Before Covid-19, many of us had a clear separation of work and home. Work was a place we went to. The home was the place where we lived and were most comfortable. They rarely met unless you occasionally worked at home. Now, all of a sudden, millions that are able to are working from home. It’s a strange state of mind, working properly in your own home, the place which you generally think of as your escape from work. So, how do you separate the two when you never leave the place? As usual, we have tips!
Use a separate room if you can
This is the big one, really. Set up a separate workspace. Whether it’s an office with a door, a guest room, a table in the garden shed, a spot in a cupboard (or under the stairs Harry Potter style), make a space that is solely dedicated to working. That way, when your workday is over, or you’re on your lunch break, you can shut the door and put work away. Much like you left work before. This will not be possible for everyone, especially those working from home with kids around – often times you have to set up at a central point in the house to wrangle kids, pets and meals. Be careful doing this, because it can quickly feel like you’re never leaving work and never leaving home. It puts you in a sort of purgatory state of mind. Also, having a separate space helps set the tone with the kids; they eventually understand that it’s the place where you’re working and treat it as much. If you don’t have a separate room you can use, use a part of a room where you won’t spend much time outside of work hours, that way you don’t see work staring back at you when you’re trying to relax.
Set a schedule
Try to stick to a regular schedule – and this is probably dictated by your employer anyway. But work the same hours that you normally would. You might have to pad it by a couple of hours on each end of the day depending on how many interruptions you had to manage with the kids. But if you set a schedule with yourself and with your family, everyone can be mindful of the clock (and it’s a great exercise in introducing young ones to how clocks work). And then when you’re workday is over, you can shut off and focus on home and hearth.
Distractions will abound
There will be dirty dishes in the sink, staring back at you. The laundry will need to be done. The dogs still need to go for walkies. There will not be a shortage of distractions when you work from home, especially if you’re home with the kids and pets. Everyone has to work together to realize that during the workday, work must be done. It will be disheartening to have to do the chores at the end of the day after you’ve been working all day, but it’s for the best. Your best work requires focus.
Get Noise Cancelling Headphones
This helps with the above. Get yourself a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones. This puts your mind in its own little workspace and blocks out all distractions. Music helps with work anyway. Sometimes I put them on and forget to turn music on, they just help quiet things down. Though I would not recommend this if you don’t have someone at home to help with the kids, many times, it’s not possible to tune out your kids completely. If there are multiple adults in the house, perhaps set a schedule of headphone time, so that everyone can have some and someone always has an ear out for the kids.
Mute Notifications in the evenings and weekends
Most people do this anyway, and most productivity apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams let you do this – mute your notifications, so you’re not getting notified of work-related stuff during your off-hours. Unless you’re on call or have a mission-critical role, most things can wait until the morning or Monday. Most employers understand this. If they absolutely need you they can simply call. But not having the notifications on puts work stuff out of your mind, and you don’t feel the need to respond to a Slack ping the same way you could respond to a Facebook or Instagram notification.
Take Breaks Throughout the day as you would in the office
When you work in an office setting, most people are chained to their desks all day with no breaks – many people have ample breaks or make a cup of tea. Tea helps fuel great work. So, take the time while at home too to take breaks and make a cuppa. It can sometimes feel like you’re not doing enough when you’re working at home, but if your managers have problems with our work output, they’ll tell you. Just get your work done and keep doing good work, and you don’t need to feel guilty for taking a break to brew a cuppa.
Create a Separate User On Your Personal Computer For Work
Many employers will provide a work computer for you. Obviously, only use this computer for work purposes. Do not use it for your personal stuff as that can create problems of ownership over the things you do on it. Keep your personal stuff on your personal machine. If, however, you’re not provided with a computer, and you need to use your own machine, I would recommend creating a separate user account where you only do work stuff. This keeps your work and personal stuff separate and will keep your IT department happy as it’ll be a more secure environment.
We should all be doing this anyway so we don’t put on the ‘Covid-19’ while we’re all in self-isolation. But exercise can help keep you productive, and it gives you a release to look forward to. Some people even set up their laptop on their treadmills and answer their morning emails while they walk or run.
I mentioned this several times in previous work from home posts. Always get dressed to go to work. You don’t have to put on your suit and tie or put on all your make-up. But I’ve found that simply getting dressed properly helps your mind get ready to work. If you stay in your pyjamas all day, it keeps you in a pyjama state of mind. This isn’t the case with everyone, but it really works for me (and my wife, who also works from home).
Talk with your manager (or managers) and make sure that you are all on the same page for expectations while you’re working from home. Make clear that you have responsibilities at home that you might have to tend to during the day. Make it clear that you will try to get everything done that you can. But some things might get pushed into the next day. Everyone needs some flexibility here. Many are in the same boat right now so everyone just has to put in a little extra effort to make this situation work for family and professional life.
Do you have any tips for separating work from home when you work from home? Let us know in the comments.