Working From Home Is Great… Until It Isn’t
My 4 top tips for better balance when WFH.
Over the last few months, like so many other people, I have been working from home. For the most part this actually has been great. I don’t spend 2 hours a day commuting, I see my family a whole lot more, I get to cook more, and spend a bit more time cycling. From a work perspective it has it’s benefits as well, I’m more productive and more focused.
However working from home also has it’s downsides. I miss my colleagues, the cups of tea, the informal chats when walking around the office.
One of the biggest downsides for me though is my inability to set appropriate boundaries on my work and make sure I have a good balance between work & home life. This has an impact on my family life, my personal relationships & my mental health.
I’m a bit of a workaholic, ask my family or my colleagues. Whether that’s my day job in software, my photography business, my YouTube channel, or just generally doing things around the house, I’m really not good at doing nothing.
Working from home has made that tendency worse.
I worry that by not working, or not being available evenings, weekends, and when on leave, that I’m not being a team player, or not pulling my weight. I’ve never been told this though, this is an expectation of my own making that ultimately just fills me with guilt, rather than being useful. Combine that with the fact that I’m a perpetual overthinker, and am prone to anxiety and it’s all a bit of a recipe for disaster — speaking from experience, I’ve been there, had the panic attacks.
I don’t wear this workaholic attitude as some kind of badge of honour, it’s something that is not good for me, and not productive, and I’ve been learning lately how to combat it.
There are plenty of others who have written far more eloquently about things like working from home, and mental health during this rather unusual time, but these are just a few observations of things that have really worked and helped me personally over the last little while.
- Dedicate a Space for Working
Have a set space that is for working. I’m fortunate enough that I have a dedicated office space to work from, for you it might be the kitchen table, or sofa. Occasionally I will take meetings etc elsewhere, but for the most part I try to keep work to this dedicated space. It means that when I am at my desk I’m in work mode mentally, and when I close the door at the end of the day, I’m switching off. I avoid working while sitting on my bed, or in my bedroom at all costs, as I don’t want to start associating my bedroom with work.
2. Plan Your Day
At the end of each day, I try and make a rough plan for what I want to tackle the next day. I find that if I try and plan out my day before it even begins, it allows me to get up the next day, have breakfast and not immediately be thinking about work, or even worse starting work over breakfast. Allow some buffer room for unforeseen things that arise, and importantly, don’t forget to schedule breaks, and lunches as well!
3. Have a ‘Hard Stop’ at the end of the day
I’ve been reading a lot recently about Parkinsons Law, which says that work expands to fill the time allotted to it. I’ve come to accept that I will always have a to do list, I will probably never reach the end of my to do list. So I’ve now set myself a ‘Hard Stop’ each day. Essentially there is a time at the end of the day when I shut down from work for the day. That time may vary slightly depending on what I have on that day, but let’s say it was 5pm. When I get to 5pm I stop working and shut down, sounds simple, right? Obviously if there is an emergency that needs me to keep working I will, or if something comes up outside of when I’m normally working, I can be contacted, but those situations are the exception rather than the rule. So set a time each day when you stop. Which leads me to my last point.
4. Have a ‘Shut Down’ Routine
There has been lots said about the benefits of routines, and how they can be used to build positive habits. A lot of people swear by a morning routine — I’m still working on that one — but for me, and this is probably the most impactful of these 4 points, having a shutdown routine has literally transformed my relationship between working from home, and being at home.
When we were all office based, we shut down, left the office and had our commute home. There was a very definite break between work life and home life and we have lost these routines in the shift to working from home.
So, the last few minutes of each day, I do a number of things which effectively help me to properly switch off.
- Plan the next day. It means I can identify anything that I wanted to get done today, and didn’t, so rather than worrying about it all evening, I know that I’m aware of it and it is planned in for tomorrow.
- Tidy my desk. At the end of each day, tidy your work stuff away. For me that means tidying my desk, and actually shutting down my computer. Doing all of this at the end of the day means I’m much much less likely to just ‘jump back on for 5 minutes’ in the evening. It also means when I come to start the next day, I have a tidy desk, which sets me up right for the day!
- Say goodbye to my colleagues. This seems very minor, but when leaving the office I would say bye to the colleagues that sit around me, I would walk out of the office with some of them. Obviously things are a bit different when everything is done over Teams or Slack, but a quick good bye to the colleagues you’ve just been working with, or those colleagues that you are friendly with is important. Again not only does it signal the end of your work day for you, but it humanises the virtual, and hopefully helps to maintain those personal relationships that are harder to maintain when working remotely. Plus, it’s just polite, and kind — and who doesn’t want a bit of kindness right now.
So in summary, my 4 top tips for working from home are,
- Have a dedicated work space
- Plan your day
- Set a hard stop time each day
- Have a shut down routine
They are simple, small things really, but they have transformed how I work from home, and have had a positive impact on my life at the moment.
Hopefully some of them might be useful for you too 😊 Let me know if these work for you, and any other tips you might have!