time so you can focus on being productive during the workday. Then unplug when you’re done. Here are some strategies:

  • Establish office hours during which your team members can reach out to you with questions, updates, feedback, or whatever they need. Then, ask if they have preferred office hours during which you can contact them.
  • Do not initiate or respond to any communication once the workday is over. If you receive a message after hours that requires immediate attention, answer the email with a caveat such as, “Please be aware in the future that I normally do not answer work emails after 6:00 PM on Monday through Friday, nor do I expect this of my team.”
  • Ask your colleagues what communication channel they prefer. Everybody has a one they feel most comfortable interacting on—be it chat, email, phone or even video. Whenever possible, touch base with them during work hours on that particular channel.

Boost your overall productivity

Combating burnout isn’t impossible, even while working from home, as our colleague, Alice, previously proved.

In fact, a few simple changes can be all you need to start feeling productive without the stress. Use these ideas to give your best to work without draining yourself in the process.

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