Many of us found ourselves abruptly shoved into the work-from-home world this year. Without distinct locations to frame these two sides of our lives, disorder and chaos were poised to reign. And the idea of work-life balance took on a whole new importance. If you’ve been wondering how to keep these two worlds in check, we’ve got you covered with these eight tips for getting better work-life balance.
Define balance for you
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Work-life balance does not mean work and life need to get equal weighting. One thing you can count on is that balance shifting continuously. And more importantly, there’s no universal balance—it’s whatever works for you.
Okay, but how do you define the right balance? Remember, it’s a two-way street. Don’t solely make concessions on the personal side to accommodate work, and vice versa. Both sides need to give a little. Think about where you are in life. If you’re fresh out of school, you might want to focus more on work as you prove yourself in your job or explore careers. If you’ve got a family at home to care for, you’ll probably need to dial down work. In other words, prioritize. What’s important to you will help guide all the decisions you make about work-life balance.
Somewhere along the way, we lost control of the workday. We started coming in earlier, staying later, and checking in at odd hours. While we’re all still working from home, take the opportunity to reclaim 9 to 5. Your mind and your body need the consistency and predictability. And without variables like your commute eating into your day, it’s a lot easier to work regular hours.
Define when you’ll start and end your work day. Don’t get sloppy on either end. Start time means when you’ll be showered, dressed, at your computer, coffee in hand, ready to go. End time means your computer goes to sleep, and there’s no answering phone calls, texts, chats, or anything else work-related. Clean breaks will program your brain to not get caught in flux, where you’re planning tomorrow’s meeting while cooking dinner—and doing neither task particularly well.
Set physical boundaries
If you’ve got an extra room to spare at home, just set it up as your office, right? It sure sounds great, but most of us aren’t so fortunate.
There are, however, still things you can do to create the crucial physical boundary between work and home. If you’re using the kitchen table as your desk, sit across the table from your regular spot. If you’ve got ambient noises that wouldn’t be around at the office—like traffic outside or the sound of a fish tank pump—tune them out by putting on headphones or some white noise. And under no circumstances should you work from your bed. Besides its tendency to make your posture collapse like that of an earthworm, it gives your body the signal that your bed is not a place to relax. And besides, no one on that Zoom call wants to see you lounging on silk sheets.
Create tech boundaries
If you haven’t caught on by now, one of the biggest problems with work-from-home is the casual drifting back and forth between work and home. The place you’re most likely doing this is right in front of your eyes: your tech.
As much as possible, try to keep the two from mingling. Ideally, you’d have separate devices for each, but that’s not always realistic. If you’ve only got one computer, you can dedicate one web browser to work, and install another for personal use to keep your tabs from getting jumbled together. Or on your phone, you can get a second phone number to keep calls and text separated between work and home. And for free online services that you use for both, just open an account for each.
Treat your home like the office
At home, you’ve got all kinds of wild and wonderful distractions. You could get caught up on Netflix. Or experiment with sourdough. Or have just a tiny, barely noticeable bit of video game time.
If it’s ever unclear what’s the right thing to do, think about those time boundaries we mentioned. If you’re on work time, tune out the personal. As fun as they might be, distractions have a funny way of turning sharp work-home boundaries fuzzy. A little Xbox in the afternoon could easily lead to spreadsheet time later tonight.
Set up regular breaks
If you have the fortitude to go 8+ hours without a meaningful break, well, you do you. But for everyone else, take a breather. Block off lunch every day, along with one or two short breaks to clear your mind.
Staring at a screen all day—with no in-person hallways chats and other on-site niceties—will drain you quickly. Beyond eating, use your breaks to take a quick walk around the block or tend to household chores like the laundry. As much as you might be missing facetime, you should enjoy the freedoms you have while you’re working from home.
Make peace with screen time
For many, working from home during the pandemic makes every day Take Your Kid to Work Day. But you do have a secret weapon in your arsenal. You know, the one that strikes fear in the heart of guilt-stricken parents: screen time.
Okay, take a deep breath. Screen time doesn’t have to mean a diet of action figure-peddling cartoons and mind-numbing, wallet-draining loot boxes. You have plenty of options for helping your kids learn—think nature documentaries and science shows—while also giving you some much-needed time to focus on work. And if you’re still feeling guilty, remember, the better you get at finishing work during the day, the more time you’ll have to spend with the kids at night.
Buffer your day
Don’t get us wrong—taking back your commute time is wonderful. But one good thing commutes give us is a buffer between work and home. It’s the part of your day that tells your brain it’s time to switch gears.
So while your work and personal lives are in the same place, build a little time into your day for a “commute.” Go for a walk, have some coffee, listen to a podcast—or maybe all three at once. And do something in the morning and the evening. It doesn’t have to be long, just enough time to wind up/wind down as you move from one part of your day to another.
And when you go back
Good work-life balance habits don’t need to go away when life returns to normal. These tips are sure to hold up well when you go back to the office. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned from having our work and personal lives shoved together, it’s this: Balance will be on everyone’s minds for a long time to come.