Finding a work-life balance when you work from home

By Hannah Massen

When you’re working from home, work-life balance is a bit of a blurred line. Your home is your office, and your office is your home, so while never technically leaving work basically makes you the perfect employee, keeping your inbox open until 8 p.m. isn’t doing you (or your sleep quality) any favors. And worse, your team might feel pressured to respond to those late-night emails that could easily wait until morning, causing a net drop in employee productivity when they’re half asleep the next day. 

Being constantly on-call from your home office is almost guaranteed to end in burnout, which is why it’s critical to set clear boundaries between couch-time and – er, productive couch time. Here’s how. 

Put on real pants 

Or anything else that doesn’t have an elastic waistband. If you’re staring at unread emails through blurry eyes first thing in the morning, this crushes your sense of work-life balance from the get-go. Try your best to avoid the siren’s call of Slack notifications until you’re dressed and properly caffeinated. There’s no need for your “9 to 5” to start at 7 a.m., so keep your morning routine sacred. You’ll be sharper (and a whole lot less stressed) if you’re not trying to drop the kids off and join a group call at the same time. 

Fake a commute 

While most office workers dread the rush hour traffic, their morning commute signals to their brain that it’s time to switch from “home mode” to “work mode.” Take a quick walk or drive around the block to give your brain time to gear up for the day ahead. Do the same thing at the end of your work day for the cue that it’s time to log off both literally and mentally. 

Physically separate work from play 

Not everyone has a proper home office, but having separate spaces for work and play makes it easier to focus when you have to and relax when you want to. Over time you’ll start to associate your kitchen table or patio with productivity and your living room or bedroom with downtime. And if you do have a home office, treat it like you would a corporate cubicle: while you wouldn’t watch random YouTube videos at equally random points throughout the day, those spreadsheets also are more likely to stay right where they belong. 

Schedule breaks (and lots of them) 

One of the many benefits of working from home is that (kids and pets aside) you can make your space mostly distraction-free: no chatty coworkers, no landlines ringing off the hook and no one slurping every last drop of an iced latte. But having your low-fi beats or white-noise machine turned on in your cool and private office can cause the hours to rush by. While this is great news for work-from-homers looking to up their productivity (or simply make it to happy hour), before you know it, it’s almost E.O.D., and you haven’t stood up since breakfast. Going from item to item with no time to reflect and regroup doesn’t allow your body or brain to work optimally. Set reminders to take stretch breaks, eat a snack and let your brain cool off before tackling the next item on your list. 

Use your PTO 

Many work-from-homers feel guilty for taking time off when they can already work from anywhere (did you know that most of the beaches on Hilton Head have Wi-Fi?). But getting out of the office is not always the same thing as stepping away from work. Take advantage of your time off to truly disconnect, and once you’ve set your automated O.O.O. email reply, no cheating! ν

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