In the new world of COVID-19, many more people are working from home – and many are not used to it. A key challenge that work-from-home newbies are currently confronting is how to manage their work-life balance, when their personal and professional lives have suddenly become so enmeshed. What’s more, with the potential for spouses and kids also to be working or studying from home and vying for attention, achieving a semblance of balance has become even more difficult.
Here are five tips to help those who are new to the remote-work lifestyle get back on track with their work-life balance, even in the current stressful environment:
When you’re heads-down on a work project, a common tendency is to want to push through until you’re finished. Depending on how long your task takes to complete, this may leave you sitting at your desk for hours on end without a break – the opposite of work-life balance. This is a bad idea, because you’ll not only begin to lose your focus and be less productive without a break, but you can also set yourself up for physical and mental health problems.
Instead, take advantage of a popular productivity hack that’s similar to the Pomodoro Technique. This involves dedicating the greater part of each hour – 52 minutes, to be exact – to focused working. That crunch is then followed up by 17 minutes of a break period, away from your desk, computer or task.
You can do anything you want during your break as long as it’s not related to the work that you’ve been doing; after all, your goal is to refresh and recharge yourself for the next 52-minute work sprint. If you want to keep things simple with your balance breaks, give yourself a five- to 10-minute reprieve from your work projects every hour.
It’s even harder right now – when many areas are under shelter-in-place orders that restrict what you can do outside your home – to get up from your desk for a brain break. But just flipping your focus from your work email to your Facebook page isn’t going to leave you refreshed, and too much time spent staring at screens doesn’t lead to balance.
To avoid a break that’s just more of the same digital distraction, make a point of actually getting up from your home-office desk space and walking into another room. If you can stand to part with your smartphone during this brief work hiatus, it will help clear your head and reset your motivation to dive back into your work projects once you reenter your designated working area.
While you may be used to having someone else empty out your trash can and keep common areas clean when working in company offices, at-home cleaning and maintenance is a different story. It may seem like a small point to keep your work station and the rest of your home clean, but think about the fact that it’s getting much more daily use than when everyone was out working at jobs or school.
Research has found that cleanliness affects productivity, and even improves happiness and health. So don’t make your day at home all work with no regard to creating a clean and organized space around you. Carve out some deliberate time to tidy up, particularly your desk area.
Company offices have built-in organization, with cubicles or desk areas designated for each employee. If you’re new to working from home, you may not have a proper home office or desk that’s just for your laptop and work supplies.
But even if you’re working from a small apartment or otherwise have limited space for your work materials, you can still pick a place to group everything you need for your work projects. Resist the urge to drift from room to room, scattering supplies as you go. By centralizing your work paraphernalia in a specific reliable spot that’s not mixed in with your household items, you’ll help achieve a clearer separation between your work and the rest of your life.
Another advantage of a traditional office environment is that there’s a clear beginning and end to your workday. Not so when working virtually from your home office. You might start a project for your boss as soon as you wake up since there’s no commute time, and could find yourself still responding to your colleagues’ emails late at night, with no definite plan in place to end your workday.
A better approach is to set hours for yourself, since it’s easy to constantly stay working. Put in writing what time you plan to begin your workday, as well as when you will sign off from it – and share your scheduled start and stop time with your team. You can manage expectations with your boss and co-workers by creating an “out of office” email that lists your usual work-from-home hours and how to reach you in case of emergency.
Robin Madell, Contributor
Robin Madell began writing for U.S. News & World Report’s On Careers section in 2013, with a …