Six months of long, ongoing, persistent stress, even if its low level, even if you’re fit and well, is not healthy for anyone.
Normally, we take a break, perhaps a holiday, get away from it all. Within a global pandemic - there is seems to be nowhere to escape to, but we’ve adapted to life in lockdown before, we just need to continue to adapt and build our resilience, individually and collectively.
Now is time to reflect again on how you are you working well from home, and make sure you’re keeping things in place to continue to look after your wellbeing.
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→ Take a deep breath There's a lot going on right now - so don't forget the absolute basics of your own mental health. This chapter outlines the things you might want to think about to get good foundations in place - however you work.
There's a lot going on right now - so don't forget the absolute basics of your own mental health. This chapter outlines the things you might want to think about to get good foundations in place - however you work.
We are being bombarded with messages, articles, content, advice and more on what we should and shouldn’t be doing.
100 ways to stay productive working from home. 45 tips for juggling homeschooling and work. Don’t work in your PJs. Put a schedule in place. Do this. Do that.
The most important thing is to look after yourself. Don’t expect to be 100% productive. You’ve never been 100% productive when you weren’t working from home - you won’t be now. There’s so much going on. It’s okay to not have a handle on everything.
If you read no further in this booklet, please take this one piece of advice: give yourself a break.
At the start of the pandemic it was almost exciting to set up new habits, the weekly zoom pub quiz, calling people on the phone, getting into a new routine that didn't include the commute - but over time, it's been very easy to let some of the positive habits lapse.
For many, this was a good thing, as people put themselves under immense stress to 'thrive' rather than just cope - and burnt-out - but there's a balance between doing nothing to take care of yourself and putting too much pressure on yourself to be your best.
I know it can feel like hard work, especially during the shorter days, but a little investment in your wellbeing pays off in buckets.
Use this moment to reflect upon the habits you've found yourself naturally following now things have settled down - and make sure you're not ignoring the most foundational habits, such as exercise, diet, sleep, connection and communication.
Physical health and mental health are absolutely intertwined - so keeping on top of the absolute basics helps.
Eat well (lots of green leafy veg, lots of Vitamin D rich foods), drink lots of fluids (ideally not as much caffeine, less alcohol and lots of water) and make use of your daily exercise allowance outdoors. Try to balance the cravings for carbohydrates with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Taking extra Vitamin B12 or Vitamin D supplements can also be helpful for winter.
Keep exercising - you have unlimited time outdoors to exercise, to make the most of it, and if staying in place, make use of the many free resources for indoor exercises, such as Joe Wicks 9am workout for families, or have a search on Youtube.
Sleep well - sleep is being disrupted for many, so try and focus on regularity of sleep, the same time going to bed, the same time getting up. It's easy to shift your sleep habits when the light changes, but try and stick to your routines, and don't be tempted to spend longer in bed, even if it's warm under that duvet.
Make the most of daylight - research shows that a daily one-hour walk in the middle of the day can be an effective treatment for coping low mood in the winter, and getting outside during the natural daylight is essential. Even sitting near the window whilst you're indoors can help.
Get some fresh air and natural light into your home - open a few windows, get a breeze flowing. And if you’re taking medication, don’t forget to keep taking the regular dosage. Set an alarm to remind you if you’re losing track of the days.
If you're working from home, it can be really hard to switch off - there's no clear distinction between when the work-day starts and stops, and no obvious signals for when you should take breaks during the day or 'leave' work.
Consider putting some structure into your day by giving yourself a 'working day' with a lunch hour, mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks, and a time at the end of the day where you 'leave work', even if that means nothing more than getting up from your sofa and walking around the house to stretch your legs.
Research is showing people are working longer hours whilst working from home - but we need rest, mentally and physically, to stay healthy and productive.
Even if you don't feel like your mental health is being affected by the lockdown, small things add up, and can slowly eat away at your wellbeing. Be actively aware of how you're feeling, and try and track changes in your mood over time. This is especially important if you're at home alone or working from home on your own all day.
Use a notebook to keep track of your feelings and thoughts each day, or use an online tool or app on your mobile. There are lots of great online communities where you can share how you’re doing too.
You can also look back and reflect on what’s causing lower mood and and what improves things, which will make it easier to build behaviours that maintain positive mental health.
No matter the restrictions on how many people we're allowed to meet - creating emotional support bubbles of people who are there for us can help immensely.
Take time to strengthen the connections with those in your network who you know are already there for you, will take the time to listen when you're struggling, or that you want to reach out to to check in on them.
Look for other spaces and places where you can meet others who might be going through similar experiences too - online support groups or communities exist for job sectors, ways of working, geographic regions, etc.
It can help to add some regularity in your contact too - perhaps set a time and day you'll check in with your group, and protect that time in your diary. Even if you're feeling fine - it can help others.
Finding a tribe where you can share what you're going through and support others helps you to make and maintain meaningful connections.
We don't know how long COVID will be impacting the world - so no matter how long we might be lockdown, it's important not to treat this as a temporary measure but rather to put things in place which are longer-term habits to take care of yourself and your wellbeing.
So try and look towards sustainable change, rather than unrealistic temporary measures.
This time around, we have a chance to plan ahead, we know a little more of what it might feel like, where our gaps and needs are, and we focus on wellbeing rather than just "making things work".
This might mean more significant changes things like diversifying your income streams so you're not reliant on a single way of working, or small things like putting aside a percentage of every invoice for emergency funds.
Just don't ignore the potential of a further lockdowns happening - even if things improve, having some ideas ready for what you could do reduces anxiety, as you've had time and space to consider what you might do.
Most importantly - listen and share.
Take time to ask "how are you?" to your colleagues - and listen for the answer.
If it's "fine", ask again and listen to the answer. Give people an opportunity to share if they're struggling, and talk it through.
Lead by example and share how you're feeling, so when someone asks you, be honest. If you're struggling, say so. Often, just the simple act of saying it out loud helps, and helps others know they can be honest if they're struggling too.
If you don’t feel comfortable sharing with your team - find others to connect with, non-judgemental online communities like Leapers.
If you are really feeling low or struggling with feelings of isolation, anxiety or panic, there are people who can help - see the end of this guide.
→ Redesigning remote work The first lockdown threw many of us into a new way of working overnight - but months on, we must take stock of what is working, what is not, and how we need to redesign for working well.
The first lockdown threw many of us into a new way of working overnight - but months on, we must take stock of what is working, what is not, and how we need to redesign for working well.
Much of the shift to working remotely occurred overnight - with rapid shifts to working in new ways cobbled together based upon the tools we had access to, and rushed hacks to make things happen. Even for those of us who are used to working remotely were affected as our clients had to switch to new systems and tools, without time for design.
Six months on - and whilst the tools might still be in place - there's still very little design in place to make sure we're working remotely as well as we can.
If anything - work has become more transactional with way more meetings, endless zoom calls, blocked out calendars of catchups and check-ins and chats and touching base - sometimes it's hard to know when you'll actually get the work done (or you end up just waiting until the evening where things are quieter).
Even if you're working for yourself, there are still things you need to consider when you're working with others, to make sure connections, communication and your wellbeing are considered.
It isn't just a few weeks of temporary working like this - we need to take time to actively look at how we're working now, and make sure it's working for us.
Working from home needs clear boundaries - this means having a sense of when you're at work, and when you're not.
Have a schedule for when you're working. Whilst you don't need to fit to the Monday-Friday 9-5 model, having a pattern of when you're available to respond to emails or slack and when you're not, helps you switch off and helps others to not interrupt your time off.
Use your email signature to show others when you're available, or put your out of office message on during the hours or days you're not willing or able to respond to messages.
Use Do Not Disturb mode on tools like Slack or your email to switch off the notifications during out of hours times. Many apps and devices have an automated "Do not disturb" scheduler, which can help you to remember to 'switch off'.
Ask others what their schedule is, so you're able to respect their boundaries, and get used to working in a less synchronous way, i.e. don't expect immediate replies to emails sent just because you're working at that time.
Establish those boundaries with people at home too - if you're sharing a space, be clear with people when you're working, when you need to be able to focus, and when you're available to chat or socialise. This can be much easier said than done if you're parenting, perhaps - so break your day into shorter bursts of work.
And don't be afraid to change those boundaries - what might have worked six months ago at the start of lockdown might no longer be working for you. Your first design will rarely be the right design, so observe what works and what doesn't, and look to make changes where you need to - just make sure you're communicating them well to others.
Yes, we get it - you zoom.
Just because you’re all working remotely does NOT mean you need to be constantly communicating and chatting and running conference calls and status updates and ... oh my gosh.
There’s a risk that we’re all feeling like we need to over-communicate and see each other all of the time, slack is open constantly, email traffic has increased ten- fold, there are calls, texts, voice messages, video chats, google-docs-a-plenty.
You’re allowed to switch it all off and actually get down to doing some work. If it means blocking out time in a schedule where you’re focusing, or telling people you’re going to be offline for a while - that’s fine. You’re being paid to do a job, not being paid to tell people what you’re doing. Tools like outlook even have automated 'focus schedulers' to help you find time to keep for you.
Managers: Don't forget to let your people breathe and trust them to do the work. Don’t swap presenteeism for over-communication. They are dealing with way more than ever before, and possibly a whole load of things you don’t know behind the laptop.
Regardless of the pandemic, our days are full of peaks and slumps of energy levels.
We all recognise the 3pm dip, but do you know your own energy levels, and how they flow through the day? It takes conscious effort to keep track of them and then design your day around when you're best to concentrate, best to collaborate and best to rest.
Whilst you might have known when you worked best before, after six months of pandemic behaviours, these energy levels have changed. Our days may now need to be shorter or include more breaks. Have this conversation with your client, team or manager and see how more flexible schedules can help to ensure you don't burnout.
Use an energy journal to understand how you're feeling during the day, restructure your day to suit your energy - and take breaks to rest and replenish.
We’re going to need to rethink what our tools are used for, how and when.
Not all tasks we need to undertake right now are best suited to typing and texting. If you need to have a conversation about how you’re feeling, consider a phone call. If you’re not feeling up to video, that’s fine, you’re allowed to keep it switched off.
Realtime tools are amazing, but sometimes you need to consider your thoughts and writing might be better.
Ask to submit a written response to a request if you find it easier, or offer that others can take their time to write, rather than jump on a video call.
As we don't see each other in the hallways or cafe any more - much of the opening of meetings will be people catching up and socialising.
Allow for this, as it's critically important.
Remember to add additional time, and make sure you're not rushing people to get the job done in the remaining time.
Alternatively, schedule in additional meetings where the aim is to nothing more than to catchup and socialise.
This happened in the workplace without effort: making a cup of tea for someone else, waiting at the printer, standing at the lifts - all of these small microinteractions are essential for a sense of belonging, but are lacking when we're remote. So put them back in.
Schedule a time in the morning for a team catchup - that first bit of banter you have in the morning, before you get stuck in to work; put something in mid-afternoon over a cup of tea to just chat about nothing; spend lunch breaks with others over skype or google hangouts.
Working remotely means there’s less likelihood of ‘bumping into someone’, offers of a cup of tea, or uncovering random facts about your colleagues.
Whether you’re a new starter, an established team member, or working as a freelancer - getting to know your fellow humans beyond the task at hand helps reduce feelings of isolation.
Book in some one-on-one chats with teammates, that aren’t work focused, but just hanging out.
Use a tool like Manual of Me to kickoff a conversation and discover things about your fellow workers that you might not have know about.
Some of these questions are fun (Who would play you in the movie of your life? What is your nerdiest hobby?), some are important (What else are you juggling at home which you’d like us to be aware of? How can we help in times of stress?), some are useful (How do you like getting feedback? What times of day would you prefer us to let you focus?).
There’s a free weekly question available at manualof.me/at/home
OK - this one seems really odd, bear with me.
The commute actually had some benefits for us: not the being crammed into a train carriage or enforced travelling from A to B and back to A again, but rather as a clear distinction between "work" and "home" - a time where we could switch from one mental state to another and a solid block of time where we can just be.
Many use it for reading, listening, staying in touch with others, snoozing, daydreaming. When you work from home - you lose these boundaries - so considering putting back in a 'mental' commute whilst working under lockdown can be useful - perhaps just a 30 minute window where you give yourself time to do something for you, and switch modes.
Read that magazine. Stare out of the window. Plan a holiday. Play Candy Crush. Text a friend. Listen to a podcast. Putting an activity in-between helps to create boundaries between working and not-working, but also a good chunk of time for ourselves.
Embrace the mental commute.
We know that homeschooling and work was, well, let's admit it, not ideal.
Whilst we're hoping, for the sake of both our children and our own stress levels, that schools continue to remain open in a safe way, if decisions are made to reduce the number of days where your children are at school - you'll need to make plans for how to manage this again.
Don't put it off until it happens - start to consider what options are available, and what your ideal solution would be. Create some possible scenarios and discuss with other working parents in your class bubbles about what could be done to help each other out.
Talk to your boss - explain your home situation, and discuss a way which allows you to manage time with family, and time with work. Perhaps this is reduced hours, or a flexible working pattern, or simply just respecting that you cannot work all day.
Create a routine - find a new schedule where you’re creating space for family, space for work, and space for you. We know this isn’t easy, but a routine can help everyone understand.
Tasks to engage - there are so many amazing resources and activities which have been shared for kids to spend time doing. Make full use of them, and let your kids play.
Use the community - lean on wonderful supportive communities like Doing it for the kids, for advice, resources and connecting with other parents.
Don’t aim for superparent - give yourself a break, and be kind to yourself. You’re already doing an amazing job under hard circumstances. Bravo.
If you're being encouraged to return to a workspace by your client or employer, you might be experiencing feelings of anxiety around this.
Perhaps this might be around using public transport, spending time with groups of others outside of your own bubble, you might be feeling pressure to return when you're not ready, or perhaps it's just another period of change and uncertainty.
This is to be expected - it's important not to disregard your concerns, and not everyone will be experiencing the same feelings.
Try to communicate how you're feeling to those who are expecting you to return to a workspace, and express what would be an acceptable way of returning to a workspace. Discuss what you feel works best for you. There's no 'normal' or 'right' way of working - everyone has different needs, so working with your employer to reach something that allows you to feel comfortable whilst also being able to get your work done, is important.
See if you can run a trial return to the workspace - and see how you feel when you give it a go - sometimes the reality of the experience isn't as bad as your concerns about it.
Consider options like: working compressed hours in a workspace to reduce travel time when others might be travelling too; one day in a shared workspace where others are joining too to maintain connections; agree key meetings or working sessions where face to face time is important.
And no matter what you agree - put in a time to discuss and review how you're working a few weeks after you've started, to see how you and your employer feel about the new approach.
→ Starting to freelance during covid Whilst most of our recommendations are relevant to almost everyone - there are specific challenges the self-employed face during COVID - particularly with regards to a lack of support financially and from any sort of team.
Whilst most of our recommendations are relevant to almost everyone - there are specific challenges the self-employed face during COVID - particularly with regards to a lack of support financially and from any sort of team.
Lots of people are turning to self-employment as a result of COVID, perhaps through being made redundant or furloughed, or using this time to reflect on their career and making an active choice to work for themselves.
If you've recently joined the self-employed workforce, establish your foundations for good mental health at work.
Take stock of your financial position and understand what you need to make each month, what you need to put aside for tax and emergency funds, and how long you're able to not work for.
Shift your mindset from employee to employer: you're running a business now, and your staff are your most important asset (that's you!). Take breaks, establish boundaries between work and home, and develop some good healthy working habits.
Build a support network of other people who are also self-employed, so you're able to ask questions and understand how things work. Don't work alone, join communities online who can help.
Consider whether this is a short-term or long-term decision, and plan for the future accordingly. If you're seeing self-employment as a long-term way of working, start to develop a plan for the future, not just the work you're doing today. This includes your skills as well as your finances.
Uncertainty is a part of self-employment, and whilst COVID has perhaps increased the number of challenges and curveballs thrown at us, in many ways, we have to accept that uncertainty is part of how we work, and build a healthier relationship with it.
Try and focus on the aspects of your work that you do have control over, and recognise the things you do not. Spending energy on what you cannot control will never be fruitful.
Allow yourself the emotional response to uncertainty - coming to terms with how you feel helps to manage stress, rather than fighting it and come to accept that life is full of uncertainty.
Identify what triggers any anxiety around uncertainty - and manage that. It might be media coverage, it might be constant notifications or conversation around COVID, it might be not having a plan in place.
Don't make rash decisions - whilst COVID isn't going away any time soon, consider the longer-term picture, and what changes you can make to steady the ship today, whilst thinking about your direction and business for the future. Many people are understandably considering making a shift away from self-employment, and looking for security and stability. Nothing is forever, and taking time to think about your options and discuss them with your support network is helpful.
Lots of us are feeling tired - fatigue from months-on-end of the lockdown is making it harder for everyone to keep focus, to keep motivated, to stay on task.
When you're self-employed, it's harder for you to get inspired or stay motivated, if you're the only one who is having to keep the energy levels high.
There are a number of things you can try to keep your motivation on point:
Whilst no-one wants to plan for falling ill, it's unfortunately possible that you may not be able to work due to illness, or caring for someone else who is unwell - and this affects the self employed more than most.
Be proactive and build a buddy system with a fellow freelancer you trust who can help, should the worst happen and you're not able to do work you've committed to. Whilst you're not going to get the income, the client relationship is maintained and you can worry less about your reputation and breaking a contract, and focus on rest and getting well.
Creating small pods of other freelancers with similar skills where you can team up and share work also allows you to scale when you're busy, but this trust takes time, so start now rather than when you need it.
Setting healthy boundaries when working for yourself can be challenging - and without the benefit of being able to leave the house or work from other spaces, it's really important to ensure you have some good habits in place.
The advice in our earlier chapter stands true, but is even more important when you don't have colleagues who are 'going home' for the evening.
Be careful with working into your rest time like evenings and weekends, and consider turning off your notifications or putting your work away for the night when you're done.
It's obviously not as black and white when a client calls if you're not working, or an urgent email comes through - you need to balance the success of your business with your own health - but bear in mind any precedents you're setting - if you start to reply to that email at 9pm within minutes, what expectation are you setting for the future.
With increased uncertainty around whether businesses are able to trade, you're at risk of more clients defaulting or not able to pay, so only invoicing once a month means you're open to potentially losing a month of work.
Open a discussion with your clients to invoice more frequently, perhaps after 7 days or 14 days of work, depending on how you work, and ensure some upfront deposits for longer-term projects.
Additionally, negotiate shorter payment terms, perhaps 14 days rather than 30, so your cashflow is more steady. Review your contracts to understand your liability in situations where projects are cancelled due to COVID, especially if your project is already underway.
Unfortunately, late payments are a far too common reality of being self-employed - and they're only increasing during the pandemic.
Not only do they affect cash flow, they also create additional stress and workload to chase - and it can feel difficult asking another small business for cash, when you know everyone is having a hard time.
It's important to stay both professional and human - ensure your client is communicating clearly to understand what is holding up the payment, and ask for clarity around when it will be paid. COVID is making things harder for all businesses - but if you have delivered the work, you're owed the payment.
There are services that guarantee your invoice payments or provide immediate payment if you're consistently struggling with cashflow.
Consider what additional products and services you're able to offer, especially if your sector is facing significant disruption.
Many freelancers have turned to look at passive income streams such as creating content, training, digital services and coaching.
Have conversations with your client and discuss how their businesses are changing, and see what new opportunities might exist as they pivot to new types of activities too.
The patterns of the year have been disrupted, and it's hard to take a break - even if you're allowed to travel, the stress of the situation might not be easy to leave behind - but it's essential to make sure you're taking time off and away from work, in order to rest and restore.
Treat your holidays as a target. In a job, you only have 25 days to take. In self-employment, it can help to aim to ensure you're taking those 25 days. Plan them into the calendar ahead - so you don't book work over the periods you've set aside for yourself, and try to space them out across the year. If you're responsive and only taking time off when you don't have work, your health will be a victim of your own success, and you'll soon run out of energy.
If you're struggling to take a break, try buddying up with other freelancers to cover the time when you're not online.
We can never really plan for such global pandemics - but we can have structures in place to soften the impact. Trying to put some of your income aside for an emergency fund can be hard, but essential, to help smooth out the peaks and troughs which self-employment can lead to.
During the pandemic, where possible, keep paying into the emergency fund, treating it like tax - as percentage of your income. If you're having to dip into the emergency fund, take some time to understand how it affects the rest of your finances, and review your situation to ensure you have an accurate view of your money. It's also important to review your emergency fund regularly - as your income and outgoings can change over time.
Money worries are a significant cause of anxiety and stress - so if you're feeling financial pressure or concerned around debt, look for support, and talk through your situation with someone who can give good advice on restructuring your finances.
There are millions of people who are currently without financial support during the pandemic due to gaps in governmental policy or individual situation - but the support on offer is constantly changing under both pressure from community groups and changes in lockdown restrictions.
Keep on top of what changes are being made, and review the support available again - you might find there's something which is now available to you.
It can be overwhelming, and often communication from government is not clear - but MoneySavingExpert are consistently providing great, simple and up to date information on what is available for your situation.
Most importantly - working for yourself doesn't have to mean working by yourself.
Find a support network and join a community of others who are also self-employed. There are many wonderful online groups which offer peer-support and a space to ask questions and seek advice.
Check-in with your support network daily - even if you're doing fine, as it helps others who might be struggling, and invite others who you know would benefit from being part of a group.
If you are finding things hard, try to share what you're going through. Not only does talking help you figure things out, it helps others by showing that asking for help is not a weakness or failure.
A mental health emergency should be taken as seriously as a physical one.
If someone's life is at risk, or you do not feel you can keep yourself or someone else safe:
+ Call 999 for support.
If you need urgent support, but it is not an emergency:+ Call 116 123 and speak to Samaritans.
We have additional links to resources on our urgent help pages.
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