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Working from home has freed up my time in lots of amazing ways.
I can work when I’m most productive, set my own schedule, and even run those annoying errands during the week that everyone else is doing on the weekend (no more waiting in line at the post office or grocery store, woo!).
But if I’m not careful, working from home can actually have the opposite effect where I feel like I’m working all the time. Since there are no clear boundaries between work and home, it’s all too easy to revise articles, check emails, or otherwise be in work-mode late into the night.
And since my particular situation involves coworkers in different time zones, I often feel like I should be available all day long, just in case someone needs to talk to me. Remembering to step back and truly “clock out” for the day is still a challenge, but here are some working from home tips I’ve learned for separating work life from well, life life.
1. Establish a routine for yourself
One of the best ways to separate your work life and home life is to establish a routine for yourself. This doesn’t have to look like the traditional 9 to 5, nor is it something you can’t adjust along the way. But setting aside certain times of the day for working will help you stay focused and get stuff done.
For me, I do my best writing in the morning, when my head is clear (after a cup of coffee, that is) and I have lots of energy for the day. After focusing in for a few hours, I’ll usually take a break to do something else, before getting back to it in the afternoon for other tasks (meetings, answering emails, etc.).
Recognizing when I’m most productive and forming my schedule around it gives structure to my day, and it helps me recognize when it’s time to call it quits.
2. Make a to-do list at the beginning of your day or week
Coming up with a to-do list of everything I want to get done (and can reasonably expect to accomplish) during the day is also another of the working from home tips that has helped me the most.
Actually, I do this at the beginning of the week as well, but it’s usually a general sense, since you never know what could change along the way. For instance, I might slate an article for Thursday and then wake up really jazzed to write it on Tuesday morning. Then, I swap things accordingly.
But having this list of actionables, while still allowing for change along the way, gives a roadmap to my day and shows me when to stop working. Even though I could technically keep going until it’s midnight — and whoa where did the time go?! — I can refer back to my list to reaffirm it’s time to close the computer and start again tomorrow.
3. Set up a work station that boosts your productivity
Not only does working from home let me design my schedule, but it also means I can set up my home office in a way that lets me accomplish more in less time.
In an office, you might be stuck sitting in a big room with a bunch of distractions — phones ringing, documents printing, and snippets of watercooler conversations you can’t block out. But when you’re remote, you can set up your perfect home office with your favorite office equipment, lighting, or music.
I recently got the Jarvis standing desk, for instance, which lets me move from standing to sitting and back again throughout the work day. My external monitor is also a big help, since it lets me keep my screen at eye level and avoid that hunched over posture that can come with a lot of computer work.
I also recently learned that having a second monitor is a surprisingly big time-saver. Research from the University of Utah shows that a second monitor can save you two and a half hours of work every week, since it lets you keep reference material on one screen while working on the other.
So if you’re really looking to hack your work schedule, a second monitor could be your secret weapon. And if you’re a digital nomad moving from place to place, you might look into a portable monitor like this one from SideTrak. It’s compact, lightweight, and attaches to your laptop to instantly create a second screen from wherever you’re working.
Although setting up the perfect home office might take some trial and error, finding the right products could help you work smarter, not harder, as you move closer to work-life balance.
4. Unplug from email, chat, and other modes of communication
I’ve gotten much better at structuring my workload and home office set up, but disconnecting from email and Slack is still a challenge. Chatting with coworkers doesn’t feel necessarily feel like work — but it still is.
It still keeps me in the work mindset, reading up on announcements, learning about new projects, and otherwise staying in the loop at all hours of the day. If you’re working in a different time zone than your coworkers, it can be difficult to gauge when you should be available and when it’s okay to be away.
Some remote teams are all about asynchronous communication, and they totally understand if it takes you a few hours or a day to respond. Others haven’t quite worked out their system yet, so make sure to speak with your team or manager about expectations around communication.
Another move that helped me was removing the Slack app from my phone. At first, I would get notifications at all hours of the day, and this made me feel on top of things. But eventually I realized it was keeping me glued to my devices when I could have just caught up the next morning.
Don’t be afraid to unplug – while work might take up a good portion of your day, it shouldn’t take over the whole thing.
5. Don’t let paranoia control your schedule
I think another reason it’s easy to fall into 24/7 connection is because you’re worried about accountability. When you’re working from home, it’s easy to feel anxious that your coworkers or boss don’t think you’re doing anything.
But as long as you are meeting deadlines, solving problems, designing custom Slack emojis — whatever it is you’re up to in your remote career — try to put that concern aside.
It’s a common worry for remote workers, right up there with the impostor syndrome we get when we start a new role. But like impostor syndrome, it’s probably totally in your head.
Hopefully, your coworkers have total confidence in you and your accountability. And if they don’t and insist on tracking your every move, maybe it’s time to look for a more respectful work situation, anyway.
6. Communicate your schedule with your co-workers
When you’re working from home, sometimes you have to over-communicate so everyone’s on the same page. This can help with setting your schedule, as you can let your coworkers know what your hours are for the day.
Of course, you don’t have to publicize this on the daily, especially if your position doesn’t involve that many meetings. But if you’re working an especially unusual schedule or plan to end each day by 5pm, it could be worth letting people know so they know when to message you and when to wait.
Working remotely is all about designing your lifestyle on your terms. Hopefully, you also feel empowered to communicate your work preferences with your team.
7. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with friends and family
Besides the challenge of turning off your work brain at the end of the day, you might also run into some challenges with friends and family. Some people will hear you work from home and think that means you don’t work, for some reason. Suddenly you start getting invitations to go shopping or have a beach day.
Although you might have time to set up a lunch date or go to a yoga class mid-day, chances are you still have to spend a good chunk of the day at your desk. It could help to communicate your work schedule with your friends and family, so they know when you’re free and when you’re not.
And if you’re struggling to avoid the temptation of closing the laptop in favor of the beach, figure out if your workload allows for some mid-week break time. If not, Wednesday You might be having a blast, but Thursday and Friday You will seriously resent you for it.
Then again, maybe it is possible to squeeze everything in if you set your alarm earlier. I haven’t yet mastered the magic of being an early morning person (not sure I ever will), but I have a sneaking suspicion that people who wake up at 5 AM secretly rule the world.