Not too long ago, on every Zoom or Google Hangout call, people would comment, “Are you okay? Sweta, you don’t look like your usual chirpy self.”
I appreciated the concern—even in these times when we are all coping, I had friends and colleagues ask about my well-being. But a small part of me felt annoyed. I am a human being who, like everyone else, is absorbing the unpredictability and didn’t appreciate the negative spotlight.
One evening, while I was taking a virtual yoga class with my friend and one of my favorite instructors, Zoe Isaacson, she asked how I was doing. I loved that Zoe asked, instead of making a comment, about my exhausted appearance.
I told Zoe that work-life balance had suddenly gone from challenging to seemingly impossible. Living in a New York City apartment, working a day job, speaking on online panels, teaching yoga, working out, meeting my writing deadlines, and managing a home as the spices and incense blend together had begun to make me feel claustrophobic. There is no separation between cumin seeds and my stories. The dirty dishes in the sink stare at me even when I am on a work call. The list of must-complete errands negatively impacts my creativity.
Zoe suggested that I write about this issue because so many others, including her, could relate to the struggle. How we work, practice yoga, live, and eat—it’s all changed over the past four months. How do we compartmentalize our work and non-work lives, given the extraordinary situation that so many of us are in today?
Being quarantined for months in a row is messing with the core of my identity. I am an extroverted author and entrepreneur who is inspired when around others. Here is the interesting part: I have spoken with my introverted friends who have always worked from home, and they are struggling too. Their family is home now so their workspace (which was in the house) is no longer theirs. Nonstop cooking is detrimental to productivity for most of us.
What others were seeing as less-than-usual chirpy Sweta was a direct response to my status quo: I had quarantine fatigue from constantly trying to separate my work and non-work life. I don’t like blurry boundaries between my personal and professional space.
I had to make intentional efforts to set up boundaries as I am aware that we are in this situation for the long haul.
There are some steps we can take to make it better:
1. Create a dedicated workspace.
No matter the size of your apartment or house, carve out a small area for your work. Use cues if you have kids to communicate that you are working.
We have four chairs in a small part of our living room. I use one chair for my day job, the second chair for writing commitments, third chair for client consultations, and the fourth chair for webinars. I use my yoga bolster for my speaking engagements and to teach virtual workshops.
Most people are amused by my musical chair arrangement, but not having a fixed workspace was part of my frustration. I live in a New York City apartment, so space is a poetic myth. I ordered a foldable desk along with a nice chair. One small part of the apartment is my office. It feels official and, as a result, I feel more productive.
2. Take breaks; move your body.
My husband thinks I am an exercise junkie. That may be true, but working out has kept me sane during the pandemic. Having said that, my Apple Watch reminds me often to take a breath and to stand up. Just because you have a daily workout practice doesn’t mean you don’t need to move the rest of the day.
Stand up. Stretch. Walk a little. Take deep breaths. If you were in the office, wouldn’t you walk to the water cooler or step away to chat away with a coworker or catch up with colleagues in the office pantry? Just because you are at home, it doesn’t mean you have to sit with half a day’s worth of chai/coffee/water or anything else that keeps you going.
3. Don’t ignore your “commute time” ritual.
The first few weeks into the pandemic, I barely got any reading done. And I missed it tremendously—not so much the commute, but the dedicated time to read. Reading was something I did in the subway and absolutely loved it. Sure, the walk from the kitchen to my workspace takes 30 seconds instead of the 45 minutes on the train. But that just meant that I had to intentionally make time in the day to read. I swear, it’s made a huge difference to my mood.
4. Stick to a schedule.
Make sure to set daily work hours. It’s so easy to keep long hours when working remotely. Easier to reply to emails before going to bed. Stop. Literally “clock out” at a fixed time every day. This means closing your laptop or desktop and not checking any work emails. Step out of work mode intentionally. Spend time with people who nourish you or watch or read something that uplifts you. Anything but work.
5. Get dressed daily.
It’s a process we took for granted, no? It’s a ritual billions of people repeat on the planet, every morning. No questions asked. But when remote working became the norm, so many people found themselves sliding out of the most nurturing and necessary ritual: getting dressed every morning.
I have friends, family, and colleagues who have confessed that they roll out of bed, make themselves a hot beverage, and log into work. I also know people who fall asleep on the couch watching Netflix and wake up just in time for a staff meeting. Don’t do that to yourself. Sure, you might not want to pull out a business suit or wear detailed makeup. But wear a nice blouse or shirt, anything as long as it’s not what you slept in. No one can smell you but dab a little perfume or aftershave. Feel good and pamper yourself.
This pandemic is here to stay. Getting dressed every morning while working from home can feel revolutionary in these times. It also impacts our mindset and adds the needed boundaries between work-you and personal-you.
6. Meditate daily.
We are all coping in our own ways with the sudden onslaught of the pandemic with no ending in sight. Meditation can help you take care of your mental health. It can aid in lowering anxiety. Meditation can improve productivity, reduce distractions, lower stress, and give you a greater sense of control over your day and life.
Try a digital detox in the evenings. Step out for some fresh air. No news. No social media. Unplug from the world and connect with yourself.
These are just a few recommendations that can help you avoid burnout in the long run. While the importance of setting boundaries, especially during the pandemic, is integral to our overall well-being, it’s equally vital we become friends with fortitude.
After four months of lockdowns and quarantines, we are all running low on patience. Forgive yourself and others if the day didn’t go as planned. Learn to let go. Start fresh the next day.