Our most important self-care rituals for a remote working culture

Catherine Heath | August 26, 2019

We all know that it's not just a remote team that needs self-care rituals, but remote workers are uniquely placed to design their own schedules. We also need to make sure these rituals support us typically being very hard workers. 

Why invest in self-care, you ask? Well, self-care is so crucial for helping us to avoid the dreaded "burnout", reducing overall isolation and loneliness, improving productivity, and team effectiveness. Dare I say it, self-care increases the likelihood we will actually be happy in our work. 

Many of our recommended self-care rituals relate to the connection that we crave with our fellow human beings. Even the hobbies that sustain our team can involve other people, but just as often they do not. Many people feel the same way and enjoy having more connections, though, so start the conversation about self-care in your team. 

We're no experts on self-care, but here are some things that have worked well for each of us individually.

Marybeth

I don't think self-care has to do with remote culture. As an adult, I've always had a tendency to get obsessed with work. When I was a teacher, I worked at restaurants on nights and weekends to relax.

Now when I'm not working at KnowledgeOwl, I'm usually working at barn hunt or something [barn hunt is Marybeth’s hobby involving rat games]. Like 8-10 hours of manual labor [arranging courses and throwing around bales of hay]. I really enjoy it though!

Here’s a brain dump of things that help me stay sane with work stuff:

  • Blocking off time each day where customers can't schedule meetings (I can use this time for lunch, walks, errands, etc)
  • Blocking off a day a week where I don't have to do phone calls
  • Controlling the hours when people can schedule calls and how far in advance (I used to just let people schedule with me any time, day or night)
  • Not subscribing to the support channel in Slack
  • Simple morning routines (drink water, exercise, eat breakfast, do something fun, do something productive not work related)
  • Not working the first hour of each day (get some life things done)
  • Morning/afternoon/evening walks
  • Finding a hobby (barn hunt!)
  • Scheduling some things during the week that get me out of the house (Write the Docs meetups, classes, etc)
  • Fitbit reminders to move [physically]
  • Pomodoro technique
  • Doing house chores while on calls [listening in while moving around instead of sitting at a computer]
  • Having cleaning people come monthly

Kate

Some of the things I do for self-care:

  • Core workouts in the morning before I start work
  • Walks at lunch or in the afternoon
  • Sit down to eat lunch away from my laptop/desk
  • Triathlon workouts during my workdays (usually before or after but sometimes blocking off hours in the middle of the day as a break)
  • Mute Slack on my phone during my off-hours to ensure I actually unplug. Not sure if that counts. :)

I have a fairly elaborate morning routine--I get up about 3 hours before I start work, and I use that time for my morning cup of tea, classes I'm taking, catching up on news, workouts, etc. I'm a lot happier starting my work day this way, since it guarantees I'm taking time for myself and focusing on personal goals.

I've worked remotely a long time, and my last job I often put in way more hours than I should have. Having all these kinds of checks and balances really helps me make sure that I'm only "at work" at times that I need to be at work. It helps me compartmentalize a bit, just like people who physically go into an office do, and helps me make sure that I'm taking plenty of time for myself, my other side-gigs, etc. 

When I don't have these, I gradually tend to work longer and longer hours, my ambient level of stress goes up, I end up not being as pleasant in my interactions with people, and I find I don't focus as much at work because I'm more stressed by everything. Taken to the extreme, I have depressive episodes and physical manifestations of the stress (hi, gastritis, I'm talking to you). But having all these in place means that I have very clearly demarcated work hours, that I'm able to focus (and often hyperfocus) while I'm "at" work, and just as able to unplug because there's a clear line when I'm done for the day.

It also means that I have a lot more energy for the things in my personal life I most enjoy (hiking, writing, learning new things, swim/bike/run workouts, etc.).

My personal barometer for self-care is always how much energy I have when I finish the work day. If I have multiple days in a row where I don't have any physical or creative energy to do anything after work, then I know something's off in my self-care mix and I revisit it.

I have started scheduling time without calls where I allow myself to unplug from the support queue, so I can focus on other things without feeling guilty. Usually I coordinate that with Marybeth but I find it helpful.

I mean, admittedly, my girlfriend and friends tease me that my idea of relaxing is to work out really hard, or design and build my own furniture, etc. So I kind of relate to what Marybeth is saying about being fairly busy. But I think the key is that my paid/employed work doesn't sap all my energy for the other ways I choose to spend my time.

Stephen

I’d say this very [post] is good for my remote-work wellbeing, because the biggest trouble I find with remote work is the sense of loneliness, being alone on an island as it were. But seeing all of this, and how many of the same problems and positives we get with and from remote work makes me feel like my island is a lot more populated than I thought! I’m fairly extraverted so without people around me I kind of lose energy and motivation. If I don’t do something social or interactive on a semi-regular basis, I go a bit nuts.

I’m also someone who needs almost constant stimulation. Work does that for me, but I find it can easily get out of control. I use gaming as a good alternative.

Another non-work stimulant that brings a huge amount of benefit to my life is creativity. I even recently found a way to combine all three of these things, by learning how to use JavaScript and a framework called Phaser to build web-based games! Gaming, creativity, and furthering my skills for work, win win win!! My theatre and performance work has taken a step back for the moment, but I'm sure I will be back on stage soon enough.

I have started waking up earlier with the intention of showering and doing life admin stuff before the work day begins. It’s been a harder habit to get into than expected but I am determined!

I’m also starting a new diet. Food has always been my biggest weakness. If I can get prepared and be eating food that sets me on a healthier path then my mental health is hugely impacted, which in turn gets me more motivated to get shit done

Our touch bases are hugely important too, I crave connection with people and I find there’s only so far I can go using text-based communication.

I also really love spending time in person with any of the team, whenever possible. I really relish that bonding time. It also helps that we all have fun together and get along really well. I think if I was working in a remote culture where that wasn’t the case it would make it just that much harder.

Spicer

  • Currently the kids are home from school for the summer. So I am wearing headphones most of the day. Normally I just blast my music / podcasts.
  • I tend to have lunch out often. It is not always healthy or cheap but it gets me out of the house. At least once a week I try to have lunch with a friend to get that human contact.
  • I try to exercise at least twice a week. I have a weekly tennis match, and will maybe skateboard or something during lunch once a week. There are days where I walk like 500 steps since my commute is from my bedroom to my office. So I make sure I schedule exercise and getting out.
  • I tend to have at least one non-work conversation going throughout the day. This might be Slack with coworkers, texting with a friend, or fighting with someone on twitter. Just helps not feel alone, and makes sure my mind is working outside of work related things.
  • Whenever possible I try to work outside. Lately I have been working from the hammock.
  • I move to different locations throughout the day. I work from my office, couch, bed, kitchen counter. Maybe 2 hours at each.
  • My family knows if my door is shut in my office they can’t bother me. If it is open they can come visit. Which is nice. It allows me to stay connected with my family even during work hours.
  • Often I break up my day. Work until 2pm’ish, late lunch, then get back to work around 6pm and work a bit at night. This is more the benefits of working remotely.

Catherine

I have recently experienced stress-related illness so I’m definitely not an expert at self-care, but these are many things I know I had stopped doing recently so I’m recommending them!

  • Drinking lots of water with lemon from my hydro flask.
  • Sweep my kitchen floor every day and generally tidy up regularly. Don’t just throw things on the floor! 
  • Strong morning ritual – listen to Headspace app, drink green tea, read Flow magazine, and morning yoga.
  • Touch-base call every two weeks to stay connected to coworkers that last for up to 1.5 hours. We talk about both work-related stuff and also catch up on our personal lives. 
  • Knitting as a hobby to make me more mindful and prevent overthinking. I have half a blanket so far!
  • Daily lunchtime walk either by the river or around town for exercise and to clear my head.
  • Cook healthy meals and make better food choices, avoid snacking on heavy carbohydrates as I am prone to do.
  • Walks out in nature every week, often travelling further afield to get to the nicer spots
  • Limiting the amount of work I do every day so I can spend more time in creative time in my pursuits as an artist. 
  • Starting each day on my artwork, so that could be something work related or it could be a personal project. 
  • Structuring my day around creativity and self-care instead of work, myself as an individual coming first. 
  • Setting up my desk so it faces outwards into the garden where I can watch the squirrels and the birds. 
  • Finding a coworking space that I can go to every so often when I crave face-to-face social interaction.
  • Get up frequently from my desk to burn off extra energy after sitting down a lot (screen breaks)
  • See a friend at least once a week for coffee. 

I’m also a freelancer for other companies and this kind of lifestyle can really affect your mental health. Here are some tips specifically for freelancers: 

  • Stopping freelancing so much to find a better work-life balance and work primarily for KnowledgeOwl. 
  • Related to the first point, have a primary job and a couple of side gigs instead of being a professional freelancer. 
  • Stop thinking so much about money and whether I earn enough to be secure or successful. Don’t compare myself to other freelancers and focus on doing good work. 
  • Take my medication and avoid doing things that are destructive to my health; eg drinking alcohol or eating a lot of sugary foods!
  • When I travel or do something more draining than normal life, make sure to build time into my schedule to recover and refuel.
  • Ensure I am not working so much that I don’t have time to talk to people or do “unstructured work” like more creative activities or brainstorming.
  • Don’t automate everything so much that I don’t have time to stop and think about what I’m doing. This is really uncomfortable territory! 
  • Have a day off on Fridays to go on creative outings like museums and galleries so you’re only doing a four-day week. 

Consistency is key when it comes to self-care, but it’s more than understandable to frequently lapse and fall into cycles of overwork. Something I’ve learned from writing this post is that we all have a tendency to become something of a workaholic. This is partly because we come addicted to the constant stimulation that can come from being “productive”, or feel pressure to achieve in comparison to others. 

It can’t be overstated how important it is to make time for activities that have nothing to do with work, in a remote culture just as much as anywhere else. Some of the unique pitfalls to look out for in remote working is the loneliness that can come from working from home, or having no way to destress. 

Creativity can be an important outlet for many people who want to find meaning beyond the daily 9-5. That’s not to say that work can’t be fulfilling in itself, but most of us are pretty creative in our personal lives. People express creativity in different ways, so this could include cooking or unusual hobbies!

Some of these self-care rituals are important mindsets to adopt as much as they are practical techniques or daily habits to build. It’s all about training the mind into healthy outlooks and habits, and resisting the temptation to overwork.

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