Updated: Aug 30, 2022
I’ve worked from home on and off for the past 15 years, but 2020 taught me the big lesson that: just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.
I found myself saying, “well I am not going anywhere at the weekend”, “I can’t go anywhere in the evening” and “What else would I be doing, so I may as well deliver that workshop.”
While I am truly grateful to have work, by April my boundaries around work and life had completely disintegrated.
The truth is that I could be online for 12 hours straight, I could work every weekend and evening, I could attend every online networking event, but it wouldn’t be good for my health, the quality of my work or my relationships.
Boundaries are needed and necessary, but for some of us it’s a real challenge to put them in place. So how do you do it?
I am not going to pretend that I have my perfect boundaries in my life, but here are five things that work for me as I try my best to navigate working from home.
1. Craft Your Working Day
You can roll out of bed and start working, only stopping to eat, use the bathroom, and then roll back into bed again, but is that really what you want your working day to look like?
How many hours do you want to work and when? Do you want to stick to a 9-5 or take the opportunity to shake it up a bit?
Take control of your workday, and set alarms and reminders to tell you when to start work and when you want to finish. You may also want to add your working hours to your email signature to manage others’ expectations of you.
Setting activities outside of work, even if they are still at home, like having family time, cooking, having a bath or reading a book can also help you be more disciplined.
Be realistic, you are not a machine, you need sleep and rest and only you can give yourself permission to take it.
2. Create a Nudge
Create a nudge that tells you that the workday has ended. I have been known to finish work, ride on my exercise bike for twenty minutes, have a shower and change my clothes and then say ‘honey I’m home’ to my bewildered husband.
It may sound strange, but it creates a clear space that the workday has ended, and that family time has started. Without these daily nudges it’s easy to drift and do “one more email”, or just finish off a project that you’re working on.
3. Still Do the Commute
I don’t do it every day, but I love the idea of the fake commute. Before starting work, I walk to the local coffee shop, buy my favourite Chai Latte and then walk home before beginning my day’s work.
Fitting in another activity may feel like it adds to the pressure to be ‘productive’, however, tagging a 20-minute walk on to the start and end of your day will provide some much-needed separation between work and home.
This ‘fake commute’ gives you a window of time to decompress, similar to the positive switch-off of travelling to and from the office.
4. Dress for Success
You don’t need to put on your power suit and shoulder pads, but you could go ahead and wear something different from your lounging clothes. It tells your brain something new is about to happen and helps you shift gears.
I’ve created my work-from-home wardrobe, which is different to my lounge-at-home wardrobe. This might not be right for everyone, especially if what you wore to work wasn’t that different to what you wore at weekends anyway.
I draw the line at shoes though, I haven’t worn my heels for a year now! Having your work wardrobe can help alleviate that feeling that each day merges into the next, which can bring you down.
5. Break It Up
There is a lot of research out there that indicates we work best by taking short breaks in between bursts of high activity.
Glaring at the screen constantly takes its toll. Set alarms and reminders to get you standing up every hour if possible.
One thing that really works for me is walk and talk meetings, where we leave our homes at the same time and get some fresh air.
We record the conversation and then use transcribing software if we need to, to have written notes. It’s not a break from work, but a break from the same scenery and provides some variety.
As an Inclusive Leader, How Can You Help Your Staff with Boundaries?
Be Mindful Recognise that situations differ and don’t try to create a one size fits all solution. Some staff will be feeling lonely and isolated, others may be struggling to find a quiet place to work.
Be Open Bring boundaries and work-life balance into the conversation as something integral to work and focus on outcomes so that there is flexibility in how and when the work is done.
Be Disciplined Create space for your staff to breathe, such as no lunchtime meetings, or not allowing back-to-back meetings without a break.
Further resources to help you:
The 12 Essential Qualities of Changemakers
The 12 Essential Qualities of Good Leaders
Resources for Motivating Others
Inclusive Leadership Podcast
Grow your confidence, boost your skills and develop success habits with our online training, the Happenista Project
7 Days to a More Resilient You
Blog: Self-love – 5 steps to kindness and compassion