What I learned about burnout and how to work from home

A few years back, I hit a wall at my job. I was miserable, in pain, and was unable to hit my benchmarks for the basics of my job. I was also experiencing the physical manifestation of burnout. For me, that showed up as migraines, back pain, insomnia, panic attacks, and crying almost every single day.

No fun.

I struggled to understand that the job itself was causing the other stuff, I thought it was just the other way around. After a few horrible months of this, I finally left that job, and took some much needed time to rest and heal.

I have to say that I had HUGE privilege to take that time off, with my husband’s job paying for our continued expenses and being able to join his health insurance.

After recovering, I went on the winding journey that led me to open up my own business, where I work from home almost exclusively. (to clarify, I used to travel into the city for meetings and events about once per week, but now of course am just at home!) I’ve been working from home for about two years in total, and I can assure you it took a while to get into the groove of how to do this right.

Here’s some things I’ve learned, and I hope can be helpful lessons for those who are forced to figure out how to do their jobs from home, among pets, kids, partners, roommates, etc. I certainly don’t have all the answers, and what works for me won’t work for everyone. For example, I don’t have kids, and generally can set my own schedule.

Ideally, these are things you can take with you when/if you return to your office job. I do believe we can create the work life that we want, or something a bit closer to it!

Union workers demanded this 150 years ago, what happened to the 8 hours for “what we will”? It’s certainly not spent commuting these days … (Artwork by the amazing RLMArtStudio.com)
  1. Create and stick to a schedule that works for you. This may be obvious to some, but this schedule doesn’t have to match what you were doing in the office. When are you most productive? When are you generally in meetings? For me, I don’t schedule meetings before 10am. That is my time to drink coffee, read emails, and prepare for the day. It’s also the best time for me to write, so that’s often what I’m up to!
  2. Schedule a lunch break for yourself, ideally a FULL HOUR. Use it to get outside, have a solo dance party, do some yoga, take a shower, prepare and eat your food away from your desk. Often, I will prioritize the outdoor activities for my lunch break, and then bring my food back to my desk to eat while on a call or doing some reading/research. Today, I ate my lunch on the front porch to soak in some sunshine for a full 10 minutes.
  3. Set a strict time to end your work day. Before “stay at home” orders, my day had a hard stop when my partner came home from work. Now, I aim to walk away from my computer by 5pm every day. If I have evening calls, I will either start the day late, or take an extended lunch break. What does the end of a workday look like? Not answering emails after 5pm, ideally putting my computer to sleep, and walking away from my desk. If I do need my computer for non-work things, I close my business email and other work-related pages and programs. I also recommend turning off notifications for work emails on your phone.
  4. You don’t have to look perfect on videoconferences. Don’t think of it as a perfect instagram photo. Your coworkers know what you look like. I assure you, people love photobombing of pets, kids, and partners. It provides a little levity and humor to the meeting. Now is not the time to pretend we’re strictly serious business people without real lives. Honestly, when I see someone else do something silly on video, it relaxes me to realize that I’m not the only one with food in my teeth for the meeting! Also, consider turning your video off if it’s distracting for you. Then you can eat, multi-task, paint your nails or whatever else without fear of judgement.
Remember this guy on a BBC interview? No one was pissed that his kid walked in, nor did they think he was unprofessional. It was hilarious and endearing.
  1. Use your calendar as a manifestation tool! This is something my former business coach taught me. I had already been trained to schedule my tasks and stick to it from the previous job, so now I just make sure to put things like yoga and happy hour on there too. If it’s on the calendar, it’s going to happen. And if you work at a job where people are putting meetings on your calendar, you can block off that time that you need for YOU.
  2. Cut yourself some slack, and listen to your body. I still struggle with back pain and headaches, and sometimes that means I need to end my day early, or start late. Especially right now, we need to give ourselves and each other some space to breathe. To process what is happening in the world, and grieve when we need to. Eat some ice cream, watch trashy TV, snuggle with your pets.
  3. Be honest with yourself. Then, be your coworkers, colleagues, and boss about your needs and limitations. This can be super hard, and feel risky. And it might not be possible in your line of work. If you’re like me, you aren’t a very productive worker if you are miserable. Don’t make the same mistakes as me, and push yourself to a breaking point. It’s not worth it.
The New Yorker for the win, as always.

Money and philanthropy coach. Organizer. Rabble rouser. Learn more here: www.MoveMoneyShiftPower.com