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How to separate work from home when you work from home

Unless you establish and maintain proper boundaries, working from home can soon feel like you’re living at work. But how do you do that? Realistically, how do you separate work from home when you’re working from home? Let’s take a look at some practical tips and guidelines that can help you cope with working at home, while encouraging healthy levels of productivity through self-care, rest and mental health prioritisation. Approaching your work life in a new way can lead to positive changes and growth, so give it some serious thought – after all, this is the “new normal” now.

Working from home tips: setting boundaries

  1. Designate a workspace by setting up an area of your home that only gets used for work.
  2. If you don’t have a full room to dedicate to an office, claim a corner in another room that is not your bedroom.
  3. Sitting down in this space sends a clear signal to your brain that it’s time to focus.
  4. Decide how you’re going to share workspace if you’re not the only one working from home:
  5. Working from home with your significant other can be tricky. Discuss how you’re going to handle being in each other’s space during office hours calls/meetings – one person can have headphones on while the other is busy with video conferences.
  6. Schedule your working hours, and stick to them. Resist the urge to keep working “just to get it done”. Tomorrow is another day, and most tasks can wait.
  7. Communicate your operating hours (set working boundaries) with your teammates, clients, and partners: “I will only be available for _________ between 2 and 4pm”.
  8. Once you’ve completed your workday, sign out of all your work accounts, and shut down your computer. This physical act helps your brain to “sign out” too, which is an important part of maintaining work boundaries.
  9. Enable automatic “Do Not Disturb” mode on your phone, to switch off push notifications, calls etc, when you are “off the clock”.
    • Here’s how to do it on Android.
    • Here’s how to do it on iOS.
  10. Switch off from work outside of your office hours – this is one of the most important work boundaries to maintain. As much as technology is an enabler for working from home, it’s easy to spend more time working and less time living your life!

Working from home tips: prepare yourself and look after yourself

  • Get ready for each day, create routines and put yourself in the right headspace.
  • Take a shower and get dressed for the day ahead. You won’t believe what a difference it makes to your mood to start the day fresh.
  • Designate some working clothes, so you don’t get stuck in your pyjamas. Or, if you do want pj’s all day, treat yourself to a special daytime pair.
  • If you normally go to the gym, don’t skip out on exercise. Find online workouts, videos on strength training and bodyweight exercises.
  • If you don’t already exercise, start now. Even 15 minutes a day can make a huge difference to the way you feel.
  • In addition to setting a morning/nighttime routine, time blocking is a productivity technique that can help you retain control over your time and energy through the day. Time blocking can also be useful to help you to realistically assess your workload and schedule to maximise your working hours.
  • Create an eating plan to avoid decision-making fatigue (you know, the “what should we have for dinner tonight?” existential dread) and to keep yourself nourished.
  • Plan out your meals and snacks ahead of time. This prevents you from working to the point of hunger and then making poor eating decisions because you’re hungry.
  • Avoid eating at your workstation. Instead, take a lunch break and focus on enjoying your meal before you get back to work.
  • Make time in your schedule for “me-time”. This is just as important as work, because you need to rest, process and recharge in order to avoid burnout.
  • Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you don’t deserve vacation days or downtime. Take that mental health day! It’s essential when working from home. By giving your brain and body time off from work, you’re actively replenishing your brain’s attention and motivation batteries.
  • Remember that “me time” is alone time. Dedicating half an hour every day for hobbies or relaxation is a great way to take care of your mental well-being!

Working from home tips: communication is key to healthy boundaries

  • Establish work and communication agreements with your team and your household. This may be one of the hardest things to implement because it requires buy-in and cooperation from others but it’s essential in order to set strong boundaries between work and home life.
  • Boundaries are intended to foster respect, making it possible for you and others to respect your time and energy. However, your friends, family, and co-workers won’t know your work/home life boundaries unless you state them clearly.
  • If you’re part of a remote team, you’ll have to collectively agree on when everyone must be available to work together during the day.
  • Part of this agreement includes deciding how communication/collaboration happens – does everyone come together on Hangouts with their video cameras on? If someone has a question about a task, should they use email or ask in a chat tool like Slack?
  • Being very specific about when and where communication and work happens can bring clarity and structure for everyone to work productively, and also gives you the structure to plan the rest of your day around your family and obligations.
  • If you find that teammates persistently interrupt you, it’s a good idea to rely on the use of status updates in your team chat tools so that they can see if you’re available to chat or not. “Can’t talk right now, busy with XYZ task” will let colleagues and managers know you’re unable to respond right away.
  • Don’t forget to let your team know when you’re logging off for the day. Communicating that you’re offline until the following morning at 9AM is a simple way of setting a clear boundary.
  • Communication and working agreements also require buy-in for home life. This means making a plan with family members, housemates or your partner to establish which hours of the day need to be set aside for minimal noise and distractions. If you have children or family members at home, it’s important to factor in and communicate the hours you can and can’t work to your managers and teammates.

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