For many, working at home can seem like a dream come true. No commute, the flexibility to live where you want, no distracting meetings or people popping in your office.
Although there is much to like in working from home, it can also cause a lot of stress, loneliness and boredom.
One of the biggest negatives of working at home can be that there is not enough separation between your work and personal lives. When this happens, you feel as if you are always on the clock — where your workday does not end.
The opposite can also occur. This is when you become much less productive during work hours since it feels like you are still on personal time.
You need very clear boundaries between work and personal time when your office is your home.
Let’s now look at five ways that you can separate your work and home
Get Dressed For Work
An advantage of working at home seems to be that you do not need to be presentable to anyone, and that you can just work in your pajamas or sweat pants or even underwear if you want.
But this can cause you to lose a grip on separating work and personal life.
Part of the reason those ratty shorts or other similar informal clothing are relaxing is that you associate them with relaxation — and your own personal time. But if you wear them while you work also, you start to associate them with work stress also, so they may lose some of that appeal.
Also, not dressing up for work can decrease your productivity since you may not really feel like you are in a working mode.
So wake up and get dressed as if you were going into an office and seeing people in person. This will add a nice structure to your day!
Dedicated (and Awesome) Work Area
To be successful working at home, you need to set up a good work area. This should be in a part of the house with the least distractions and where you can feel productive.
A good set of noise-canceling headphones or a white noise machine is good as well, for possible noise like kids playing or dogs barking.
Make your work area ergonomic with a good chair set at the right height. Make sure your monitor, keyboard and mouse are also at the right level — basically all the ergonomic considerations given in an onsite office.
You could consider a standing workstation to alternate between sitting and standing as well.
As much as possible work in that designated area throughout the workday. It’s tempting to move around to other areas of the house, or even to the back patio, especially when you have a laptop.
However, we as humans tend to associate things together easily. If you start stressing out doing work on your favorite couch for example — it could end up spoiling some of that couch’s appeal when work hours are over.
The flip side is you could be much less productive in those favorite relaxing places since you simply do not associate those places with hard work.
So stick to your designated work area during working hours. This maximizes both your productivity when working, and your enjoyment of your house after work.
Your house may not be large enough to dedicate a whole room to work hours only (although that is ideal). In that case, just make some changes once you are off work, like change the lighting, push your work things out of sight — anything to tell your mind that this is personal time, not work hours.
Get a Routine
We humans love routine. The saying is true — we are creatures of habit!
A routine provides comfort in that you know what to expect during your workdays. It means getting important things done while conserving your mental energy used in thinking and planning them.
A good routine involves doing activities at set times every day that improve your enjoyment, productivity, health, relationship, and many other things.
Your routine also gives you things to look forward to at certain times — without actually exerting energy at the time to plan or even come up with the idea of doing it. It’s simply implanted in your routine.
How does this relate to working at home?
I think that developing a good routine is especially important when working at home.
When you work at a traditional office, a routine almost naturally forms and grows. You know you need to wake up at a certain time, to drive in to work (or take transportation). During the commute, you probably listen to the radio or a good talk show. This gives you something to do while driving. Perhaps you buy a coffee and chat with the people around you. For a break, you may walk around the building and sit at a water fountain. Or head to the cafeteria and grab a snack or drink.
But when you work from home, since your commute is just a walk down the hall, and usually by yourself, you may have a weak routine. As a result, you may become stressed and not find many things to look forward to.
In other words, you may need to be more intentional in creating a good routine when working at home.
Some ideas can be doing a morning mediation, then going for a short walk. Have a morning coffee ritual (or your morning drink of choice). Maybe pick a specific day or two to go out and buy a special morning drink, perhaps even sipping it there.
At lunch, perhaps read while eating lunch. Then go for a walk listening to an audiobook or music. Perhaps a few times a week go on a long walk or run.
The possibilities are of course endless and vary with what you like and need. The important thing is to come up with some routine that makes you happy and productive, and tweak it as you go.
Sure sometimes you will break your routine, but a routine gives you something to fall back on and provides a comforting structure to your work at home life.
When you work at home, you need to set solid boundaries and avoid distractions and interruptions. This means that during your work hours, you need to make sure everyone else in the house knows that you are at work and thus are off-limits, except for an emergency.
Announce officially that you are starting work, in the same way that you would if you were getting in the car to drive to work. Also, keep off social media and avoid having a TV in your work area.
Equally important is that outside of work hours, you need to prevent work distractions on your personal time.
Sometimes there is a tendency for you and your coworkers to feel you are always on the clock at home, and it’s just not true. Turn off your email and instant messaging notifications and don’t check them during your personal time.
As always there will be exceptions to working after hours due to workload. But treat that as a special case, and definitely do not make it a habit to be constantly connected.
Have Healthy Habits
Even when you work at a traditional office, you have to consciously ensure that you eat well and get exercise. However, this can be especially challenging when working from home.
At home, you have easy access to snack foods and drinks. It’s easy to get into the bad habit of snacking throughout the day. That coupled with being physically inactive –not even needing to walk from your car to the office — can be unsustainable for your weight and health in general.
So you need to have a good exercise routine, including higher intensity cardio and resistance-based exercise at least 3 times a week.
Besides that, get up and walk around at times during the workday, like you would in an office building visiting colleagues or walking to the restroom.
Also, doing some walking before and after work hours strengthens the boundary around work hours. It’s better than going straight from your desk to the couch. Or straight from showering and getting dressed, to your desk.
You will feel much better mentally and physically when working at home if you keep up a good healthy diet and exercise routine.
Working at home can be a very productive, satisfying, and happy situation. Following these steps and thinking of others to separate your work and personal lives at home is key to your success.