A few years ago I was at one of those Big Group Dinners with my marketing team and our clients. There were about 15 of us.
I liked the group, but I do not like Big Group Dinners — because at Big Group Dinners you eat and drink too much and you have to pretend you're not tired and you wouldn't rather be in bed sleeping.
At this particular Big Group Dinner, I was exhausted. I'd been back and forth from NYC to Seattle a million times that month and had a ton of work to do after dinner. So wining and dining clients and schmoozing with my team was at the bottom of my list of priorities, even though it was technically a giant part of my job.
That's when I decided to be, "That Person."
That Person: The annoying person who deviates from the group order at a Big Group Dinner.
I know it doesn't sound like a huge deal, but we were at a Mexican restaurant and if you know anything about Mexican food, it's communal. So you look like a HUGE jerk if you deviate from the group-ordering plan (and Margaritas! Don't forget the Margaritas!).
But I knew that if I had one more drink and another plate full of chips, my health was going to suffer.
And if my health suffered, my performance suffered. And while client management was part of my job, the other part was marketing strategy, which requires a sharp and well-rested brain (at least, it does for me).
So, like a jerk, I declined the pitcher of Margaritas and ordered a salad.
And I sat there waiting for the snide remarks about my weight or the fact that I was being "too uptight."
But … they didn't happen.
Instead, one by one, at least five different people came up to me privately to thank me for opt-ing out.
They told me I'd given them the courage to opt-out, too.
They also wanted to be "That Person."
And that's the story of how I learned that when you take care of yourself, you're actually taking care of others, too.
If you find yourself working from home more often these days, or you're in a fully-remote job, it can seem difficult to opt out of social invitations. However, choosing to put your colleagues' and team bonding ahead of your mental and physical well-being isn't just a problem for you … it's a problem for the well-being of your team, as well.
Here, let's explore the bad remote work habits that could be inhibiting your mental and physical well-being — and, as a result, impacting your overall performance.
The Bad Remote Work Habits You Probably Think Are No Big Deal
Socrates said, "Know thyself," and I believe he was speaking specifically to navigating the transition from working in an office to working from home.
Knowing thyself means understanding what your limits are, how you work best, and what support systems you need in place in order to function optimally (and prevent yourself from burnout).
For me, I need excessive amounts of alone time, some daily cardio, and copious amounts of morning coffee (no coffee after 12 p.m., though, that's a rule so I'm able to sleep that night).
Point is: I know if I violate any of these basic tenets, it's a downward spiral into anxiety and I'm at high risk for depression and a slew of other fun psychopathological symptoms.
You are, too. But, of course, your triggers and support systems are different than mine. That's why you need to know yourself — so you can set yourself up to perform optimally at work without experiencing burnout or other mental health stresses.
With your body, it's easy to know something's wrong if you start to run a fever — but with your mind, it's a little tougher to read the signs, especially when so many of the "Hey, something is not okay here," signs are socially acceptable. (For instance, when was the last time you turned to a colleague and said, "I'm exhausted; I've been up all night finishing a report. This is my fourth cup of coffee this morning," and they've responded, "Yeah, I totally feel that. You do what you gotta do.")
Feelings should be considered data that can tell you when you're working too hard, or simply ineffectively. So if what you're feeling is tired, stressed, burnt out, ashamed, sad, depleted, insecure, or terrified, then your job is to listen.
Of course, the risk when you're working from home is that a lot of the common triggers for people are hidden, and even sometimes disguised as "normal".
For instance, here are some pitfalls of working for home for ambitious high-achievers that significantly affect your mental health:
24/7 accessibility and availability
Never taking breaks
Fear of looking "lazy"
Getting minimal sleep
"Just checking your phone one more time" before bed/a workout, etc.
Refreshing your email right before bed (You probably tell yourself, "It'll make me feel better. I just wanna check." No, it won't — it never makes anyone feel better.)
Eating in front of your computer
Never seeing my friends (or family)
Sending "just one more email" after you're supposed to log off for the day
Agreeing at inconvenient times to take calls, simply to seem agreeable
… And other things we all regularly do because we think we're "supposed to."
When you behave in ways you think you're "supposed to," it creates a misalignment between what's called your "ideal self" and your "actual self." And the bigger that gap, the more pain and suffering we feel.
Plus, when your ideal self is an unrealistic and unsustainable version of success (which can happen when working remotely and connecting regularly with other workaholics), you set yourself up for failure, pain, and a whole lot of mental health problems.
Finally, I spoke with a few HubSpotters to explore some bad remote habits we all might do on a daily basis.
For instance, Meg Prater, Managing Editor of the HubSpot Blog, says, "There are two bad remote work habits that stand out to me, which are:
Dishes, laundry, "starting dinner", etc … It’s so easy to think you’ll just do one thing and an hour later, you’ve deep cleaned your entire closet. If you’re going to knock out some chores as a mental break, set a timer and hold yourself to a strict "back-to-work" time.
Holding yourself to the same high standard every day: It's easy to feel guilty when you have an unproductive WFH day. Some days or weeks will be hyper-productive, some days or weeks will be a struggle. Don’t beat yourself up for those days when it’s all you can do to get through your inbox before noon. Allow yourself time to recharge, fail, or be distracted, decide what you can learn from those "off" days, and move on."
Additionally, Pamela Bump, Audience Growth Marketing Manager and Staff Writer for the HubSpot Blog, provided two bad remote work habits of her own:
"Not physically separating work from life enough. When I started working from home, I thought I wouldn't get distracted because I had a desk area already set up. But, I found that working at a desk in my bedroom still caused many distractions. At times, I found myself looking at my unmade bed and wanting to make it, wondering when I should plan to do the laundry, or glancing at my TV and thinking about a TV show I enjoyed even though it was off. Although I can’t always work in the common areas of my house due to roommates, I now try to work outside of my room whenever I can."
"Letting your schedule get too flexible. When you work remotely, it can be tempting to say, 'I’ll take a longer break and work later in the evening.' Or, 'Maybe I’ll work ahead during the weekend since I have no plans.' Ultimately, when I’ve done this, it only stresses me out and messes with my work-life balance. Because of this, I’ve begun to create a more structured schedule for myself where my work and non-work hours are clearly marked on a calendar in advance."
It's important to remember, mental health affects more than just you — it can also affect your workplace performance, marriage, parenting style, or ability to connect with friends.
When it Comes to Your Health, the Insignificant Things Matter
The reason I opened this post with a story about the courage to order differently at a client dinner is because often the things that make the greatest difference to our mental health seem really insignificant and minor.
That's what I want you to consider as you think about your mental health when it comes to remote work.
It's often the insignificant things that are the most significant. Like not checking email after 9 p.m., or making sure you have a real-life conversation with someone during the day, even if it's just the delivery guy (half kidding, but also not really?).
When you "know thyself," you're better able to set appropriate limits in order to maintain your sanity while working from home. For example, if you know you perform best when you've had a well-rested 8-9 hours of sleep, then engineering your work-from-home office habits so you can sleep better is one of the most responsible things you can do.
Alternatively, if you're someone who is good on 5-6 hours of sleep, but needs an hour of exercise each day to alleviate stress, you'll want to ensure you work that into your schedule, as well.
Paying attention to the little things that make you function and feel better — and honoring them — is what will prevent you from spiraling into anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues while working from home.
There Is a Trickle Down Effect to Taking Care of Yourself
When you take care of yourself it doesn't just help you — it helps everyone else around you, too.
For instance, if your team expects that you're immediately available every time they call you, they're going to continue to call you whenever they want. And if you work from home, where the lines between "work time" and "home time" are extremely blurry, that "immediate access" is going to dip into your quality time with your kids or friends.
When you are suddenly unavailable from 5-8 p.m. on weekdays, you've now made it so your team is also unavailable during that time.
And they can start to distinguish between real emergencies and client emergencies (it might feel like the end of the world, but it's only a PowerPoint deck, you're fine).
It likewise gives colleagues the opportunity to take a leadership role and figure things out without you — or they get permission to start making their own families a priority. You've just given them a gift, by giving yourself a gift. Everybody wins!
Point is, there's a trickle down effect to taking care of yourself. We all benefit when you are brave enough to face the status quo and say, "Yeah, I'm not doing that."
By opting-out of the "supposed to" behaviors and replacing them with behaviors that optimize your well-being and your performance, you're able to take care of your physical and mental health, while ensuring your colleagues feel comfortable doing the same.
Originally published May 5, 2020 7:00:00 AM, updated May 07 2020