Whether you always work at home or are doing so during the pandemic, setting limits is important to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
On a busy, deadline-filled afternoon years ago, a friend reached out with a request: could I watch her girls while she went to an important appointment. I didn’t know how to say no at the time. So, instead, I said yes — even though I didn’t really have the time or mental space to care for an additional two kids under age 6 (my kids were 6 and 8 at the time).
While the kids had a lovely time together, it wasn’t a great experience for me. I’d said yes to something that I should have said no to. It’s not that I didn’t want to help this friend though; it’s that I worked — albeit at home — full time.
Just because I was home didn’t mean I was available.
After that, I learned to say no, when appropriate. And although occasionally I’d hear a “But you work at home! You have time!” response, I didn’t waver when I couldn’t.
While it’s true that working at home is a lot more flexible than office work, there are still deadlines, meetings, conference calls and work to be attended to. And on deadline days, meeting those is paramount.
These days, I have a full time job that I am working at home during the pandemic. The circumstances are different — for instance, my kids are older, schooling at home and our friends are respecting social isolation just as we are.
But the things I learned about boundaries when I was a full time freelance writer still apply.
Here’s how to successfully set limits — while also enjoying the benefits of the freelance life.
When you work from home, it’s absolutely imperative that you set limits on when and where you work.
For instance, it might be tempting to cuddle up in bed on a cold and dreary day, but do you really want to bring your office to your bedroom? Probably not.
Instead, designate a dedicated workspace and go there — even if the commute is a mere 10 steps.
Having that dedicated space also allows you to keep your work supplies organized away from the rest of your life — which is important for maintaining the office/life separation.
For some work-at-home jobs, you have the flexibility to choose your own schedule. If that’s the case, then adapting your schedule to your life is a great idea. But you still need to set limits. Designate a certain time as work hours so that you have a distinction between work time and personal time — work time should never take over your life.
If you are temporarily working from home, as is the case from many people whose offices closed but jobs continued, you still need to define when you work. Otherwise, you may find yourself putting in some unintended excess hours.
So when do you start your day? When do you end it? When are your breaks? Create a routine.
To successfully schedule your work time, look realistically at what makes you happiest during the day and plan around that. For instance, I prefer to sleep until 7ish and have coffee before getting to work, so I try to avoid ever scheduling anything work-related before 8:45 am. I also like a midday break, so I schedule that in as well.
Working at home is more flexible, but you still need to be productive. By using the flexibility to schedule yourself to work during your most productive times (and scheduling breaks in your most unproductive ones), your performance will be tip-top.
And remember, even if this is temporary, you need to take breaks — just as you did when you were in the office. But since you’re home, those walks to get coffee, stretch your legs or gaze into the vending machine can be replaced with whatever you want — even yoga. Perhaps a 10-minute yoga video on YouTube will improve your work at home life?
It’s Okay to Enjoy It
Whether you are working from home because that’s what you do, or working from home because of the pandemic, it’s okay to enjoy your time (see above: 10-minute yoga!).
So make smart choices about when, where and how you work. And make good life choices about how to maintain a work-life balance.
Above all, meet your deadlines. Be accurate and speedy. But also take time away from the computer and enjoy life. Whatever it is that makes you smile, do it. Allow yourself — even when you have so much work — to stop for a little and take breathers. It will make you a better worker in the end.
What limits are hardest for you to set?