Let’s begin with a quick reminder: for those of us still fortunate to be employed who are wondering how best to navigate our new realities of working from home, it’s important to remember we aren’t “just” working from home. We’re working from home during the middle of a pandemic.
As fears over job insecurity rise — and corresponding pressure to do more at work rises with it — that’s an important distinction to make. Maybe you’re fearful about your company’s financial future and anxious to prove your worth. Maybe you’re dealing with professional survivor’s guilt following a layoff that your job was spared from, when your colleagues’ jobs weren’t. There are a lot of reasons to feel pushed into giving your all to work right now. But now more than ever, saving adequate time and energy for your personal life is crucial.
It’s paramount that we take care of ourselves in this moment. But when your entire day plays out in one physical space and the bulk of your hours are spent staring into a screen, the line between your personal and professional life can become blurry. That’s why we wanted to hear from work-from-home experts on how they go about creating those lines, and what it takes to maintain them.
Here are 11 ways to build stronger work-life boundaries while you’re working from home, from people who’ve been doing it for years.
1. Create a check-in and check-out routine with your team.
“Utilize check-in and check-out processes with your team if you have one, or with clients if that’s applicable,” Trivinia Barber, the founder Priority VA and a remote worker of 17 years, said. “Check in to start the day and check out when you are ending your day. Let them know when you're ‘going dark’ for a meeting or when you're going offline to spend time with your family. It's a decency that we can offer our teams that will go a long way, whether we're in this for the long haul remotely or this is just a temporary solution to a crisis.
2. If you have the ability, designate a specific area in your home as your “work zone.”
“For me, one of the best practices is to have work confined to a certain time and space,” Joe Flanagan, who’s been running 90s Fashion World remotely for the past decade, said. “The working area signals to your family that when you are in there, you are out of reach and should not be disturbed. At the same time, it helps you to contain your own work to the moment when you are in that space. Also, never, ever take your laptop with you to work from your bed. That is a recipe for disaster!”
3. Keep your work accounts and your personal accounts separate.
“Have different accounts for your PC, if you use it as both your work and personal device,” Adam Lumb, EN Site Manager of Cashcow.media, said. “When I first started, I only created different Chrome profiles to help reduce distractions when browsing online – but my email, calendar, and apps were all jumbled together. Also, switching Chrome profiles isn’t perfect, and I found myself accidentally opening work links under my personal profile and vice versa. By creating different logins, you can avoid the problem and stay focused.”
4. Force yourself to (safely!) leave the house.
“It's easy to be holed up in your room all day on your laptop, especially during the COVID-19 epidemic. However, getting fresh air, sunlight and exercise are essential to mental health,” Calloway Cook, President of Illuminate Labs and a remote worker of five years, said. “I try to schedule at least two walks outdoors between my meetings, and it's something that really helps break up the day and put me in a better mood.”
5. Use your calendar for blocking off more than just meetings.
“I use Trello, which lets me block out my day,” Jennifer Walden, the remote Director of Operations at WikiLawn, said. “My personal tasks are also added into the mix so that I can smoothly transition between work and home once the day is over. I'll even share my Trello boards with family so they know what I'm doing when, and if I'm available within certain hours. This has cut down on the amount of interruptions, because they can see what my day looks like and how much I'm doing… Don't allow people to treat you like you should be available 24/7 just because you're working from home.”
6. Plan your meals out in advance so that it doesn’t wind up cutting into your personal time.
“Each evening, think what your next day's breakfast and lunch might be,” Irina Cozma, an Organizational Psychologist who’s worked from home for three years, said. “Don't worry, you can change your mind, but it’s great if you can have a general idea. That will save some time the next day when you don't have to spend 20 min+ in front of your fridge or browsing nearby restaurants contemplating what you might want to eat.”
7. For work-related ideas that come after hours, make use of the “notes” feature on your phone.
“If my mind strays to work matters – e.g., getting a quick project idea – I’ll note it quickly in my phone so I don’t forget it by Monday and then I’ll get back to whatever else I was doing,” Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC, a remote wellness design consultant and author the upcoming Wellness by Design, said. “Additionally, my computer is turned off after hours, the ringer on my business phone is turned off, and I’ve deactivated my business email (which only requires one swipe on any iPhone).”
8. Keep regular working hours.
“Structure your day,” Mason Culligan, the Founder and CEO of Mattress Battle Inc. and a remote worker for the past two years, said. “You should set and establish working hours to manage your time effectively. One of the best practices that I can share is to not scatter your work hours throughout the day. Structure it as you would in an office setting. Set fixed working hours and take breaks. Doing so, you can differentiate the working hours from your personal activities.”
9. But also know that it’s OK to take some liberties with choosing those hours.
“Some people don’t find the eight-hour work day to be the best for their productivity (and sanity),” Sean Pallera, a content specialist at Hubstaff and a remote worker of the past 19 months, said. “Instead of forcing yourself to make eight hours, set a daily minimum number of hours that you must work. For example, set aside five hours every weekday for work alone, and spend the remaining hours of the day according to your priorities. The important thing is to have the discipline to not miss a single day.”
10. Wake up an hour earlier.
Not having to commute can make it tempting to sleep in. But waking up early will make you feel like you have more time to yourself during the day, whether you’re using that time for work or lingering over coffee.
“Getting up earlier than the rest of the house is a great way to be productive,” Justin Grau, CEO & Founder of Best ELD Devices and a remote worker since 2015, said. “If you can manage to get up a couple of hours before the rest of your family, do so. The result is a nice, quiet block of time that you can use to get some focused work done. Remember to go to bed at an appropriate time, though, if you have to get up really early. The less sleep you get, the less effective waking up early ends up being.”
11. At the end of the day, close out of your tabs.
“When the work day is over, I close out of every single tab. So even if I stay on my computer to check the news or to watch a TV show, I am closed out of my emails, projects and Slack so that I don't see notifications at the bottom corner of my screen,” Sarah Sheppard, an Account Manager at Grey Horse and remote worker for the past five years, said. “It's really important to create some separation, even if it's something as simple as closing your computer to remind yourself that the work day is over. I also encourage individuals to do non-computer-related tasks after working all day. Baking, working out, yoga, sewing, reading. This is really important.”