10 Tips to Boost Work-Life Balance When Working From Home
Searching for work-life balance has long been a struggle for people in our modern culture. There are so many competing priorities fighting for our attention. And all work and no play doesn’t just make Jack a dull boy; it also puts folks onto the fast track to exhaustion, dulled thinking, health problems, strained relationships, and even more work.
Of course, work-life balance is a challenge for virtually all workers and students—from the amazing essential workers (including grocery clerks, hospital staff and emergencies services, critical manufacturing, and so many more), who are trying to stay safe, healthy, and sane, to those who have seen their jobs disappear and thus have the new, challenging job of searching for gainful employment.
Many other American workers—approximately 34% as of April this year—are now dealing with a new dynamic in the work-life balance due to the recent shift to working remotely, as we grapple with the pandemic. That’s on top of the 15% who were already working from home previously. In other words, nearly half of US workers are now working remotely. 1 And much of this shift is expected to continue even once the crisis has passed.
While there are significant benefits to working from home (does anyone miss commuting?!), it’s also a transition many weren’t expecting and has led to new “workplace” challenges (e.g., being your own IT specialist, hoping the internet doesn’t drop during an important meeting—or having good internet access to begin with—and feeling drawn to tidying up the living room). Of course, many parents are also dealing with the challenge of having their kids at home at the same time, learning remotely, providing another layer of complexity to the work-life balance equation.
A Massive Telecommuting Experiment
The struggle is real right now, and we’re all on a different journey. Yet, according to a number of experts, remote or at least flexible work is changing how a lot of us work forever—and up to 77% of employees like the new arrangement. 2 Others, of course, disagree and look forward to getting back to “normal.”
Benefits of working from home can be big. Research, for example, has found remote working can:
- Boost productivity
- Improve work-life balance
- Promote better mental health
- Decrease commutes and thus reduce pollution
- Improve organizational performance
- Save costs for both employees and employers
- Reduce employee turnover
- Decrease “meaningless” meetings—especially if the subject can be covered via chat or email
Yet, many of these studies were from before the pandemic, when people chose to work from home. They knew what they were in for and set up home offices—or at least quiet corners to limit distractions—lined up childcare or sent the kids off to school and made other necessary arrangements.
Those who were forced into the new normal had to figure out how to set everything up on the fly, with kids, pets, and perhaps partners or roommates all sharing space—space that may have started to feel a whole lot tighter than before.
And just as there are benefits, there are also drawbacks to working remotely, including:
- Loss of normal routines
- Decreased creative brainstorming
- Lack of face-to-face time, and thus, a changed workplace culture
- Difficulty reading people and their comments when you can’t see their facial expressions and body language
- Concern from managers who are worried about productivity and engagement
- Technical challenges, from lack of internet to lack of IT support to help you figure out why your computer is messing up
- Decreased socialization (i.e., loneliness or lack of collaboration and communication) with coworkers
- Too much time with housemates
There’s a learning curve, whether you make the choice or not, but it can be that much more challenging when the choice is forced upon you. With the pandemic, burnout is even more prevalent than before, with up to 73% of workers feeling it (up from 61% before), despite the benefits of working from home. 2
A New Normal: Creating Work-Life Balance from Home
During such uncertain times, it’s a privilege to be working and working from home right now. (Right now might be a good time feel grateful if you are.)
Yet, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy balancing act. When you work, eat, recreate, live, and sleep in one location—all day, every day—everything can seem to blend together. What day is it? What time is it? How long have I been wearing the same PJs? Did I shower this week? Or was that last?
Combine that with everyone in the household being together all day, every day, and it can begin to feel like there’s no separation between work and home. And while some businesses are slowing and even closing for good, others (e.g., meal prep delivery, game makers and sellers, fitness equipment, coffee subscriptions, and many others) are actually booming—with more work than ever before.
If you’re working in a booming industry, you may be feeling even more pressured than before. And because you’re always “at work,” you may feel like you need to always be working, which can lead to anxiety, burnout, and other health issues.
According to some accounts, people are working, on average, three hours per day longer now than before. 3 So, for those who work from home, creating work-life balance can be even more important.
While there is no single “perfect” work-life balance, there are ways to improve it to help prevent burnout and became more productive.
Top 10 Steps to Boost Work-Life Balance
1) Set (and Stick to) a Schedule
When you work at an office, you typically know exactly when you need to be at your work station and ready to go. And you likely also know when it’s time to shut it all down and head home for the day.
At home, it’s different. While many people think employees are likely to put off working until later, it’s often the opposite. It can be tempting to start checking emails during your first cup of coffee or skip the shower and stay in the PJs to get a jump on an important project. Yet, these simple rituals can help you separate personal time from work time.
Instead of just diving in with little to no preparation, decide on when you’ll sit down to work and “get ready” just as you would if heading into the office. You may not need to dress as nicely and can still enjoy comfy clothing (gotta love athleisure!), but you’ll know when you turn on the computer that you’ll be all set for an impromptu virtual meeting, knowing at least your hair is combed.
Just as you set a time to begin, set a time to end—so you can focus fully on your family and home. Turn off your device, do a quick clean up, and “leave” your work, so you won’t feel tempted to check off one more thing as dinner burns.
By having set start and end times, it’s also easier to fend off interruptions from family (unless you have small children) and coworkers when you’re working versus enjoying family time.
2) Make space
Dedicate a room (e.g., home office) or space (e.g., desk in the dining room or hallway) to set up your workspace. Avoid working from your bed, couch, or kitchen counter, if at all possible, as you want to be able to leave work behind once the day is through. Even if you live in a studio apartment, you can dedicate (at least mentally) a single space that’s for work.
Don’t just create physical space—create mental space. For example, create a ritual as you start your work day. Perhaps you start by creating goals for the day, or you drink a glass of water or do some squats as your computer turns on.
At the end of the day, create another ritual, such as putting away paperwork as the computer shuts down and finish off with a walk, run, or bike ride before you enter “home” mode to allow your mind to relax and transition.
This is another way of setting up a clear boundary between the work day and home life.
3) Take Breaks
Want to set yourself up for serious burnout? Stare at your computer for hours on end with zero breaks. You’ll also damage your health while you’re at it. Not exactly a good plan, right?
When working from home, especially if you’re alone, it can be easy to just move from one task to the next, and before you know it, you’re feeling hungry (or perhaps hangry), fatigued, your butt feels dead, and hours have drifted away.
Don’t let that happen to you! Instead, set up times throughout the day to at least stand up, stretch, and maybe walk around the room or run outside to check the mail, walk the dog, or take an exercise snack.
My personal preference is to use the Pomodoro Technique for time management. In brief, you set up work sprints of 25 minutes for focused work followed by a 2- to 5-minute break to stand up and stretch, grab a cup of coffee, or just gaze outside. After 4 Pomodoro’s (i.e., focused work sessions), take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes until you feel recharged and ready to focus again.
Whether you use this or another time-management technique (e.g., GTD method, 2×2 matrix, pareto analysis, or a combination), setting aside time to take care of yourself will help you maintain a healthy work-life balance, so you can take on new tasks, refresh your mind and thinking, and enjoy greater joy and peace.
And don’t forget to set aside time for lunch. Step away from your computer and actually enjoy your lunch “hour” to eat, take a walk, play with your kids (or help them with their work), read a book or article, exercise, or even watch an episode of your favorite show. The key is to take a full mental break from work, rather than obsessing over the next task.
4) Get Social
One of the biggest risks of working from home is social isolation and an increased potential for feelings of loneliness to seep in. If you had a buddy at work you would chat with throughout the day, set aside time to chat with him/her during your current workday—and no, it doesn’t even need to be about work. Stay social and build on the connections you’ve had, and you’ll actually be more productive and continue to build strong relationships in or out of the office setting.
Sitting inside all day isn’t good for any of us. Take time throughout the day to step outside and get some fresh air and sunshine. Fresh air has even been shown to boost decision making, improve test scores, increase information processing, and support your overall physical and mental wellness. Can’t head outside? Sit on your patio or open a window.
6) Embrace the Staycation
If there are “safer at home” guidelines in your area, then any vacation plans have likely been seriously derailed. Should you bother to even take any time off?
The short answer is yes! We all need time off work to recharge and come back feeling better. Taking at least an extra day or two off gives your brain and body a break.
Not sure how to fill that time? You could camp in your backyard; create a DIY spa experience; take a walking tour of your town or neighborhood and visit parks or tourist attractions—especially green spaces—you never seem to have time to visit; indulge in a virtual meditation or yoga retreat; bring your vacation destination to you by bringing in the music, language, food, and drink of a far-away land; or simply create family movie night at home or at a drive-in, complete with popcorn, snacks, and dimmed lights.
7) Limit News and Social Media Consumption
Yes, it’s important to stay informed and to get news from a variety of outlets for a broader perspective, but constant exposure to news (and the gloom it often focuses on) and social media can be hard on your stress and anxiety levels.
Avoid constantly exposing yourself to negative news, and instead, enjoy inspiring stories and uplifting connections with friends and family, near and far. Despite what many news pundits would have us believe, we likely have far more in common with our fellow humans than we think—even if they sport a different team’s bumper sticker. 4, 5
If you consider yourself a news hound, set aside specific times to consume it—rather than checking in throughout the day, every day—so it doesn’t become all-consuming. And remember to seek out the positive from sources like Positive News, Good News Network, or others.
8) Avoid Multi-Tasking
When working from home, it’s easy to get caught up in household chores—tossing a load of laundry in, tidying up the kitchen, or giving the bathroom a quick polish. Separate the times when you’re working versus doing household chores. You can, of course, choose to do those things on a break. Just remember to set aside time for those tasks, and once the break is over, get right back into work mode, so you can stay efficient and effective throughout the day.
9) Plan “After Work” Time, Too
With many people feeling stuck at home, it can feel like there’s nothing to do but work—so you might as well squeeze in a few more hours. Yet in “normal” times, there are often various after-work priorities scheduled throughout the week. Even if you’re staying at home, make plans. Schedule a call with a loved one, invite a friend to a virtual workout, join a virtual class, or set aside time to work on a new hobby—give yourself a specific reason to close up shop and get to the rest of your life.
10) Make Work-Life Balance a Priority
Whether you’re working from home, from an office, at a retail setting, factory, construction zone, etc., it’s important to make work-life balance a priority. You’ll be more productive at work (a bonus for bosses) and more present with family and friends (a win-win for everyone).
You may need to experiment a bit to find the best schedule and space for you. Despite the fact that many folks were thrust into this new lifestyle without time to prepare, it’s a good idea to start small and build up—especially if there are areas you struggle with. But by taking an active approach and making it a priority, you may find working from home provides the perfect work-life balance for you and your family.
What’s more, once things are back to “normal” and you return to work (or continue working remotely), you’ll have built up some good habits to support your work-life balance throughout the remainder of your career.