In this fast-paced society, characterized by short attention spans and a need to climb the corporate ladder, balancing work with your personal life can be tough to do. Head out of the office too early and you fear it will be frowned upon. Don’t put in sixty plus hours a week and you’ll worry your coworkers will hate you. Worse, you’ll convince yourself you’ll never get that promotion.
For those who work at home, balancing work with play can be even tougher. With the lines blurred, combined with the need to stay on the radar of the boss, you can easily find yourself working more hours than you should. Do that for too long and your work-at-home gig can easily become a nightmare.
The ability to separate work from your personal life can be difficult but not impossible. It requires setting boundaries and actually following them. Without rules, you’ll end up working all the time, neglecting your family, loved ones, and yourself.
Finding Balance Between Work and Play
1. Create a Regular Routine
Just because you work at home doesn’t mean you should roll out of bed whenever you want and log on to your computer. If you were required to be in the office by 9:00 a.m., make sure that you’re at your desk at the same time. That means being ready as if you were commuting to the job. If you put off taking a shower or getting dressed to later, chances are you either won’t do it or you’ll be doing it late in the day. Your morale and motivation can take a hit if you work in your PJs all day.
You also need to stay focused and motivated during your work hours. Laundry may pile up or your house needs a “quick vacuum,” but any distraction means more time spent working during off hours. Save the housework for the evening and weekends. Or get it done during legitimate breaks.
2. Come up With Work and Life Goals
Just like crossing things off lists motivates people to get the work done, setting goals for your job and your personal life can ensure you are bringing balance to both. The goals can be anything from curbing distractions to signing off early one day a week to spend special time with the kids. You can even break down the goals into smaller achievements. Start with the big picture targets and then go from there. Make sure to engage in some self-evaluation from time to time to ensure that you are staying on track.
3. Create Your Own Dedicated Work Space
The worst thing a work-at-home employee can do is set up shop in the middle of the action in the house. If the kitchen is the family meeting place, then don’t have your laptop set up on a counter. If the living room is the preferred gathering place, choose the kitchen instead.
Ideally, you will have your own office or space that is dedicated to work and work only. It should be off-limits to other family members or roommates unless you give them permission to enter. Having a dedicated workspace will not only motivate you but it can be a way to unplug and stop working when the day is over. If work is the only thing that happens in the office, you’ll be less inclined to hop on the computer to check your email over the weekend or after dinner.
4. Protect Your Work Time
Lots of people chose to work from home so they can be close to their children, to have more flexibility during the day or to care for a loved one. Others like the freedom working from home affords them. Many, however, take it for granted, not realizing the impact it has on balancing work and life. Working at home is a privilege and should be treated as such.
This means it shouldn’t be pushed to the back burner to attend every school event. Nor should it mean you are available for lunch dates and non-work related meetings during work hours. People may assume you have more free time because you work at home but that is often not the case. You need to treat the hours you work at home as if you are in an office and don’t say yes to everything. Ask yourself if you would go if you didn’t work from home before saying yes.
5. Turn Your Work Mind Off
Often, the employee is their own worst enemy when it comes to balancing work and a personal life. Those who aren’t with their other colleagues and the boss can feel isolated, fearing they are being forgotten for promotions or, worse, on the way out. That drives a need to go above and beyond to prove productivity isn’t suffering because of your location. Add the fact that the office is a few feet away and it’s easy to spend extra time working, doing it whenever you are so inclined. But sometimes that “whenever” can be almost all day and night, straining personal relationships.
Then there’s the lack of a commute. It’s hard to stop working when there’s no train to catch or traffic to beat. That’s where a schedule comes in. Just as you would set a time to start working, have an end-time too. If you can’t seem to log off at the scheduled time, take a class or plan activities right after work so it forces you to stop working. Even surfing the Web or checking social media for ten minutes at the end of the day can signal that work is over and it’s time to play.
6. Embrace the Flexibility It Affords You
One of the perks of being based out of your home is that it gives you more flexibility. If you need to go to the doctor, it no longer requires you to take the day off or miss lunch. If you feel guilty because you missed every class function at school, that’s no longer an issue. Sure, it may mean working at night or on the weekend, but if it’s important to you it shouldn’t matter.
People who have the luxury of working whenever they want as long as the work gets done will be happier if they accept that they will be working unconventional hours from time to time. Having that mindset will prevent a mental break down if going to the school play means working until 11:00 at night. Embracing the flexibility and making it work with your lifestyle can go a long way in finding balance and peace.
Balancing the pressures of work with the demands of your personal life have always been a challenge for all sorts of workers. For those who work from home, it can be even tougher. For some, it’s hard to stop working when the office is a few feet away. For others, it’s the everyday distractions or the inability to say no that force them to work all night to catch up. In order to have a work-life balance, work-at-home employees need to set a schedule, have a dedicated office or workspace, and accept from that time to time, they will work unconventional hours. Do all that and you will be on the path to balancing your work and life.
Sarah Grant is a work-from-home mom whose schedule is so hectic that she’s had to master organization and compartmentalization. With three rambunctious children under the age of ten, she’s a queen of the work-from-home-with-kids system.