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Opinion: Take the stress out of working from home

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By Aisha Pandor, CEO of SweepSouth

The last few months have seen a lot more people working from home, either full-time or in hybrid mode. This arrangement has become the new normal for most employers. On the one hand, it has provided freedom and flexibility, while on the other hand, it has brought on other struggles. For instance, the tendency to put in more hours when working from home has led to burnout and mental breakdown. According to a US study, without the usual office 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.
Therefore, there is a need to work on re-establishing a work-life balance for remote workers for the sake of mental health.
The problem when you work from home, says Aisha Pandor, CEO of SweepSouth and herself 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 all added to your pile of work commitments.

Aisha shared these few reminders for reducing stress and midweek burnout to create a calmer, happier, more balanced work and home life.

1. Organize 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. Maximize your productivity by taking five minutes each morning to prepare. Create a to-do list, prioritize 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.

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2. 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.

3. 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, or in a different part of the house each day. Consider working from a co-shared working space or working from your favourite coffee shop now and then. Take a walk around your neighborhood after work or over your lunch break. These small changes will break the tedium and create fun new memories.

4. 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.

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5. Pinpoint stressful times
Red-flag the moments in your day when there are stressful bottlenecks. For example, at 17h30, when the dinner needs to be cooked and you haven’t had a chance to shop for ingredients, pets need to be fed, perhaps the kids need to be bathed, and work emails still need to be sent. Plan to avoid these stressful times by making a list of recipes for the week and buying ingredients in advance, and delegating tasks to other people in the house so that the family workload is evenly spread.

6. 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 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.”

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7. 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 reading a book 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, be realistic. Aim for good enough—the extra time and effort right now to reach perfection 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.

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