I personally subscribe to the idea that “we work to live, not live to work”. Why? I see work as part of life, not an opposite, and I believe they can be incorporated. That opposition seems to arise from the feeling that work is a necessity that we have to fulfil in order to pay our bills. And yes! To some degree that is true: we have to earn some money, but does that mean we have to do work we hate, that brings us down, that makes us ill?
I can hear the nay-sayers already, and you are right: not everyone can do a job they love. Some people are forced into work simply because they aren’t qualified enough for other jobs, or they cannot find them, or they have personal pressures that prevent them from taking the jobs they really want. Just think of anyone with a sick parent in need of support, or young children, or who has health issues on their own. Of course there are limitations in what we do right now.
And the point here is “RIGHT NOW”. Striving to make your life and work better is in itself a wonderful thing that can make work worthwhile, as bad as it might seem on occasion.
This being said, why talk about this in the context of working from home? Because in a way that is where work and life come together and form a mix that brings its own challenges, simply because that mix can make it even more difficult to separate the two. Indeed, if you run your own business from home it’s likely to be your passion and you don’t mind the two areas of life mixing, but will you always think that way? And what about someone who is on remote work schedule? They still do their regular job from home and might find it distracting and disruptive to have household chores piling up in clear sight while being tied down to the desk. Distance and separation from home can be a blessing sometimes.
It’s all about finding a balance not between work and life, but between “work” work and “home” work, really. So how to achieve this balance act? Here are some tips:
Create a space for work that is clearly separate from the rest of your home
That could be something as simple as an area where you cannot see or hear the rest of the house/flat, or something as elaborate as a garden room that is completely separate from the house. The main point is that this particular space is used for work only, allowing you to separate work from life in your mind by the fact that you are moving into a dedicated space to work.
Create an start and an end ritual
Similar to a going to bed ritual (and we really should all have one of those) this will prepare you mentally to go into a space that you identify as “work”. Think along the lines of dressing up, or preparing your cup of tea/coffee/juice before you go in, as an extension of your breakfast ritual (again, most of us do have one of those already and it is a matter of expanding that into a transition into work ritual).
This will prepare you to sever your mental ties to home and arrive at work properly. It is important to leave home behind for now in order to get work done efficiently and without too much distraction.
A similar (and even more important) aspect is related to leaving work: we are all busy people, and most of us have trailing thoughts and panicky moments when we suddenly realise we have forgotten something or we need to finish something or add it to the to-do list. The thing is: as a remote worker and – even more so – as a self-employed person we need to clear our minds regularly to remain productive and sane.
Rituals help with that as well. In this case the ritual could involve clearing the desk, doing 10 minutes of filing, shredding papers, etc. Most importantly, it is useful to spend a couple of minutes to plan the day ahead, so things can start with a minimum of regularity in the morning. If you prepare that way, there is no need to panic in the morning as you are already aware what will happen to some degree.
Of course, this does not take away that you have to expect urgent phone calls or emails that steer you off that calm course in the morning, but at the very least you’ll have a level of regularity to look forward to.
Shape your work day
I’ve written about “blocking” tasks during the day and that works especially well for working from home. Setting blocks of time to do certain tasks, followed by regular breaks, is a useful way to structure your day. If you work day includes occasional stints of being a mom or taking care of the home, add those tasks into your schedule as a separate block, and then STICK TO THESE BLOCKS and end the task when the block ends. This way you won’t get sucked into “home” work to the detriment of your “work” work.
One of the big distractions for those working at home are thoughts like “I’ll just water the plants” and “I’ll quickly do the shopping”. Be wary of those, as they always turn out to take longer than you thought and generally take your focus away from what needs doing at “work”. If you find yourself thinking these thoughts more than once a day, I suggest you find out why you are procrastinating and what you shy away from doing. There is likely a task on your desk that you don’t want to do.
Let’s face it: it will have to be done anyway, so why not get it done right now and be done with it?
Keep the family at bay
Working from home often involves being near your family and dear ones. While that can be nice, it is also a huge distraction. It seems so easy to respond to their every question and request when they come up and then return to your work. Truth be told, we all like to spend more time with family and friends, but there is value in setting proper boundaries about when and why you can be called upon during the work hours. It’s one thing to tell you about an accident and need of assistance (of course that counts) or that missing light pink pen that fell into a space that one cannot reach (that can wait until you “come back home” at the end of the working day).
It’s a difficult one, really. Not only do others call upon you, but you also feel the need to accept all these requests. If you want to remain productive, you have to set boundaries that not only the others, but also YOU, accept as such.
Maybe you have other tips and trick you’d like to share? Please do leave a comment!
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My name is Tilo Flache and it is my mission to help my clients organise and declutter their work spaces.