Mental Health October: Work-Life Balance

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I am one of a lucky few that settled into remote work well at the beginning of quarantine. In the “before times”, I generally worked from home 1-2 times a week. Because of this, working from home was not as big as an adjustment for me as I’m sure it was for other people.

On the other hand, this way of thinking ended up being a mental trap! I went into quarantine with the mindset that it wouldn’t be that bad, and didn’t change much about my usual way of life from the beginning. As time went on, however, I realized that I would need to make some changes for my own physical and mental well-being.

Below, read up on some of the new habits and routines that I’ve built up around my work life in quarantine!

Routine

In general, routine has been the saving grace of my quarantine – and my work life is no difference!

Being able to set my own work schedule helps a lot. I generally don’t have meetings on Mondays and Fridays, which helps me ease in and out of the work week, respectively. Before quarantine, I usually came into the office on days when I had meetings, so taking meetings remotely was a big adjustments. However, I’ve come to rely on these meetings as “checkpoints” throughout my week, and have come to enjoy interacting with my coworkers when I normally wouldn’t be seeing and speaking with them outside of Slack.

(I’ve come to regret that I often came into work in a crabby mood, avoiding small talk and getting to know my coworkers – I truly miss those moments now!)

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I’ve also benefitted greatly from having “warm up” and “cool down” time before and after work. When I can, I love to wake up a little bit earlier than 9AM so that I can leisurely wash up, make my coffee, and watch a couple of relaxing YouTube videos before jumping into work. (I’ve never been an early riser, so this doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, but when it does, it’s magic!)

Similarly, at the end of the work day, I make a point to close down my laptop and stash it away, out of sight. Whenever possible, I also force myself to get off the couch and move around, whether that’s a walk or run outside, or a workout in the other room. Because I have to work from my couch (my apartment does not have room for another desk, unfortunately), getting myself off the couch for even a little bit helps distance my brain from work mode. When I sit back down later in the evening to watch TV or eat dinner, it feels like my day has been broken down, and therefore does not feel like I’m settling back down into work.

Finally, I’ve set very strict boundaries for myself around doing work, since my laptop is always available and around. I do not respond to anything that comes in for work after checking out for the day, except for emergencies (which have only happened once or twice since the beginning of quarantine, thankfully!). It’s a hard habit to break, especially since I was less strict about it when I was not working remotely, but it’s been important for preserving my mental health and not feeling “on” all the time.

Moving Around

Staying active has been an important part of my quarantine routine – and again, my work life is no different!

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The biggest example of this is that I take almost all of my meetings while standing up. I set up a makeshift standing desk in our bedroom and move over there for meetings, and will often stay over there afterwards too. For the first few weeks of quarantine, before making standing time a priority, I noticed that my back and hips were getting very sore from sitting on the cushioned sofa all day. Taking even a few hours to stand up throughout the day helped relieve some of that tension!

It did take a few adjustments to make sure that my “standing desk” is as comfortable as possible. My laptop gets propped up on several large textbooks so that the top of the screen is at eye level and I use a separate keyboard and mouse situated at a more comfortable level. (I use the same stack of books and separate keyboard and mouse while sitting as well!) I started off by standing on a yoga mat to make sure that my feet were comfortably cushioned, but eventually “upgraded” to a pair of house sneakers – either way, I always have to have support for my feet.

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I also try to make sure that I stay hydrated throughout the day. While in the office, I made sure to drink a lot of water, which forced me to take several bathroom breaks throughout the day, which got me up and moving. At home, however, it’s harder to get in that mindset, especially when I have to get up from my previously-mentioned comfortable couch! The best strategy I’ve come up with to make sure I drink throughout the day is to have multiple things to drink around me at all times – in the morning, I usually have coffee and water, but will move on to tea, coconut water, kombucha, or even juice as the day progresses.

Taking Breaks

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The last important part of my working-from-home routine is scheduling breaks into my day. While this doesn’t always happen, based on the amount of work that I have to do on any given day, I’ve found that my mind benefits greatly from stepping away from work, especially in the middle of the day while the sun is still out.

As the leader of my team, I am big on open communication within my team. Part of this is setting aside “out of office” break time on my calendar and encouraging others to do the same.

During this time, I do anything that keeps me away from my computer! This includes running errands, taking an exercise class, making food, or even just meditating for a bit.

In the office, I actually did make a conscious effort to step away from my laptop for a lunch break every day. I usually spent this time eating while watching YouTube videos on my phone (hey, I usually take a late lunch, and nobody else is around, OK?) or meditating in a comfortable space. I found that I was more productive and generally happier after forcing myself to take these breaks, so I saw no reason to stop doing it when I started working remotely.

Finally, I highly recommend taking mental health days! I’m grateful that my company has been pushing this throughout the quarantine and that my team is mindful of this as well. I’ll often schedule random errands in the middle of the workday and use that as an excuse to take the entire day off. For example, I took one day to go to the dentist, but took the rest of the day to ride my bike around, which ended up being a great physical exercise as well as mental reset.

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Mental health days have been extremely important for maintaining my work-life balance over the past few months, and please let that be the take away of this post for you, if you don’t take away anything else! Above everything else, taking time off helps me remember that I’m a person with interests, goals, and needs outside of work – and isn’t that the point of work-life balance in the first place?

In fact, I’m taking a mental health day today – and I’ll be using it to do some more writing, because I enjoy it (and need more posts for the blog)! What great timing!

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