Where does work end and when does life begin? This is the question that kept running through my head when I started life working at home, converting an area of our modest home to my office to run my businesses. I know that it’s easy to get stuck into never leaving work when at home, I discovered that early on when the pandemic hit and I had to start working more at home rather than in my 2 offices located in different cities outside of my home. My offices have now been relegated to being stockrooms for the things I don’t use.
Here are some of my tips on how to resist that tendency to never leave your work while at home by setting and maintaining ground rules that work for you. Don’t forget, you run your business and life, never let your work run you.
Tip # 1 – Set physical boundaries – You know the saying “Out of sight, out of mind.”? Make sure you are working at home, not living in your office. If you have the space at home, carve out a dedicated work area. Put your laptop away when your day ends so seamlessly transition from office mode to home mode just like that. Don’t work where you sleep, even if you have a sofa bed. It tells your mind contradicting things subconsciously. “Am I working or am I getting ready to sleep?” Would be what your brain is telling you when you’re in your bed 10:00 PM and you’re working on that presentation for tomorrow or you in your pajamas at 10:00 AM in bed having a Zoom meeting with a potential investor. If your home doesn’t have space for you to work because it’s too small, get a small folding table that you can easily set up every day to put your laptop or notebooks set, sit on a chair that’s specifically for work and not for eating.
Tip # 2 – Set client boundaries – You’re running a business, not the other way around. There are a few things I will not apologize for doing so, one of them is entertaining business calls or work on a Sunday, that’s my 1 non negotiable. If someone from work calls or messages me on a Sunday, I either ignore it or say “I’ll get back to you tomorrow on that.”. If you’re not willing to take on client calls in the evening (for me, evening is defined as after dinner time around 9PM onwards) and after 4PM on Saturdays. Remember that you’re responsible for setting and defending your own set of boundaries. Stick with them as much as you can. Now if it’s about that decision about funding for your business from an investor you’ve been waiting on, well that’s a different story from a client following up on a project detail you need to complete.
Tip # 3 – Decide what WORK/LIFE balance means for you – I need you to develop some clarity on what that means for you. Balancing WORK with your LIFE is a task. Does it look like you have that traditional 9 to 5 type of work life? Mine is the 8-12NN type of work, and I’m able to do that because I set clear boundaries for everyone I work with. It’s not part time for me, it’s full time work. Recognize what are the needs of your business, financials and other social commitments. Make sure are able to balance them all out. Check your daily calendar, does it look like an equal serving of all your priorities in life? If not, then try to put in that lunch time meal with your significant other at home or that afternoon Zoom call with your best friend or that 9PM e-numan with your High School friends every Friday night. Whatever it is, make sure it’s balanced, and not all WORK/WORK/WORK.
Tip # 4 – Creating and sticking to a schedule – How many hours do you commit to working for your business? I mentioned my working hours from 8-12NN for my business and I try to do that as much as possible while at home, and that means no socializing online or reading that book I’m trying to finish. What time do you stop checking your email by refreshing or turning off notifications after 8PM? What’s your end of the day routine like? (Question of the day!). Consistency is the key to your success long term. A consistent schedule creates self-discipline my friend.
Tip # 5 – Coordination at home is key – I live at home with my wife and my mother. As a family unit living under one roof, being a good human being means coordination of your new schedule with your loved ones at home. This is why it’s important to give relationships the attention they deserve. You don’t want your partner nagging you at 11AM when you’re trying to stay focused on your tasks for the day. My wife knows that when I sit on my “Working Chair” at a certain time of the day, she knows that I cannot be disturbed because that’s my work flow that I don’t want to be disrupted from. There’s a certain level of respect that goes with it. It doesn’t mean that you being at home 90% of the time, that you are available to chat at any time. So she understands that unless it’s an urgent matter or prescheduled commitment that we have on a work week, she holds on to what she needs from me until I’m off my “Working Chair” hours.
In addition to these 5 tips, the flexibility of working from the comfort of your home can help you adjust your schedule to accommodate your most productive hours daily (mine is 8-12NN M-F as an early bird). I take advantage of my peak energy and mental sharpness including the minimal notifications I get from my phone or laptop. For night owls who work at night, shift your peak hours to working on later in the day, when it works well for your clients and your F&F equally. I worked in the BPO industry as an Operations Director for a huge global company for a decade where I turned my nights into my days M-F from 7PM to 7AM, so trust me when I know how to turn it on for work mode and turn on for home mode.
That’s it. I hope that helps you get your boundaries and time ready every day now as we all adjust to this new normal up for the foreseeable future ahead of us. Stay productively balanced my friend!