As an accounting professional, it can be easy to fall into the trap of overworking, being burnt out and overwhelmed.
In a time when technology has changed the way you work forever, with new efficiencies and ways to collaborate with your team and clients, it has also increased the risk of burnout.
But there are techniques you can use to incorporate breaks into your day-to-day routine—ways that don’t require much effort but can positively impact your mental health.
These are called ‘micro self-care’ solutions.
Micro self-care involves small activities you can weave into your daily routine that help to break up the day.
These might include:
A walk around the block
Listening to 10 minutes of your favourite podcast between tasks
Changing your scenery by moving to another space to work for the next hour or two
Engaging in these micro breaks can boost your engagement and productivity, resulting in increased output.
In particular, micro self-care breaks can help combat virtual fatigue. In a study by Stanford University to understand the full extent of Zoom fatigue, around 20% of respondents reported feeling ‘very’ to ‘extremely’ fatigued after Zoom calls.
In another study on the impacts of working from home in the US, when participants were asked what they needed a break from the most during a standard work day, 44% said they wanted a day without video calls.
Symptoms of virtual fatigue are physical (blurred vision, headaches, overall exhaustion, etc.) and mental (lack of focus, no motivation, etc.). And ultimately, these affect your accounting firm’s internal culture and your team’s ability to perform.
So, how can micro self-care help?
Microsoft’s Human Factors Lab conducted a brain wave study on participants with back-to-back virtual meetings, and the findings are simple: back-to-back virtual meetings are stressful, but short breaks can remedy the impacts.
These short breaks stop the cumulative effects from building up, giving people a chance to reset between meetings.
Michael Bohan, senior director of Microsoft’s Human Factors Engineering group, explains that not only do breaks ease stress, but they increase people’s ability to meaningfully contribute:
“Our research shows breaks are important, not just to make us less exhausted by the end of the day, but to actually improve our ability to focus and engage while in those meetings.”
A common excuse against employing micro self-care techniques is a lack of time. As an accounting professional, you might be too busy to add several 10 minute breaks to your day.
But you don’t have to. Instead, reframe how you schedule your time. For example, by shortening hour-long meetings to 45 minutes, you’re building-in your short break without adding more time to your day.
An added benefit is a shorter meeting, which in itself can help with virtual fatigue. Plus, shorter meetings can be more productive.
During your micro breaks, make the effort to do different activities. It might be as simple as 10 minutes of stretching after your first meeting, followed by watering your indoor plants after your next meeting.
It’s important to do the things you enjoy during these breaks. “It can be anything that takes your mind away from work-related things and focuses it on something that you feel is relaxing,” explains Michael.
Sometimes, virtual meetings may need to be longer, particularly when working from home. You can truncate your meetings as much as possible to account for this, but at times, you may need an hour or more virtual session.
In these instances, leverage technology to keep participants engaged and energized. Use breakout rooms and whiteboard tools to encourage collaboration, and when it’s time for a shake-up, consider playing trivia games like Kahoot.
Take a look at your next week’s worth of meetings—are they all needed? Can some of them be handled in collaboration tools, like Slack or Microsoft Teams, or in your workflow management software, like Karbon?
Chronic burnout and overwhelm are costly—to your team, your accounting firm and your clients.
Encourage your team to try taking micro self-care breaks and check in with the results, both from a mental health perspective, and based on productivity and output.
Remember, time spent on a task doesn’t always equal productivity. But mental wellbeing and happiness does.