During these uncertain times, when the boundaries between the public and private spheres of our lives are increasingly blurred and distressing news is but a swipe or click away, now more than ever we must tend to ourselves with more care. It’s critical that we take the time to look after our physical bodies, but also our emotional and spiritual needs. Here are five quick tips you can implement immediately for a more harmonious experience at work and in life.
Tip 1: Rise early to perform a self-care ritual
For over a year, I’ve been getting up early — before the rest of my household is awake and I inevitably get drawn into the busyness of the unfolding day — to perform a daily self-care ritual. I begin with meditation and stretching, and I follow this with journaling or reading a chapter of a book I’m enjoying. As I write this “on pause / sheltering in place” with my wife’s family in Connecticut, I can’t overstate how helpful this ritual has become, especially during this period of high anxiety with little private time or space for myself during the remainder of the day.
For those of you with infants and young children, you may be thinking that you’d rather have that extra hour in bed, especially if you’re operating on very little sleep to begin with. While sleep is, of course, critical for your physical well-being, if your mind is suffering because you’re simply on “rinse and repeat” and experiencing little personal time, then you’ll have to contend with mental and emotional tiredness alongside the physical.
For instance, my sister-in-law has two girls aged 11 and nine and like many mothers across the world she’s currently adjusting to running the household and ensuring the girls’ education doesn’t suffer during these months of school closures. Unsurprisingly, her days are busier than ever. To ensure she doesn’t feel overwhelmed, she gets up at 6AM to exercise in her basement, or goes for a run. “The mornings when I work out I feel like I’ve done something nice for myself, which helps me be more at peace with any curve balls the day throws me, ” she explains.
Whether it’s meditation, journaling, a morning sun salutation, an outdoor run, or simply taking a few moments to enjoy your coffee as the sun comes up, when you rise early before everyone else to perform a self-care ritual, you reclaim something of your own amidst the busyness of life. Days feel infinitely more peaceful this way.
Tip 2: Set clear boundaries
We all know that when we don’t put in place clear boundaries at work and in life we end up feeling overwhelmed, resentful and stressed out, which is a short route to burnout and ill health. And, yet, it’s remarkable how many of us, even at the best of times, fail to put clear boundaries in place for fear of being perceived by family and co-workers as difficult, unhelpful or selfish. In the new normal that is telecommuting, when our bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens and general living areas have also become, by necessity, our offices, it’s even more important to enjoy the space you live and work in by ensuring you maintain healthy boundaries. My sister-in-law calls this practice erecting “invisible walls.”
- Keep regular office hours. Separate work time from home time by keeping set office hours. Once you step away from your work, put your work devices away and be present.
- Keep a clean space. Generally keep your spaces clean, neat and tidy. Clear away work papers and files after each work session, and use shelf space if you have it. Less physical clutter equals less mental clutter.
- Communicate clearly. If you’re WFH with family or roommates, clearly articulate when you’re available and when you’re not. If you’ve the luxury of closing a door, then consider putting up a sign that tells visitors what the closed door means (e.g., “on a call” or “focusing; no interruptions please”). If you’re unavailable to join a call or answer emails at set times, such as during a mealtime, then let your team know in advance what to expect.
- Place limits on your consumption of news. Erecting invisible walls doesn’t just protect you from encroachments from those in close proximity to you, it also protects you from unnecessary anxiety from the outside world. In our 24-7 digital media culture, it’s imperative that you place healthy limits on your news consumption. Consider having a dedicated time — that’s not directly before you go to sleep — once a day when you catch up on events. Be sure to turn off instant notifications on your devices, especially when you’re working on a task in order to remain focused.
The ideal time to establish clear boundaries is at the outset of any relationship. This minimizes room for misunderstandings about where your limits reside. It’s a little uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re confronting a culture where there are little to no boundaries, but trust yourself to lead by example. It’s never too late to set up clear boundaries. Start small with incremental steps and you’ll be sure to experience more harmony in your relationships in work and life.
Tip 3: Unplug completely
This tip goes hand in hand with setting clear boundaries. Switching off fully from work and engaging with your life is of vital importance for your well-being and the health of your relationships, especially whilst telecommuting. If you’re out of the office, then really be out of the office. There is nothing more confusing and frustrating for your loved ones and colleagues than signaling you’re out of pocket while still responding to work.
Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule — such as when you’re a business owner — but usually if you do a good job of communicating ahead of time that you’re going to be out of pocket during certain hours for meals or to bathe and put the kids to bed, then people will usually respect that.
A client, a newly elected law firm partner, learned a hard lesson these past few weeks: when he kept his phone on his bedroom nightstand overnight the temptation to check emails in the wee hours was too great and he ended up getting drawn into work, then unable to get back to sleep and showing up the next day exhausted. He now places all of his devices in the kitchen drawer where they remain until morning.
Life is too precious a gift to be squandered by being absent from it physically, mentally or spiritually. If you’re teaching your kid to ride a bike, then be there with her, fully engaged in the moment. No-one looks back from their deathbed wishing they’d spent more time working. Most importantly, don’t feel guilty for unplugging completely; it enables you to replenish and return to your work with renewed energy and focus.
Tip 4: Dialogue with your inner critic
We’re all familiar with our inner critic, the voice inside of us that second guesses our choices and tells us that we’re not good enough. If your voice is anything like mine, it’s self-recriminating, judgmental and, often, unkind. The inner critic is ever present — often the only voice we can hear — so it becomes normalized.
By way of example, my wife is a director of a non-profit. Even telecommuting her hours are long, the work is arduous and like many leaders in this space, she’s tasked with achieving ambitious goals with limited resources. Her secret weapon to achieving a lot with a little: taking marathon naps on the weekend, especially after a big project. For a long time, my wife contended with an inner voice that railed against what it viewed as an unproductive use of her time. One day she decided to speak to the voice and explain how this simple act of sleeping, far from being a waste of time, is in fact just what she needs to show up and do her role effectively, as well as feel satisfied in her work and life. The voice hasn’t gone altogether, but its power over my wife is significantly diminished.
The next time your inner critic speaks to you, rather than deny its existence, try acknowledging the voice and dialoguing with it by asking what it wants. Usually all the voice needs to quieten down is to be engaged.
Tip 5: Rest in uncertainty
With months ahead and no clear end in sight to the current health and financial crises, most of us are looking forward to a return to normality, to a restoration of our way of work and life as we once knew it. However, uncomfortable as it might seem, life in all its facets is uncertain and whatever we defined as “normal” previously is now a thing of the past. In open rebellion to this idea, our western minds compel us to action — we must exert control over this uncertain future. As an alternative approach, I would offer the wisdom of Buddhist and other eastern philosophies: surrender. In other words, do nothing. This doesn’t mean be lazy or give up operating as a responsible human being in the world. To the contrary, it means taking a moment to sit and just be with yourself; a turning within. This is truly one of the most difficult of things — but try it and witness what occurs for you as you rest with yourself in uncertainty. Your inner resources are more powerful than you can imagine. Resting in uncertainty enables you to uncover great gifts and feel truly alive as you sail on into the unknown.
Benjamin Field is the founder and principal of Individuation Coaching. He is a career satisfaction coach helping people find meaning and purpose in work and life.