The advantages of working from home include the lack of a commute and the absence of a mandatory 9-to-5 schedule. Yet at some point, those same advantages of having a home office can hinder your ability to create a clear distinction between your workspace and your home life.
Switching from business to personal mode takes effort when where you work is part of your home. But when you develop habits to create a distinction between your home and your home office, you’ll ideally enjoy the time you spend in one place as much as you do in the other.
Whether your home office is in a spare bedroom, the basement, a converted dining room or your favorite overstuffed chair, consider these eight ways to create a balance between your personal life and your business life:
1. Follow a daily schedule. Some people who work from home start their day with a morning workout, take a shower and rush to their home office. Or they skip a few steps and glide from their bed to their desk. No matter how you begin your morning, try to follow some type of schedule (there’s an exception to this rule, tip No. 6).
It’s easy to tell yourself you’re going to put in just another 30 minutes, only to emerge from your home office two hours later.
Keep it flexible; you don’t necessarily have to always start work at the same time as your counterparts at headquarters. But get in the habit of reaching your workspace at the same time each day. If you’re more alert in the morning or sharper in the afternoon, set your schedule to match your body clock (get approval from your boss if you have one). Without a guide to follow, it may be noon or midnight before you start working.
2. Set an ending time each workday. Reaching a cutoff point at the end of the day can be challenging. It’s easy to tell yourself you’re going to put in just another 30 minutes, only to emerge from your home office two hours later. With no time clock or co-workers racing out of the office at day’s end, there are no visual reminders to stop working. Sure, looming deadlines and unforeseen events can affect your schedule, but do your best to set a stopping point and stick to it. You are less likely to cause resentment with other members of your household if they know they don’t have to compete for what should be your personal time.
3. Set boundaries. Family, friends and neighbors who don’t take your work-from-home arrangement seriously can be aggravating. In their minds, you’re always home during the week and available to wait for the washer repair person, pick up the grandchildren or babysit at a moment’s notice. There’s nothing wrong with occasionally filling in for a sick babysitter or an absent caregiver. But there is something wrong with being taken for granted. Make it clear to others that during your designated work hours, you’re unavailable with the exception of emergencies.
4. Limit distractions. The internet, the refrigerator and household tasks can vie for your attention more than a persistent telemarketer. Some suggestions: If you can’t resist checking social media throughout the day, turn off your Wi-Fi for a set amount of time. Or use the internet as a reward for chipping away at a project or completing a major milestone. And take care of things like the laundry at the end of the day.
The key is to stay focused. But do give yourself chances to stretch your legs, go to the bathroom and take essential breaks.
I rely on the Pomodoro method to stay on track. After setting the timer on my phone for 25 minutes, I concentrate on whatever project needs my attention and then work until the alarm sounds. After that, I either push reset and continue or stop and take a five-minute respite.
5. Leave your workspace for lunch. Rather than bringing a sandwich to your desk or balancing a bowl of soup between your laptop and cascading piles of paper, step away from your workspace and enjoy your meal in your kitchen or dining room. It’s refreshing, and a change of scene can take your mind off work for a bit. Then, when you get at it, you may discover a solution you were searching for earlier.
6. Take time to play. In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests scheduling an “Artist Date” to do something for yourself, by yourself, one day a week that lets you explore something of interest. Since working from home can be lonely, you might want to include your significant other or a friend on your Artist Date. You could go for a walk in the woods, see an art exhibit or head out to watch a movie. By taking an afternoon or even an entire weekday off each month to do something other than work, you’ll give yourself the opportunity to recharge and avoid burnout.
7. Do your work in your workspace at home, not your personal space. If you use your favorite reading chair to research projects or answer business emails, at some point you may stop feeling relaxed there. Apply the reverse notion to your home office. If you only handle business tasks in your home office, the moment you sit at your desk, you’ll be in the mindset to work.
8. Keep your paperwork and supplies in one place. One of my clients liked to work throughout his home, rather than in his custom-built home office. He’d check email at his desk, then carry a stack of folders to the kitchen table where he’d place a few calls, and then he’d sit on the sofa to review research materials. By the end of the day, his trail of papers and supplies were all over the place.
I helped him implement a solution. We turned his home office into his home base. He kept his files in drawers there and his supplies became easily accessible within the room’s bookcases. He still wandered around the house to make calls, but for paperwork, he headed back to the home office. The new arrangement increased his productivity and reduced his wife’s frustration with strewn papers and such. Win/Win.
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