Dear Crucial Skills
Since I started working from home, I can’t seem to separate work and home life. I have a home office and I do my best to stay off my computer after hours, and yet my nine-to-five now feels like it’s 24-7. I used to leave work at work. But now that my job is at my house, it never seems to go away. Any tips on how I might better separate the two?
Don’t feel like the lone stranger—this is now a familiar situation for many people. Though you may not need to go to the office, the structures and boundaries it provides are familiar and comfortable. This is also true of your home. You have ways of acting in each context—whether around the office coffee machine, at your office desk, or at home with the kids and the dog and dinner. But because your context has changed, your behavior has been affected.
Long before Covid, digital nomads and those accustomed to working from home (like me) created grooves and styles for navigating a work-from-home context. Here are some suggestions based on Getting Things Done® skills to help you do the same. They may not all be preferable or possible, but I hope you find something useful.
Have your own workspace. Don’t share it with anyone else. It doesn’t have to be big—just unique to you, so that when you enter that space you automatically step into “work mode.” When you leave it, you exit “work mode.” Even if you live alone, this can make a big difference. And even if you have a small living space, keep a desk and supplies where you work.
Make your workspace inviting. I have a comfortable desk and chair, my favorite artwork on the wall, a candle and incense (I know, I’m a ‘60s kind of guy), and I turn on music that I enjoy working to (I have a playlist called “Work Classical” with lots of Vivaldi and Bach). I keep my tools at hand so I can just sit down and hit the road running, enjoyably, like I’m doing now in writing this response to you.
Don’t hold yourself hostage to your workspace. Don’t hold others hostage to it either. If you find yourself wanting to work on your laptop in the living room in an easy chair, as I do sometimes, fine. But know that the environment will affect you. My small dog loves to get on my lap when I’m on my iPad in my easy chair, so I let her. I can also see into the kitchen from my chair, and if my wife happens to be doing stuff there, I’m available to interact with her. Some work, though not all, is conducive to this kind of environment. Roll with it.
Let others know when you’re in work mode. This is easier to do when you have your own space, which, by the way, is how let yourself know you’re in work mode.
Don’t make too many rules for what to do and when—unless you really like to live by rules (and some folks do). Having the freedom to do what you feel like doing when you feel like doing it is terrific. If self-imposed rules aren’t your thing, work on establishing the appropriate contexts, as I’ve described above.
Manage your meetings. Before you accept an invite, make sure you need to be or want to be in that meeting. Give yourself permission to turn off your camera if you need to do something while you listen. And if you share your calendar with a group, block out time for whatever else (even relaxing and reflecting) so people schedule around you.
Rest and recuperate daily. You need regular rest to function optimally. For example, research has shown that checking email an hour before bedtime hinders sleep rejuvenation. So use your discretionary time to take afternoon naps when you can. Leave your designated workspace and go somewhere else. Leave behind or shut down any devices that might tempt you into work. You might designate a space to recuperate. Perhaps another room, a patio, a nearby park, even a comfortable couch or chair next to a window. Better than coffee.
Finally, what’s wrong with 24/7? You might consider this a radical suggestion, but if you’re enjoying your work, why stop? I’ve met people who are so totally engaged in what they’re doing that there’s no reason for them to stop, other than to rest and recuperate appropriately. “Work/life balance” is something of a misnomer. It’s all work. It’s all life. How much of it you do, and when, is up to you.