The landscape of our working lives has changed dramatically in the last couple of years. More people than ever are working from home. With that comes the need to create boundaries between out working life and home life to maintain the best work-life balance we can.
New to working from home? You need a dedicated workspace to visually separate the boundaries between work time and downtime. That may mean converting a spare room or a corner of the basement into your home office, or setting up a desk you can fold away each day like a Murphy bed. If you don’t have a separate area, set up a room divider or hang a curtain over an open doorway to help break up the space. When quiet time is needed for a planned video call, I put a sticky note with a drawing of a video camera on the front door to notify other household members that I am on a call when they get home.
A decent set of noise-canceling headphones is a must when you must focus or understand what is being said in a call. If your workplace uses a shared calendar, such as Outlook, set your working hours in your calendar so coworkers know when you’re available. For those who use Slack or Teams, turn off notification sounds during certain hours.
You also need boundaries on the personal side of your life to achieve a work-life balance. If you have young children, schedule your afternoon break for when they get home so they can tell you about their day while it is fresh in their minds.
To keep work from overtaking your entire day, or to stop worrying about household tasks, try
- Going for a walk during lunch
- Making a to-do list so you’re not worried about forgetting something
- Throwing in a load of laundry just before starting work and take it out during your morning break so you have to get up and move
- Taking a few minutes to make a grocery list
- Assigning a day for chores (e.g., swap out the bath and kitchen towels on Wednesdays)
Taking the time to complete smaller tasks like these is not much different than the time you would be using when a coworker stops by your desk or when you are getting up for your next cup of coffee or mug of tea.
Some people also have a need to mentally separate their time with the sounds they associate with work such as the background noise of an office, a coffee shop, a white noise machine, or another environment. A variety of websites that play these background sounds have sprung up to meet that need. Some sites even offer nature sounds such as birds singing in a forest, a thunderstorm, or the waves on a beach. Don’t forget to check YouTube.
Another way to separate your personal time from your work hours is to limit the work-related apps installed on a personal phone or, if your phone supports it, set up a work profile that separates your work and personal apps. Many Android and Apple devices offer a focus mode to prevent certain notifications from coming in during set hours (say no texts, breaking news, or game notifications from 1-5 PM).
Overall, though it may take time to get into the habit of using some of these ideas, you can separate your work from your home life. Once you’ve set those boundaries and stuck to them for a while, your work-life balance will even out and your lower stress levels will thank you.
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