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We’re working longer hours and later nights these days—here’s how to take the break you deserve

Mary Grace Garis

Mary Grace GarisMay 21, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images/lechatnoir

While working from home comes with some fringe benefits—like losing a long commute and, you know, being able to still work in a bird bone fragile economy—there’s a major, major pitfall. Namely, it’s hard to tell when your day starts and when it ends. And because our work and home life has become so homogeneously blended, you almost have to relearn how to take a break. And perhaps more importantly, how to take a break without guilt.

That’s the paradox, isn’t it? There’s always been a certain misconception about WFH life being a walk in the park (and in your most comfortable basic black sweatpants). But that was never true (trust someone who freelanced for 6 years) and with the impacted stress and demands of working in a post-pandemic world (“pivoting” gets thrown around a lot). eight hour days become 10 hour days become all damn day. And if you take a break, you worry about either extending the day, not being productive, or being perceived as lazy.

The concerns are valid, but allow yourself to breathe. According to Jen Fisher, chief well-being officer at accounting agency Deloitte, breaks are more important than ever.

“COVID-19 has created heightened levels of stress and anxiety, and is testing our ability to cope and stay resilient,” says Fisher. “As some professionals work longer hours, it will be increasingly important for them to have flexible work options that support their mental, emotional and physical well-being so that they can perform at their best.”

So how do you do it wisely? Here’s how to take a break when from working from home, because frankly, you deserve it.

How to take a break while working from home

1. Have non-negotiable boundaries

This basically means setting clear expectations around routines you’d like to set at work and in your professional life, and then asking supervisors to help set the tone for respecting boundaries and providing greater flexibility when needed.

“Professionals should set boundaries, which give them the time and space to take care of themselves and better control how they choose to integrate their work from home and their life at home,” says Fisher. “This includes outlining their ‘non-negotiables’—such as time for exercise and time for sleep—with their managers and teams to ensure they are protecting their health and well-being.”

2. Overcommunicate your needs to your supervisor

I’m using that terminology lovingly; when we transitioned to WFH, we were encouraged to overcommunicate our needs and status in order to keep everyone in the loop. It’s not difficult, sometimes it just means changing my Slack status to “hula hooping” or telling my editor I need 10 minutes before our one-on-one.

“Managers are becoming more aware of the importance of structuring workloads and are increasingly encouraged to be understanding and appreciative when their reports ask for help or need a break,” Fisher says. “Being proactive and honest about your needs, and how they can be integrated with demands at work will likely be welcome and met with empathy.”

3. Schedule breaks

“Planned breaks are much more effective than unplanned breaks, likely because you are more likely to use your break wisely if you know it’s coming,” says Erin Hatzikostas, corporate CEO turned career coach and founder of b Authentic inc. “If you take a break simply to scroll through Instagram, that defeats the purpose.”

Fisher adds that you should schedule out meals, time for movement and exercise, and even bedtime into your calendar, just like you would any other meeting. This will allow you to be more accountable in actually taking care of yourself, and keep you in a regular, healthy routine.

4. Change locations OFten

Hatzikostas has been doing this hack for years, and it helps her shift her brain transactional work like meetings and emails, and instead work on something that requires focus such as writing or reading.

“When I was in a traditional office setting, that simply meant moving out from behind my desk to making a “couch” out of two chairs in my office and sitting there to write an article,” she says. “Now that I work from home, I move from my desk to a the couch, the kitchen table, or even my favorite, a chair out on the front porch. Try this—you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to shift your focus and efficiently complete your task at hand.”

5. Time your breaks appropriately

“There’s many studies that have shown that taking a break is critical to employees’ long-term productivity,” says Hatzikostas. “For example, Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, says that people show physiological fatigue after working just 90 minutes.”

Fisher also encourages taking a five minute joy or micro-break when you really need it.

“Watching a funny video, listening to your favorite song, or reading a light-hearted story can help replenish your energy,” says Fisher. “Breaks aren’t just for rest, they can involve an activity, such as practicing mindfulness and deep breathing or even capturing commitments on a to-do list.”

Again, it helps to be very intentional about this so you don’t get lost in a Facebook vortex (which BTW, might just lead to more work burnout anyway.

6. do something that’s truly different from what you do for work

“If you’re someone that spends most of the day in front of the computer, get away from all screens,” says Hatzikostas.“If your job has you sitting much of the day, don’t sit. Get outside, move your body, read a book, run an errand, play with your kids, talk to your spouse, give your mom a call. Anything that allows your mind, and body, to wander in another direction will be tremendously effective.”

7. If you *can*, allow yourself a mental health day (or half a mental health day)

Again, not everyone is easily in this position. But if the only thing holding you back from taking PTO is guilt and your managers openly encourage it (again, we’re very lucky here), then you should feel free to call out when you need it.

“It can feel harder to say ‘I’m taking vacation’ when you’re still going to be in the same house or apartment,” says Fisher. “But you don’t have to take a week off to get the benefits of time off. Try creating a microstep during which you carve out some time for yourself to truly disconnect and miss out on work; for instance, a half day off on a Wednesday afternoon”

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