As a result of the coronavirus, many employees are still working from home, and some will likely continue to do so until next year. It might have been easy to “temporarily” switch up your schedule and push through at first, but it’s been months. When your world has been turned upside down, how do you prioritize your mental health?
I personally reached my limit about two months into quarantine. I’d been staying so positive, helping others and working through loss after loss. But then, one Friday, I just fell apart. The pressure and pace of everything got to me, and I completely broke down. My mental health was shot; I was running on empty.
After my rock-bottom moment, things started to look up because I realized that my breakdown was the sign of a larger problem at hand. My friend and colleague actually told me he was surprised that it took me so long to cap out. “You have to rethink how to build your day to better protect yourself,” he told me, “and to be able to sustain the effectiveness you want.” He was right.
It’s OK To Be Overwhelmed
I know I’m not alone. More than 70% of the professionals who responded to one survey report feeling burned out during the pandemic, compared with 61% in mid-February. Without a physical separation between their offices and homes, many agency owners have found their work-life balance has been completely upended. We’ve been working ourselves to death because we don’t have our days structured properly.
If you’re like most, you’re feeling too emotionally exhausted to give your own mental health a second thought. But by forgetting to focus on yourself, you’re actually doing yourself and those around you a disservice: You’re not getting the rest and self-care you need in order to bring your best self to those relationships.
Speaking from the other side of a breakdown, I want to let you know that it’s okay to take a mental break. Sometimes you need to stop and take a breath in order to keep going. Here’s how you can get yourself together and develop a concrete work-life balance:
1. Keep your routine.
Medical resources continue to highlight the benefits of sticking to a routine. It might be tempting to switch up your schedule or avoid creating one altogether, but the absence of a routine makes it easy to work too much or too little. The more you can plan your day, the more efficient you’ll likely be. Set and maintain regular office hours to make sure you’re focused when you’re working and recharging when you’re not.
2. Build in breathing room.
Does your daily calendar look like one large block of work? That’s a problem. Calendars need room to breathe, and you need room to breathe. Rather than filling your calendar with back-to-back meetings that will inevitably run late and throw off your plan for the day, schedule shorter meetings and hold attendees to hard stops. In addition, consider buffering your meetings and tasks with an extra 15 minutes each. Even if you don’t use the extra time every time, you’ll be able to accommodate important work that runs over without shifting your schedule.
3. Be more than a boss.
Your direct reports are going through the same tough transition you are. This is the perfect time for you to step up and use your leadership abilities. Give them the tools they need, provide support when they’re struggling and make it clear that you really care about them as people. If you are reaching your limit, your workers are likely reaching theirs, too. Host team discussions to talk about stress and change. Ultimately, these talks will bring you closer to your team, and the more engaged you are as a group, the more successfully you’ll work together.
4. Designate a nonwork space.
Identify a space in your home — whether it’s a corner, walk-in closet, patio or guest room — for nonwork activities only. It’s a simple concept, but it can go a long way toward helping you experience mental clarity. By creating those physical boundaries, you also can increase your focus and mindfulness while you are working.
As agency owners, we sometimes feel the need to be always-on. However, the truth is that a healthy work-life balance helps us become more positive, engaged and successful. Don’t let the lack of structure cause you to break down. Regain control of your time today and intentionally seek out a better, healthier headspace.