November 10, 2020Published by: Drew Benvie

10 ways to avoid lockdown burnout

Lately, I've been thinking about how to build resilience into my approach to work, now we're well into our new world of virtual reality. More importantly, I'm keen to see how that approach can help create a more resilient business in Battenhall, through our team. 

Battenhall has always operated in a digital-first way – it was part of our mantra from day one. As a result, lockdown life at first came naturally to myself and my colleagues. But the challenges we faced in March this year are different to those we face now. 

Long before the pandemic and any lockdowns began, we advocated remote working at Battenhall. We did this to tap into a larger talent pool and get the most out of every person. We also built a high-tech working environment, so we could perform at speed and at the highest levels. We championed flexitime, unlimited holidays, and side projects though our 20% initiative; we also gave a range of smaller perks that would help us attract and retain the best talent, and foster the upskilling of a highly-performing team. 

Setting boundaries
As lockdown has continued, however, the upside of adapting so easily to the new normal has also brought fresh challenges. Since March, our team size has grown by more than 30%, and our work is increasingly being delivered to clients internationally. The challenge is no longer about how to thrive in a digital-first world – it's how to avoid burning out as the natural boundaries of our working lives disappear. 

These boundaries were all around us before. When they were there, we were better protected. Small boundaries, like home and work being in different places, a commute to clear your head, a few time zones to separate one market from another – they have all become less relevant. In many cases, the barriers have disappeared altogether. 

When work life and home life are in the same place, when international time zones aren't reinforced by an overseas trip, and when meetings aren't given a buffer time in between for a trip across town, work can easily become all-consuming without anyone realising.

I recently asked my colleagues to be mindful of all these issues, because I know first-hand how difficult it can be to manage growth in a global, digital business. To make things work in our 'new normal' it's vital to try some new approaches. This is where ideas and shared experiences come in useful.

So I want to share some tips for avoiding lockdown burnout, which I have found useful passing on or learning from my colleagues here at Battenhall. I hope that if you're in a similar position you find work more manageable as a result of reading these. If you have any other suggestions, let me know in the comments. 

1. Be flexible with your flexitime
Working from home means you're always at work, so be flexible with your time. If you start early, finish early. If you have things on early and late, pace yourself in the middle. Stay flexible with your screen time and the working day.

2. Take breaks
Step away from your work regularly. If you have lots of video calls, why not do some over the phone instead to rest your eyes and change your focus? Go out sometimes and make calls on the move if possible. When someone calls me on the phone, for example, I’ll usually get up from my laptop and walk somewhere to change things up. Taking breaks helps reset your focus.

3. Try new things
At Battenhall, there are always lots of off-topic sessions organised during each day, which are now more accessible to join than they used to be. Joining more random sessions means you get to interact with people you’re seeing less of than you used to, so look for new things and get involved.

4. Let there be light
Ensure you get lots of light where you work. The main photo at the top of this post is my home work space. I moved it at the beginning of lockdown so that it's right by the window. Also, a breath of fresh air and stepping out into the elements, whatever the weather, is incredibly rejuvenating. Go for a walk, pop to the shop, or get on your bike. I saw a talk last year about the benefits of sunlight, and it shouldn’t be underestimated. For example, the below photo is from a long lunch break bike ride I went on during lockdown to break up the day.

5. The 10-minute meeting rule 
When meetings don't need travel, they could probably be shorter. Consider how long you actually need for a meeting, and give yourself time between them, too. Try reducing every meeting by 10 minutes, and start trying 10-minute meetings. Do both and you'll win back so much more of your day.

6. Global awareness
Business is more global when it's digital. Asynchronous work is where the world is now, and this means while we're expected to work across time zones, we don’t need to be online 24/7. Manage your to-do list well, fit it in with your routine, and you’ll feel on top of all your work, no matter where it is. Breaking your day into chunks is a good way to manage a global customer base too, so try that each day. 

7. Put away your laptop 
It’s hard to break away from work mode when you have flashing alerts, notifications, and new emails coming through, especially if your work space is also a living space. Top tip from my colleague and our MD, Steph Bennett, is to hide your laptop to give you the mental break you need.  

8. Pen and paper
I've always been a fan of pen and paper, and anything that reduces screen time is a must in my book. The process of writing things down, such as a to-do list, will help you to stay organised, and studies have shown that your brain will process more information if you take notes. Try investing in a new Moleskine book to get you through lockdown and beyond.

9. Burn up some holiday
Holiday days aren’t exclusive to amazing adventures, even if many of us miss them. Just taking some time out, getting a change of scenery, tidying that cupboard you’ve been meaning to, or getting a few extra hours in bed all help you to switch off.

10. Speak up if things are getting too much
As a Brit I can safely say that the stoic approach to workload management isn't always best at times like this. A problem shared is a problem halved, and you will have colleagues around to help. We’re all in this together.

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