Work Hygiene: How to maintain motivation, energy and passion when you work remotely

The perks of remote work are numerous, but it can leave you more vulnerable to burnout, overworking, and loneliness if you don’t maintain good “work hygiene”. 

Prologue: The Burnout Industry

I first burned out at 17. I was trying hard - as an undiagnosed person with Dyslexia and ADHD - to win a scholarship for university.  I needed a 97% grade average in that systems equivalent of high school, which, as it happens, I was learning in a secondary language.  

(Read more .. +Prologue: The Burnout Industry )

What is “Good Work Hygiene”?

Good work hygiene is a bit like sleep hygiene, but for for your work habits and work environment. 

It’s a variety of behavioural and environmental practices that are intended to promote better quality work, work satisfaction, and ensures that work doesn’t bleed into your private time. 

The biggest misconception about remote work

Everyone worries about being able to get started and staying focused in remote work, but it’s actually ending on time that’s the bigger struggle, and the knock of effects of working late and neglecting yourself – which will impact work quality, delivery time and relationships – are eventually make people think of remote work as delivering lower quality.

However, ‘Getting started’ , ‘staying focused’ and ‘finishing on time’ are related to some extent; if you feel you didn’t get “enough” done, you’ll be tempted to make up for it by working “just a little” longer. 

Also, if you’re not mindful of what you got done or have been working on (which can happen if the one poorly defined task due today is left in the “in progress” column for the second day running) you’ll feel you “didn’t get anything done” today and be tempted to work a little longer to end your day on a high note. 

I’ve split up the various tricks and tips I’ve come to rely on into 3 categories:

  1. Work Habits:  habits around work I start and end my day with. 
  1. Work Practices: specific ways and methods of working.
  1. Environmental Practices: things I take care of in the environment to support focus and life balance. 

1. Work Habits

  • Start and finish work at the same time. Having regular start and end times really helps make sure you don’t miss out on self-care activities (so important for quality of life, maintaining energy and work quality), social life or family time. It may start off as hit and miss, but you’ll soon get into a rhythm if you’re patient. I like using momentum dash with the % work-day clock to keep me on track. 
  • Have a pre-work and post work mini routine. Again, this will feel hit and miss at first, but it works over a longer period to get you into and out of “work mode”. My pre-work routine is very simple: grab coffee cups, old note paper, or any other detritus from my workspace and make it look a bit tidy like an office would in the morning. The post work routine is to deal with the dishes in the sink, put out trash, spot vacuum, and other small chores or errands. Workouts are also a great end-of-day routine to help transition from “thinking about that thing at work” to evening mode.
  • I personally like to leave my phone in the bedroom or in the corridor before I start work. Too many alerts and distractions. If it’s urgent, they’ll call and my fitbit will buzz. If part of my job was answering calls, this wouldn’t work for me, unless I set up call forwarding to a support desk software
  • I like to review and update my task list at the end of the day, so I can start my next day with everything pre-planned for me when my mind is fresh and creative and just get stuck in. I find project planning uses a different mental mode from creative work (for me, at least) so takes longer to get into ‘creative’ mode afterwards. 
  • If you work at home: ventilate when air quality is best for your location daily, and pay attention to indoor air quality factors. This improves cognition, health, mood, output and creative problem solving by as much as 9%. Offices in Europe and the US tend to have worse indoor air quality than most homes because of traffic pollutants getting into the air vents, printer ink fumes and ozone from all the machines, as well as dry air from central heating or aircon- but people don’t sleep in their offices after work as we do when working from home.  

Improved attention, mood, creativity and health from good indoor air quality practices is the secret weapon no trendy workplace can compete with, so leverage it

  • Create a “got done” list, or use the filter tasks option in your task manager (Trello and Asana allow this) to review what you did today at the end of my day. I like to add ad hoc tasks that weren’t on the list to my task manager so I get a fuller picture of how my day went.  I’ve also used a simple bullet journal for this at times. 

  • This may come as incredibly privileged, but if at all possible, don’t use the same device you used during work hours for things like watching Netflix or to google a chilli con carne recipe in your off-time. I use my phone and the smart tv in the evenings and try and avoid the computer. If that’s not possible, at least move your laptop away from your work environment and use a profile without your work applications installed and a different wallpaper to reinforce that “it’s downtime.” 
  • Switch on quiet time or silent mode when you’re with your family, friends or loved ones in the evening. Unless you’re on-call, work -and instagram alerts - can wait.

2. Work practices

  • Well defined tasks are more easily accomplished than poorly defined tasks. A sequence of tasks like “setup a basic installation wordpress”, “pick a theme”, “set up contact forms”, etc are well defined tasks. “Launch website” isn’t. In fact, “launch website” is a project, not a task. Mislabeling projects as tasks is a very common reason for procrastination when working alone, or for lack of momentum within a team.
  • Keep deadlines realistic, for when the task absolutely must be due by (add a day or two extra if possible) for bug testing, copy approval, etc). It’s a terrible habit to use deadlines as a stick to “get stuff done”, because when the subconscious works out that the deadlines aren’t real, it starts to ignore both the deadlines and the whole organisation system altogether. 
  • Define tasks so they can be done that day, and if they’re not complete, make a follow up task for the next day, and reword todays task with what you got done before marking it as complete  Never leave a task unfinished by the end of the day. If you’re not physically leaving the office you need to feel that your work is “done” in order to ‘leave work behind’.  
  • A well defined task: