Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic the focus of workers has shifted from the regular 9 to 5 to flexible hours. Although remote working has brought a lot of perks and the possibility to combine work with a private life, it has also led to many of us working longer than ever before – in fact many of us are not so much working at home as living at work. In order to avoid being hit hard by burn out and to stay engaged and committed we must embrace the importance of a healthy work calendar.

According to the State of Remote Work 2021 report by Owl Labs in which they surveyed 2,050 full-time workers in the US, as many as 55% say they work more hours working remotely than at the physical office and 83% say they are at the same or higher productivity level working from home compared to the office. Commuting, getting lunch or hanging out over a cup of coffee with other colleagues naturally became dispensible and was exchanged for simply getting things done. While employees work significantly more with 30% of men and 21% of women reporting working 2+ extra hours per day, only 11% of managers are concerned about employee burnout.

The disturbing trend of working nonstop and the inability to take breaks by employees during the COVID-19 pandemic has been, however, noticed by HR departments and consequently by leadership teams and decision makers. Moreover, rising inflation and slowing economic growth has contributed to putting employees’ well-being in the spotlight. The omnipresent uncertainty since 2020 has led to a point where taking care of one’s mental health is not just a whim or a matter of finishing work on time and collecting overdue days off, but also of keeping the equilibrium between all daily tasks that we need to complete in this world in flux. It is about keeping a healthy balance between meetings, projects, everyday operational work and finding some buffers that help us catch a breath and reset before diving into the next task. 

Healthy work calendar

Recently people have started to talk less about having a work-life balance and more about having work-life harmony, sometimes phrased as a work-life fit. The main goal is to organize your day in a way that does not adversely affect your work, family or free time and, at the same time, gives you freedom to choose how you want to put all of these puzzle pieces together without being judged or patronized. Since hybrid and flexible working conditions are here to stay, it is then imperative to put greater emphasis on our welfare. 

One of the steps that we can take in order to retain our energy level and to stay focused is to take care of our work calendar. How do we ensure it is healthy? Here are 5 simple tips to help you get started.

 1. Find your rhythm

Whether you are an early bird, or a night owl, try to find your rhythm. For example, you might want to start early and run some errands in the course of the day just to connect for a couple of hours more in the late afternoon or find yourself working the typical 9 to 5 because it suits you perfectly. Nowadays lots of companies allow employees to start and finish work within certain timeframes which makes it easier to combine your duties with personal time. Adjusting your schedule might not always be easy (especially if you work for a specific market or need to be available at exact hours) and may sometimes require more flexibility on your end, but it will pay off in the long run. Whatever you decide to do simply make sure that it’s what’s best for you within the parameters you have. The British Journal of Sports Medicine points out in their “Internal Biological Clocks and Sport Performance” blog entry that the integration of lifestyle factors, such as the timing of eating, activity and sleep with our internal biological clocks leads to an optimization of health and performance. 

2. Set priorities

Prioritizing your tasks throughout the day will help you get things done without unnecessary distractions. 

It might be tempting to do a lot of small assignments (quickly responding to incoming e-mails, replying to chat messages, approving process’ steps, etc.) but remember that sometimes completing complex, time-consuming, and very often daunting tasks is also an important part of your job for which you will be held accountable. The sooner you chunk the elephant into bite-size pieces, the faster you will set another milestone. 

There are various ways you can organize your day and decide which things need to be taken care of first. One good place to start is the Eisenhower Matrix (also called the Priority Matrix). The quadrants used in that will guide you towards categorizing your tasks into things that need to be done (important and urgent), scheduled (important but not urgent), delegated (not important but urgent) and got rid of (not important and not urgent).  

There are a lot of applications that can be helpful in putting a list of priorities together and keeping track of your progress – Asana, Todoist, Google Task, Pocket, Evernote, Trello – to name just a few. If you like Miscrosoft software you might want to consider OneNote or simply the To-Do functionality in MS Outlook. If, however, you prefer to do it in an old school way, a notepad and a pen works perfectly well. And what a great feeling it is to physically cross out something you’ve completed! Simply pick the one tool that works best for you.  

3. Build buffer time into your schedule

In his 2013 article called “The Importance of Scheduling Nothing” Jeff Weiner, the Executive Chairman of LinkedIn, points out how important it is to build buffer time into one’s schedule. Blocking some time in between calls, trainings, presentations and other responsibilities will give you some breathing space and also allow you to do quick checks if needed. Weiner writes: “Whatever you do, just make sure you make that time for yourself – every day and in a systematic way – and don’t leave unscheduled moments to chance. And adds: The buffer is the best investment you can make in yourself and the single most important productivity tool I use”. A good practice is to update your calendar at least one week in advance and make sure to keep some time slots clear of meetings. 

4. Build in time to unplug and recharge

Whether it is a walk with your dog or a virtual coffee with a colleague in order to catch up and chit chat, allow yourself to take a break during the day. Do not push your limits and take shorter but more frequent breaks – it will help you stay focused and productive. If possible, take a short walk or do some stretching or breathing exercises (if you own a smartwatch, it will remind you to move every once in a while). A short meditation or a quick work out might also do the trick. For some people even a power nap can do miracles – among its benefits are increased vigilance, increased concentration and mood improvement. Remember to take care of your own well-being, rather than adopt a wait-and-see posture.

5. Try out asynchronous communication

Beep. An incoming e-mail. Beep. A chat message. Beep. A text message. Beep, beep, beep. Aren’t you easily distracted by all these notifications? How many times a day do you leave an assignment you’re working on to see who’s writing to you and what the message is all about? Do you find yourself doing the same to others? Is it really the best way to get a comprehensive answer you look for? Well, how about asynchronous communication then? 

Asynchronous communication is communication that doesn’t happen in real-time, in other words there is a time lag between providing information and receiving a response. Check if you can use already available resources (i.e. good documentation, written procedures/articles, e-mail chain, etc.) to answer your questions, rather than pinging someone or calling them out of the blue, especially if their status is set on “do not disturb”. Respect interruption-free work slots and think whether a call can be replaced by a message. Finally, use different tools to enable smoother cooperation like OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, Asana, Slack, MS Teams, Loom,, etc. They will be helpful regardless of your location or time zone and will often provide you with records of a conversation. 

Remote and hybrid work are the new normal, however, adjusting to this new flexible system might not be child’s play. Employees’ and employers’ visions don’t always align and this might affect our well-being. The workplace culture should become more inclusive and adapted to today’s reality. That’s why it is so important to look for an equipoise in our everyday life, to be assertive and to prioritize our health (especially our mental health) over anything else because a healthy body and healthy mind makes a healthy spirit. So don’t sit and wait, but just try to keep your calendar as healthy as possible. You can do it!