During 2020 I’ve grown accustomed to new words and phrases that never really featured in my life much before then. Social distancing, Zoom, underlying health conditions, government briefings, lateral flow tests, mass testing…and working from home.
Of course people did work from home before 2020. It just wasn’t the regular or main way of working. Unless you were full time working at home and could plan and organise your working environment, before the pandemic working from home was generally a temporary change and break from a regular daily working pattern. People would make do sitting and working at a kitchen table, slouched on a sofa or bed or, if you were really fortunate, having a desk you could use.
When we know things are going to change we can organise ourselves for that change. Options and resources are able to be considered and we make plans. Usually not absolutely everything falls perfectly into place and matches our intentions though we cope and manage and things generally work out.
With the first lockdown in March 2020 there wasn’t anytime to make plans. Many of us who could do our work from home were thrown into working from home full time overnight. Literally. Our regular daily patterns and routines stopped and there was a steep learning curve, very steep for some of us, as we were forced to confront and adapt to the challenges of our new situation. I’d never even heard of Zoom and running my whole business online had never been in my plans!
Rapid unexpected change brings with it a heap of stress as we struggle to survive and rebalance our lives by establishing new routines and patterns. Once we feel more certain about what is going on and have ways of handling what’s happened we begin to relax. The overnight change in March 2020 was easier for some of us than others.
If we’d worked from home before we’d have some idea of what to do. If it was totally new the process of creating new working routines was harder. Wondering where and how the work could get done meant our stress levels went up and a fair few of us had to be inventive in the first weeks of working from home. It wants juts our working lives that had changed either. Our whole lives had. Children weren’t at school, child care wasn’t possible, only food shops were open and they had queues. Social interaction, chats at the coffee machine or casual encounters as we passed in work corridors, changed at the gym or met outside the school gates stopped.
Somehow we made it. Ok maybe not in the perfect way if we’d had time to be organised and plan for it, lived in homes with enough space and known all we now know. In the process though, and after talking with clients and friends, I can’t help feeling that the lines between when we are out of the office and when we are at work have become increasingly blurred and that some of us have started to live at work!
Life is always a balancing act between different demands in our lives and I can appreciate its hard to have clearly defined boundaries when you are fitting in your work around other responsibilities or there aren’t the distractions of going to the gym or meeting for a drink at the pub. I know there is only so much Netflix you can fit into your day as well!
The challenge though is when we aren’t certain if we are at work or at home we can feel confused which creates stress and anxiety. It becomes harder to turn off and relax and adds additional stress to an already stressful time in our lives.
We become less efficient rather than more productive and that impacts on how we feel we are performing and can even be detrimental to our self worth and job confidence. There’s also the fact you need time off from work for your own health and well-being – not to mention the health and well being of others that are in your life!
When we set boundaries we know where we are and what to do and that gives us a sense of being in control which in times of uncertainty is more important than ever.
With all this in mind I’ve come up with some ways to help you create a definite boundary between when you are working at home and when your office is closed and you are living at home. They’ve come from talking to many friends and clients who have found their own ways of demarcating home and work life and my own experiences of working at home over many years and during this current pandemic.
Don’t do them all at once. You’ll fail, or at least struggle, and may give up and be back at square one. My golden rule is, as ever, start small and the big changes happen.
1. Know What You Want
Not everyone likes not working all the hours they can. Some people thrive and like the sense of worth and direction being at work gives them. They enjoy the pressure of a fluid work life set up and do not want to have a specific boundary between their work and home life. It just doesn’t work for them.
Before you set out on introducing changes into your working day sit back and ask yourself do you actually want to have a definite break of your day between work and home time? If you don’t that’s fine. If you’d like to make a few differences the suggestions that follow may help.
2. Clock On and Clock Off
Before we worked at home, most of us would have started work at a particular time even if we didn’t always finish on time. With the commute to the office being non existent, going from the bedroom to the kitchen table doesn’t count as a commute in case you were wondering, firing up the computer is not when you start work. Your brain is there well before you show up.
- Having a clearly set and definite start work and finish work time is key.
- Write your start and finish time down in big letters and stick it on the fridge.
- Set a specific alarm on your phone to begin and finish your work day.
- Tell people when you being and finish your day so they are less likely – in an ideal world – to run over or book stuff in.
- Only open your work computer when you are at work. If you don’t have a separate work computer can you create a separate drive for for only work?
- Tell your family your working hours. Maybe because of their age or needs not everyone will get the message though they’ll being to get the idea that your life has boundaries!
3. Have a Specific Work Area
In the perfect world we would all live in the perfect sized homes with enough space to meet every need we could possibly have. We don’t and that means we have had to be creative and inventive. I know one lady who started running her business at home using an ironing board whilst sitting on her bed! I’m sure you have your own stories or even experiences. If its at all possible having a specific space to call ‘my office’ will help give you the mindset that when you are there you are at work and when you aren’t you are able to kick back and chill.
Whenever possible ‘close’ the door to your ‘office’ when you are not at work. This may mean physically closing a door or putting your laptop into a cupboard or moving to a different chair or part of the kitchen table or
4. Pre Work and Post Work Routines
We all thrive on routines and a frameworks. We may kick against them, accuse them of being limiting and restrictive yet they are key in helping us to feel certain of what and when we are meant to be doing and reduce stress levels.
I have my own pre work routine which starts from the time I get up to being at my desk. After a loo visit, I do my yoga routine or go for a run, have my shower, make a smoothie or porridge and start work. Mine is easy. I have my partner and me. Yours may not be as uncomplicated yet having a set routine helps everyone know what’s going on.
- Have an action or habit that you do immediately before you start work :-
- Dress in something specific that you only ever wear for work. I’m not talking a suit or formal dress though a piece of clothing that says to you “I’m at work”. It doesn’t matter if you will see anybody or not. Its for you to know you’re at work. A friend that does this swears by it and hangs a shirt over the back of his chair which tells him exactly what is going on. Incidentally the way we dress impacts on the way we feel as well and could make a difference to your performance at work!
- Make a specific hot drink or pouring a glass of water.
- Turn over a sign that says ‘A Work’.
- Only sit or go into your ‘office’ or open the cupboard you put your computer in when you start work.
Have an action or habit that you do immediately you finish work :-
- Change out of your ’work clothing’.
- Close the ‘door’ on your ‘office’.
- Get some fresh air – to tell your mind and your body you’re alive and change your energy levels. It doesn’t have to be for very long either. even sticking your head into the fresh air makes a huge difference to the way you think and feel and if its raining remember you won’t melt!
- Reward yourself with a cuppa or a biscuit or reading a book, or a cuddle with the dog, children or partner or watch an episode of your favourite TV programme or…
- Do some exercise – walk, run, dance, cycle…The act of moving your body changes the way you think and feel instantly!
5. Be at Work When You are Meant to Be
Its very easy, and tempting, to be easily distracted at home even if its only for a few minutes.
It is unrealistic to expect otherwise. Though sometimes those couple of minutes can become quite a few minutes its the mental and guilt impact that is the bigger concern. You may end up feeling you ‘ought’ to work later or longer to make up for your distraction which will play havoc with the timing of your working day.
If you know you’ll have distractions during your working day as far as possible keep a tally of the time away from work and then make up lost time by working later rather than extra! This will ease your conscience and make your working day more manageable and a known quantity.
This works the other way if you are required to work longer occasionally. Most, though sadly not all, employers know that fairness on both sides makes for a more productive relationship.
6. Eat Lunch
Your brain works better when its fed! In actual fact it is very hungry and demands lots of calories when its working hard. Stopping for lunch helps you recharge your energy supplies along with giving you the opportunity to see how your day is unfolding. This means you’re better placed to know what your afternoon will look like. Its a pause to refuel and also a legal requirement!
7. Take a Holiday
It may seem absolutely ridiculous to book a holiday from work when you can’t go anywhere. Believe me it isn’t. A change is as good as a rest and the continual bombardment of the pandemic and its effects depletes our mental and physical energy levels (I’m writing about this in another blog).
Taking a holiday from work and staying at home isn’t a waste of time. Its an absolute necessity for your mental and physical well being. The pressure of life eases, even its only a tiny bit, and not going to work becomes one less thing to worry about in the long list we often have to juggle.
I appreciate not everybody’s working life is the same. Maybe though you’ve found something useful to take away. Let me know how you get on and if you’ve got your own suggestions let me know and I’ll pass them on.
Till next time…
Enjoy the day you create.