"To work smarter and healthier, it helps to adopt a level of self-control and a set of boundaries when working remotely." "The Science Behind Why We Should Never Work From Bed," Hailley Griffis, Head of Public Relations at Buffer
Here at Living Deep, we know first hand that the pandemic has dissolved boundaries between our work and home lives. Our kitchen tables are now home to standing desk converters just as often as they are to breakfast and dinner. Our living room couches are littered with our kids’ homework while our nightstands are piled high with file folders. Many of us are adjusting to remote work for the first time -- having worked in traditional office spaces our entire careers. With no prior experience, redrawing those boundaries can be complex and require a certain amount of commitment. It is incredibly tempting to work constantly when one’s bedroom -- or other nearby space -- is also their home office. However, creating a true separation through scheduling and establishing other rules is necessary to achieving balance. Follow below for a few tips to creating work-life separation when your home office is steps away.
The Importance of Creating Work-Life Separation
"[Without proper separation], 'you might be unable to fully relax. Your productivity may suffer due to increased feelings of irritation, disconnection and sadness that make it difficult to concentrate during work,'" Danielle Page quotes Dr. Bryan Wilson in her article "Here’s what working out of your bedroom does to your mental health" for Ladder
Working from home can impact one’s sleep and thereby one’s mental and physical health. This is especially true when the tendency to carry one’s laptop to bed wins out over unplugging at the end of the day. There are a few key drawbacks to working from home that do not exist when one commutes from home to office. These drawbacks are notwithstanding the many impacts experienced by those with more social personalities. One of these drawbacks is the lack of structure. Mundane activities conducted each day when working from an office -- e.g. commuting or clocking in and out -- might seem needless. In some cases, they feel burdensome. However, these activities punctuate the workday and create blocks of time which each require a different mental state.
For instance, commuting -- whether in your car, in a rideshare or on the train -- allows for a much-needed mental shift. It allows for a transition between home and work life -- leaving one behind for the other. Without that commute, the brain does not have a clear separation between work and home life. If your commute is now the five steps from your bed to the hutch in your bedroom, or the twenty steps to your second bedroom -- read: home office -- you might have noticed a decrease in quality sleep and productivity and an increase in irritability and over-sleeping. Danielle Page describes the causes of this decline in her article “What working out of your bedroom does to your mental health” for Ladder. She writes that the home -- particularly the bedroom -- has traditionally been associated with “downtime.”
Unfortunately, when “the space becomes emotionally associated with work, rather than downtime...its ability to be restorative” is stunted. This diminished capacity to offer a place of relaxation and tranquility can end up affecting quality of sleep and thereby affecting work performance. Quoting Dr. Brian Wind -- a clinical psychologist -- Page writes that if you “already find it difficult to switch from work at home,” working from your bedroom or another room used for relaxation -- like a reading nook or den -- can compound this struggle. Dr. Wind notes that -- without a clear separation -- “‘your productivity may suffer due to increased feelings of irritation, disconnection and sadness." These feelings can "make it difficult to concentrate during work.’”
How to Create Work-Life Separation at Home
Step #1: Compose a Schedule -- And Stick to It
"If you can force yourself into a routine, you'll find it easier to keep the work-life balance that can so easily slip away when you work from home." “How to Stick to a Schedule When You Work From Home," Whitson Gordon, The New York Times
In his NYT article “How to Stick to a Schedule When You Work From Home,” Whitson Gordon writes about staying on track. Gordon writes “if you can force yourself into a routine, you'll find it easier to keep the work-life balance" that can "easily slip away." Creating a schedule when working remotely helps establish boundaries. Writing out a schedule -- and sticking to it -- keeps you on track and offers a beginning and end to your work day. Consider creating a general eight or ten hour schedule for your day. Begin with waking and getting dressed and end with logging off or sending your final emails. Schedule a half hour or hour for breakfast and lunch, with a few scattered breaks throughout. Establishing this general framework first will allow for more specific planning -- such as periods of deep work or Zoom meetings -- around these breaks. If needed, set alarms to keep yourself on track.
In his article “Coronavirus: How to Work From Home and Not Go Crazy” for Thrive Global, Chris Misterek recommends first establishing a morning routine. He suggests using “the extra minutes you gain from not [commuting]...as an opportunity to put some healthy things in place.” Misterek also recommends incorporating a review of daily accomplishments into your end-of-day routine. Tracking your work activity throughout the day and reviewing it at the end can offer a sense of achievement. It can also signal the shift from work to home life.
Step #2: Hide All the Evidence
"If your computer does double duty for both work and personal stuff and you can’t lock your laptop away at night, then your quick online grocery order in the evening may turn into an extra hour or two of work if all those tabs are staring you in the face." “8 Tips to End Your Day While Working From Home,” Emily Courtney, FlexJobs
In our recent article “How to Create a Healthier Home for Improved Mental and Physical Health,” we outlined the importance of hiding your work. We quoted Elyse Hauser, who wrote about “How (and Why) to Make Your Home Office Disappear” for Life Savvy. Hauser noted that “if you can hide your home office when work’s over, it helps you keep...boundaries clear and healthy.” Hiding work materials -- including devices like laptops and work cells -- is easiest when one has a formal home office -- separated from bedrooms, dens and great rooms by walls and a lockable door. However, a folding screen, roll-top desk or closed storage works almost just as well. We recommend replacing your L-shaped or corner desk with a roll-top writer’s desk if possible. Roll-top desks keep work out of sight and out of mind more effectively than a desk atop which work materials abound. However, be sure to put your materials in order before closing the top in order to avoid revealing a disaster in the morning.
If your work computer is also your personal computer, close all work-related tabs at the end of the work day. In her article “8 Tips to End Your Day While Working From Home,” Emily Courtney of FlexJobs notes the importance of hiding all work. She explains -- if you keep Trello open past 5 PM -- “then your quick online grocery order...may turn into an extra hour of work.” However, if you “take a few minutes...to close out all your tabs...you can truly check out” at the end of the day.
Step #3: Create a Clear No-Work Zone
"To put it in very simple terms, we want to associate our beds with two things only: sleep and intimacy." "6 Reasons Working from Bed Isn’t Doing You Any Favors," Ashley Hubbard, Healthline
One of the most effective ways to truly separate work from home life, is to establish clear “no-work” zones. While ideally your entire bedroom would function as a no-work zone, this is not possible for everyone. It is especially difficult for those working remotely from a studio apartment or a home shared with other remote workers. Committing to keeping work off the bed -- and keeping your work laptop off your nightstand -- is a very close second. Ashely Hubbard explains this in her article “6 Reasons Working from Bed Isn’t Doing You Any Favors” for Healthline. Hubbard writes that “using the bed as a workspace means you’re bringing your work with you to bed, both literally and figuratively.”
Working from bed can harm both sleep quality and productivity during the workday. This is because “if you’ve been working all day from your bed, you’re likely to continue thinking about work." This can make "‘turning it off’ once you slide under the covers for sleep” impossible. Similarly, during the work day “you may find yourself giving in to heavy eyes and taking naps when you want to be working.” Hubbard writes that “to put it in very simple terms, we want to associate our beds with two things only: sleep and intimacy.” Throwing work materials into the mix prevents workers from ever truly disconnecting from the work day and reconnecting with themselves or their partners.
Step #4: Make a Mini Commute
"'If you’re remote, it’s 10 times more important to set a ritual because your commute is so short." Brian Nordi quotes Heather Doshay of Webflow in his article "10 Working from Home Tips to Boost Productivity" for Built In
Few of us actually miss our morning commute -- especially those connecting to multiple buses or inching along in traffic next to distracted drivers. However -- as mentioned above -- commutes can offer a clear separation between work and home life. They do so by creating a mental delineation reinforced by time and distance. In his article “10 Working from Home Tips” for Built In, Brian Nordi recommends creating a miniature commute to achieve a similar effect. “Mimicking a commute ritual” can prepare remote workers for their work day by offering a pseudo-transition, comparable to that provided by a real commute. Nordi quotes Heather Doshay -- a remote worker for Webflow who has created her own mini commute -- to reinforce this point. Each morning, Doshay “hops out of bed, merges into the hallway and takes the stairs down to the kitchen." Here, "she fills up her HydroMate jug with water,” after which she “journeys back...to her home office to sign in for the day.” Doshay’s daily ritual provides her with a clear start to the day, helping her leave her home life behind. To create your own commute, consider walking your dog, taking a quick tour of your neighborhood or opening curtains throughout your home.
Step #5: Dress Up and Dress Down
"Dressing formally for work also helps you mentally separate work and leisure time, which could be very helpful for people who need to create stronger boundaries between these two parts of their life." “Does What We Wear to Work Affect Our Productivity?,” Michaela Rollings, Hive
We at Living Deep are absolutely guilty of throwing on a button-down pre-Zoom meeting while keeping on our slippers and pajama pants. Comfort is a key contributor to productivity, but too much comfort can further blur the separation between work and home life. In her article “Does What We Wear To Work Affect Our Productivity?” for Hive, Michaela Rollings offers a resounding "yes, it does." She writes that “when people wear the clothes that they’re comfortable and confident in, morale is higher and people are more productive overall.” However, “dressing formally for work also helps you mentally separate work and leisure time." As noted above, this can "be very helpful for people who need to create stronger boundaries between these two parts of their life.”
Sharon Green echoes Rollings’ perspective in her article “Why It’s Important to Get Dressed When Working from Home” for (She)Defined. Interviewing Hot Content owner Sarah Harrison, Green writes that abandoning a work uniform "can leave you feeling just as disheveled as you look.’” Harrison explains that no matter where you work, “‘your energy, motivation and performance are intrinsically linked to how you feel mentally and physically.” Simply washing one’s face, brushing one’s hair and pulling on a fresh pair of clothes can set the tone for a more productive day. This is so regardless of whether those clothes are a suit or a t-shirt and pair of jeans. Just as getting dressed in the morning signals a shift from home life to work life, changing into leisure clothing offers the opposite. Carving out these two blocks of time in your schedule each day will help solidify the work vs. home life separation.
By following these five tips, you can improve the quality of your sleep, increase your productivity and connect more effectively with family after work.