How To Keep a Work-Life Balance When You Work At Home
Anyone who has ever had a home office has heard the same mean-well-but-woefully-uninformed refrains, over and over:
“Wow, you must have so much free time!”
“You are so lucky not to have to go into the office!”
“What do you even do all day?”
And anyone who has ever had a home office knows, it takes serious effort not to retort sarcastically or, at the very least, mumble a few choice words under your breath.
In concept, working from home is simple: get up, brew your coffee, and pad on over to your office in your still slipper-clad feed. In practice, managing a successful home office can be quite complicated.
The Home Office Conundrum
The biggest problem with working from home is that you’re working from home. Home – the place where dishes stack up in the sink, where your bed and TV are always a step away, and where your family laughs, plays and vies for your attention.
In many ways, working from home is harder than commuting to an office. At the office, you’d have built-in boundaries, structures and routines that would ensure a more productive, less distracting workplace.
At home, you have none of that. You have only the boundaries you create. You are in charge of defining and managing your work-life balance. And that is not easy.
Creating Boundaries for a Healthy Home Office
If the idea of setting boundaries and rules for your home office makes you uncomfortable, it’s time to rid yourself of that feeling. Right now. Shake it off, put it in a box – do whatever you have to do to bid farewell to any lingering feelings of guilt or discomfort.
Because when you work form home, boundaries are absolutely essential. They reduce stress and increase productivity, in turn boosting your income and promoting good health. Luckily, creating these boundaries is a relatively simple process:
- Embrace Unconscious Cues: Unconscious cues are all the things you do to put yourself in “work mode:” put on your office clothes (even if they’re just fancy pajamas); set up a productive workspace; and refrain (or block yourself) from online distractions.
- Set Office Hours: You may not work 9-5, but it’s important to establish office hours – blocks of time that you won’t play with the kids, prepare meals, complete chores, or do any other home activities. Make sure your family and clients are aware of your work hours, and, most of all, be sure you adhere to them.
- Close the Door: This can be tough, especially if you have loved ones at home during working hours. Closing your office door is one of the best boundaries you can set – it’s a clear, physical way to say “I’m working.” If necessary, consider hanging a polite sign on your office door to remind family and friends of your work hours.
- Use Caller ID: If you don’t have a dedicated office phone line – or even if you do – learn to love Caller ID. If you’re working against a deadline or deeply concentrated, turn off your ringer. Let voicemail get it. Or even better, route calls through your virtual assistant for at least a few hours, everyday.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No:” When you work at home, it can be hard to say no – after all, you can always shift your work by an hour or two. Right? Right?? No. Not unless it is planned well in advanced and works for you. See bullet #2 above: Your office hours are your office hours. If you wouldn’t say “yes” if you worked in an office cubicle, learn to say “no” when you work from a home office.
Celebrating The Freedom of Working From Home
Working from home offers freedom and flexibility and convenience and comfort – there are many things to appreciate.
But for many work-from-homers, it’s too easy to sacrifice your personal life for work. Not necessarily because work demands it, but because we don’t create boundaries. It’s too easy to let the office bleed into the home, dragging you back to the computer and your work at all hours of the day (and night).
This is where balance comes into play: don’t compromise your relationships, your leisure and your recreation for work. There may be times as an entrepreneur that you need to go all out, where work-life balance is impossible – but remember its not productive in the long run. You’ll burn out, and lost the spark that motivates you. Here are a few tips to help you maintain a balance:
- Schedule Breaks: Whether it’s five minutes to play ball with your dog or an entire hour to enjoy your lunch, breaks are essential to staying productive and enjoying life. Schedule regular breaks into your day, and be sure to observe them.
- Go Outside: Blue skies, puffy clouds, cool breezes and even steady rain are rejuvenating. Even if all you do is step out on your porch for a few minutes, be sure to get out of your home office every, single day.
- Respect Your Office Hours: Office hours help you separate life from work, and work from life. At close of business day, put your work away, open the office door, and go enjoy life. No exceptions.
- Wind Down: At a normal office, you’d watch the clock or shut down your computer or chat at the water cooler to signal your brain that the workday was ending. You don’t have the same routines in a home office, so it’s important to create new ones: read your favorite website for 10 minutes or jot down tomorrow’s to-do list or hop on Facebook or sip a cup of tea – do the same something everyday to cue your body that work is over and it’s time to switch to personal time.
There you have it – our favorite ways to create healthy, workable home office boundaries and protect your work-life balance. What tips can you add?
Updated on May 23rd, 2014