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Photo credit: Alina Sternberg

Working from home comes with its own challenges and it’s a relatively new concept for the majority of people. When you have children at home, no co-workers, and a non-existent daily schedule it seems like it requires a lot of discipline, effort, and focus to get work done at home.

There’s some truth to that. When I first started in 2009, I had no clue what to do and how to be productive at home. Through hundreds of experiments, I figured out how to be productive while working from home. This birthed Asian Efficiency where I was inspired to blog every week to help family and friends. This led to the creation of one of the most popular productivity blogs, The Productivity Show which is the #1 podcast on productivity with close to 9 million downloads, and dozens of courses at the company.

Our goal at AE is to help people become more productive at work and in life. Now that we’re a few months in a pandemic, there’s one productivity strategy I’ve discovered that is powerful yet no one is talking about this. This has me very concerned because it’s going to lead to major troubles down the line.

My Major Concern For Everyone Who’s Working Right Now

Work and life seem to blend in and feel the same now. Everyone is working from home and there’s no clear separation between work and your personal life. Add in that we’re stuck, cannot go anywhere and there’s no clear end in sight for the pandemic, I forecast major burnout for many people in the next 6-12 months.

This is what has me very concerned for everyone who’s fortunate enough to have a job and is working to pay their bills. While that is a blessing, I would caution you to pay attention to signs of burnout. These include:

Generally, you don’t have a positive outlook on work like you used to. I don’t want you to get to this stage because it can take months to recover from this (it took me 3+ months).

Now that most of you are new to working from home, you have to be very aware of this. Especially during the crazy times we’re in right now because you’re very susceptible to burnout. In a report from the United Nations International Labour Organization, they’ve found that remote workers are working more hours and sometimes deal with more stress than their office co-workers do. As the owner of Asian Efficiency, a fully remote company with people all over the world, I’ve seen this to be true too for everyone that works here.

The Counterintuitive Insight on Unlimited Vacation Days

We have an unlimited vacation day policy at Asian Efficiency. People can take days off whenever they want to and there is no limit to this. I remember when I first introduced this in 2012, I was concerned that people would be taking 3-4 months off a year and that it would be unsustainable to run a company.

After the first year, we calculated the number of days each individual took off and averaged it out. The results shocked me.

Asian Efficiency team members, who were educated on productivity strategies and the importance of downtime, we’re still working more days than the average office worker in the US (which is notorious for only have 15 days off a year including sick days). The average came out to 13 days a year. Compare that to the average European country (anywhere between 25-33 days a year) and I quickly realized something wasn’t adding up.

It made no sense in my head. They had the option to take as much time off as they wanted and yet they still didn’t do it. It came to the point where I was forcing people to take time off. In on our 1-on-1 meetings and team meetings, I was telling individuals to leave work and enjoy some days off. If they showed up online on Slack or responded to comments on tasks, I would remind them to get off work. It was a real problem!

I’ve talked to other business owners who have similar vacation policies and they’ve found the same to be true. Remote workers work more than their office counterparts.

Over the years, our team members have gotten better at taking time off now. Last year, the average number of days off was 36. On our monthly meetings we check-in with everyone’s total days off (it’s on a spreadsheet for everyone to see) and if someone is not taking time off, we all sort of joke around and encourage that person to take some days off. Think of it as positive peer pressure. As a result, we’ve never had any burnout from anyone ever in our company history.

What You Need To Do Now

Now that you’re working from home during this pandemic, you might have found to be true too that you’re working more and taking fewer days off. You’re working longer hours, staying up later and you feel like work is more intense than ever before. I do believe that the pandemic has made work a lot more challenging – even for WFH veterans like myself.

And this is where I believe one of the best strategies to stay productive during this time is to take time off. I’m forcing people at Asian Efficiency to take time off even if they cannot go anywhere. Every week on our team meetings, I’m reminding people to take days off so they don’t get burned out.

With eight years of experience and insights, I know that remote workers in our company aren’t going to take time off unless they have a special event to go to such as a wedding, anniversary, family get-togethers, and such. One might say it’s a great testament that people love what they do and it doesn’t feel like work. Part of me is very happy about that and at the same time, I’m also very aware how important downtime is. More importantly, how much burn out sucks. You feel unmotivated, your health takes a toll, and it can take months to recover from it.

With the world in a crisis right now and travel restrictions imposed, most of us cannot go anywhere and so we use work as an escape. This could easily lead to burnout and being stressed out. When we have the confluence of a pandemic, uncertainty of the future, financial concerns, working 12-16 hour days, conflicting news reports, and just everyday life…it can be tough on the mind and body.

That’s why I’m telling everyone at Asian Efficiency to take time off. I care about them, their well-being, and their families. Even if you cannot go anywhere, get your mind off work. You’ll come back refreshed and we’re in it for the long game.

It’s why we created a free training that shows you how to be productive working from home.

Click here to learn more about our free Work From Home training.

While waiting, register here to join our FREE training on how to be productive working from home. The training will include apps, tools, and routines that you can use.

As the saying goes, prevention is better than a cure. It’s better to stop something bad from happening than it is to deal with it after it happened. I’ve had to learn this lesson the hard way multiple times throughout my life and I hope I can pass on that wisdom to everyone else here today.

I’ve taken it a step further by introducing a 4-day workweek for the whole month of July. It’s the first time we’re doing this at Asian Efficiency and we’re all excited to see how it goes. It’s also my way of introducing a systemic approach for everyone to take time off on top of other days they have scheduled off because I know remote workers tend to not take days off.

Leading up to our 4-day workweek in July, I’ve been taking a 6-week 4-day work week and I’ve found myself more rejuvenated and excited than ever before. During these crazy times, I needed this more than I thought I would.

So I encourage you to take days off even if you have nowhere to go. There’s plenty of things you could be doing:

Pick one thing to do on your day off and you’ll come back excited for work and have a new sense of excitement for life. If you like more information on how we schedule downtime on a daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly/annual basis, check out this post.

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. I do understand that take days off and taking breaks are important, but what if I constantly have the guilty feeling? Whenever I’m trying to take a short nap or a day off, I’m worried about my work and that I’m losing the edge. I have the thought that when I’m taking a break, others are working hard, it makes me feel guilty. What do you suggest me to do?

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