From burnout to breakthrough: How to make working from anywhere work for you

Working from home requires a deliberate design and a focused mindset around your schedule, rituals and daily routines. Working from anywhere can lead to breakthrough performance with simple adjustments to your approach.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer

Let's face it: Working from home can be exhausting." Most of our social roles happen in different places, but now the context has collapsed," says Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at INSEAD. "Imagine if you go to a bar, and in the same bar you talk with your professors, meet your parents, or date someone; isn't it weird? That's what we're doing now. We are confined in our own space, in the context of a very anxiety-provoking crisis, and our only space for interaction is a computer window."


How to make working from home work for you starts with establishing routines and a focused mindset. 

Professor Petriglieri calls the problem "self-complexity" -- where everything happens via video calls. Everything, it seems, except variety.

All the more reason to establish routines, rituals, and boundaries and create separation in your home office, so that your online world doesn't become a jumbled mess of insecurity and confusion. Or work days on end that seem never to end.

Working from home requires a deliberate design around your schedule -- those boundaries are essential to your long-term success. Many rituals and routines change when your home becomes your workplace. 

A Strong Start

When your commute changes from 60 minutes to six steps, it's easy to fall out of a standard routine. But business is a process:  Working from home is a process as well.

Kathryn Charleston is a self-described "people person" whose pre-COVID routine involved traveling to meet with clients in person several days each week. "I thrive off the energy of people," she enthuses. "Living at home by myself, it's been really hard to find that interaction with people. Even though I'm in video meetings with people every day, it's not the same."

Can you relate? That's when Kathryn decided it was time for a wake-up call. She gave her morning routine a jolt and found a way to get energized each weekday without adding another shot of espresso. "One thing that I started to feel and to be more connected is sending a morning text to all my friends and family -- an update, something funny, something that was going on with me, something positive," she describes. Her smile fills the video screen of our conversation as she continues. "That was my way of connecting with others. My friends and family started to look forward to it. And I started to look forward to it, too."

Reaching for connection over chaos each morning became her new routine. That small shift created big results -- including less loneliness.

What can you do to be purposeful about "going to work" when you don't have to worry about traffic on the highway and you can literally roll out of bed and log into emails? How can you redesign your daily commute?  If you don't have the answer right now, find one.  Don't leave your career to chance -- don't freestyle your way to success. Establishing a routine to start the workday is the first step in setting the rituals that matter.

Are we done yet?

Remember the old days, when you would listen to a podcast, or call your mom, or just maybe listen to your favorite Spotify playlist on your drive home from work? What about driving from work straight to the gym, or maybe going to a happy hour meetup somewhere? These transitions signal your brain to transition from work and to change the channel.   

How do you give your brain permission to leave work behind? Denise Francis established her closing time ritual -- a way to emulate the physical and mental transition of leaving work behind each day.  Because how you end each workday is as important as how you start it.

"At the end of the day, I turn off the lights in the room where my computer is," she describes. "I've put together a work uniform during the day that helps me feel light, professional, and at my best. At the end of the day, I wash my face.  And I change into sweatpants. That routine is a signal that lets me know I'm ready to relax. And to enjoy my evening. I'm no longer in work mode."

If at first you don't succeed….

Then think back to your last science fair project. Whether it was your own or one with your children, the foundation of every project is the scientific method. And the biggest breakthroughs in science -- and in life -- result from experimentation (step four in the scientific method).

"I've created seven routines that have come and gone," confesses Brandon Young. "That may sound like failing to you, but I've discovered I can't control a two year old. And that means every routine is subject to change."

Brandon and his wife, a clinical psychologist, both work full time while raising three children under the age of three. They continue to form hypotheses about what might work best for them personally and professionally. And then they put their hypotheses to the test.

"We've learned to take a step back and let it happen -- whatever it might be at any given moment," he counsels. "Whether that's my son jumping into the camera frame or the ever-changing nap schedule. What works best after everything I've tried is to release the anxiety of what doesn't go according to plan. We're all human. We're in similar circumstances right now. If my most consistent routine is letting go, I consider that a great routine."   

From burnout to breakthrough 

Is this how I want to live my life?  Is this how I want to wake up and feel every day? Where do I go from here?

Those questions plagued Jose Mora as he wrestled with extended work from home days while supporting his parents who both lost their jobs.  While he was grateful to have a good job, the weight of burnout was weighing heavily. Literally and figuratively.

"I knew I was struggling with work-life balance," Jose articulates. "I just didn't know how to deal with it. How do I take care of my health? How do I take care of my parents? Is it one or the other? I just felt so burned out."

A five-minute change to his daily workday entry and exit ritual changed Jose's life for the better.

"I found a free meditation about gratitude on YouTube," he recalls. "I thought -- I can do anything for five minutes. And so I did.  All my life I felt like I was sleeping. And when I realized I was ready to wake up -- to take action -- my whole world started to change."

Jose lost 80 pounds and lightened his emotional burden as well. While he admits he's still learning and discovering, his new routine is making work from work for him.  

What five-minute ritual could change the trajectory of your day, your career, or your life?  It's never too late to experiment. The biggest influence in life is habit. If you seek better outcomes, then develop better habits. 

Karen Mangia is the author of Working From Home:  Making the New Normal Work For You. Karen and I have co-authored several articles about working from home. Here's a list of the previous articles covering numerous aspects of how you can successfully position yourself to work from anywhere. Connect with @karenmangia and @valaafshar and share your thoughts on how to best work from anywhere. 

This article was co-authored by Karen Mangia, vice president, customer and market insights, at Salesforce

Karen engages customers globally to discover new ways of creating success and growth together. From Executive Advisory Boards to strategic consulting engagements, her insights are central to Go-to-Market strategy, product development, marketing, and branding. In addition, Karen influences industry thought leadership in her role as Chair of the Customer Experience Council for The Conference Board. Formerly responsible for Insight Innovation at Cisco Systems, she led a global team with oversight into Customer Satisfaction and Experience, Diversity Business Practices, and Global Offset and Countertrade. Karen is also the author of Success With Less and a TEDx speaker.

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