Researchers looking at how remote work is affecting our productivity and sanity have both good and bad news for those cooped up at home. The good news is that, for the short-term at least, people’s productivity appears to be up. Without commutes and chatty colleagues, we’re actually getting more done.
Now for the bad news. That additional productivity is coming at a significant cost to our work-life boundaries. Work is creeping into more hours of our days, and anecdotal evidence abounds that these blurred lines are starting to drive many of us a little batty.
How can you get the best of both worlds? Is there a way to enjoy the productivity-boosting effects of remote work while not allowing your days to become a soup of Zoom calls, needy kids, and inbox alerts? That’s the topic of a round-up of tips on how to stay both productive and sane during the pandemic from Harvard Business School’s Ashley Whillans.
The whole post is well worth a read if the situation I described above sounds familiar, but one tip in particular struck me as actionable, research-backed, and also a lot of fun. It comes from the Germans, who call the idea a Feierabend.
How do you mark the mental end of your workday?
Whether you knew it or not, before the pandemic disrupted your routine, you probably had a daily ritual for mentally signing in and out of work. Maybe it was that podcast you always listened to on the drive to the office that got you in the right framework for work. Maybe it was a regular, informal morning cup of coffee with a co-worker. Maybe it was a trip to the yoga studio before facing dinner and bedtime with your kids at home.
Whether or not you consciously thought of the activity as a ritual, these habits helped us all switch our mindset from “work” to “home” (or vice versa). And they provided real benefits. Studies have shown that simply designing a few minutes into your day to mentally switch between contexts can make you more productive and less stressed.
But of course the pandemic threw all that out the window. Now all you have to mark the transition from work to home is the walk from your bedroom to your couch. That is, unless you borrow a trick from the Germans and consciously choose to create an event to mark the threshold between “work you” and “home you.”
As Whillans explains, our beer-loving European friends term this moment marking the mental end of a workday a Feierabend:
In Germany, the Feierabend is a daily evening celebration marking the moment when work is switched off for the day–often accompanied by a hearty German beer. Whether you finish the day with a beverage, a snack, going for a run, or calling a friend, find a ritual that can mark the end of your workday and give you something to look forward to. These daily routines help you celebrate what you have accomplished during the day (rather than focusing on what still needs to be done), bringing life meaning and happiness.
Whillans isn’t the only expert suggesting you get creative about marking your day’s boundaries. Family therapist Carol Bruess, who comes at the same problem but from the work side of the work-life divide, has suggested creating a fake commute, where you walk around your garden or your block to mentally connect or disconnect from work. My father, who was a carpenter, not a professor, knew this too. Announcing that he was “taking off his boots” at the end of each workday wasn’t just a physical action but a declaration that he was leaving work worries behind.
Personally, I think a little personal beer party each evening sounds like the most fun of all these options, but it’s up to you. The exact nature of the ritual you choose doesn’t matter. The essential thing is to find a way to draw a bright line separating the spheres of your life so you can refocus on enjoying whichever one you will be in for the next several hours.