As Covid-19 continues to spread across the globe, now, more than ever, people are finding themselves working from an unfamiliar environment - their homes.
Working from home can be an amazing experience and opportunity. But, when your home is also your office, separating work life and personal life can be a challenge. Without the separation found at a traditional office job, it’s easy for work to start spreading throughout your home and invading the rest of your life, making it hard to disengage and spend time on things that really matter such as family, hobbies, and yourself.
On any given day, 8 million employees across the country work from home. Many can attest that working from home can be a blessing, however, finding the balance between getting work done and devoting a healthy amount of time and energy into your personal life can be tricky. As someone who has worked from home for over six years, I can tell you from personal experience that in the battle between work and home life, there have been many times where work comes out on top.
Over time, I’ve been able to fine-tune my work from home experience to better develop a more standard work-life balance. While separating work and life can be challenging, it is certainly possible.
Here are a few tips to help you stay productive while maintaining your life outside of work.
Designate a Workspace
Look, I get it, your couch is probably the comfiest place to sit in your house, your dining room table is pretty much already a desk, and who wouldn’t love to work while laying in bed. But, with great comfort comes great distraction. Is that a TV across from your couch? You might as well eat if you’re already at the dining room table, right? A quick 10-minute nap is definitely in your future if you are already lying in bed.
One of the best things you can do for yourself when you work from home is to designate an area where you do nothing but work. If you have a home office, perfect! Set it up to be a good working space, with a big desk stocked with all the supplies you need to get the job done and no distractions in sight. Make this a sacred space where only work gets done. If you don’t have the luxury of designating an entire room to work, get a chair. I know this seems a little silly, but it can work just as well as having an at-home office. A desk chair is simple, ergonomic, and can be the perfect piece of furniture to get you in the zone for work. If you must work at your dining room table or from a corner in your bedroom, add the desk chair and make it a sacred place where work gets done.
Work Standard Hours
Heading over to the computer first thing after you wake up, or pulling it into bed with you is ultimately a mistake. I know, it’s convenient, and you just want to shoot off that one email really quickly, but inevitably you will get sucked in. Normally this wouldn’t be a bad thing, but getting sucked in at 6 or 7 AM means you’ll have put in a 10-hour day by 4 or 5 PM. Do that all week, and you’re bound to burn out.
Be sure to maintain a morning routine before you begin work. Take the time to get ready or get out of the house. Grabbing a cup of coffee or heading to the gym before starting your workday will give you a buffer between waking up and getting inundated with whatever the workday has in store. Even when you do decide it's time to sit down at your computer, it can be helpful to give yourself 10 or so minutes before signing into your chat client. Just like if you were walking into the office in the morning, take a few minutes to get acclimated before you let people start sending the day’s requests to you.
While maintaining this morning routine is important, it's equally important to shut off when the day is over. It becomes very easy to tell yourself “just five more minutes” or “just one more email.” But working crazy hours can throw your body out of whack and can create the expectation of you being available all hours of the day.
When it’s the end of the day and your colleagues would normally be leaving the office, be sure to get out of the house for a bit. Go to the gym, meet a friend for happy hour, or simply take a quick walk. By leaving the “office” to go somewhere and then returning home, you create a boundary in your mind between your standard workday and any extra hours you spend working in the evening.
Create a Trigger to End Your Day
Triggers can be a great way to form new habits. When working from home, having a routine that you do every day when your workday is complete will provide a signal to your brain and body, alerting you that work is officially over and it’s time to begin enjoying your personal time.
Just as a commute signals the end of the workday when you work in an office environment, it’s important to create that same separation from your workday as well. Take a walk around the block, create a to-do list for tomorrow or clean up your office. By separating your work life and your personal life through a specific action, it will be much easier to enjoy your time at your home without thinking about the emails being received in the other room.
What you do as a routine to trigger the end of work time and the start of personal time is up to you. The important thing is that you do it everyday. The goal of this routine is to establish the habit that “after I do this, I can relax”.
Take Some Time to be Screen Free
Constant screen time is one of the biggest challenges of separating work and personal time. It’s so easy to just check your email if you're on your laptop, tablet or phone even when you’re supposed to be off work. This is why designating a period of time each day to take time away from your screens can be invaluable in creating a work-life balance in your home.
So, set some non-negotiable screen-free time in your home. Having a set time when phone, laptops, tablets and TV screens are off allows you to fully disconnect from your digital life and work. Additionally, it allows you the opportunity to engage with your real life. If you enjoy having the freedom from screens, maybe try to schedule a few “screen-free Saturdays” a month or look into some of the apps that limit your screen time on your phone. In the end, limiting the temptation to spend too much time staring at a screen will be beneficial for your work-life balance as well as your overall sanity and mood.
In the end, it’s important to remember that your home is, first and foremost your home and your office second. If you want to have the work-life balance you find yourself craving, you need to treat it that way. It can be easy while working from home to be tuned in to your job 24 hours a day, but by fostering a healthy home life separate from your work life, you can have a flexible and productive work environment that occurs on your terms.