If you’re new to working remotely, you know it’s not easy. You might even consider it impossible. Certainly, taking care of so many things might inevitably result in burn out and low performance, follow this guide to avoid them.

Steve Jobs was not a big fan of working from home. He believed solitude would dampen some important work-related human capabilities such as creativity. He said:

“Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”

Steve Jobs

He definitely wouldn’t go along with the decision of Apple’s incumbent CEO, Tim Cook, to embrace some aspects of remote work permanently. Cook says he does not believe that Apple will “return to the way we were because we’ve found that there are some things that actually work really well virtually.”

But it’s not up to executive orders anymore. Companies have had to embrace remote work culture for better or worse due to COVID-19.

Avoiding burn out

If you’re new to working remotely, you know it’s not easy. It’s not just the social interactions that you miss — you might find the whole idea of working in pajamas absurd. Certainly, if you have kids or are living in a noisy area, you might even consider it impossible. There are so many things you need to take care of and this will inevitably result in burn out and low performance.

Here are some tips for working from home while avoiding burn out and keeping your sanity.

1. Limit work hours to avoid burn out

Certainly, when working from home you have two options for completing your tasks.

  1. The mixed schedule: having a mixed schedule with intermittent work hours. You find yourself involved in your work all day long completing your tasks inconsistently and feeling the pressure of incomplete workload all along. You’re worried about work all day.
  2. The organized schedule: separating work and life hours thus limiting work hours. This way, you find yourself more focused and feeling less work pressure during the days. And you get to finish your tasks during the hours you have dedicated to work and feel relaxed afterwards.

Experts recommend dedicating some specific hours to work and trying not to work outside those hours. Cal Newport for example is a strong proponent of limiting your work hours to a handful of highly focused hours. He explains in his New York Times best selling book, Deep Work:

“Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output”  

Cal Newport

As a remote employee, Alicja Olko, outreach manager at ReferralCandy, talks about her work process, “It’s important to separate your work time from your free time, especially when working on a laptop as it’s very easy to get distracted by personal things, like chatting to friends, browsking social media or shopping. I use a time tracking tool to monitor my work time- I can easily start and stop time tracking and switch between doing work and dealing with something personal. I try to be disciplined and stick to a routine work for a couple of hours straight, without any disruptions and distractions by personal issues. It helps me to be more productive and focused.”

One time management technique you could use to limit your work hours is the “time blocking technique”. It’s basically the idea of structuring your day into blocks dedicated to completing a specific task. As Newport explains in a blog post, “a 40 hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure”. Therefore, he spends ten to twenty minutes every evening planning the time blocks for his next days.

This is what his plan for a random Wednesday looks like:

avoid burn out

He has written his work hours (8 to 5) on the left hand side column and has given two lines to each hour. On the right, you can see his additional notes to his blocks.

Obviously, when limiting your work hours you need to make sure you pour everything you got into your work. You don’t want to spend your limited work hours on unimportant tasks such as checking social media, reading news, or chatting with people. Certainly, you need to do deep work.

2. Go deep rather than multitask

Time blocking has one serious implication for your work life. Certainly, you get to focus on the task in that block alone and try to avoid any distractions. Focused work rather than distracted work is the key to high productivity

When working from home, we tend to divide our focus on multiple tasks at the same time. We might keep our inbox open in a separate tab in case we receive any work related emails. Therefore, we minimize Slack and receive notifications for any message posted in the app. Not to mention our compulsive refreshing of social media feeds to find new content.

In many cases, we’re required to do so. I do outreach as part of my job, so over the years I developed this habit of checking my inbox every half an hour or so even when I was not working. Typing a quick response to the emails was not demanding so I did this right away. 

My main responsibility was content writing though. Therefore, the success of my email outreaching was dependent on my writing. So most of my work hours were dedicated to brainstorming topic ideas, researching, and preparing blog posts, either for a client’s website or as guest posts. 

You can guess right away that multitasking was my thing. During the process of researching and preparing blog posts, I used to compulsively pick my phone and check my inbox. I was on my toes to respond to the emails, work related or not, and when I did I got carried away from blog writing. 

Overtime, I realized that multitasking had a diverse effect on my main responsibility, which is writing. It took forever to finish a blog post and I had trouble coming up with and researching ideas. The result was a backlog of blog posts I had to prepare and a serious drop in the success of my outreach email campaigns. Certainly, I had to lose a client to come to senses and quit multitasking in favor of deep and focused work. 

3. Collaborate effectively to avoid burn out

Collaboration is key if you want to successfully pull off this working from home thing. Effective collaboration does not contradict the emphasis of the above tips on avoiding distraction and focusing on your work. Certainly, effective collaboration is actually what the quote from Steve Jobs at the beginning of this post emphasized on. You collaborate with people and share ideas. Somewhere along the way you come up with a great idea that could level up your career.

The ability to be part of a team and collaborate with them on different projects is one of the top project management skills every remote worker should master, but at times people tend to neglect that. Part of the problem could be found in lack of clarity regarding team collaboration.

Dmytro Okunyev, the founder of Chanty, has been dealing with team collaboration issues long enough to weigh in here. He explains:

Our new office space is basically a bunch of text channels. It is like a digital equivalent of an open space and meeting room combined. Some people are debating to Zoom or not to Zoom and that’s how it is for remote teams these days. There’s no agreed-upon etiquette in the teams which were forced to go remote and this is something that should be addressed. If you have driving rules, why not develop a set of rules for remote team communication? These rules will add clarity to any team.

Communication is an important part of good collaboration. Whether it’s getting help from a colleague or expressing your ideas about a work issue effective communication is necessary for success of a remote team. It has some characteristics: 

  1. Effective communication is timely: It’s necessary to know how to communicate with your team members. Sending a message at 10 p.m is definitely annoying. 
  2. Effective communication has clear language: you need to consider that there is no body language in written messages so you’re prone to being misunderstood. Use clear language to avoid misinterpretation. 
  3. Effective communication is two-way: you need to be a good giver as well, not just a taker. Help a colleague out whenever you can.
  4. Effective communication is constructive: be an active part of meetings and share your ideas. Your goal is to contribute to the team’s growth.

4. Use the right tools

Morton Feldman, the pioneering composer of the twentieth century, is quoted “my concern at times is nothing more than establishing a series of practical conditions that will enable me to work. For years I said if I could only find a comfortable chair I would rival Mozart”, emphasizing the importance of having the right tools to improve productivity. 

A great portion of your success as a remote worker is determined by the quality of the tools you use. Here are some tool suggestions:

The right hardware:

It’s nice to have a dedicated work space, a quiet room maybe, with enough lighting and a comfortable desk and chair, a powerful enough computer that could handle your tasks, high speed internet connection, a wireless keyboard if you’re using a laptop because you don’t want to hunch over your laptop when typing, and a mouse if you want to move that cursor comfortably. These hardware tools make your life as a remote worker much easier.

The right software:

Saas software tools make it extremely easy for you to complete tasks while collaborating with co-workers. Working as a solo service provider or having your own company is not a dream anymore these days. There is a large array of tools that could help you ace your job:

Writing and editing: Google Docs and Sheets are the go-to tools for writing. Hemingway app and Grammarly are handy for editing your writing. Pocket is a tool that allows you to save content from everywhere and read them at your leisure. Google’s free note taking tool called Keep is also worth a try if you’re into note taking. An email app helps you to manage all your inboxes and a few other social apps in one place. 

Time management: TrackingTime is an intuitive time management tool that allows you to plan your time and work smarter.

Collaboration and team management: TrackingTime has collaboration and project management features. There are lots of other collaboration tools that allow you to work as part of a team. If you’re using macOS, you can take advantage of project management softwares for mac. Employee management systems have made it easy to organize your employees to achieve your organizational goals.  

Marketing: Marketing software tools have been growing rapidly in the past years. There are now tools for any areas in marketing from lead generation and email marketing to more advanced areas such as customer journey mapping and customer sentiment analysis

Accounting: If you’re working as a freelancer, you know using accounting tools could make your work much easier. Using these tools you no longer need to worry about invoicing, recording receipts, calculating taxes, etc. Here’s a list of accounting tools you can use. 

Finally:

Working from home is excruciating for some people. There are some mistakes they make that make them feel so about remote work. They fail to limit their work hours and thus get mentally engaged with their work all day long. Also, they can’t manage to avoid distractions and focus on their work tasks one at a time. And they forget they’re part of a team and fail to collaborate and communicate effectively with team members, and finally they underestimate their dependence on the right tools for remote working. So, use the tips above to make sure you steer clear of these mistakes and make the most of your remote work experience. 


About the author:

Mostafa Dastras is a writer at The Digital Project Manager, a leading digital project management resource hub and community run by the indie digital publishing team at Black & White Zebra. His work has appeared on some top publications such as HubSpot, WordStream, SmartInsights, LeadPages, Sendinblue and MarketingProfs. Visit his blog, LiveaBusinessLife or reach out via social to connect with him.


What are the 5 stages of burn out?

Honeymoon phase, onset of stress, chronic stress, burn out, and habitual burn out.

What are the early warning signs of burn out?

Overwhelming exhaustion, a sense of ineffectiveness or lack of accomplishment, and excessive workload and fatigue

How to avoid burn out while working from home?

Limit work hours, go deep rather than multitask, collaborate effectively, and use the right tools.


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