As many of us have had to shift to working from home, I asked my brother to share some advice from his many years of experience rocking the home office. –Nancy
Guest Post by Tom Chick
So you’re working from home and discovering that there’s no such thing as work or home anymore. They’ve melted into a timeless slurry of chores and leisure. An hour here, an hour there, no hurry to get this done, might as well do a little more work on that.
As a freelance writer, I’ve inhabited this slurry for a couple of decades. I know how to deal with it. I’m here to help. The solution to this sort of chaos — any sort of chaos, really — is boundaries. And not just establishing them, but maintaining them.
Physical boundaries are the most obvious. If you can, set up a physical space where only work gets done. Ideally, a separate room with a door that closes. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a cliche for a reason. If not a separate room, maybe one end of the dining room table you don’t use very often? A coffee table in the living room that you can move to one side when you’re done? For heaven’s sake, don’t use the same seat and screen where you watch Netflix. At the very least, have a work chair where you only sit when you’re working. Think of it as butt mindfulness. You need something that physically and spatially defines your workspace as separate from the rest of your home.
The physical boundaries won’t help if you don’t also establish temporal boundaries. Set a time to start and stop working. Don’t give in to the temptation to just work a bit and then do not-work for a bit, because you’re home anyway, so what harm can it do to take a break? The greatest pitfall of working from home is time management.
For instance, it’s one thing to slack off when you’re at the office, because it’s easier to bounce back from the slacking. But at home, you’ll discover slacking off has a whole new gravitational pull. All the amenities of home — pets, family, videogames, Netflix, your guilty pleasure bookshelf, fixing stuff in the kitchen, lazing around in the backyard — are at your fingertips. You must carve out a time when they are prohibited. Be sure to explain this to your family, who might otherwise think you’re as good as home from work. Kids will want to play, spouses will want to hang out. Tell them you need their help with boundaries. You can try to explain this to your pets, but it won’t work. They won’t care. You’ll just have to think of every day as “bring your pet to work” day.
And just as you have to keep home amenities out of work, keep work out of the rest of your home. Don’t let yourself work past your cut-off time! This is one of the hardest things to do. If you thought the gravitational pull of at-home distractions was great, wait till you feel the more subtle but insidious gravitational pull of work. Resist it. Don’t let gravity drag you across your newly defined boundaries. When you put work down for the day, leave it down.
If you’ve got a morning ritual of showering, shaving, putting on make-up, or whatever you do to get presentable at the office, keep doing that as a way of psychologically marking when work time starts. Then, when work time is over, throw on a robe and slippers. Heck, slip into your pajamas. You’re not going anywhere anyway. Nothing says boundaries quite like a change of clothes. There’s a reason Mr. Rogers took the time out to put on his sweater and sneakers at the beginning of every show, and it wasn’t just to give himself time to sing that song.
Hopefully, you’ll find this helpful. I found it helpful as a way of not getting any work done while I wrote it. I probably should have mentioned this won’t be easy. Good luck.