Working from home can seem like you're living the dream, but it can quickly turn sour if you can't maintain a healthy work life balance.
One of the great things about being a small business owner is that you're the boss. This means you can often set your own hours and perhaps work from home. Even if you don't work for yourself, these days more and more jobs offer the flexibility to regularly work from home.
You can get a lot done when you're free from the distractions of the workplace and office politics.
But it's easy to fall into bad habits.
Working too much or too little. Missed deadlines, skyrocketing stress. You'll burn out if you don't get the balance right.
The 5 mantras of work life balance
Many before you have found a way to make working from home work. These tips should help.
- Get into a routine.
- Think about the people around you.
- Set up a workspace.
- Consider your health.
- Know thyself.
Now let’s explore our suggestions, along with a few solid don’ts.
1. Get into a routine
In theory, you could probably work all night and sleep all day, but in the long term your personal and business life would suffer for it.
One of the best strategies for keeping your work life balance in check is to establish a regular routine, just as if you had a "real job." A good start is to get up at the same time every day, even if theoretically you could sleep in sometimes.
It's not until you work from home that you appreciate the psychological role commuting plays.
You arrive at your desk knowing it's time to work, while the commute home helps you decompress. When you walk in the door, you feel like you're off the clock.
You lose this when your commute consists of walking from the bedroom to the dining room table, via the bathroom and the kitchen. You need to figure out for yourself what it takes to get into (and out of) a work-focused frame of mind.
Perhaps it helps to take a shower, have some breakfast, dress for work and then make a coffee to signal that your work day has begun. You might even walk out the front door, then turn around and walk back into your workplace to start the day.
Similarly, you need to develop rituals to help you switch off at the end of the day.
This could be as simple as shutting off your computer until the morning. Consider owning different devices for work and play, such as a tablet for reading the paper and playing games. This signals to you and the people around you whether you're working hard or kicking back.
The goal is that when you sit down to work each day, your body and mind know it's time to get down to business. Likewise, when you're off the clock, you’ll know it's time to switch off.
2. Think about the people around you
Striking the right work/life balance is especially important if you don't live alone. In some ways this can help, encouraging you to stick to business hours in order to reduce the impact on your loved ones.
Make time for the other people in your life, but make sure they understand your routine. If you have children, make sure everyone in your family appreciates the difference between a stay-at-home parent and a work-at-home parent — including the division of housework.
Likewise, make sure your friends understand they can't drop around whenever they feel like it.
Family commitments can serve as useful bookends on your day, forcing you to get up in the morning to see people off and then stop work in the evening to take care of dinner.
Don't get cross with others for disturbing you in your ‘office’ if you're actually sitting in their lounge.
Perhaps make it your job to make the lunches before school, even if people could do it for themselves, to force you to be up and about in the mornings. Try stopping for afternoon tea when people get home. Then find a quiet spot to get another hour's work done before you need to think about dinner.
3. Set up a workspace
If you're lucky enough to have space for a dedicated home office, ensure it's set up for productivity. Invest in a:
- Decent desk (secondhand is fine)
- Comfortable chair
- Computer monitor, keyboard and anything else you need to do your work
If there’s a door on your office — or even a floor screen you can use to ‘wall off’ your work area — close it at day’s end.
If you're working at the dining room table it's critical to consider ergonomics, as you probably don't have an OH&S manager to look after your well-being.
Dining chairs typically aren't high enough to act as desk chairs, which can give you problems with your back, shoulders and arms. This is why it’s important to invest in an office chair that can live in the corner when you're not working (putting it back in the corner can help signal the end of your work day). Also, move all your work things off the table at the end of the day, so you're away from the office.
Rope off your digital space as well
If you can get away with it, don't give out your mobile phone number for work.
Instead use a cheap VoIP service with a separate handset. If this isn't practical, at least put your mobile on silent during family time. Try not to be contactable 24/7. This might mean breaking the habit of checking your messages outside work hours.
Don’t read work email over the weekend. Just don’t.
You might find it helpful to work in a cafe or a shared workspace one day a week, just for a change of scenery. Your home can be full of distractions when you're in the mood to procrastinate.
4. Consider your health
It's easy to sit on your backside all day when you work from home. So make time for exercise, perhaps building it into your morning routine. If you struggle to find (or justify) the time, think of it as an investment in yourself.
Poor health can become expensive if you're lumped with regular physio bills.
Working within arm's reach of the fridge is also dangerous. So think ahead when shopping for your weekly groceries to ensure you've got healthy meals on hand. Don't fall for the trap of going out for breakfast or lunch too often, which can be bad for your waistline and your bottom line.
Don't become a hermit. Not only is it bad for your mental and physical health, it can also be bad for business. If you're not out there networking, you won’t be growing your client base as you should.
5. Know thyself
Some people are more productive first thing in the morning, for others it's the late afternoon. Understand your rhythms and plan your day accordingly.
Tackle the most challenging tasks when you're on a productivity high, then plod away at your more mundane tasks when you're struggling to get into gear. Maintaining a to-do list makes it easy to find the next task to knock over.
- Rather than waiting for inspiration to strike, learn the tricks for coaxing yourself into a productive mood. For many, music can really help.
- If things are slow, take advantage of the lull to knock off big items on your to-do list, such as balancing your books or making an early start on your taxes.
Don’t do this
- Don't get into the habit of letting your late-afternoon productivity boost run over and cut into your personal time.
- Don’t procrastinate knowing you can catch up on the weekend.
- Never agree to do work at the last minute on a weekend (even just this once).
Now put your feet up
Once you’ve internalised these best practices, give yourself permission to have downtime. You might even schedule a leisure activity as a reward for all your hard work.
Certain personalities can be tempted to work on holidays.
You're just as entitled to the occasional roster day off as anyone else. There's always something you could be working on, so remind yourself that it's okay to clock off.