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VCU HR Well-Being blog

Giving VCU employees the wellness resources they need to be healthy both on and off campus

Making small changes to your daily routine can help you stay focused and productive. [View Image]

The most obvious benefit of working in an office is the physical delineation between personal and professional life. A real concern that many face when working remotely is that it will feel like they live at their office and they won’t be able to create the separation they need to rest and relax outside work.

One piece of mitigating this is to set a clear schedule and to do your best to create a physically separated workspace. However, this extends to intentionally determining how you work throughout the day, and how you separate your work life from your home life.

Managing Your Energy

Keeping yourself from overworking isn’t just about managing when you work, it’s also about how you work and what you do when. Just because you have certain hours designated for work during the day doesn’t mean you should drill into intense, uninterrupted work for hours at a time. When you build your schedule, it’s good to mix and match different types of activities, along with breaks, and to notice when your energy peaks and wanes.

In the fitness world, there’s a widespread practice of interval training: strong bursts of rigorous exercise followed by a brief period of rest. This builds your strength and stamina without overexerting your body. Interval training can be applied to mental tasks as well, separating periods of mentally strenuous work with short breaks to ensure you don’t burn out.

Personally, I like to schedule periods of intense work in the morning—when I am cognitively strongest—for tasks that involve writing and development of new materials. Then I’ll follow that with a break and reserve the afternoon for meetings and tasks that are discussion-oriented and don’t require as much mental capacity.

It’s important to set a similar regimen for yourself and spend some time deciding which parts of the day are best for you to perform different types of tasks. This may take some trial and error, but determining what works for you will have a long-lasting impact on your happiness and productivity.

Creating Workday Buffers

On a similar theme, it’s incredibly helpful to have buffer activities that help delineate work time from personal time. There’s a natural instinct for remote employees to hop on their phone or work computer as soon as they wake up, work straight until dinner time, then bring their work into the bedroom at night.

While no one loves traffic or crowded public transportation systems, there is a psychological value to commuting that can be valuable to replicate in a virtual work environment. That’s why so many renowned performance experts highly recommend following a personal morning routine each day rather than jumping straight into work.

Whether you want to start the day with coffee and breakfast, a brisk jog, or some inspiring reading, doing something for yourself each morning will help you enter the workday more clearheaded and energized. If you roll out of bed and look at your phone and computer right away, it often leads to an immediate dose of stress—work emails with problems that occurred overnight, reminders of deadlines, and more.

This is a terrible way to start your day; it’s the equivalent of being swept from your bed into your office in your pajamas at 7:00 a.m. I don’t know about you, but that would not be ideal for me.

The same goes for the end of the day. Many people who’ve spent most of their work life commuting to an office are likely to state that even though they didn’t love the commute, the time spent driving home or on public transit allowed them to detach and unwind from work before stepping into their house. This is especially true for working parents, who sometimes struggle with a snap transition from work mode into parent mode.

Just as in the morning, we also encourage all our remote employees to take time to unwind as soon as the workday ends. This was something I personally had to learn. I would finish hours of meetings and calls at six o’clock in the evening and immediately sit down to dinner with my wife and three kids.

Those dinners can be a bit loud and chaotic, and I would quickly feel overwhelmed. I’ve learned to take at least twenty or thirty minutes at the end of the day to exercise, meditate, or take a short walk, and it makes a noticeable difference for my mental transition out of the workday.

Whether you want to walk the dog, listen to music, read, or even meditate, doing something simple once you stop working will help you de-stress after a long day in the virtual office. Plus, it will provide a reminder that you need to unplug for the evening.

Protect Your Bedroom 

On that note, it’s also useful to keep any work devices out of your bedroom. Studies have shown that looking at a screen immediately before bed results in a delayed transition to a restful sleep and ensures less deep sleep. Bringing your laptop to bed to answer a few emails before you go to sleep is likely to make you more fatigued and less alert for the next day. Ultimately, all you’re doing is sacrificing your well-being and professional effectiveness just to answer messages that could—and often should—wait until morning. It’s also worth getting into the habit of shutting down and putting away your smartphone for the night (ideally in a location outside your bedroom) at least an hour before bed to maximize your sleep quality.

This is especially useful if you have email or work apps on your phone. These technological tools make it all too easy to go from scrolling through Instagram to reflexively checking your work email or Slack messages before bed.

Remember, you control your environment. If you take steps to prioritize your sleep, you’ll feel better in the morning and be ready to attack the day.

Great remote work doesn’t happen automatically. But with the right strategies, tactics and tools, you can be happy, fulfilled and productive while working from home—and achieve a work/life integration that works for you.

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