Burnout is a state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by excessive stress which has been unmanaged for a prolonged period.
In the traditional office setting, it is a widely acknowledged phenomenon, but what is rarely talked about is its occurrence in remote work.
When you think about working remotely, the picture that most likely comes to mind is that of you in pyjamas; jabbing happily on the keyboard of your new MacBook, while sipping steaming creamed coffee intermediately.
This is not always the case. In the early stages of my freelancing career, the advent of burnout was quite unprecedented.
It just crept up on me. One minute I am super-charged and motivated, and the next week I am at the brink of a mental breakdown.
This is what burnout does to you. It can make you feel empty and powerless, thus resulting in a marked decrease in productivity.
This then leads to severe emotional exhaustion and the fear of failure increases. You will feel completely overwhelmed and overpressured under a myriad of expectations from many persons, especially your boss or clients.
Before now, working remotely has been mostly associated with freelancers, but thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, regular 9-5ers have repurposed their apartments into work stations too.
The quick embrace of this work model has made it possible for millions of businesses to operate swiftly amidst the restrictive pandemic. While this is commendable, many employees embraced the idea of working remotely unprepared.
They are still relatively new to the system, and thus, the impending burnout can catch up with them unawares.
While some persons might have mastered basic burnout management in the traditional office setting, it is a different ball game when working remotely, relatively unsupervised. The unorthodox and varying forms in which work can be done remotely leave too much room for the possibility of burnout.
Burnout management is very important for remote workers because habitual burnout is a sure killer of productivity, especially as there is a seeming pressure on remote workers to “over-do” more than their counterparts in the traditional office setting.
Whilst it was not quite easy for me at first, a good mastery of some basic routines will go a long way in saving your mental energy during that stressful period.
To get started, let’s talk about the different burnout stages, and I will let you try identifying which stage you have been in or currently struggling with.
Stages of Burnouts and How To Handle Them While Working Remotely
Stage One of Burnout: The Exciting Beginning
More often than not, burnout starts with excitement and optimism. You just began working remotely for the first time; you are excited! You can now work in your shorts and comfy t-shirts!
If it is a new, better paying job, the excitement may even be greater. You are now looking forward to achieving new goals. Who won’t be excited about that?!
This newfound excitement makes it easier to concentrate. So, you find yourself bustling with energy. There is increased productivity and output. You find yourself capable of doing more!
In remote work, these outbursts of energy can lead to you working overtime. From 9 hours/day up to 15 hours/day!
At this stage, all you can see is increased productivity. You feel like you are on top of the world! You will find yourself sleeping late and waking up early, just to get right back at the job!
You feel so great, so what’s the problem anyway?
You may get a lot of positive feedback from your boss or clients, and this might make you start associating these unhealthy work ethics with success.
What to do? Take a break.
Establish good work habits and avoid overworking despite the adrenaline rush.
Related: 7 Quick steps to develop good habits
Stage Two Of Burnout: Early Stress
At this stage, your initial energy starts to wear off. Slowly, but definitely. The stress starts creeping in.
You are now getting tired. A major mistake that most persons make is to think that they can overcome this fading energy by working even more.
They try to get back to stage one because the adrenaline rush was fun while it lasted. They have wrongly associated these unhealthy behaviors with success, and want to get back to that routine.
You may start experiencing the early symptoms of stress at this stage, such as fatigue, heart palpitations, headaches, etc.
This can then lead to a change in your sleep pattern, cause insomnia, and can affect personal relationships. Then frustration sets in… But stress can be managed.
What to do?
- Take breaks. Do not be too hard on yourself.
- Avoid overworking.
- Eat healthily and sleep well.
Stage Three of Burnout: Chronic Stress
In this stage, there is a noticeable increase in your stress levels. You become more frustrated, forgetful, and fatigued.
Your concentration span declines and you become more impatient and anxious because you have fought really hard to get that initial energy and excitement back, without luck. The overall effect is a sudden decline in productivity.
What to do?
- Socialize by spending adequate time with friends and loved ones.
- Take time off and vacations to revive your stressed mental state.
Stage Four Of Burnout: Early Burnout
The first wave of burnout happens at this stage. It usually presents as chronic headaches, mental and physical fatigue, depression, digestive issues, etc. Other signs of stress will become more consistent at this stage.
You will find out that you are suddenly isolated from others, and might notice negative behavioral changes. Depression sets in.
You feel empty, indifferent, and you just want to get away from your job. At this stage, you have pushed your body past its limits and it is slowly giving up, but you are still fighting to stay put.
A very integral part of this stage is denial. Many people are quick to deny that they are stressed.
They blame the health issues on the sudden decline in productivity, rather than seeing it the other way round.
What to do?
- Focus on yourself. Self-care is very important at this stage.
- Get enough sleep and eat healthily.
- Seek out a professional.
- Take some time off to carefully reassess the direction your career is taking you and where you’d rather it took you to. You have to get back in line!
Stage Five of Burnout: Habitual Burnout
At this stage, you are completely exhausted; mentally, physically, and emotionally.
You feel really overwhelmed by the job and might even believe you are incapable of doing it. You find simple pressures very exhausting.
The depression worsens. People around you start noticing easily. Some persons may even quit their jobs or get fired at this stage. It has become a clinical matter and requires urgent clinical attention.
What to do?
- Seek clinical intervention. Depression and chronic mental and physical fatigue demand urgent clinical help.
- Talk to your boss or clients about what is going on and get professional help immediately.
How To Prevent Burnouts While Working Remotely
Create A Relaxed Work Environment
Creating the right work environment is very important when working remotely.
Many remote workers simply pull up their laptop on their beds and start working right away. Some are a bit more “adventurous” and use a simple desk.
I have found it quite helpful to recreate the office look right there in my apartment. You could use a whole room, or carve out a work station in your bedroom. Put up art on the wall.
Keep your environment tidy, like you would in your office. Get a better personal computer. Keep it simple, but keep it professional. Your design should be good enough to remind you that this is your office now.
If you do not live alone, make sure your roommates or family members are aware that you are doing important work, hence you should not be disturbed.
In such situations, I recommend building a log cabin outside the house, solely for work purposes.
If this is not convenient for you, try working from your local library or a coffee shop. If working at night proves to be more productive than working during the day, then work at night, and sleep well during the day.
Keep experimenting till you discover the healthy style that works best for you, and stick to it.
Create A Clear Cut Schedule and Prioritize
The idea of being far away from the judging eyes of your boss can be exciting. So exciting that you lose track of what is important.
This is why you have to create a work schedule that highlights your role each day.
The last thing you want is your boss expressing his anger over a Zoom call because you launched an important email campaign hours after the specified time.
This is why it is important to plan your schedule in a way that ensures you do the most important and urgent tasks first. Prioritize!
Leaving too much important work on the table can make you fatigued, just by thinking about it. Hence, the need to develop a good daily schedule.
If scheduling and time management is not your forte, there are a good number of apps that can help you achieve this; apps like Todoist, Calendar, nTask, and OmniFocus.
Give Yourself A Break
It can be very tempting to keep working till you achieve your set goal, but this is how burnout starts.
Learn to give yourself a break. Avoid skipping lunch breaks. Get out of the house for a while.
Go work in a coffee shop or any other work-friendly location, rather than sitting on your bed all day.
Just because you do not have to spend time getting ready for work does not mean you should be spending that time working.
Avoid working every other weekend. Go out; meet people; socialize. Get involved in community projects. See a movie. Just take a break from work!
Know When To Stop
Follow your schedule and know when to stop working. Working overtime every day is very unhealthy, especially when you work late into the night.
Don’t over-do; you can always finish up the job the next day, except on rare occasions.
It is not unusual to hear remote workers complain about how their jobs have affected their social life.
A key reason why this happens is that they did not know when to stop. It implies that you do not mix up work with family time, or any other activities you enjoy participating in.
As easy as this may seem, it takes a whole lot of discipline to implement, but I know you can do it!
Speak to Your Boss or Clients
No two remote working arrangements are exactly alike, so be sure to talk over the terms with your boss or clients.
Many of them tend to make unrealistic expectations of remote workers. They expect you to be available at all times and be able to carry out an insane amount of tasks in a short period.
Newbie freelancers suffer this the most. In an attempt to meet their expectations, you might fall into the burnout cycle. I have been there more than once.
Make sure you speak with the relevant parties to be sure that there is a clear agreement on the terms of your work delivery.
This tip is most important to entrepreneurs and freelancers. The practice of doing everything yourself is both unsustainable and a sure route to the burnout hall of fame.
Do the things you most definitely have to do and outsource the rest. If you run a startup without adequate funds to pay high-end talents to get the outsourced job done, you can take a look at freelance marketplaces like Fiverr and Upwork.
From simple graphic designers to high-end mobile app developers, there is always someone for you on these platforms.
Get Enough Sleep
Experts recommend that we sleep at least 8 hours every day. Resist the urge to keep late nights because you want to finish up a project.
If you have created an effective schedule, chances are you won’t have to work overtime because you have been doing the most important things first, and outsourcing less important ones.
Not getting enough sleep will make you wake up stressed the next morning. The result is a compounded amount of stress that is unhealthy for your mind and body.
A healthy eating habit can help reduce the effects of stress on your body and boost your overall productivity.
Eating healthy is a good defense against stress because you will be able to handle it better when you are as healthy as possible.
Avoid stress eating. Eat highly nutritious foods rather than junk foods. Although junks are good sources of quick energy, they are bad for your health overall.
They contain empty calories that should not replace more important nutrient-dense foods such as low-fat dairy products, fruits, and vegetables.
If quitting junk proves difficult for you, try ignoring them when next you go grocery shopping. Hopefully, the absence of it in your fridge will weaken the temptation.
Change Your Mindset
You do not need to work 15 hours per day to prove your worth in your niche. Neither do you need to work every day of the week to please your boss.
This negative mindset sets the floor for unhealthy work practices that can lead to habitual burnouts.
See A Therapist
If you are at any stage of burnout, you should seek professional help. This is even more important if you are at the last stage.
When you notice that you are becoming unproductive, easily fatigued, feeling empty and inefficient, and beginning to hate the job you once loved, then I would advise you to seek professional help, urgently.
Burnouts can drastically change the way you think, feel, and work. As a remote worker, you must take the warning signs seriously.
Do not write off signs of fatigue and stress. Deal with them on time. Rest when you feel tired. Slow down when it looks like you are biting more than you can chew.
Ask for help when it becomes overwhelming. Understand the stages and try identifying the one you are currently in (if any).
Then, make conscious efforts to mitigate the situation before it gets even worse. Remember that you need your body and mind in good shape to be able to deliver that top-notch service your boss or clients praise you for!
About the Author:
Bartholomew Mba is a creative content writer with a knack for writing quality content for blogs in the health, business, and lifestyle niche. He is a 500-level medical student with more than 2 years of experience as a freelancer. He combines his excellent writing, editing, content marketing, and research skills to create and develop unique lead-generating content for websites in the health, lifestyle, and business niches.
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