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Compiled and edited by Julie Tereshchuk
I’ve been working from home since March and am struggling to keep work and home separate. I love my job and I’m single, living alone since my roommate moved out to her boyfriend’s when she got laid off. Any ideas?
Here are some actionable tips to keep a work/life balance at home:
- Make your workspace a place you use ONLY for work and nothing else.
- If you have a work laptop vs. a personal laptop, put the work laptop away after you are done for the day.
- If possible, involve your co-workers in helping you set boundaries. Put up a clear Slack status or let people know your schedule so that they are not messaging you during your off hours.
- If you have work apps on your phone, make sure you set your notifications correctly so that you aren’t being pinged during your off hours.
- If you have hour flexibility, think about the times of the day you are most productive (early bird vs night owl) and specifically work those hours consistently if you can. Forcing yourself into someone else’s ideal schedule usually causes the work/life line to blur.
- Plan your day/week ahead of time and specifically identify time blocks for each task. Using a time-tracking app like Toggl helps you see just how many hours you’ve been at your desk.
- Be kind to yourself! Sometimes we do not keep to our schedule and planned goals or work a bit too much. It’s good to remind yourself that this is ok! But be mindful and take the time to think back on what took you off track and avoid that in the future.
This is a great and timely question with so many people working remotely during the pandemic. Although working from home offers greater flexibility, it also requires vigilance to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Like so many things in life, setting boundaries is key.
Let’s say that you worked in an office from 9-5. Just like pre-pandemic, now set a schedule for working from home—and follow it. Do your work in a specific spot in your house, and when you’ve worked a full day, leave the room and make dinner, grab a book or watch a favorite show. This is your time, and it’s up to you to protect it. No one else will.
If your co-workers are prone to call, text, or email during off hours, set an automatic message that tells them you’ll respond when you’re back at work. In other words, treat your home office the same way you would your work office. Free thyself.
Ok, look. I’ve been working remotely for most of my adult career, and some people have very well established routines, but I’m just not one of those people. I don’t eat a yogurt for breakfast and bathe in acai berry juices. For that reason, I have a separate space for working than I do “living.” For me, it’s a home office. For you, it might be a dining room table. Wherever that space is, it’s only for work. Period.
Some will say to schedule time that you respect as work time. And that might work for you (it doesn’t work for me, it still bleeds over into each other). You could also try the ol’ “wake up, shower, wear nice clothes” trick, but ultimately if you’re meeting your work goals, the blurry lines matter less. Be clear with yourself daily about your goals and push yourself to meet them before you end your day, even if you took the afternoon to do home tasks.
What I most want to tell you though is that you’re not alone, and you don’t need to feel pressure to follow someone else’s formula, but I do want you to try something different. Anything different. Hang in there, blurry friend!
Here are my thoughts:
- Define your general work times and share them with your colleagues so they know when you aren’t available unless there is an emergency.
- When it’s not work time…DON’T WORK! Stay off work email and other communication channels (Slack/Teams/etc). Let people know of a way to reach you that is reserved for emergency and time-sensitive only. (Text? Phone?)
- If your laptop is your primary work tool, and you don’t need a lot of other “stuff” (paper/pens/etc.), then let that be the signal of when it’s work time, and when it’s not. When it’s time to quit work, close the laptop and put it out of sight. Resist the urge to check work email from your phone while your laptop is away. In fact, if you’re mostly home and have your laptop available when you’re working, consider taking your work email off your phone. Or at least “turn it off,” so it takes an extra step to get it if you want it.
- Make an intentional decision of how many hours you want to work during the week (underestimate because we often work more than we expect). So, for example, if you want to work no more than 40 hours, plan for around 36. Define your daily work hours ahead of time, and stick to it as best you can. Set an alarm for when it’s time to stop working at the end of the day. And don’t dismiss it until you actually stop working (“snooze” only is allowed until you actually stop).
- If necessary, make plans to get on a Zoom or phone call with a friend (social calls only) at the end of the business day so you’re forced to stop working.
- Don’t use weekends as “catch-up time.” Keep your laptop out of sight and do other things on the weekends. Get outside for hiking, biking, swimming, or other outdoor activities as you safely can. Sit at least 6 feet apart from a friend or two, outside, as this is generally regarded as safe, and wear masks.
- Look into picking up a hobby, something you look forward to doing, that gives you other alternatives to working.