Whether we choose to work from home or have it thrust upon us by outside forces, one thing we quickly figure out is that as fun and relaxing as it sounds, it can also end up being far more stressful.
Without the boundaries of leaving home for the workplace, and the workplace for home, we can end up blurring the lines between life and work. Since we don’t have a commute, we tell ourselves we can work a little longer or start a little earlier. With nothing on TV and perhaps home alone, we decide to keep working while we eat our lunch.
Luckily, there are ways to bring in the fun and relaxation you thought you’d have. And when you incorporate these things into your day, you’ll also find that you create the lines you need between work and life, further eliminating stress.
Set strict work hours
This is perhaps the most important thing you can do. Set strict work hours and then stick to them. Whether it’s office hours dictated by your employer, or the hours you want to work as a freelancer or small business owner, decide what your working hours are.
Once those hours are set, stick to them. Start at the time you set, finish at the time you decided, and be diligent about your work in between those two times. This doesn’t mean you can’t take breaks, because you can and should. But make sure that you focus on getting done the work you want to get done, so you’re not thinking about what you missed after work hours later that day.
Communicate these work hours to clients, colleagues, and others who will be trying to get in touch with you. Let them know that outside of work hours, unless it’s an emergency or you’re otherwise required to be on-call, you won’t be answering calls, texts, or emails. Then don’t answer outside of your work hours.
Give yourself rituals to transition to and from work
When you were working somewhere other than home, you had the drive to and from work to transition from home to work and work to home. You might have taken a scenic route, stopped for coffee, or done other things that signified to your brain and body that you were going from one to the other.
Now that you’re home, you don’t have that. And since your living space and work space are essentially one and the same now, it’s easy to feel guilty about working or not working when you think you should be doing the opposite. You can see your laptop while watching Netflix and think you should just finish that report real quick. Or you turn on the TV for background noise and get sucked into the guests on Ellen today (ask me how I know about that).
If you give yourself some new rituals to signify the transition from home to work and work to home, it can help make it easier on you. You might take a walk around the block, or change clothes, or put your laptop away in another room or tucked behind the couch and pull it out the next morning. These don’t have to be big, elaborate rituals.
Create a dedicated work space
When you’re struggling to separate work and home, creating a dedicated work space can be a huge help. Even if it’s just a small desk barely bigger than your laptop in a corner with a folding chair to sit in, having that space that is solely for working can create the walls you need.
Keep whatever supplies and equipment you need in your work space. Eliminate distractions by keeping the TV and unnecessary electronics out of the room — or facing away from them if you can’t. If you’re easily distracted, don’t put your space right in front of a window (though you should be near a window because the natural light will help).
The most important part of this dedicated work space? This should be the only place you do work. Don’t take work calls or respond to texts from the bathroom. Don’t take the laptop to the couch to finish that report. Don’t cook dinner while you’re on a conference call. It can be tempting to multitask like that, but it will further blur the lines and make it harder to separate life and work.
Have a morning routine before you start working
For a while when I first started working from home, I had a bad habit of getting up in the morning and basically staring at the TV until I was ready to start working. If I didn’t do that, then I just started working immediately after waking up. Neither of these was healthy or good.
A morning routine that doesn’t include working can help you relax and feel less stressed. Mine is reading a little of my current read, meditation, yoga, breakfast, and getting dressed. Yours might be coffee or tea, the sunrise, working out, playing with the kids, or whatever works for you.
This morning routine should be consistent. You should do basically the same things, in the same order every day. It helps set the tone so that once you do the last thing (in my routine, getting dressed), you can shift into work mode and start working. And it keeps you from starting work immediately after waking.
Get some exercise
Working from home makes it super easy to plant your butt and not move much all day. Most of your communication with colleagues or clients is through email, text, or other virtual methods rather than in-person meetings that require you to get up and move.
So you might have to make movement a very intentional part of your day. Do that by scheduling a workout. This might be part of your morning routine, or it might be part of your evening ritual to transition from work to home again. But it can also be a midday break when you’re feeling tight and distracted.
Take a break and go for a walk, run or bike ride. Cue up a yoga video and stretch the muscles that are tense from sitting. You can even take shorter breaks multiple times during the day and do some jumping jacks, burpees, or push-ups.
Whether you work at home regularly or just because of the pandemic, it doesn’t take long to realize that you haven’t stepped outside your house in days. So make a conscious decision to get outside every day.
You might go outside to go for a walk or a swim in your pool. You might go outside to meditate. Even a simple walk to check the mail can work.
But you could also take your work outside. Sit on your patio or porch to get some fresh air and sunshine while you’re working.
Make it a point to do this daily. You might even set a reminder on your phone or tie it to something else you do every day — maybe going outside to eat lunch or as part of your transition to or from work.
Turn on some music or a podcast
When you’re used to working around other people, the silence and solitude of home can be more than a little lonely. Turning on the TV could provide some sound but it can also be a huge distraction.
Try some music or a podcast instead. The audio-only format will make it less distracting.
The right music can also boost your mood and energy. When you’re working from home, your energy can drop a lot in the afternoon, even more than the usual afternoon slump.
Podcasts can be about anything that interests you but you can also look for ones that can help improve your work, increase productivity, or otherwise benefit you professionally. The choice is yours.
Call a friend
Speaking of feeling a bit lonely, not seeing your friends and co-workers can leave you not just lonely, but also feeling a bit left out.
Take a few minutes each day to call different friends. Check in and see how people are doing. If things are starting to open up in your area and you feel comfortable, meet a friend for lunch — or have lunch together at your place or theirs.
Connecting with the people you care about, even if it’s only by phone, can help ease the loneliness and feelings of missing out.
Make lunch when you’re ready to eat
When you work outside the home, it’s pretty typical to prep your lunch ahead of time. Whether you make it at home or buy something from the store, you generally eat something that doesn’t require a lot of prep at work. You don’t have the time, and often, lack the space to prepare a meal at work.
The same is not true at home, though. So don’t buy a premade salad at the store. Don’t make lentil burritos ahead of time and just heat them up when you’re ready to eat.
Instead, take a break from work and take the time to prepare a meal when you’re actually ready to eat. Chop your veggies and make your salad fresh. If you’re eating leftovers, put them in the oven to reheat slowly instead of throwing them in the microwave.
And don’t sit at your work space to eat, either. Take a true lunch break. Read a book or watch an episode of your favorite show while you eat.
Turn off work devices outside of work hours
The laptop. The phone. The tablet. Leave them on and even if the screens are dark, they seem to stare at you, silently insisting that you do a little more work. And if they should happen to ding, chime or chirp with a notification, you might have an almost Pavlovian response to check it. And once you check it, you want to take care of it so you don’t forget.
Save yourself all of that by just turning work devices off when you’re not working. If you’ve communicated your work hours to others, there’s no reason to leave the devices on unless you’re on-call. Shut them down and allow yourself to truly relax.
And if turning them off isn’t enough and you still feel tempted to turn them on and “check in,” go a step further: turn them off and put them in another room.
Take days off
When you’re working from home, the days can easily start to blur together. And during this time, when the pandemic has been forcing us to stay home more because places are closed, it’s even easier. You start to think it doesn’t really make a difference if you work on Saturday or Sunday because you can’t do anything else anyway.
But it does make a difference. If you’re working day after day after day without a break, you’ll eventually burn out and be exhausted. And people will come to expect you to be working every day.
Take days off. If the traditional Saturday/Sunday weekend doesn’t work for your industry or your lifestyle, pick different days — consecutive or not. But pick at least two days a week that you don’t work at all. Give yourself that time to relax, recover, and destress.
It’s all in your hands
You can choose to wing it and let work creep and creep until it takes over your whole life and your home. Or you can take matters into your own hands now and start setting some clear boundaries for yourself and others to ensure you keep some harmony between your work and your life.
It’s up to you. Do you want to be a workaholic? Or do you want working at home to be the laidback, relaxing experience you imagined?
(Okay, so maybe it still won’t be as laidback and relaxing as you really imagined, but still… it’s gotta be more fun than being a workaholic, right?)
Wendy Miller is a freelance relationship writer & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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