Working from home? Here’s how to have better work/life balance

May 2020

Working from home has a lot of perks, from skipping long commutes and forgoing work clothes to having the flexibility to juggle family responsibilities. Despite the benefits, it can also be challenging to balance work and personal life. Without the sharp contrast of being in and out of the office, work can easily bleed into the rest of life and sometimes vice versa.

Here are some tips for finding a healthy work/life balance when working from home.

Have dedicated work hours.

One of the challenges people face when working from home is being as focused and “unavailable” as they were when working from an office. The trick is to set clear boundaries around your focused work time for both yourself and others living with you. Here is how:

  • Establish dedicated work times. Some work-from-home arrangements come with these hours built-in. Your boss expects you to be available and to work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, other arrangements include flexibility, which can be invaluable for juggling parenting and other caregiving responsibilities. Whatever hours you work, be clear with yourself about what those hours are.
  • Set expectations with everyone who lives in your household. They should know when you are working and therefore unavailable. Unless it is an emergency, they should not interrupt you during your dedicated work hours.
  • Turn off the text notifications on your phone. This will minimize interruptions so you can focus on your work. Are you worried about missing important work-related items? Ask coworkers to email or call you with work-related questions rather than text.
  • Silence the ringer on your phone if you can. This prevents you from being interrupted by non-work calls. If you have colleagues who need to reach you by phone or loved ones who may need to reach you during an emergency, add them to your emergency contact list so calls from them will ring even when calls from others will not.

Make yourself unavailable.

Having dedicated non-work hours is as important as having dedicated work hours. If your work and non-work time begin to blend, you will feel like you are always “on.” Here is how to set clear boundaries for your non-working life:

  • Establish dedicated non-work hours. This does not have to be every hour that you are not working, especially if you need some additional hours outside your dedicated work time to finish up deadline-driven projects or to schedule calls. But you should have significant portions of the day when you are not working.
  • Keep your work and personal emails separate. It is tempting to answer emails the moment you see them. To resist that urge, keep your personal emails separate from your work emails, and do not check your work emails during your dedicated non-work hours. If you are worried about going too long without answering emails, schedule a half-hour of dedicated work time when you respond to work emails.
  • Set an automated outgoing email that says when you will be answering emails again. Many workers put a lot of pressure on themselves to answer emails quickly, which can lead to compulsive checking and answering email. Get clarity from your employer on what sort of turnaround time they expect when it comes to answering emails. Then build a schedule that allows you to meet expectations while still taking a break from always being available.

Limit computer use for “fun.”

Leisure time can be linked to things you do on your computer, smartphone, tablet, or another device. This can make it tricky to disengage from work when you are trying to relax. If possible, have a separate device (often a smartphone that does not have any of your work apps or emails installed) for reading the news, listening to podcasts, emailing friends, engaging on social media, etc.

Take breaks to recharge throughout the day.

Just like office workers take breaks to chat at the water cooler, wander over to a coworker’s cube, eat lunch in a communal dining area or run a quick errand, people who work from home need pauses during the day to recharge as well.

Do something you find relaxing that does not involve staring at a screen. Ideally, it should be something where you are moving (as you are likely sitting for long stretches of time during the day). It could be cooking, walking in the neighborhood, or taking a bike ride. If you have kids, break time is a great time to engage with them and get them up and moving too.

Special tips for working from home with kids.

Working from home when your children are there presents extra challenges. Here are some tips to help you meet your kids’ needs while still being able to focus on your work.

  • Keep your kids feeling grounded. For as much as kids can grouse when school is in session, they can be grumpy or needy without the familiar routines and social connection of school. The more you meet these needs, the less needy they will feel, and the less likely they will be to interrupt you while you work. Try these tips for maintaining a sense of normalcy when school is out.
  • If you have two parents working at home, have your dedicated work hours overlap as little as possible. That way, the parent who is not working can be designated as the one in charge of the kids. Single parent hack: If you have any flexibility with your job, work as many hours as possible before the kids wake up, after they go to bed, or when they are occupied with something else, like video-chatting with family or friends.
  • If your kids are old enough to be on their own for stretches of time, designate one parent as the interruptible parent. That way, one parent is guaranteed a good stretch of uninterrupted time to focus on a project, while the other parent can tend to more routine tasks (like answering emails). Single parent hack: Designate blocks of work time when you can be interrupted for emergencies only and other times when you are working, but your children can come to you with non-emergency needs.

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