Working Hard or Hardly Working? Working from Home and Boundaries in 2020

Unprecedented does not begin to describe the times we are currently living in. Working from home has become the norm for many Americans across the U.S. Though there are many benefits, including staying safe from COVID-19, working from home also presents its challenges and may be more complex than we once thought.

You may find yourself either working nonstop or not being as productive as you were in the office. Skipping lunch or having a hard time finding the motivation to work and not lounge around. It’s okay to feel this way. No one could have predicted this abrupt shift in our lives. But, there is a way to work from home and be productive, while not letting work consume our day with no time to recharge. Allow yourself to recognize overcoming a pandemic is not something we should be prepared to do. Many people are experiencing the same struggles, you are not alone.

Tips for a successful work-home environment:

Set a Schedule

Working from home should not mean working when you “can.” Set an alarm for waking up and give yourself enough time to get ready, have breakfast, and settle into your work space. While the commute time may be removed from your morning routine, this shouldn’t mean waking up right when you are expected to begin working. If your job doesn’t already have a system in place for logging your work hours, create one for yourself. In the same way, set a time to “get off” work. Get into a habit of ending your work day around the same time daily, if available.

Avoid replying after hours, if possible

Tempted to reply to that work e-mail at 8pm? While every situation should be evaluated independently, decide which tasks need immediate attention and which can wait until regular business hours. If you were in the office, you may not reply until the next day, for example, so why is this different when you’re working from home? Scheduling meetings and phone calls after your regular work hours may lead to added stress, burnout, and relationship and family distress. Unless your position requires you to, you should not make yourself available all the time. There should be a distinction between working hours and “just-being-at-home” hours. Setting these boundaries can help immensely to reduce overextending yourself which can lead to feeling like you’re always working.

Create a daily task list

Our personal life will always have things we need to tend to. While we’re home, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to manage both personal and work responsibilities simultaneously. To avoid getting distracted, create a daily task list and prioritize your duties. During work hours, completing work duties should precede tending to personal business, unless an emergency arises, understandably. Since you do have the convenience of being at home, you may also create an “if-I-have-time” list and add chores to complete in your spare or “down” time, but always keeping in mind that work related tasks should first be completed before trying to do a load of laundry or clean. It’s easy to get distracted at home but creating a task list with your priorities at the top can minimize diverting from your obligations.

Take your lunch seriously

Working through your lunch time can lead to added stress and creates a pattern of neglecting our bodies. Similarly, taking extended lunch breaks can be detrimental to work productivity. Aim to take a 30 minute or 1 hour lunch break, as you would in the office. Set an alarm, if needed, and adhere only to the time you’ve allotted for lunch. Plan for lunch the night before by preparing yourself something in advance or deciding what you’ll eat. This limits extra time spent deciding or preparing something complex while being short on time. During your lunch break, disconnect. Enjoy your nourishing food, go for a walk if available, or do other leisure activities for this limited amount of time. Once you’re done, return to work. Avoid unhealthy snacking throughout the day as a way to compensate for a missed lunch. This can increase unhealthy eating habits and emotional/stress eating.

Schedule breaks

Don’t forget you’re human! We are not wired to sit still for extended periods of time, even less when we’re in the comfort of our home. Schedule mini 5-10 minute breaks throughout the day to collect yourself, away from the computer screen, paperwork, books, etc. This is a good time to stretch your legs, hydrate, get your blood flowing, and then re-focus. Beware of extended breaks that distract us from getting back to work. Do not engage in something that may take longer than 5-10 minutes such as watching an episode of your favorite show, getting in your car to go to the grocery store, or calling your best-friend to chat for 30 minutes.

Say NO to distractions

Added comfort comes with added responsibility. Having distractions available to you and deciding whether they will hinder or help your work is no easy feat. Are you someone that focuses better with some low background music? Only you know the answer to that! However, having the TV on in the background, all the notifications popping up on your phone, and other sounds of our modern world can really distract us while working. Consider setting time limits in your phone settings for social media use, turn off unnecessary notifications altogether, or allow yourself only to check your phone during breaks. If you’re particularly struggling with disconnecting from your phone and focusing on the task at hand, you may set your phone down in another room or turn it off. You can also mute chatty group conversations and unsubscribe/silence notifications from excessive e-mails.

Discuss work boundaries with anyone else in the home 

One of the most arduous things to do may be discussing work boundaries with anyone present in the home during your work hours. This may include your family, roommates, spouse, and even children! Let’s be real, telling your children to behave can be subjective, to say the least. Have a conversation to determine childcare options while you are working, or plan your day accordingly if also providing care while working. Determine your limits and needs for a healthy workspace. Are you able to have someone else in the room or is it too distracting? Do you prefer to socialize during lunch and breaks? Be open and honest about your needs, and set this boundary by being consistent. You may be feeling like you can’t get away from your loved ones rather than looking forward to spending time with them at the end of the day. Try limiting your interaction during work hours and you will find time spent together more rewarding.

If you continue experiencing severe difficulties managing anxiety, procrastination, work related stress, or other symptoms, reach out to a mental health professional who can help you structure your work environment and increase productivity while reducing the negative impact of this new way of life.

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