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Why you still need to take time off when working from home

Taking breaks and days off can feel strange when so many of us are working from home. But here’s why you need to do it—and how.

Why you still need to take time off when working from home
[Photo: Fly_dragonfly/iStock]

Under the best of circumstances, working from home full-time can throw a wrench into work-life balance. And, when your office is shut down, and everyone else is working remotely, too, the pressure to always be present can heat up. After all, it’s tempting when you’re sitting on the couch watching 90-Day Fiancee on a Tuesday evening to also be on your laptop, getting a jump on tomorrow’s to-do list.

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It’s no wonder many of us are putting in longer hours. An April 2020 survey by Blue Jeans found that remote workers are tacking on an additional 3.13 hours per day while working from home. Among those who feel like productivity superstars? Well, they’re logging 4.64 hours more.

Burnout is a big threat

“Your team has never been more at risk of burning out,” Laszlo Bock, CEO of Humu, former Google senior vice president of People Operations, and Fast Company contributor. A recent survey by Monster found that roughly 50% of respondents who were working from home during the pandemic are feeling burned out. And 52% of respondents aren’t planning to take any time off.

That’s a problem, says performance coach Heidi Pozzo. The lines of work and home life have blurred even more than previously. The flexibility that she has advocated to allow people to balance their personal and professional needs has given way to one bit morass of responsibilities with little time to decompress, she says. “I’m a big believer in focusing on results and not ‘butt in chair’ time,” she says.

And, sometimes, it can feel like there’s no escape. Business closures limit the opportunity to plan lunch with a friend or a trip to the gym to get a break. When everyone knows you’re working from home—and they are, too—it’s tough to create an excuse to get a little bit of time for yourself. They know you’re there. Experts say there are some strategies that can help you rein in the work, establish some boundaries, and take a little time for yourself. And, at their core, they boil down to two key elements: routines and resources.

Assess your resources

Everyone is dealing with different circumstances and resources during this pandemic. Some may have children, family members, or pets who add demands. Some may be managing on their own, while others may have a spouse or others with whom to share responsibilities. Your ability to separate work and life may “depend on the number of personal demands you have on your time,” says psychologist Dr. Eric Frazer, the author of The Psychology of Top Talent. Take stock of the demands on your time and any opportunities you have for assistance, delegation, or management, he says.

Those resources may not be what you immediately think of, either, says Samantha Rembo, head of Customer Connect & Accessibility at Intuit. Understanding the company’s benefits, including mental health support is a priority for managers. Employees need to know that support is there for them if they need it, she says.

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Pozzo also recommends tracking how you spend your time for a few days to get a realistic sense of how working at home is changing both how long it takes to get work done and the mix of activities you have in your day. “It’s really illuminating to take a look at how much you’re working, but also what you’re working on,” she says.

These exercises can help you get a better handle on your work and personal tasks, as well as the emotional toll of stress and anxiety. They can also give you the information you need to address your workload with your team members or supervisor and give you room to take the breaks you need, both throughout the day as well as using your time off.

Create a routine

Once you have an idea of what needs to be done, the time it will take, and the resources you have at your disposal, habits and routines can help you create new systems to help you rein in work and take more time for yourself, Frazer says. Start by breaking down your day into 30-minute increments and assigning tasks to those times. Carve out breaks for yourself, too, every 90 minutes or so, to maximize your ability to focus. Time-blocking your schedule can also help you avoid the tendency to overschedule.

Some situations don’t fit into neat schedules, of course, but adhering to a routine as much as possible can help you develop a cadence to your days and get in the habit of taking breaks and getting an idea of when your work is becoming overwhelming, which could prevent you from taking the days or weeks off you need. That can indicate when it’s time to have a conversation with your boss, Frazer says.

Rembo also recommends regular videoconferencing with your supervisor while working remotely. Good managers will look for signs of overwork or stress and address them. Face time could give you a more effective opportunity to discuss your challenges and look at the weeks and months ahead to determine the best time to plan your time off.

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About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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