Productivity

How To Work From Home Without It Taking Over Your Life

working from home

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is difficult, even if you are a working from home veteran, so it’s essential for everyone to check on their boundaries once in a while. Not only will this enhance your physical and mental health, but it will also improve the quality of your work. You may have found yourself slipping and getting more burnt out lately, so take the opportunity to reevaluate your work-life balance and implement these best practices.

Get Ready For Work

Develop and maintain habits that reinforce the boundary between work and the rest of your life.

Maintain A morning routine.

Get up at the same time every day, have a shower, eat some breakfast, and dress for work. Not only does this help maintain healthy sleeping habits and fuel you for the day, but it will also emphasize the difference between a workday, your personal time, and your weekends.

Make lunch.

Just as you would if you were going out to work, plan your lunch. This can either be making something to eat that morning or the night before and putting it in the fridge, ordering a food delivery ahead of time or planning a trip out for lunch at a scheduled time.

Plan what you’ll wear.

Distinguish between your working wardrobe and the rest of your clothes. This doesn’t have to mean dressing as formally as you might if you were going into an office, but having a different set of clothing for work and “not work” plays an important psychological role.

Take back your commute.

The trip to and from work serves as a subconscious barrier, giving us time to get into work mode at the beginning of the day and time to decompress at the end of the day.

You don’t have to go and take a few trips around the block. Instead, sit down for 10 or 15 minutes and do what you would typically do on your commute. Listen to some music or a podcast, read a book, whatever works for you is fine.

Establish Your Workspace

Keeping home and work separate when they both happen in the same place is tough.

If you have the luxury of a spare room in which to set up a home office or even a dedicated office, this is not an issue. But for those of us who do not have such a space, there are other ways to create a functional workspace.

Take the time to set up.

If at all possible, avoid working in your bedroom. Find somewhere with a place to sit, a work surface, a window, and enough outlets to meet your needs. Make this your desk.

If you have to use the kitchen counter or your coffee table, find a big enough box to hold all of your work equipment and files. Then, at the end of your workday, and at the weekend, put everything in the box, put a lid on it and put it somewhere out of sight.

Keep electronics for work and for home separate.

If you can, keep one computer or laptop exclusively for work and another just for personal use.

If you have the same device for both work and home, set up two profiles. Keep all of your personal items, social media feeds, home e-mail, etc. on one profile. This will make it easier to limit non-work distractions.

It also allows you to set your computer to your personal profile at the end of the workday. This reduces the reminders about work when you open up your computer for personal use.

Either way, avoid doing things like paying your bills online while you are “at work” and avoid checking in on work during your downtime.

Have A Working Day

The distinction between personal and work time is just as important as the distinction between spaces.

Establish working hours.

If you have to work particular hours, this is easier, but if you have the flexibility to work when you like, this freedom can be a double-edged sword. Either schedule the same time for work every day, or at the end of your workday, plan your schedule for the next.

When you set your schedule, be sure to include blocks of downtime, including a lunch break, and stick to it.

Communicate your availability.

Let everyone at work, and home know when you are available and when you are not. Approach communications in the same way as you would if you were working in an office.

Set up auto-messages.

Automate your responses to phone and e-communications using messages to share when you are available in person and how long it will take you to respond.

Establish when your day will end.

working from home boundariesDecide what time your day will end, and stick to it. That doesn’t mean you have to stop on the dot, mid-sentence, but it does mean you should plan to wrap up your day at a particular time and then don’t go back to work.

Be realistic.

If you work from home with kids around, it’s not reasonable to expect an entire day of silence, free from any interruption. However, it is reasonable for them to keep the noise down and not bother you when you are in a meeting.

Collaboration and Communication Are Key

Few of us can go it alone, and it is critical to communicate with both your family and your colleagues.

Discuss expectations.

Contact work and establish quantifiable measures to monitor the quality of your outputs. This will minimize the risk of you stressing out about doing enough.

In addition, sit down with your family and ask what they need and expect from you, and visa versa. You may discover you are needlessly beating yourself up about not being a good enough parent or partner.

Make time to check in.

It may feel foreign and unnatural to schedule family meeting times, but it is actually an extremely healthy thing to do. When family members know there is a time and a place when they can share what’s on their mind, it minimizes the risk of issues festering.

Bring back the chore chart.

OK, so you may not want to have an actual chore chart, but the principle is essential for your work from home life.

Give everyone tasks to take the pressure off yourself, and schedule specific times for noisy chores like vacuuming.

Don’t fall into the trap of doing chores mid workday. It will break your concentration and make it harder for you to regain your focus on work.

Say no.

Don’t take on more than you can cope with if you are already feeling stressed out; wait until one thing is off your plate before taking on something else.

Share.

If you are struggling to cope, tell someone. Talk to your manager or a colleague and look for ways to alleviate some of your stress. Or, if your home life is stressful, take the time to sit down with someone, work out precisely what is wrong, and what you can do about it.

Look After Yourself

We are all familiar with the analogy of juggling work life and home life and trying to keep all of your balls in the air.

Do yourself a favor and refine that concept. For both work and home, some of the balls are rubber, and it won’t matter if you drop them. Others are glass, and if they hit the floor, they’ll shatter.

It is ok to drop a rubber ball to avoid dropping a glass one. Sometimes it is ok to put work first. Likewise, it is not the end of the world if your child falls over and comes running to you in tears while you are in mid-Zoom call.

Respect the weekend.

Keep your weekend work free, and it will help to distinguish between work and home. If you begin working every day, it will feel like you never get a break from work.

Take a holiday.

Even if you can’t go anywhere, book some vacation days and take a complete break from work.

Eat well, exercise, sleep.

Keeping yourself as healthy as possible is critical when you work from home.

Do your best to eat well and regularly, stock up on healthy snacks, and cut back on your calorie intake if you are not as active.

Take a couple of breaks during the day, in addition to stopping for lunch, and make the effort to get some fresh air. If possible, go for a walk around the block. If you can’t do this, try to move about and at least get a little fresh air by opening a window.

Go to bed and get up at the same time; it will help to give structure to your day.

Remember You Are Human

Working from home sounds fabulous in theory, but it can be incredibly stressful. Working hard to maintain a border between work time and downtime will not only reduce feelings of stress in general, but it will minimize the chances of you feeling permanently at work.

About the Author

Patti Barnes has spent much of her career working with management systems, first in the creation and implementation of management systems and later as an auditor against international standards. After a sidestep into the economic evaluation of environmental resources, and the psychology of social media, she became a consultant to both private industries and governments. Patti now spends her time between advisory roles, writing about the ways in which professionals can best position themselves for a successful career in today's complex and connected world.