It’s 7:45 pm and I finally settle on the couch with a cozy blanket and my golden retriever to enjoy some downtime with my husband and our favorite television program when my phone dings. I recognize the alert and know instantly that it’s work. The temptation to just check real quick to see who needs what is strong. Too strong to ignore, so I quickly open the app, read a message and respond. When I set my phone down I feel the gaze of my husband as he stares at me in mild disapproval.  Not disapproval that my job is important to me or that I took time away from our couple time to answer but rather that he knows I’ve said repeatedly I need to set firm work hours and not respond outside of those hours and I broke my own rule. Again.

I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working from home for the last sixteen years. I worked from home throughout our children growing up and I know for a fact that made our life and their life easier and better than if I’d worked a traditional office job. But working from home also comes with a unique set of challenges that I now see my friends who do work traditional in-office jobs also struggling with.

It’s so easy to download an app to our smartphones that let us respond to things when we are out of the office. It’s even easier to sync our work email to that same phone so we’re never out of touch. But is that truly healthy for us? Is it allowing us to do our best work or is it asking us to burn the candle at both ends so that we’re never truly focused on either part of our life?

It’s so easy to download an app to our smartphone that lets us respond to things when we’re out of the office. But is that truly healthy for us?

Angela Keck, Community Manager |Sanity & Self

When your office is in your home it’s crucial to create a boundary. If the office door is closed for the day it’s the same as if the office building were closed for the day and that means no entry is allowed. But when that office follows us home, or on errands, or on date nights, or to family holidays in the form of our phone how do we enforce that boundary?

I have always been a stickler about setting work hours and non-work hours. Once my 8-hour workday was finished then I was no longer the employee, I was the wife and the mom and my focus was on that. But I have to confess that was easier to do when my children were young and needed my attention more. Now that they’re older and not waiting anxiously for mom to get off work and drive them to a friend’s house, or make them a snack I often find myself wandering back into the office or replying to non-urgent messages from my phone after work hours. 

As a remote employee there’s a lot of stigma around are we really working, no one sees us working so the assumption is often made that we’re contributing less than in-office employee. My experience is actually the opposite. For several reasons including our willingness to compromise our hours, but also because we don’t get sucked into spontaneous meetings, or get held up in idle conversation around the coffee pot. But the constant need to prove that we’re being productive often contributes to us being more willing to work late, come in early, or respond after-hours and compromise our own healthy work-life balance.

Another contributing factor is, quite simply put, the fact that I love my job. That sounds corny, I know but I really do love what I do and I’m blessed to also really love the people I work with. I don’t want them to have to fumble for an answer, I’d rather have them message me and let me just tell them what needs doing, or what I think about something. I like what I do and who I’m doing it with so I want to contribute as much as possible.

But creating those healthy boundaries and taking time off is essential not only for our own mental health to avoid burnout, but also to ensure we continue doing a really good job.

Setting Realistic Work-Life Boundaries You Can Stick To

  • If you’re syncing your work emails to your phone either set it so there’s no notification so you have to manually check for new messages, or create a setting so that your phone doesn’t notify you on weekends and evenings. Use this when you take vacation time off as well. Checking email on vacation is a no-no.
  • If you’ve downloaded apps for work (Slack, Trello, etc.) mute them after work hours and move them off the home screen of your phone by putting them either in a folder, or on less visible screen of your phone to make it harder to check.
  • Set your work calendar to the hours you intend to work and auto-decline any meeting invites outside of that window. Be firm and stick to your hours, if you compromise your hours for a few meetings your team may begin to think it’s no big deal and expect you to compromise consistently.
  • Adjust your work hours as necessary. If you find that you’re consistently needing to stay late in order to collaborate with team members in different time zones adjust your start time so that you’re still working the same number of hours per day and not getting sucked into overly long work days unintentionally.
  • Create task lists so you can easily pick up where you left off the next day, or to remind yourself of a high priority project you want to start on first thing in the morning. Whether you utilize tools like Trello or Jira to manage projects, tagging things to remind yourself where you left off is an easy way to walk away from a half-finished project at the end of the day without worrying about it into your down time.
  • Last but definitely not least, remember how I started this essay by saying I earned a disapproving look from my husband for checking my phone? Well, that’s my last/best tip. Until you create a solid habit of not checking in after-hours solicit the support of friends & family to hold you accountable. If my husband or kids see me sneaking into my office, or checking my phone late in the evening I’ve asked them to send me those “really?” looks, because it reminds me what I am supposed to be focusing on.

Being a hard worker and dedicated employee are both great attributes but working ourselves into the ground will ultimately result in us feeling burned out and underappreciated. Taking time away is healthy and good for us. 

I’m publishing this post in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic when most of the world finds itself working from home, many for the first time in their career. So I’m going to add my 5 tips to work from home successfully.

  1. Maintain your routine. Start work at your usual start time and stop at your usual stop time.
  2. Boundaries are important. Just because you CAN work at 8 pm doesn’t mean you should.
  3. GET DRESSED. Do not work all day in your pajamas no matter how tempting it may be. Put clothes on, wash your face, etc. Your brain will know you’re in “work mode” because you’ve changed clothes and it’s the time you’d need to be at work. Feel free to wear comfy clothes (just because I’m always dressed doesn’t mean I’m fit to leave the house
  4. Take a break for lunch every day. It’s so tempting to make a sandwich and carry it right back to your laptop but you need to give yourself a break. You’ll be more productive in the afternoon if you do.
  5. If your home internet is slow or lagging–tell your kid to pause the Xbox/Playstation and see if that helps. (It probably will.)