If you’re working from home, with little or no opportunity to escape outside your four walls, things can start to feel repetitive. Wake up. Juggle breakfast, kids or pets (or all three). Work. Remember to eat (often at your desk). Wind down. Sleep. Repeat. Does this feel familiar? Is every day starting to feel a bit like Groundhog Day?
This is a feeling that is being shared by millions, as people all around the world deal with working in the same place as they sleep, eat and raise their family. And it can be detrimental to your mental wellbeing. Columbia University neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez says: “When our day is exactly like the last, and we are feeling stress about sickness, economic struggles, and the state of the world and our community, we can fall down a rabbit hole of anxiety and frustration pretty quickly.”
The solution is to get creative. You need to find ways to break up your work day and switch up your routine, both mentally and physically.
3 tips to break up your work day and improve your mental wellbeing
1. Replace your commute
If you’re working remotely, your journey to work is significantly shorter than what it once was. It probably means going from your bedroom, or living room, all the way to your home office setup. Believe it or not, you probably performed some important mental preparation for work on your regular commute. Now, your brain is forced to instantaneously switch from “at home mode” to “at work mode”. This is a tough ask.
It’s important to take the time to mentally prepare for work, and have some separation from personal life. Rather than simply going to your desk and opening your computer. Think of things you enjoyed doing on the way to work and do them before you begin your day.
If you didn’t do much, or only mindlessly scrolled on your phone, add some better activities to your early day routine:
- Listen to a podcast
- Really enjoy your coffee or tea
- Prioritise the upcoming day
- Make a to-do list for after work
- The list goes on
Here’s why it’s important — it breaks up your day.
You likely won’t listen to the same podcast or read the same page of that book. Anything you can do that’s different from spreadsheets, tax prep, or cash flow statements is going to put you in a better place mentally. Anything different is good.
2. Segment and streamline tasks (understand deep and shallow work)
You probably have three general baskets of activities:
- Client-facing (getting needed docs, delivering reports, maybe even sales)
- Colleague-facing (handing off work, communicating about deadlines, etc.)
- Work (compliance, reporting, and putting things together for clients)
Obviously, there’s significant nuance in these categories, but it’s still helpful to create buckets to organise your work. Throughout a typical day, you’ll likely have multiple interactions with your supervisors, colleagues and clients. Let’s say, you have 20 individual conversations. If it was just a quick note, there’d be no problem. But it’s usually not.
Incoming documents, co-workers asking for things, new tasks being added to your calendar. If each conversation equals about 5 minutes, that’s a couple of hours. And what if it takes you another 5 minutes to really get back into the last task you were working on? Four hours of your day, gone.
According to one study, more than ⅓ of workers don’t enjoy working with a lot of distractions. Try some of these steps to improve your work.
Streamline tasks: The fewer tools you use to get the job done the better. And the more you understand everything you do in a day, the better you can organise it to get more done. Once you have everything you do condensed and listed, separate them into two categories: deep work and shallow work. Deep work isn’t an original concept, but it is effective. As a human, your focus and concentration fluctuate. Most aren’t able to spend 8 solid hours in front of a computer on a single task.
Our ability goes up and down throughout the day. Block out two hours of time 2-3 times in your work day for “deep work.” Deep work for accountants for example would be anything dealing with deliverables. The rest (communication, etc.) is shallow work.
Here’s a quick rundown to get in deep work:
- Turn off as many distractions as possible (email, chat, everything). People peppering you with communication is the enemy here.
- Make sure to clear your communications before you begin (check the inbox to ensure nothing is a 911, for instance)
- Schedule the deep work time for those times when you’re most productive. (If you’re full tilt at 9:30, get to work at 8:50, check your email and then shut everything down except the most important tasks.)
3. Tackle greater responsibilities
Sometimes, accounting firms become compartmentalised. If you’re good at tax prep, you become the go-to for those tasks. Great at developing forecasts? Budgets? Models? Discovery calls with potential clients? The better you are at something, the more you may end up doing that very thing. While (typically) this is a good practice for firms, it also leads to the monotony that could lead to accountants feeling alone on typecast island. Out of all of the potential Groundhog Day scenarios on the list — this is a common culprit.
How do you change it? Ask for something different. Don’t demand it. And it doesn’t have to be drastic. A simple request to take on some different tasks — or at least learn how to do them — is a fantastic way to break up the day as an accountant.
Asking for more responsibility isn’t just for your work day, it’s also a great way to prove your value and improve potentially rough situations in your firm. Many accounting businesses have increased their client load during the current global situation. People want to know how to get loans and how long their business can survive a downturn. At the same time, staff at the firm may be skittish about returning to work. This creates an opportunity for you to ask for more responsibility and become a bigger asset to the team.
What asking for more responsibilities looks like in practice:
- Schedule a solid time with your supervisor, to get their full attention
- Mention that you’d like to have some more responsibility
- Also mention that you’ve settled in nicely at home and believe you can take on more.
- List specific tasks you know, or would like to learn (building forecasts, how the firm handles budgets, etc.)
Ready to add some variety to your day?
Accountants have monotonous tasks. If finances were easy to organise and understand, the entire industry would dry up. But your days don’t have to run together. Break up your work, get focused, come up for air and clearly separate your work from home.