When freelance writer Emma Norris started working from home, she realised her dream was about to go sour. Here’s how she revived herself from a burnout.
9 am: Wake naturally without an alarm to light streaming through my window and the sound of birds chirping.
9 am – 11 am: Start day with lemon juice squeezed in water. Do morning exercise, meditate, journal, shower and make myself a healthy breakfast of spinach and avocado omelette.
11 am – 1 pm: Write.
1 pm – 3 pm: Salad for lunch, followed by leisurely beach stroll.
3 pm – 5 pm: More writing before clock-off. Shut my laptop and start evening wind-down routine — not glancing at my emails again until the next morning
This was the vision I had in my mind of what life was about to look like when I started working from home as a freelance writer. After all, I’d seen all the ‘my morning routine’ YouTube videos where self-employed influencers would sip green juices out of mason jars on their sun-soaked balconies. I too was ready to live the ultimate freedom lifestyle, untethered from my stuffy cubicle or a daily commute. I’d already had a taste of the ‘WFH life’ one day a week, and had fallen in love with the feeling of not being chained to a desk from 9-5:30.
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“It wasn’t long before the shiny facade wore off”
I remember on my first day in 2017 as a self-employed, home-based freelancer, my partner was also working from home. During our lunch break, we went down to our local beach and ate fish and chips by the water and I thought “I could get used to this”.
But that’s the thing. I did get used to working from home, and it wasn’t long before the shiny facade wore off. Because I could work all the time, I did work all the time. I hustled for and accepted more and more freelance work to fill every last second of my day. Within a few months, the boundary between ‘work’ and ‘home’ had vanished into oblivion.
And yet, without being ‘chained’ to a desk, I found that I struggled to sit down and actually do all the work I was taking on. I could barely sit at my computer for half an hour without getting antsy and wanting to go order a coffee or do something around the house. So, to meet all my deadlines, I would crawl out of bed at 5am, my eyes barely open as I stared into the fluorescent light of my computer screen and half-heartedly tapped my keyboard. It was a far-cry from those slow, 9am wakeups I’d envisioned. I would often still be going at 8pm at night, at which point I was normally too exhausted and teary to even face the thought of cooking dinner.
I was exhausted, overwhelmed and on the brink of burnout. I was constantly grumpy, irritable and felt like everyone wanted a piece of me. But the thing was — I had nothing left to give them. More than once, I found myself staring down the barrel of a tight deadline and sobbing “I can’t do this”.
As many people are now learning for the first time in the COVID-19 crisis, I realised that working from home wasn’t all coffee dates, cozy loungewear and chillin’ with Netflix. It can be seriously challenging, isolating and even detrimental to your mental health.
After about a year of working remotely, I started doing whatever I could to escape my self-made home prison. It started with me working in coffee shops for hours, until it escalated to me spending roughly a quarter of my monthly earnings on a permanent desk in a co-working space. At one point, I was almost ready to go back to working full-time in an office — something I had worked so hard to break away from.
Incorporating progress over productivity
It wasn’t until I started my productivity podcast, A Day In Progress early last year that I reached a turning point. I started interviewing female creatives, entrepreneurs and business owners across all different industries about the daily routines that set them up for success. I learned that their rituals were just as diverse as these incredible women themselves.
Some women rose at 5am to do their most important work of the day before their kids got up, and actually loved having that quiet time to themselves. Others swore by having a nap in the mid-afternoon and powered through their work at night. I learned that there’s no one-size-fits-all prescription for productivity, especially when it comes to working from home. It’s so different and unique for everyone.
It was through this that I discovered an approach called mindful productivity — which I ended up writing a book about called Progress Over Perfection.
This story originally appeared on whimn.com.au and is published here with permission.
It’s all about finding productivity on your own terms and being conscious of your own energy, limitations and internal clock. It’s about not forcing yourself to get up at the crack of dawn or continue working late at night when you’re exhausted. It’s about working more effectively (not harder) during those times where your cognitive levels are at their peak. Now, I’ve discovered what works for me, personally.
I absolutely swear by productivity sprints (timed bursts of 50 minutes where I go all out with my work, followed by short breaks) and changing up my location often — even if that’s just from my desktop computer to my laptop on the balcony at the moment! Armed with my own tailored approach, I’ve fallen in love with working from home again. Even when the reality is less #workspacegoals and more half-empty coffee cups and stained hoodies, it’s my own imperfect paradise and I wouldn’t give it up for the world — in self-iso and beyond.
Emma’s book, Progress Over Perfection: A Guide to Mindful Productivity, is on sale from May 26th. You can pre-order it here. She is a writer, editor and imperfect action coach from Sydney, Australia. She’s the founder of ‘A Girl In Progress’ and hosts the productivity podcast ‘A Day In Progress’, where she interviews inspiring and successful women about the daily routines that set them up for success.
More essential coronavirus reading:
Read up on what the government lockdown means for you, understand why Aussie doctors are up arms, be aware of the ‘hidden symptom’ of COVID-19 carriers, prepare yourself for the long-term mental health effects of the pandemic, get your sweat on at home with these free online workouts before reviving your over-washed hands with this DIY balm, and then console yourself with these unexpected joys.