The third time I reached burnout in my career wasn’t due to working excessive hours or not being able to switch off in the evening. It was due to a lack of space in my workday. Work was crammed into every available minute, leaving no time to rest. The result was that, although I logged off every day at 5.00 pm, I burned out due to work exhaustion and stress.
With flexible work options gaining popularity, there is a risk that more people will burn out for similar reasons. The pressure to prove that productivity can be sustained may result in a decrease in overall wellbeing. One way to prevent this is to ensure you have space within the working day for self-care.
Above all else, schedule your lunchbreak
The first appointment in your calendar should be a recurring meeting with yourself every workday to take lunch. If that time is booked with meetings or other work, think about what actions you need to take to reclaim that space in your day. Be honest with people about why you are looking to reschedule. You might find they also needed a break and welcome the conversation.
Take advantage of shorter meetings
You can now schedule meetings to automatically end a few minutes early in both Google Calendar and Outlook. This can create space between back to back meetings. You can also do this manually in any other calendar. If you want to make the most of this micro-break, decide in advance what you will do during that time. It might be getting up from the desk to stretch, refilling your water, or maybe just close your eyes for a brief timeout.
Close your email and messenger tool
Email, Slack, MS Teams and other tools like them can contribute to a sense of overwhelm during the workday if there is a lot of communication happening. Closing these applications can create space to allow you to work with less distraction and less stress. For example, you could choose to close them for 20 minutes every hour or 2 hours every afternoon. Decide what makes sense for you and make it a daily routine.
Wrap up your day with reflection
Use the last 15 minutes to reflect on what you have completed during the day and any decisions you need to make. Consider whether anything has happened that changes your priority for the next working day. Are there any planned activities that are no longer needed? Is there anything you need help with?
Commit to taking time off
Even if you are working flexible hours on a beach in paradise, you still need time away from work. It is a common requirement in some retail companies to book all annual time off at the beginning of each year. While this seems old-fashioned and inflexible, the advantage is that the time-off is planned and ready to be taken. Commit to time-off and book some vacation days to be taken in the coming six months.
It will be interesting to see how the flexible, post-pandemic work environment evolves over the next 12 months. What we cannot afford is a further increase in work-related stress and burnout. Lead by example and use these ways to create space in your workday.
(If you found this helpful, you may also like to read How to reduce the risk of burnout.)