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Working from home? Here’s how to avoid overworking

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, one of the main concerns employers had over the idea of mass remote working was whether or not they could trust their employees to remain productive. But now that a large percentage of New Zealand’s workforce is several weeks into remote working, the opposite is proving to be the case.   

A great number of us, it seems, now feel the need to be seen to be productive while working remotely. As a result, people are putting in more hours than normal to ensure they appear to be making constructive use of their time. Simultaneously, with our workspace mere metres away from us at all times, the boundaries between our work and personal life are blurring. 

The situation can be even trickier for parents who are currently at home with their children, given that they are likelier to already be working in the early morning and evening to catch up. 

Unfortunately, not only does overworking negatively impact mental health at a time that is already testing for many of us, but it also adversely affects all-round productivity. 

So, with this in mind, here are ten tips to prevent yourself from working longer hours when in lockdown:

1. Set strict boundaries. As we noted in this blog on how to work from home, you need to find a dedicated space that you can use solely for work, complete with a desk, upright chair and good lighting. Clearly communicate your start and finish times to the people you live with and block out your calendar in the evening. 

Measures like these will be instrumental in providing a clear distinction between the ‘work’ and ‘home’ aspects of your life. That, in turn, should be effective at helping to prevent your motivation from dropping in the middle of the day while keeping you focused and distraction-free.

Doing this while working from home with children can be especially tricky. So, if this describes you, we’ve put together these tips on how to work from home with children. 

2. Focus on the tasks that truly matter, right now. Be clear in your mind on what your key priorities and areas of focus should and need to be. At the start of each working day, decide on a handful of key tasks that you’re going to commit to completing. Make sure these are realistic. This will ensure you’re concentrating on the right things. It’ll also give you a greater sense of achievement at the end of the day, so that you’re likelier to log off and enjoy your evening.

3. Say no if necessary. In these changing times, your priorities and areas of focus might shift, almost daily. That’s why you need to have the confidence and conviction to say no to tasks that aren’t going to help you or your organisation achieve what’s truly important right now. Habitual over-workers are often notorious ‘people pleasers’, so you need to learn the art of graciously saying no if certain tasks would threaten to overwhelm you and simply aren’t a priority right now. If an extra task or two really does need to be taken on, try to be realistic about what you can do in the time that you have during your main working day, perhaps offering a partial solution in the meantime.

4. Keep the people you live with informed. If you’re living with people who work different hours to you, who still need to leave the house to work even during this time of lockdown, or who aren’t working at all at the moment, it’s easy for misunderstandings to arise. Working from home doesn’t mean you’re free to do your housemates’ shopping for them in the middle of the day, chat to them, do jobs or take deliveries. So, it’s important to let the people you live with know what you are working on, and the timescales you need to deliver them. This will keep you accountable while also allowing them to respect your time.

5. Minimise in-work distractions. If COVID-19 has forced you into home working for the very first time – or you’ve never or rarely done it on a ‘9 to 5’ basis – it’s very easy to be side-tracked by social media feeds or news notifications. You’ll be able to do much better work when you’re freed up to focus on one thing. So, turn off push notifications and delete apps that you find especially distracting. This will ensure you won’t waste your working hours on non-work related activities, thereby avoiding the need to work extra hours for several days to catch up.

6. Take a set lunch break. Move away from your desk to eat lunch. If you can, go outside into your backyard or onto your balcony for some fresh air. This will enable you to ensure your lunch break feels like an actual break and you return to your desk feeling refreshed, motivated and ready to work. 

Taking a regular break will also help you to look after your wellbeing.

Once the working day is over:

7. Leave your workspace. It isn’t enough to merely set your working hours. You must also walk away once it really is time for you to log off. So, be disciplined in leaving your home workspace and don’t go back until the next morning! Try not to blend your home and work life. For many people, it can be especially tempting to do a little extra at night. However, this could come at the cost of disrupting your sleep schedule and depleting your energy levels the following day. That could then hurt your productivity and leave you struggling to catch up.

8. Turn off and put away work devices. If this isn’t possible, at least limit yourself to only checking your work emails once or twice in the evening. You should also be logging out of Skype or any other chat or messaging functionality that you may use. Don’t be tempted to use your personal devise for work – keep it for personal use only. 

9. Do something for yourself. Once you finish work for the day, stop thinking about it. Go out for a walk or run, if you’re able to, cook dinner or call a friend – in short, do something that is different to your work activities so that you can switch off. Make sure you do this consistently every day, so it becomes a signal in your mind that the work day is over. If you do, it will help to break out your two lives.

10. Focus on the positives. You may be overworking to avoid paying too much attention to the crisis that is going on around us. So instead, try to focus on the positives in your life and what you have to be grateful for. You may also like to use this time to get on top of any jobs you’ve been putting off around the house and spend quality time with your family if you are able to do so. In short, there are always things that you can do to distract yourself and use your time in healthy and productive ways during this outbreak, rather than overworking.

Don’t allow overworking to imperil your wellbeing 

It’s easy to feel guilty if you aren’t working more hours than usual during the coronavirus pandemic. After all, if you’re working from home with the associated lack of commuting time, it might seem that you have more time to fill with other work. 

Alternatively, you may have seen increased business since the outbreak started – in which case, it may seem inevitable that you need to put in more hours. 

However, a feeling that you need to work more right now is a slippery slope that can cause you to venture into bad habits, such as overworking, which can imperil your health and wellness and lead to burnout. It’s therefore important to have a sense of perspective. Adopting simple but stringent measures, like the above, will help you shield yourself from overworking during this time.


About this author

Adam Shapley, Managing Director, Hays New Zealand and Hays IT Australia & New Zealand, began working at Hays in 2001 and during this time has held significant leadership roles across the business including responsibility for multiple specialisms in various locations across Australia & New Zealand.

In 2018, he was appointed to Hays ANZ Management Board and made Managing Director for Hays New Zealand.

Adam is also responsible for the strategic direction of the Hays Information Technology business across Australia & New Zealand including driving growth across Digital Technology, Projects & Business Change and IT Operations & Support.

Follow Adam on LinkedIn