If you’ve been working from home for the past few months, and expect the situation to last into the foreseeable future, you’re not alone. As a long-time freelancer, I still regularly discover little things that help me get closer to achieving an optimal work-life balance, despite my work and personal life sharing the same physical space. To me, it’s a question of maximizing my productivity, while creating a mental separation between the two. Of course, everyone is different, so these tips may not be as effective for you. But exploring ideas and strategies is the best way of finding what works!
Without further ado, here are some tips for improving your work-life balance while working from home, courtesy of myself and a couple of my freelancing friends.
Create Physical Boundaries …
Having a closed office is ideal. That way, you can leave it and shut the door behind you when you’re done for the day. But having a spare room to dedicate to working is not a given—especially since many people suddenly started working from home due to the pandemic with little-to-no time to plan for it.
As a long-time freelancer, I regularly discover things that help me get closer to achieving an optimal work-life balance, despite my work and personal life sharing the same physical space.
Admittedly, working from home is a big lifestyle change. The key is to create an environment that is conducive to concentration and productivity. For me, that means a quiet(ish) setting in a space I associate with work. Natural light can also be important: “I moved my office to a brighter room where it would be more pleasant to sit for several hours,” says Andréa Sirhan Daneau, a freelance beauty journalist.
There are ways around not having a separate office, but you might have to get creative. Maybe you can use a side table as a makeshift desk during the week. Or if you’ve gone fully digital and don’t need much else to work, your laptop can become your “office,” and you could avoid using it on weekends (it’s not like we don’t have tablets and cell phones for our streaming and browsing needs, right?). The idea is to separate your work from the rest of your life, and have a way of walking away from it or simply putting it out of sight for a while.
- Set up a temporary home office in a guest room.
- Put together a work kit (a basket or bag with your stationery, favorite tumbler, and whatever else you need) that you can store away when you’re not in work mode.
… As Well As Mental Ones
I find disconnecting from work crucial to my daily well-being. But how disconnected you can allow yourself to be may depend on the nature of your job, your position, and what makes you feel comfortable.
When I first started working for myself, I had push notifications set for everything: email, LinkedIn messages—you name it. I was just starting out and wanted to ensure I was reachable at all times by current and potential clients. But it also kept me in a constant state of anxiety that had me fretting and worrying about every message that came through when I wasn’t sitting at my computer. And then one day, it hit me: I don’t always need to be available, and I actually don’t really want to be.
I had push notifications set for everything. But it kept me in a constant state of anxiety that had me fretting about every message that came through.
So, I deactivated push notifications on my work email and started only checking my messages during traditional work hours (I load them manually every hour or so when I’m away from my computer). This means that if someone emails me at 11 p.m. or over the weekend, I don’t get the message right away. It also means I miss the occasional last-minute request. But the truth is that most of the time, I’d rather not accept them anyway. More importantly, my overall mental health is much better for being able to turn my brain’s “work” switch off.
- Keep push notifications on only for your personal email, and set your work account to “manual” on your phone. Don’t forget that your email doesn’t necessarily need to be synced on every single one of your devices!
- Figure out a routine and schedule that allows you to work when you’re most productive, and disconnect when you’re not, while respecting any core hours during which your clients or coworkers need you to be available.
Find a “Work Buddy”
If being around coworkers energizes and motivates you, you may be missing those midday coffee sessions and interactions with your work posse right about now. Even if you’re an introvert who tends to be more productive in a solo setting, it can get lonely always being home and working on your own. This is where virtual work buddies come in. And by virtual, I mean that they’re not physically in the same space—not that they don’t actually exist.
For me, they’re friends who also work from home (even during happier, non-pandemic times). A few times a week, we chat about how we’re doing, or talk shop about projects we’re working on. We’ve even been known to share resources and give each other a hand with work from time to time when one of us is swamped. This type of relationship and collaboration has been vital to me over the past years, and I highly recommend finding a work buddy or reaching out to your existing coworkers—they might be missing the sense of community just as much as you are.
A few times a week, we chat about how we’re doing. We’ve even been known to share resources and give each other a hand with work when one of us is swamped.
- Have lunch with your work friends via a video call.
- Host virtual happy hour once a week for your coworkers.
Take Regular Breaks
Yes, really. If you’re one of those people who forget about the time when they’re busy, this applies to you even more. Taking regular breaks is crucial when it comes to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Think about it: by working from home, you’re saving hours of commuting and maximizing the number of hours you’re available. Sure, the extra time can be useful when you have a deadline looming or work to catch up on. But getting your mind off things every few hours and taking a breather can also help boost your productivity.
“I set an alarm to remind me to take breaks every 90 minutes,” says Daneau. “I use them to do something ‘mindless,’ like walk the dog, or start a load of laundry. Often, this is when I have my best ideas!”
How I personally do things: After I cross one of my most important tasks for the day off my to-do list, I reward myself with a game of Tetris 99, a Sporcle quiz, a quick cuddle session with my cat for five to 10 minutes. Then I move onto my next task feeling a little more refreshed.
- Go for a quick 15-minute walk and get some air.
- Enjoy a snack away from your computer screen.
Keep Kids and Pets Busy
One new challenge many of us have faced over the past months is working full-time while also having to care for children during the week, due to schools being closed in many areas. Depending on how old your child is and how much attention they require, this can greatly impact your schedule and work. If your little one needs constant supervision, things can get a little tricky.
“It’s important to break down your work schedule into periods of one to two consecutive hours,” says Myreille Simard, a freelance lifestyle journalist and mom to a sweet 4-year-old. “In a two-parent household where both work from home—which is often the case these days—the key is to develop a schedule where you take turns caring for the child while the other person works.”
She also suggests thinking up solo activities for the child that require less involvement on your part: “It keeps them busy, while helping them develop their independence!” If your child still takes naps, she recommends taking advantage of them to get work done. One last tip: “Start the day with more physical activities. Kids are likely to be calmer afterward, which creates a more favorable work environment for the parent.”
Pets can also be quite demanding of our attention. Luckily, my cat sleeps through most of the day, waking up at noon sharp to announce lunchtime (quite insistently, I might add), and then again around 5 p.m. when it’s time to call it a day (and incidentally, feed her again). But I’m sure there are many dogs that have been enjoying their human’s near-constant presence over the past months.
One of those dogs is Walter, an adorable and active/anxious Italian greyhound. How does Daneau keep him occupied when she has a call or meeting to attend? “A few hours ahead of time or the night before, I prepare a rubber toy and fill it with food. People usually do this with peanut butter, but Walter isn’t a fan, so I use pumpkin or sweet potato purée and hard biscuits. I then place the toy in the freezer. After taking Walter for a 20-minute walk before my meeting, I give him the toy in another room. Depending on how big the toy is, it can keep him occupied for up to an hour!”
- Look up activities for keeping kids busy online and trade ideas with your friends.
- Play with your pet or take them outside regularly to alleviate boredom and help them spend some of their energy.
Have you been struggling with separating your work from your personal life during the pandemic? Do you enjoy working from home? Do you have tips for keeping your work and personal life balanced? I’d love to know!