Working from home has both its pros and its cons, however, working from home in the midst of a global pandemic poses completely new challenges that impact nearly everyone. These times are unprecedented. Not only are you dealing with stresses from work, but you also have your entire family home with you all struggling to adjust to new schedules while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy through it all.
It’s a tough time. What poses an even greater challenge is trying to find a balance between your daily work and home life. While the biggest perk of working from home is flexibility, that sense of freedom can also increase pressure. You feel pressured to stay on top of work tasks, so you find yourself working longer hours than usual. You also feel pressured to stay on top of personal responsibilities and eventually find yourself burning the candle at both ends.
When your home is your office, but also a school, a playground, a restaurant, and everything in between, it can be difficult to draw the line of separation, and you quickly find yourself exasperated. Creating a harmonious life can feel nearly impossible these days unless you have some serious boundaries in place.
Before you find yourself suffering from burn out, try these tips for a steady work-life balance that saves your sanity and allows you to enjoy your personal interests during shelter-in-place.
Establish a schedule that replicates your work and school schedule.
If you’re working remotely, try setting a schedule and sticking to it. It’s easy to lose track of time when there are no scheduled stops in your day. Creating a schedule ensures that you stay productive without tasks taking consuming your time and taking over your day. Setting hours is especially beneficial for working parents who also have to manage virtual school and other responsibilities.
Just as you are used to a work schedule, your kids have set schedules at school and they’re also trying to adapt to a new way of life. The setting of a schedule sets boundaries so that your entire family is getting work done during the appropriate times, while still having time for personal tasks later. Your schedule should include every waking moment of your day that was affected by the pandemic. Include the times you wake up and go to bed, get dressed, take showers, and work a manageable number of hours.
When you work from home, you don’t have to rush around in the morning the same way you do when you go to work in the office. So dedicate the time you would normally spend commuting to eating breakfast together, or meditating and spending some quiet time alone. That way, you’ll wake yourself up and mentally prepare for being productive throughout the day.
Announce your availability (and when you won’t be available)
One of the biggest obstacles of working from home is communicating with your colleagues and boss. Because you aren’t physically visible, you may feel “guilty” and like you need to overcompensate by being accessible at all times online. You do not. You don’t need to be available to everyone at all times. Doing so can set false expectations for your employees or coworkers that you are available to them whenever they need it. This can cause you to get off task by having to answer every chat or email, or even cause you to fall behind in your work due to feeling overwhelmed by over communication.
Tell those you work with what your specific working hours are, and do not deviate from your schedule. Once you’ve determined a daily schedule that makes sense for you and your team, use different tools, like slack, to publicize that schedule so your team members are mindful and respectful of that time. Knowing your availability and bandwidth are especially helpful if others rely on your decisions or approvals to move forward with projects and tasks. Relying on a strict schedule not only helps you maintain boundaries with co-workers but with your family as well, as it lets them know when they have access to you while still being mindful of using your personal time to recharge.
Make breaks mandatory
When you feel like you’re losing control of your work and personal life it can negatively impact your health and your happiness. Working for long hours with no time for self or to refocus can make you feel lonely and isolated. It can also result in causing stress that flows into other areas of your life. To overcome that, keep your breaks planned and take them as scheduled. That includes coffee breaks, lunch breaks, and even breaks between meetings. That way, you won’t feel monotonous while working for long hours. When you take your breaks, be sure to take them away from your work station.
Getting up from your desk and take a walk, around your house or outside, even if it’s just for five minutes. You can stand up, get mobile, and get a quick dose of Vitamin D. Walk your dog, check your mail, drink a cup of tea, play a game of hide and seek with the kids, or even break out the yoga mat and do some stretching. Physical activity will help release endorphins that give you a boost of energy so you can finish strong and relaxed throughout the day when you return to your desk.
Take a day off
You’re still allowed to take a sick or personal day, even if you’re working from home. Even if you have nowhere to go. Taking care of your mental health is especially important these days. If you are able to do so, taking a step back from the daily hustle ― whether it’s a day or a week ― can be a necessary reset for how you approach your job. Busyness is not a badge of honor you need to wear. By taking time to step away from work, and even typically home responsibilities allow you to refocus, and recharge your mental and physical capacity. Taking a day off or fitting in a vacation can help you become a better worker by giving you some distance—and some much-needed objectivity—about your job and your career. You may find after a few days that there’s a much more efficient way to maximize your workflow that up until now you haven’t taken advantage of. It’s important to remember that you’re working from home for a reason and that working from home is not a workplace perk. Whether you’re in an office or working at home, you only owe your employer the very best that you can offer. By taking some time off for yourself, you’re ensuring just that.
Make plans after-work and stick to them
In a traditional office, when the day is done you know to pack up and leave work behind. However, when working from home, you don’t really have a hard stopping point which can make it difficult to truly step away from work at the end of the day, even if you’ve closed your laptop and signed off. Forming digital habits like checking emails or returning voicemails or checking work-related apps is an easy trap to fall into when work hours are over. It’s important to be firm and completely step out of work mode at normal hours. Making plans after work is a good way to get you in the habit of putting down your work life and picking up your personal life.
Whether the plans include a family dinner, movie night, virtual happy hour drinks friends, or working out, if you have somewhere to be at the end of your workday, you’ll be more likely to actually sign off and stop working. This is essential for your mental health and lets your family know they have your undivided attention.
Eat proper meals
With your fridge in such close proximity, you can feel tempted to spend the whole day grazing on snacks and missing out on enjoying full meals. This can hurt your productivity and also affect your energy levels while trying to maintain stressful workloads or personal schedules.
In a traditional office setting, you might feel more compelled to take a proper 30 minutes to an hour lunch break, and even plan your dinner menu for your family in the evening. While working from home, make your lunch breaks a time where you remove yourself from your work station and sit at your table for a proper, nutritious meal. The same goes for dinner. Whether your dinner plans include a party of one or your entire family, set a schedule to “leave” work, and enjoy a proper meal with at the table.
Because you’re exhausted, you may feel like you’re not productive enough or falling behind. The most important thing to remember is to be kind and patient with yourself. Learning to adapt to this new way of life takes time. The first step is to take an active approach to find your own work-life balance that works for your life and your personal and professional needs.
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