Now that the colder weather is upon (most of) us, those who work from home might breathe a sigh of relief knowing they work remotely, while the rest of us commute daily to work as the hustle and bustle of life beings anew. Many people regard working from home as a goal for overall work-life balance, but those who find themselves actually doing their work from home report higher levels of stress, according to a 2017 study conducted by the United Nations. Part of this may be due to the fact that those who work from home face a host of challenges that are unique to this particular setup.
However, a significant part of this stress is due to higher use of mobile devices, which is perhaps unsurprising in light of other research that connects higher levels of stress to the habit of constantly checking one’s phone. A recent UN study suggests that the increased reliance on mobile devices may push the work-from-home crowd over the edge into higher-stress territory. This higher reliance on smartphones and laptops is associated with higher stress levels in addition to greater social isolation and even insomnia, both of which are conversely linked with greater stress, obesity, and mental health decline.
Most people are surprised by the stress they feel once the novelty of working from home wears off and the stress of its challenges becomes more apparent. While these stressors may not be the same as long commute times, or toxic co-worker/boss interactions they still take a toll. Here are some of the common sources of stress that many work-at-homers face.
- Lack of structure
- Too many distractions including social media and family obligations/housework
- Difficulty setting boundaries
- Social isolation
- Lack of focus
Fortunately, there are many tools at your disposal and you are not alone in experiencing stress from working at home. Below are some proven strategies for minimizing the stress of working from home.
Set a Schedule
While it’s wonderfully freeing to set your own schedule, it’s vital that you do set a schedule rather than working when you find the time. If you wait until you feel like working, the distractions will come from all sides and swallow up your time, so setting a schedule and sticking to it is a vital component of working from home for most people. There are several useful tricks for doing so, however, from calendars and apps to detailed to-do lists. Here are some things to keep in mind when determining when you’ll work:
- Work when you work best. Many people find that working in the morning when they feel rested can provide a more productive experience than beginning work halfway through the day after doing other non-work-related activities. This isn’t true in all cases, so feel free to experiment if this advice doesn’t seem to ring true for you.
- Prioritize the challenging tasks first. Rather than letting unpleasant or difficult tasks hang over your head and create stress when you think about them, pushing yourself to get the most difficult jobs done first thing can help you to clear your plate of those less exciting tasks, and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and increased energy and satisfaction throughout the day.
- Make use of technology. There are apps that can help you to track your social media usage (to help yourself use it less), remind yourself to work when you become distracted for too long, create to-do lists, and more. Learn what’s available and use these tools to your advantage.
Create a Cohort and Stay Connected
When you feel isolated, it can be difficult to have as much energy to be productive. Plus, it can be very unpleasant and difficult to sustain for the life of your career. If you work from home and feel a bit too alone, it’s important that you take responsibility for your own social life. You can create your own supportive network of colleagues, fellow work-at-home buddies, or like-minded individuals relatively simply through social media groups, planned meet-ups, or even text-chat groups. You can also find already-established groups through social media or online.
To keep your motivation up, it’s vital to create your own personal rewards. It’s therefore a great idea to break tasks down into smaller, workable steps. However, the point is that it’s up to you to make your at-home work experience pleasant. You can do this by breaking down your tasks into smaller goals and then rewarding yourself for taking each step. It may be as simple as stepping outside for a nice leisurely lunch stroll, or meeting up with a friend for coffee.
Get Comfortable Saying No
You’ll be faced with many requests, most of which you need to refuse if you want to have enough time to get everything done. It can be surprisingly difficult to say no to people you don’t really owe your time to, simply because most of us can find reasons why a “yes” is a perfectly reasonable answer. Whatever the challenge, realize that saying no to the time drains you didn’t plan for, often means saying yes to the life you truly want, one step at a time. Just because you work from home, doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to say no when it is perfectly reasonable and acceptable to.
Protect Your Sleep, and Don’t Use Mobile Devices Late at Night
Using screens late at night can alter your sleep patterns and make it difficult to get to sleep. It can also make you more wakeful during the night. Because healthy sleep is vital for your productivity, do what you need to do to protect your sleep. (This includes setting a bedtime for yourself and sticking to it.) This can be quite challenging, but well worth the effort.
While working from home can provide an amazing sense of freedom and flexibility as well as a no-cost commute, there are pitfalls and hidden stressors to be aware of. By focusing on what you can do to mitigate this stress, you can enjoy the added benefits of a work-from-home situation without the added stress. This is a great step toward achieving an ideal work-life balance.
Now that you know how common some of these stressors are, you may feel less isolated in what you face. You may also feel more energized in tackling these challenges head-on and minimizing some of the stress that comes with them, so that working from home can actually work for you and not against you.
Working anytime, anywhere: The effects on the world of work. (2017, February 17). Retrieved from http://ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_544108/lang–en/index.htm
Stress in America: The state of stress in our nation. (2017, November 1). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2017/state-nation.pdf