10 tips for better work-life balance while working from home
It used to be easy to know when you were at work and when you weren’t. You were either present at the workplace doing work – or you weren’t. Now you might well be in your kitchen presenting the most important pitch of your career.
Working from home is here to stay, even if not quite in the five-days-a-week form it took on during lockdowns. The benefits are too large to ignore, particularly for those who need to juggle work around care duties. But there are drawbacks if working from home is not managed well – especially if your work life is allowed to blend into your home life.
Why you need work-life balance
Bad work-life balance is often the first step on the road to full burnout. It can spark a vicious cycle, where your productivity is suffering because you are suffering – and to catch up with that lost productivity you attempt to work more hours. Burnout won’t just ruin your work life – it will hurt your health and home life too. And the numbers show there is a clear relationship here: Our Wellness at Work survey found employees who had poor work-life balance were 76% more likely to have also felt burnt out.
Striking a good balance will let you maintain a committed work ethic while still prioritising time spent with friends and family. The key? Clearly defined boundaries. Here’s 10 tips to nail the balance.
1. Plan ahead
Before starting work for the day, plan out what the day will look like. This should include normal work tasks like meetings and goals, but also exactly when you want to clock off for the day and take a lunch break.
This is the kind of thing many do automatically in the office as they have trains to catch or dinners at home to make. But working from home removes these hard stops on the work-day.
2. Establish a good routine
A good routine will let your body get into the rhythm of working and clocking off.
This means trying to wake up at the same time each morning, having lunch at the time, and clocking off at the same time.
If you have chaotically different hours every workday your body will be confused, if you’re always waking up at 7.30am, going for a walk at 8am, and clocking in at 9am it should feel almost automatic. Your body will know when it is a workday – and if your routine is a bit different when you have a day off, it will also know when it is time to relax.
3. Get a good night’s sleep
You won’t be able to set and stick to a routine if you’re not getting enough sleep.
Working-age adults need around 7-9 hours sleep a night. And you’ll sleep best if your sleep pattern is regular – meaning you generally go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day. Putting your phone away 30 minutes before bed will help you destress and get the rest you need – especially if you keep checking work emails on it!
4. Dress the part
If you’re working from your pyjamas all day, it will be hard to feel like work is over when you’re still in your pyjamas in the evening.
Set out a dedicated work uniform that differs from what you wear on days off. It doesn’t have to be a suit or a full face of makeup – it can be as comfortable as you’d like – but it shouldn’t be something you’re sleeping in or otherwise relaxing in.
You want your brain to switch into work-mode when you work and out of it when you aren’t. Clothes will help.
5. Turn off noisy notifications
Modern work life often includes an array of communication apps like Slack that co-workers can use to get in touch. These can be great for staying on the same page while working remotely but are also some of the biggest avenues for your work life to seep into your personal life.
Try to turn notifications from these off at the end of the workday, and at the weekend. You might even want to turn them off at lunchtime. Slack has an array of notification settings that will let you mute dings at certain times.
6. Turn off emails too
The advice for Slack and other apps should go for your work email too. Turn off the notifications when you’re not at work and stop looking at them too. Work-related emails are for reading and responding to on work-days, not during time when you’re not working.
7. Be clear about your boundaries with colleagues and your household
These lines need to be defined for you, but also those you live and work with.
If you’re leaving for your lunch break, let your colleagues know you won’t be online for a while – you can update your status on many work instant messaging tools.
You also want to make clear to your household that your work time is your work time. Make clear that when you are working you need to be 100% in work mode – as that will allow you to be 100% in relax mode when you see them. Shutting the door on the space you are working can be a good reminder that you shouldn’t be disturbed.
8. Establish a workspace
It is extremely important that you avoid working on your bed or on your couch. This will blur the line between work and relaxation too much, meaning you might find it hard to sleep or relax without thinking about work.
Obviously, the ideal is a dedicated room you can work in, and do nothing else in. But for many living situations a home-office is impossible.
Even without a separate room, try to set up a space dedicated to work. You want somewhere that can fit a desk and ideally get some natural light in. If you can’t fit a desk, your dining room table will do in a pinch – at least you don’t usually sleep there.
9. Remind yourself why you need these boundaries
These boundaries are not about withdrawing help from your employer or your household. They are crucial to making sure that you are fully present when working and when relaxing. Not setting these boundaries will see you struggling to do both.
10. Don’t forgo your physical health
Without the office cue of everyone else heading out for lunch, it can be easy to just sit at your home-desk all day.
Make sure you use your lunch break to get up and walk around – even if it is just around your block. Finding 30 minutes a day for moderate exercise is key to your overall well-being.
But it can’t be all exercise and work. Find time to properly unwind too. Do whatever brings you joy – and makes it clear to your body that while your home might be your workplace, it is also the space you relax in.