Striking a balance between work and home life has always been a challenge. But if your office happens to be in the home—whether permanently or temporarily due to the coronavirus outbreak—the lines between these two areas of life can be especially blurry. On the one hand, there are endless domestic distractions that can cut into your productivity. On the other hand, with the workplace always just a few steps away, the temptation to pop into the office during family time to get a little work done is ever present. So, how do you achieve some sort of equilibrium between the often-competing influences of work and home life when they’re in such close proximity?
Set aside a workspace
Defining a physical workspace within your home is the first step toward achieving balance. Claim a spare room or quiet corner in another room for your space and post it off limits to all other activities. Your computer, phone, and other office equipment should also be designated for work use only.
Establish boundaries with friends and family
One of the biggest challenges faced by people who work in the home is conveying to loved ones and friends that they are actually working at home. The same people who would never think of popping in for a social visit if you worked in an office building may not think twice about stopping by your home office. It’s important to politely establish early on with friends and family that just because your office happens to be in your home doesn’t mean you’re available to chit-chat, baby sit, problem-solve, or run errands for them during business hours.
Follow a routine
There are two types of at-home worker: those who have a hard time getting motivated to work because of the lack of structure and immediate supervision and those who have a hard time disconnecting from work because there’s always “just one more little thing” to be done. Both types of worker will benefit from following a set work routine, which includes a standard starting time, lunch and breaks, and a standard stopping time. It’s also helpful to get up each day at the same time and get ready just as you would if you were commuting to work.
That doesn’t necessarily mean your schedule has to run from nine to five or that you should never deviate from it. After all, schedule flexibility is one of the biggest advantages of working from home. It may work out better for you to schedule a few hours of work during your child’s normal nap time and, perhaps, a few more in the evening after everyone else has gone to bed. And there may be times when you have to disrupt your daily schedule to run your child to a doctor’s appointment. The important thing is establishing a predictable timeframe to help keep you on task when you need to be working and help you shut down when it’s time to stop.
Young kids? Consider a sitter
There’s no question that part of the allure of working at home for many people is spending more time with the kids and spending less cash on childcare. But, let’s face it, it’s not always practical to conduct business with an infant or toddler in the home. Many at-home workers with young kids find it helpful to have a babysitter come in for a few days a week or even just a few hours a day so they can tackle important work or converse with clients without constant interruptions.
Older kids interrupting? Send a signal
Of course, older kids can cause their share of work interruptions, as well. If your kids are constantly appearing in your office door, asking you to referee arguments or help with homework, when you’re trying to finish important work or carry on a phone conversation, it might be helpful to work out a do-not-disturb signal with them. For instance, let them know that any time your office door is shut or a light near your office is turned on, you are not to be bothered.
Hang a sign
Finally, when business hours are over and you’ve done your share of work for the day, it’s time to devote your time and energy to family or other pursuits. Shut down your computer, clean up your desk, close the office door behind you, and hang a “closed for business” sign on your doorknob. Remember, whatever tasks are left undone at the close of business will still be there in the morning.❦