We are living in traumatic times, and we need to prioritize building resilience. As the COVID-19 vaccines begin to roll out (although not as fast as we’d like), we know there will be an end to the pandemic. But work from home (if we are lucky enough to have a job) will probably continue well into 2021.
If we learned anything during 2020, work-life balance is much harder when working from home. Before the pandemic, it was much easier to compartmentalize your workweek with things like commutes, weekend plans, and Monday morning banter. The pandemic has made those rituals disappear.
Our days blend into weeks. Morning becomes afternoons, which turn to nights. Weekdays and weekends feel the same. Our sense of time is distorted, making it easier than ever to work (or think about work) all the time. According to a recent Pew Internet survey, most respondents say they have been able to get work done. However, this may have come at the cost of working more hours per day.
Overworking can lead to burnout and a lack of motivation, accelerated by prolonged periods of uncertainty. And while we can’t control what’s happening in the outside world, we can take control over the way we work – even if our home and workplace are the same.
One of my solutions has been to create a ritual of a “Fake Commute” in the morning before starting and at the end of my workday. Walking can be inclusive. You don’t need to walk as your fake commute and other activities help you establish boundaries.
My walking ritual was featured in this Wall Street Journal article and in this CCN article. Walking as exercise has documented mental and physical benefits. For me, it is valuable as a ritual that helps me shut off my work brain and creates a boundary between me and overworking.
In addition to reenacting your work commute, taking the following seven steps can help give you what a commute once did.
Simulate Going To and Leaving From Work
You can do this by getting dressed and ready for work as you did before COVID. You can also symbolize the end of your day by taking a brief when you do, even check your mail.
Maintain your commute pattern
If you had a 20-minute commute to work, whether by public transportation, driving, walking, or biking, keep the same time. If you used to take a lunchtime walk, add that to your schedule. Your mind and body need these boundaries.
Create a conscious shift from work to life and life to work
This might be playing music, or it might be changing the lighting. For me, I have a making coffee ritual that signals the beginning of the workday. I also have a winding down ritual – I set the alarm, make my next day to-do list, and put away my laptop and phone.
Make it a no screen zone
Don’t take your phone on your walk or put it into airplane mode if you are using the camera. Once you are done for the day, put your phone on do not disturb. The constant notifications can lure us back into work email or work mindset. This prevents us from decompressing from work stress and leads to a digital hangover.
Keep moving and practice mindfulness
Try to avoid sitting for hours on end in front of your screen without taking time to stretch. If you had an exercise routine before, during lunch, or after work, maintain it. It is also important to give yourself some mental space. If you are not one to meditate, try practicing being present on your commute by noticing every detail. I started doing this in my walks, and I discovered that my neighbors had succulents, leading to a succulent garden!
Here are some additional articles with tips on fake commutes and walking mindfulness activities.
How are you keeping boundaries between life and work when you work from home?