How to Stay Sane While Working Online

How to Stay Sane While Working Online

Feeling stressed? Getting close to burnout? Sending snappy or tense emails you're probably best off not sending? Your WordPress Mom is here to sort you out.

You know those days. The ones where everything on your computer is blinking at you, your inbox causes you to sigh and close it, the phone will not stop and it’s possible that funky smell may be coming from your person. On top of that, every little thing that crosses your path is causing irrational feelings of anger. On the rare occasions you do leave your desk, the people you live or work with shrink back or get out of your way.

Does this sound familiar?

You aren’t alone. It happens to all of us. It’s also a sign that you need a break.

Yes, I said it. This is your WordPress Mom talking and she’s being.. well, your mom. It really is for your own good.

Whether you are in support, a programmer or designer working for an agency, a freelancer with multiple clients, or really anyone at all earning a living from staring at the screen all day, we all have one thing in common:

We all sit at the screen far too long.

Here’s how to avoid it, how to see it coming and how to de-stress so you can do your job more effectively.

Avoiding it

Not taking break has real health risks. Here in Canada, we even have workplace guidelines stating that computer operators should take a five minute break for every hour of sitting at the screen.

This is something that is easy to forget when working on your own. We may be used to taking a social media break, but we’re still sitting in front of a screen. Get up! Move around! Concentrate on your breathing – take a deep breath in and exhale slowly.

This will also help with burnout. We all have deadlines and we all feel the crunch, but did you know that working longer hours does not mean working better? Have a look at your upcoming schedule. Is it realistic? Can you rearrange some deadlines?

Sometimes this also means saying no to upcoming jobs or volunteer work.

For some of us, this is indeed a hard lesson to learn. I can almost hear the “But…” thoughts forming in your mind.

See it coming

While it will take some practise and a healthy dose of self-awareness, you can learn to see the signs approaching. Get into the habit of writing down your schedule and a task list, in whatever format works for you. If you periodically review the list, you can identify early where the potential crunch times will be. Schedule some downtime. Block this time for you so you can be better for everyone else. Developers like Curtis McHale and business owners like Brian Gardner are well known for taking time to be active, as well as leaving free time to be creative.

You may also want to look at the buddy system. This could be a co-worker or a friend in your field. Ideally, it’s someone you are close enough that you can accept being told, “Dude, chill. You need a break.”

I do have a small circle of friends that I often ask for sanity checks. I may ask their opinion on different circumstances that come up. Was I testy sounding in this reply? Did I fly off the handle in my reaction over here?

I even have friends who will shoo me off twitter or skype if needed.


Recently I have been trying to play catch up to feel like I’m getting ahead, but the only thing that was happening was I was getting crankier. I had been putting off my usual off days and not doing the things that made me feel happy and rested. In my case, this is playing with fabric, sewing, looking at quilt books and magazines, and going for energetic walks. Working longer didn’t mean that I was catching up with things – everything was just taking longer. And it was affecting my attitude.

So I took a break.

Within an hour, I was already starting to feel lighter and less stressed. I gave my brain a different problem to focus on. I’ve also noticed when talking to others who program all day that all our hobbies are highly tactile and definitely lean towards the artistic. Some of us like to sew or bake, others go fishing or biking.

I also have a regular planned bout of physical activity in the evenings. My husband Ron and I go for a half hour walk. This has a whole slew of benefits: we spend a few minutes together without distractions, we both get a break from the computer and we get in some physically healthy activity.

This switch is actually good for your brain too. Identify for yourself the kinds of things that you like to do in your down time – or, at least things thing you used to do. Feel free to share in the comments.

So take that break today. Your mom (and science!) say so.


  1. says

    I totally get burnout. I think my problem is (as you highlighted) that I can’t say no. I love being involved in stuff and sticking my finger in loads of pies, but with too much fingerpie it’s easy to overindulge and end up feeling so sick that you want to die. But yeah, there is so much very cool stuff going on that it’s really hard to say no. And there are always new ideas for really awesome things that we could do. I’m trying to learn about pacing myself and not working until midnight eery night.

    There are a few things that I do to relieve the strain: hang out with my husband (who doesn’t get enough love), play my DS, do yoga (which is wonderful for switching off the brain), cook, watch movies, read, and go for walks (not often enough). Once I get back to the UK I’m planning on shifting my work life to a co-working space and will attempt to cut out working from home. Also I’ll be hitting the gym most says in an attempt to lose weight for wpcs ;)

  2. says

    If find it amazing that people can spend all day every day behind a screen without getting up to go for a walk. Even when I’m working like a man possessed, I still find the time to go for a walk every day (usually a short’ish walk every few hours plus a really short walk once every 60 mins). If I don’t keep moving I get REALLY agitated.

  3. says

    When I began to work online I had the same problems. Sometimes you need someone by your side to tell you that you are not a super-hero, and that you need to try to achieve only realistic goals.

    Unfortunately, this also means that I have less time for the WP community (forums, core, etc).

    As you say, the great improvement in my life comforting work time with day time came by writing a to-do list for the day. It sounds simple and easy, but it help a lot. And co-working or working outside home too, as Siobhan says.

    Aaaaand De-stress! Have pets (or kids)! They will make you move ;)

  4. says

    You mean, I’m not the only one…?! ([hollering] Honey, com’a here, she’s saying I’m not the only one!)
    Thank you, it is so good to hear that folks whose community activity outshines my own by lightyears still take breaks.

  5. says

    Hehe just kiddin’

    Honestly,..good read!

    I always make sure that I drink a lot of water when I’m developing. And when I drink a cup of coffee, I make sure I take some water on the side. It will stop dehydration and will make you go to the toilet a lot of times,.. and that means getting away from your desk and have a break.

    Our officebuilding is also built in a way that people will have to walk up and down the stairs frequently. Either when you need to go to the toilet or when you want to have a cup of coffee,…you have to take a staircase. They designed that deliberately :-)

    For relaxation at home, I’ll stop and go cook somthing, make a fire in my garden, watch a movie, read a book, go run,…these things will always clear my mind and stop me from going insane once in a while…

  6. says

    I just took a break from coding to read your post and catch up on 3 hours of twitter stream. I guess that doesn’t count. :)

    Seriously, though, that’s one of the reason I’ve never bought a coffee maker. Every day, I go out at least once or twice to get my cuppa. I get to chat to the barista (or not depending on who it is) and I get to go outside. Just getting some fresh air is so good for you.

    I try to do some yoga almost everyday. Even if it’s just a downward dog for 5 minutes, at least I’m stretching my spine.

    Sometimes I wish I had married a farmer and lived on a farm, but I bet you I’d be complaining about other stuff. :P

    • says

      Totally need to get you to show me some yoga. Also: farmers complain about other stuff. And you’d be cleaning up dirt and manure from their boots all the time. So – trade-offs. :D

      • says

        For sure… I can just imagine the insane hours one must keep and then being paid peanuts for all that work. Farmers are simply not appreciated.

        I’ll show you some yoga on Tybee. Real simple stuff that’s good for your spine.

  7. Mason James says

    Great stuff here :)

    Getting outside for a walk or a run is ridiculously helpful. A lotta times I do my best thinking on a long, steady run.

    I’ve started going to the local coffee shop for a couple hours 1-2 days a week as well. Getting out, talking to a few peeps, and then digging into work has helped me stay productive and break up the routine a bit.

  8. says

    I’m lucky enough to live in NYC where there are plenty of parks with wifi available. Bryant Park is my favorite because they recently added power outlets, so I can work from there all day, and since I’m an avid people watcher, I can’t help but take a break every couple of hours or so to observe my surroundings. I have to be careful not to get distracted for too long, but since it’s a fairly quiet park, I usually get a lot of work done, and I still feel great even after 6 to 8 hours.

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