I’ve worked from home for several years, spread over a variety of positions with different companies. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s stinking hard to achieve a healthy work-life balance while working from home.
I mean, your computer’s always there, shifting your mind into work mode when you’re trying to relax. And people either believe you don’t work at all (Hello, friend inviting you to hang out during work hours!) or believe you’re on call at all hours. (I’m looking at you, coworker texting updates at 10:00 PM!)
And let’s not forget the constant struggle of attempting to juggle home-work double duty. A 15-minute break? I’d better start a load of laundry!
It all adds up to people feeling tied to their computers, stressed out by constant overload, and never fully enjoying a real break. After years of trial and error, I can say with confidence that I don’t give work a single thought when I’m not logged in.
What’s the secret to achieving work-life balance while working from home, you ask? I’d love to share!
Designate a specific place in your home for working rather than “traveling” around the house.
One of the first ways to achieve work-life balance while working from home seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? I mean, being able to work from your couch or bed or patio seems like one of the biggest perks of working from home, right?
The problem is that when you move from place to place, you’re subconsciously associating each of those places with work. Now your bed is no longer a peaceful and sacred place. And your living room could be used for work or leisure. And when you’re in those places, your mind will more easily wander to work.
Instead, choose a place that can be associated with work and nothing else. It’s ideal if you have a traditional office, but you can also create your own space.
I work from a small desk in the corner of my bedroom and do nothing but work in that space. Doing this assures that when I’m at work, I’m working and when I’m off, I’m truly mentally off.
Close the door (or your eyes) to your home life while working.
If you were working in a traditional office, would you spend your lunch doing dishes and laundry? Probably not.
Yet when you’re working from home, there’s always something that needs to be done. While this can be convenient, it also creates an atmosphere where you’re constantly multitasking and always “on.”
My solution to this problem is to close my bedroom door while I’m working. Out of sight, out of mind. If you don’t have a door to close on your household tasks, you’ll want to work hard to close your eyes to them until you’re done working.
If you were driving to the office, no one would expect you to knock out laundry between meetings. So why should you be expected to do double duty because your office happens to be located within your home?
Work when you’re “at work.” Take care of your home when you’re “home.” Your mind and body will thank you.
Set a regular schedule and don’t deviate from it.
This one action can make a world of difference when it comes to achieving work-life balance while working from home. But it can be tricky!
I’ll always remember when a coworker invited four of us to a last-minute meeting that was outside all of our scheduled hours. I listened to the first three reluctantly agree to the time, understanding their thinking – “I’m here anyway, so I might as well log on for one more hour. After all, I don’t want to inconvenience anyone.”
I was thisclose to doing the same but then thought about how much I had been looking forward to my after-work plans. So instead, I said, “Sorry team, I won’t be able to make that time. I’m back in tomorrow at 9, though! Otherwise, maybe someone could catch me up to speed later?”
Then I cringed and waited. Would they all think I wasn’t a team player? Would I miss out on vital information?
Then, one by one, my coworkers each admitted the following day would work better for them too. And the meeting was rescheduled for a time we would all actually be “in the office.”
Set the expectation that you’re working hard while you’re at work, but that your job isn’t your whole life. People will only respect your personal life and plans as much as you do.
Don’t check work emails or chats outside of your set work hours.
This one is hard for most people. After all, we’re often interested in what happens in some work situations. Or sometimes we want to know what we’ll be “walking into” on Monday morning.
But this is another slippery slope. First, because it violates your time “off.”
But secondly, because you’re setting expectations for your coworkers. After all, if they know you’re checking emails on the weekends or after hours, they’ll feel free to direct emails your way and expect your response during those times.
Because why wouldn’t you answer their simple question? It would take you less than a minute! And after a while, you’ll feel obligated to keep an eye on your emails every weekend because it’s the expectation you’ve set for others.
Instead, only check work emails and chats during your office hours. And don’t download email/chat apps onto your phone, which will only increase your temptation to check in periodically. If you must download the apps, be sure to turn off notifications and only use them for very rare emergencies.
Set healthy expectations with your team.
I manage a team of roughly 15 people at any given time, whose hours span anywhere from 3:00 PM to 6:00 AM. Whenever someone new joins my team, I set expectations right upfront.
I tell them I’m here to support them in any and every way I can, but that I work hard to achieve a healthy work-life balance. That means I’m available in case of emergencies but not on call at all hours for non-urgent matters.
I’m very honest that I also don’t carry my phone with me around my home or have it on at all times. So when they do text me, to please be patient for me to see the text, it might be an hour or two before I realize I left my phone in the other room.
Again, people will only respect your personal and family time as much as you do. Don’t think of it as not being a team player. Think of it as explaining your lifestyle, so they know what to expect from you.
So what should they do if they genuinely need help when you’re not logged in? That brings me to my next point…
Let others know what resources are available to them when you’re not.
As part of my getting-to-know-you chat, I don’t just tell my team members not to bother me when I’m not working. I drown them in available resources.
Do you have a question about your workflow? Your more senior peers are an excellent resource!
Do you have a question about benefits or your paycheck? Here’s the number to HR.
Do you need help with something only a manager can do? Here are the schedules of all of the team managers in our workplace, so you always know who’s here and available to help when I’m not.
If your question or issue isn’t time-sensitive, please email me, and I promise I’ll respond as soon as possible when I return to the office.
By designating some back-up options, you can set health boundaries without leaving others stranded.
Don’t so readily share your phone number.
Many of my coworkers include their personal cell numbers in every email they send. After confirming with my manager that it wasn’t a requirement, I chose to omit my phone number from mine.
The fact is that there are some people who, no matter how many other resources are available to them, will text and call you about every little thing. They’ll ask you questions that could have waited until Monday morning but darn it, they were just curious and wanted to know now.
Or they’ll give you updates they think you might want. Some people place themselves “on-call” at all hours and want to know everything happening with their team the second it happens. They’ll assume you want the same and so might contact you for the sake of being helpful.
Only a handful of people in my workplace (outside of the team I manage) know my phone number. And guess what? I don’t receive work texts all weekend.
Designate a time to catch up on emails when you return to office.
I designate the first hour of every day to catching up on my emails and chats. That means I schedule a meeting in my calendar that simply says “Emails” and blocks that time from anyone else adding to my schedule. If I’m returning from the weekend or vacation, I’ll designate several hours.
That gives me uninterrupted time to focus on catching up and proves to my team what I told them – that I’ll address their emails as soon as possible when I return to the office. If you tell your team you’ll answer their emails ASAP but don’t follow up on that promise, you’ll find they’ll slowly fall away from their promise to only text you for emergencies.
You are more than capable of nailing a healthy work-life balance while working from home! By designating your work location and hours, refusing to multitask home and work tasks, and setting healthy expectations with coworkers, you can achieve the peace and balance that we all crave. You’ve got this, friend!
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