Whether you’re working from home by choice or you’ve been forced into remote work out of concerns for your safety during the pandemic, keeping a healthy work-life balance can be much tougher than most people realize.
As much as you might enjoy the leisurely stroll from your bed to your desk these days, the perks of working in your pajamas don’t come without a price. When surveyed, four out of five remote workers say that they find it very difficult to disconnect from work in the evenings, and more than 50% report problems with sleeping.
More startling still: While 97% of home-based workers say that vacation days are incredibly important to their physical and mental well-being, 44% haven’t taken a day off in months. It’s no wonder that 45% of remote workers say that their mental health has suffered since they switched away from the office.
Workdays have gotten longer, too. The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that home workers are suffering through workdays that drag on nearly an hour longer than normal. Many may feel guilty about shutting off their computers and walking away from anything unfinished “since they’re already at home.”
So how do you maintain (or restore) your work-life balance under these conditions? Here are some tips that may help:
1. Slip Exercise Into Your Routine with a Fake Commute
Sure, your actual commute was a Monday through Friday hassle that you constantly dreaded, but mental health experts say that a commute, however brief, serves as a transition point in your day.
That’s important to have when you need to mentally shift away from your “home self” to your “work self” and back again. Not only does your commute time give you a chance to sort your thoughts and prepare for work, but it also gives you time to decompress afterward and set work aside again once you get home.
There’s no rule that says your commute has to be unpleasant, so give this a try: After you wake up in the morning, grab your coffee (or tea) and head for the door instead of your computer. Throw on a pair of sweats if you don’t feel like getting dressed up, and go for a walk.
Pick a circular route so that you eventually come back to your own door. Then — and only then — dig into your work. Once the workday is over, do the same in reverse so that you can mentally transition back into your “home self” once more.
2. Work That Daily Calendar Into a Real Routine
Part of the problem people have adjusting to remote work is that they no longer feel like there are clear boundaries in their day. The flexibility of remote work is wonderful — but you can burn out very easily if you don’t know how to block out your time so you can focus on different tasks.
Creating a self-imposed structure on your day helps you focus on your productivity while you’re working and your family, household obligations and social life when you aren’t. Even just separating “work time” from “family time” in your calendar can help you mentally transition from one part of your life to another.
A written routine is also useful if you’re having trouble setting boundaries with your housemates, spouse or children. You can more easily communicate the times you will be “off-limits” for any interruptions short of an emergency and when you’ll be available again. By making it clear that you’re not there “on-demand” for everyone else even though you’re physically present in the household, you can eliminate a lot of distractions.
3. Take Your Your Lunch and Normal Breaks
When you worked in an office, did you usually step away from your desk a couple of times each day to rest your eyes, stretch and grab another cup of coffee? Did you eat lunch over your computer every day like you are at home, or did you normally take a short lunch in the breakroom?
Those breaks are incredibly important to your self-care. They help you ease the eyestrain that comes from working on a computer all day, the back strain from sitting at your desk and the mental strain that can come from the demands of your work.
Schedule a short break in the mid-morning, a lunch break and another short break mid-afternoon to simulate the workday routine you had at the office. You’ll be rewarded with better clarity of mind and less stress — and that translates to better productivity.
4. Upgrade Your Home Office for Functionality
Is your “home office” more like a spare desk shoved into the corner of the dining room? Maybe you were lucky enough to have a spare room you’ve already dedicated as an office, but is it really functional?
A year into the pandemic, many remote workers are finding that their temporary home offices aren’t really as functional (or as private) as they need. It’s no surprise that home office renovations are surging in popularity this year.
You need to critically evaluate your workspace for ways to improve both its functionality and your ability to create separate space that serves as your “work” area. That will make it easier to physically and mentally separate yourself from the job in your off-hours.
5. Don’t Forget to Make After-Work Plans
Finally, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy social life in a pandemic, but you can genuinely benefit by making plans for your post-work hours.
Even if your post-work plans are nothing more than a game night with the kids, a movie on the couch with your dog or a phone call with a friend to catch up, that can help you normalize your day and feel less like a “worker bee” that has lost the ability to relax.
Generally speaking, the key to successfully keeping or creating your work-life balance is to install or re-install some of the natural boundaries between work and home that existed before you started working remotely. Remember: You’ve got this!