There’s a lot to be said about creating a healthy work-life balance. As the queen herself, Oprah, put it:
“I’ve learned that you can’t have everything and do everything at the same time.”
I’m not going to tackle the work-life balance debate today – I want to discuss how you have any semblance of balance when your life happens where you work: at home.
For about half of my adult life, I’ve worked from home. I’ve been able to get up from my desk and take an afternoon bath if I felt so inclined. Stroll down the street to meet girlfriends for lunch, or even take my sons for an impromptu excursion after school.
I can do these things, but in reality, I don’t.
Many days, I’m at my desk from 7 o’clock in the morning until about 7 o’clock — or later — in the evening. Impromptu beach day? Rarely happens. Afternoon bath? Not once in 45 years.
When I have had stints where I worked in a traditional office, I was much more regimented and turned off “work mode” pretty much when I left the office. This is near impossible to do when working from home. However, I’ve come up with some strategies to help me disconnect a bit from my career despite my “office” always being under the same roof.
Set Clear “Office Hours”
Effective immediately (I’m a work in progress too!), gone are the days where I’m at my desk for 12 hours, only getting up for bathroom breaks and to raid the fridge. I’ll set semi-strict Working Hours as guidelines for both myself, my family and my clients. The best way to do this is to be accountable to someone – other than my intensely focused self. I am putting it on record here – and you can hold me to it – that I will work from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and if I run overtime, I shall call it that! Overtime. If I have to be late for work, OK – but that means I’ll still get my work done even if it means I add an hour after dinner – but only an hour.
A lot of people choose to be contractors or independent consultants because of the freedom it offers, but that freedom can quickly become a trap if you make a habit of extending your day earlier or later for clients. I like to stick to West Coast hours. My partner, Summers is an East Coast hours kind of woman – and it means that we both have to accept that our crossover times are when we are both “in the office”.
Being sedentary all day is not only bad for your health, but it is also remarkably bad for your focus. Our most productive times are usually within five hours of waking up. Our least? Seven to nine hours later = slump. To that end, I front load my day – important meetings in the morning, with at least 15 minutes in between. Back to back is sometimes necessary, but the truth is, a 15-minute break to get up, stretch, walk around the block, or throw a ball around with the dog – will get you back to work in a better mindset. You should also shift away from any task after more than an hour of work.
In order to maximize productivity, plan for a longer break in the afternoon when your brain begins to fizz out. Aim to get 30 – 45 minutes of walking, meditating or stretching in – and get back to balance. Be careful not to turn this into an hour of “chores” – and keep it focused on priming your very best self to show up for the rest of the day. If you need it to feel productive, you can always listen to a podcast while you walk around drinking some Yerba Mate tea.
Have Rules for Others in the Household
It’s incredibly easy to get distracted by the needs of others in your household. If you are a parent, you have to teach the kiddos that when you are at work – you have to be at work. Once again, it’s all about balance – and balancing the parent and work world. Of course, if they need something urgently – be available, but otherwise – it’s not time to go bug mom because they are bored! Consequences of such bugging can include chores you did NOT do during your required break time.
It is also important that your significant other understands that just because you work from home, does not mean you’ll have time to rush out for that last minute errand they forgot to do. Your work time is as important as theirs. Often times when one partner works from home and the other does not, there can be a lot of assumptions on what gets done during the day. Be clear with your partner about what you are planning to get done on any given day and how your workday usually sorts out. Let them be part of the productivity solution!
Now, as far as convincing the dog that you working from home doesn’t mean that you are a constant ball throwing, treat dispensing, head petter or the cat that your lap isn’t meant for kneading instead of your laptop…. well that’s just not my area of expertise.
A flexible lifestyle is why many of us choose to work from home. The shifting nature of work and client requirements mean that you may not be able to hold fast to your rules every single day. Progress not perfection is a pretty good mantra. If our Spark List suggestions don’t work for you and your productivity increases at night, then night owl it is! Adjust to how you work best and make sure those around you understand what to expect.