There are plenty of advantages to working from home.
The commute has gone from hours to minutes (or seconds, depending on where your home office is located). Your space truly is your own – no cubicles or shared desks – and you can do with it what you like. And the flexibility to manage your own time is so freeing!
For some people.
For others, working from home has meant a shift in their work-life balance, and one that is not necessarily better.
That painful morning commute was a great opportunity for some people to transition from a relaxed frame of mind to a focussed one and back. Some people are mourning the physical distance that gave them the chance to distance themselves from the problems that they faced during the day.
For some, their home space doesn’t offer the creative outlet that their cubicle or shared desk did. Rather, it makes it more difficult for them to focus, particularly when there is so much to do around the house – cooking, cleaning up after kids, grocery shopping. These household tasks were always there, but when your home is the only space that you see, they can become compounded, causing more stress than a work environment ever could.
And while flexibility may sound wonderful in theory, it can become an excuse for working around the clock if you’re not careful. Suddenly five o’ clock isn’t the knock-off work time that it used to be. Work hours become stretched as you need to finish that last task and reply to that email, even if it comes in at 10pm.
So how can you get that distance you so desperately need? How can you make sure that remote working is a pleasure, not a pain. And how can you maintain that precious work-life balance that is so important for your sanity? Here are four tips that I’ve found come in handy.
1. Wake up Early
Just because your commute is literally a walk down the passage, doesn’t mean that you should be getting up five minutes before work starts. Act as though the commute still exists. Get up as you would have if you were going into the office and spend the time that you would have been in traffic doing something for you instead.
For me it’s writing. Which is hilarious because that’s literally part of my job. But I don’t write email campaigns, blog posts or Pulse articles. I write fiction, short stories and poetry.
But perhaps your jam is yoga instead. Or running. Or video games. Or reading. Or just having a cup of coffee in the peace and quiet before the house wakes up. Whatever it is that, as Marie Kondo says, ‘brings you joy’, spend some time doing it before work even begins.
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2. Limit Your Working Hours…
Just because you can have flexible hours, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. Flexibility takes a good deal of willpower, especially when you work from home with loved ones around you at all times.
Most people find that having routine, set hours to work to makes them more productive. And there’s a reason that 8-5 has become the standard for working hours – most people find that they work most efficiently during the course of the day. But, if you find that you work better early in the morning or late in the evening, that’s fine too!
Set your focus time for the hours that you are most productive (making sure, of course, that they work for your company and colleagues as well). But do set aside specific times to work. Otherwise you’ll end up feeling guilty no matter what. Without a set routine, you’ll feel like you have to answer that 10pm email. But you’ll also feel bad about clocking off to spend time with your family if there are still work tasks you haven’t gotten round to.
3. And Try Your Best to Stick to Them
Life is crazy. There’s always something that you need to do, whether it’s taking the kids to school, or taking the cat to the vet, or taking yourself to the doctor. And when you work from home, it’s all too easy to make an excuse for it. To say that you’ll work late that evening, or that you’ll wake up early the next morning. That you’ll find time to make up the time.
But the fact is, there’s always going to be an excuse. You’ll plan to make up the time in the evening, but when the evening comes, what’s to stop you from rescheduling the work to the next morning. And then the next evening.
Emergencies happen. And when they do, having the flexibility to work time in is fantastic. But try your best not to adjust your schedule at every opportunity. Remember that it’s there for a reason – not just to help you focus during the hours that you’re most productive, but also so that your teams and colleagues are able to reach out to you when they need to. It may feel like you’re working in a silo, but collaboration is key to success. Teamwork makes the dream work.
4. Keep Your Devices Separate
This is where my privilege may start to show. I’m lucky enough have a ‘work’ laptop, and a home computer, and keeping them separate is a huge help when it comes to separating out my two lives.
When 5pm hits, I close my laptop. And I don’t open it again until 8am, when it’s time to work. Anything else that I do in the evenings, on weekends and on public holidays is done on my home computer or my cellphone.
My home machine doesn’t have MS Outlook or MS Teams set up. I don’t get work notifications on it. Which means that I can watch Netflix or play computer games or write without work distractions.
Not everyone is so lucky. Most people in the world can’t afford to have two computers, desktop, laptop or otherwise. But they may have a laptop and a cellphone, for example. And the same principle applies. When 5pm hits, get into the habit of turning off those work notifications on your phone. Tell Teams to pipe down. Make it a habit to ignore after hours emails. If you only have one computer, close your work apps (properly – not just letting them minimise into your system tray). In fact, if you’re really hardcore, you may want to go without a device at all outside of working hours.
By separating out your devices, you make it far easier to switch from a working frame of mind, to a restful one. You’re getting rid of temptations completely. No surreptitious checking to see whether you’ve got any messages or if someone from work wants to get hold of you. If they do, they know when they can find you.
Don’t get me wrong – maintaining a work-life balance is no easy feat when work is happening in your home space. But it’s certainly not impossible. I’ve found that these techniques help a great deal, but there are plenty of other tips and tricks out there. Let me know in the comments which ones work well for you!