When you first started working from home, you probably reveled in the fact that you had more time for your personal life. (Grocery shopping at 10 AM? Mid-day yoga class? Don’t mind if I do!)
But the truth is, over time, it can be extremely difficult to separate work and life when you’re working remotely. After all, you don’t have a commute to separate work time and personal time, and you’re probably not kicking your heels off at the end of the day. Plus, your computer and files are always in sight—and if the work is there, shouldn’t you be doing it?
If you’re a remote worker who’s finding the line between work and life getting thinner and thinner, it’s time to make a few changes. Here are three habits that will help you give yourself some personal space and get back on track to creating a healthy balance between work and life—even if your office is the couch.
Don’t Sign On the Minute You Wake Up
Heading over to the computer first thing after you wake up—or worse, pulling it into bed with you—is a mistake. I know: You just want to fire off one quick thing. But I promise, you’ll get sucked in. And getting sucked in at 6 or 7 AM means you’ll have put in a 10-hour day by 4 or 5 PM. Do that all week, and you’re bound to burn out.
Instead, before you open your laptop, go through a morning routine. Take the time to get ready or, better yet, get out of the house. Grabbing a cup of coffee across the street or heading to the gym before starting your workday will give you a buffer between clearing the sleep from your eyes and getting inundated with whatever the workday has in store. Every so often, I visit the headquarters of the company I work for, and I notice that people meet up at the cafeteria for coffee, mingle over breakfast, and chat before getting down to business for the day. It’s not a bad idea for you to do the same.
When you do finally sit down at your computer, it can also be helpful to give yourself 15 or 20 minutes before signing into your chat client. Just like if you were walking into the office in the morning, take a few minutes to get acclimated before you let people start firing requests at you. I know for me, as soon as my chat light turns green, my co-workers know I’m open for business. And once you flip the sign for the day, there’s no going back.
Do Nothing But Work in Your Workspace
I used to work at my dining room table, where I had plenty of space to organize my paperwork. It was working out well—until I realized that I was eating all day long. My brain naturally associated being at the dining table with food, so I found myself constantly wanting to snack. And that wasn’t only undesirable for my waistline, it was a distraction to focused work.
One of the best things you can do for yourself when you work from home is to designate an area where you do nothing but work. If you have a home office, great! Set it up to be a good working space, with a big desk stocked with all the supplies you need to get the job done and no TV in sight.
If you don’t have space for an entire room devoted to work, you still have options. Your one must-have working remotely item? A desk chair—it’s the perfect piece of furniture to get you in the zone for work. If you must work at your dining room table or from a corner in your bedroom, add the desk chair and make it a sacred place where work gets done. Not only will the chair signify a specific section of your home for work, your back will thank you.
Leave Your Workspace When You Would Leave the Office
Far too often, I get to the end of my workday and realize I haven’t left the apartment—let alone moved from my chair—all day. Without co-workers stopping by for a chat or inviting you to grab coffee or lunch together, it’s easy to sit for 8-10 hours straight without actually talking to another human being.
This isn’t exactly healthy. So, make sure to give yourself breaks as you would in a regular office. Lunchtime? Instead of eating at your computer, go into the other room and grab a bite, or meet up with some friends at a nearby café. Mid-afternoon slump? Head to the nearest coffee shop for a pick-me-up or brew some at home and take a walk around the block while you drink it.
Similarly, when the time comes that colleagues would be leaving the office for the day, get out of the house for a bit (even if you have more work to do). Go to the gym, meet a friend for happy hour, or run a quick errand. By leaving the “office” to go somewhere and then returning home, you create a boundary in your mind between “required work” during the day and “extra hours” in the evening.
While working remotely can be a way to gain control of your life and schedule, it can also easily do the opposite by taking over your personal territory and time. So, if you want to embrace all of the benefits that working remotely has to offer, spend some time creating habits that foster a healthy work-life balance.