Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Getting Things Done

Balancing Work and Life at Home

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?

Signed,
24/7

Dear 24/7,

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 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 whenunless 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.

Good luck,
David

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2 thoughts on “Balancing Work and Life at Home”

  1. C. P.

    Setting appropriate boundaries is incredibly important for work. The suggestion to just keep working isn’t radical, its sad and a very antiquated view of how people should work. You’re giving away precious hours of your life to business that rarely will show an appreciation of this effort and appropriate compensation.

    Instead, sit down with yourself and have a conversation about why you’re having trouble leaving work during work hours. Is it planning and prioritization? Perhaps getting things done would help. Overassigned? Time for a crucial conversation with the boss. Distractions? Utilize your technical tools to control distraction, and even to help you transition between work time and home time. While you can’t control work, you can control your response to it.

  2. Jenny Matteson

    As someone who’s worked remotely as a salaried employee for 5 years before the pandemic, one key change I made when working from home was to write down when I start and stop working. Every time I left my desk I “clocked out” and when I came back I “clocked in.”

    At first I just recorded what I was doing without changing anything. This new awareness let me see that I was working 10 hour days when the job expectation and pay was for 8. I stopped tracking meticulously and kept a mental balance sheet so I didn’t feel cheated.

    When the whole team was told there would be no raises and the cost of health care tripled, I decided to track it again to limit my work week to 40 hours. If I went over, it was my choice. I set up criteria that was acceptable to go over, like “I’m in the flow” or “I need to prep for tomorrow’s AM meeting.” I tracked this “OT” off books and stopped early on Fridays based on how many extra hours I worked throughout the week. This helped a lot with anxiety over unpaid OT, and helped me feel balanced.

    Then, when that company lost the contract and I was hired by the company that won it, I was suddenly paid by the hour for the first time in 23 years. Now I have to clock in and clock out in a system that tracks hours tied to my paycheck. That habit of keeping track helped me transition to the new company and make sure I get paid for the hours I work.

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