A year ago, working from home became a new norm for several people. Hoping that it wouldn’t be a permanent change, not everyone was quick to adapt and still some may struggle. But many people have found that they actually thrive working from home – it all comes down to finding a good work-life balance.
What is a work-life balance? "Work-life balance is a term used to describe how workers distribute their time between professional and personal obligations."  A person with a good balance is able to keep their personal and work life separate, designating focus to each area when appropriate. For those who work at home, it’s easy to blur the lines separating the two because both are available to you 24/7. But it’s important to do what you can to keep them apart because a poor work-life balance can add stress and make you feel less in control of your life.
Luckily, establishing this balance can be fairly simple. But first, you need to nix the idea of a perfect balance. There is no such thing and no point to adding stress about it. Embrace what’s real: there are going to be days or weeks that don’t go as planned because life gets messy sometimes.
Setting up your balance.
When you’re at work, is your office in the breakroom? Bathroom? NO. Working remotely aka at home should be no different. Put up a desk or table. Cut out a nook. Give yourself a designated office space. Let family members know the rules of this area. This is your space specifically for work – there will be no play in this area. Creating this physical space for your work stimulates the act of going to work and can help dissociate work time from home time.
Set a schedule and hold yourself to it as well as you can. For instance, if you work 8am-5pm set an alarm for 5pm. When the alarm goes off, time to clean up, log out, and clock out. Make an action out of “leaving work” to distinguish that it is no longer work time. It can be as simple as shutting down your computer, closing your laptop, and pushing in your chair – all visual clues to your brain that work is over. Or maybe take a five-minute stroll outside. Outside of these hours, don’t participate in anything work related (including phone calls).
Supporting your balance.
Once you have your home office set up and work hours in place, the scene is set. All that’s left is for you to properly use these tools. What good is an office and hours if you don’t get your work done during work?
Prioritize your time and use your ebbs & flows. Once a week or every morning, make a list of what needs to be done for that week/day and put it in order of importance/urgency. Set manageable goals each day. According to research the average person is only productive for 3 hours of a workday.  Most people can only focus on a task for about 20 minutes at a time and then need to switch it up – we’ll call this your productivity ebbs and flows. Ebbs are when you are least focused on work, flows are when you have the most concentration. Knowing your ebbs and flows can help you figure out when you are most productive. Use your flows to complete tasks that are most important.
Take your breaks! Our brain needs a break every now and then to help it refocus. Our heart needs it too. Studies show that a 2 minute walk every hour can help reduce heart disease brought on by prolonged sitting.  If you don’t feel like setting a timer, switch it out with taking a few laps around the house before you grab lunch or after you use the bathroom, and take your calls on the phone as often as possible so you have a chance to pace around while talking.
And don’t forget about lunch. You might like to work through your lunch but taking the time to concentrate on eating gives your mind a rest and helps it regroup.
Communicate efficiently. You have your hours set up, make sure your family and co-workers know what they are and how to communicate with you during them. And what to expect after-hours. Keep in mind that others may be balancing a heavy workload and can’t respond as soon as you would like. This also applies to letting your boss know if you need help or more time on a project.
Have plans for after work. This could be making dinner or going to the gym. Giving yourself something to do after work helps ensure that you won’t be tempted to work off the clock.
Divide and conquer housework. Having a clear distribution of housework makes it less likely that you’ll be prompted to work on it during work. It also gives you less things to stress about, decreasing the likelihood that you’ll bury yourself in your work to avoid chores.
- Focus on you. Learn to say “no” so you don’t over-commit your social calendar. Plan meals that you look forward to. Give yourself a bedtime and stick to it.
Tying it all together.
While it seems straightforward to keep your work at work and your home life at home, we all know that sometimes it’s not as simple as that. There may be weekends that are extremely high energy and come Monday morning you haven’t quite recovered to your most efficient work self. Those Mondays won’t be as productive as you’d like – you’ll be ready for it next time. And there will be days that you have a big presentation due at work and you can’t help but spend time mentally preparing yourself the night before – it’s ok.
There is no perfect work-life balance but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Just remember, you don’t live to work – be kind to yourself and go find that balance!