The fact that technology allows many of us to work from home is amazing. We appreciate the ability to skip the daily commute to the office and work remotely from the comfort of our homes.
Unfortunately, as convenient as working from home can be, blurring the physical and mental divide between home and work can make it difficult to focus on being fully present for both of these important parts of our lives.
Have you ever struggled to stay focused on your work when your home office is your bed and your work clothes are your pyjamas? Do you find yourself unable to tear yourself away from your laptop to pick at a work task during family movie night? If these scenarios are at all familiar, then you know the struggle of maintaining a healthy separation between your work life and everything else you do at home.
The good news is solving this problem doesn’t require you to spend thousands of dollars on building an office addition to your home. A few simple changes to your habits and how you use the spaces you already have can significantly improve your ability to work efficiently during work hours and destress from the job when you’re off the clock.
Create Pre and Post-Work Rituals
Take the time you would normally spend on your commute and invest it into a practice that will boost your mood and prepare you for a productive workday. Sleeping through the time you would spend getting ready for work and driving to the office might seem like a good way to spend your early morning, but it can leave you sleepy and mentally unprepared when the hour to start work finally rolls around.
Instead, try some of these morning rituals to help get you ready for a high-performing day:
- Wake up early, shower, dress, and eat breakfast like you would on a day when you’re making the trip into the office.
- Replace your commute with a morning workout routine. Workday exercise has been proven to boost your brain function and productivity, and can even help with managing your stress levels throughout the day.
- Plan and prep your snacks and lunch for the day while you make your morning coffee.
Even if you go back to your bedroom to work after your morning ritual, you’ll have successfully flipped the switch in your brain that tells you when you’ve made the transition from your home mindset to your work mindset.
Having a post-work routine is just as important. Signing off of email for the day and shutting down your computer is a great start, but a daily wind-down activity like taking another walk or calling a friend will help ease you away from the tendency to overwork.
By now you’ve probably heard the news that multitasking is bad for productivity, but did you know that multipurpose spaces can also negatively affect your ability to focus on your work? Your bed or couch may seem like comfortable work stations at first, but they aren’t ergonomic or good for productivity in the long run.
Working in bed makes it more difficult to start your day in the morning and can also make it tough for you to fall asleep at night, which is a double blow to your productivity. Working from the couch in your living room can make it hard to focus while you’re surrounded by all of your favourite recreational activities and possibly family members or roommates who can serve as distractions as well.
You should also avoid eating at your workspace as much as possible. Take lunch and snack breaks in a separate space so you can give yourself a mental break from sitting in front of your computer. If your only available workspace is the kitchen table, take care to keep it clean so you’re not distracted by crumbs and dirty dishes while you work.
Dedicated Office Space
You don’t need an entire spare room to set up a dedicated office space. Block off a suitable space in your home with everything you need to be productive, whether it’s a corner of your den or a small desk in your kitchen.
In addition to your regular office supplies and work tools, try to include these productivity-enhancing elements in your workspace:
- Natural light.
- House plants and/or a view of nature.
- A comfortable chair that allows you to sit with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor.
- A desk or table with a height that allows you to hold your elbows at right angles while you type and for your line of vision to be parallel with the top third of your computer monitor.
- Shelves, drawers, or storage containers that allow you to organize important documents and resources.
You don’t need a large physical distance between the work and home sections of your space, but it’s important that you mentally divide these spaces as much as possible. Practice only working in your designated workspace and never working in the spaces that you’ve dedicated to recreation, relaxation, and family time. This will help both you and your housemates know when you need to be in the zone for work.
Less Clutter and More Organization = Better Focus
To enhance your mental discipline, declutter and organize your designated office space. Keep your workspace clean and minimal. Even if an item isn’t an obvious distraction, it may be unnecessarily crowding your desk. If you have items that inspire your productivity like awards or photos that represent your goals and achievements, place them nearby to inspire you.
Cleaning and decluttering your living space will help you further carve out the mental space you need to be productive. Prioritize decluttering the space immediately surrounding your workspace to help you achieve workplace zen and give you a nice, tidy background for all of your video conference calls.
Periodic Family Check-Ins
When the kids are at home, it can be especially difficult to separate your work life from your personal life. If you are working from home with your children, then you probably already understand the importance of making sure all family members have their own dedicated spaces for important activities. Your kids probably have designated play areas within your home already and it never hurts to set up separate, designated spaces for them to focus on school and other educational activities as well.
If your children are old enough, work with them to create a schedule filled with quiet work, playtime, and breaks that aligns with your own work schedule. You can program this schedule into their devices or write it down and post it somewhere in their space so they don’t forget.
If another member of your household is also working from home, they should have a dedicated workspace as well, even if it’s not too far from yours. After all, open floor plans and sharing office space with co-workers is also common within commercial office environments.
Make sure you have a protocol for meetings and phone calls. Setting up another set of workspaces in your home can be helpful when one of you needs solitude or privacy for a work task, plus rotating between multiple dedicated work locations can help give your mind a fresh perspective without knocking you out of your workflow.
A regular lunch hour is another office ritual that often gets cut from your schedule when you start working from home. Sharing a mid-day meal with your family at the same time each afternoon has an obvious nutritional benefit, but also social benefits. The people you share your home with play an even more important role in your social life when you’re working from home and don’t have the same opportunities to socialize with your co-workers. Fight the isolation that many remote workers feel by scheduling regular check-ins with family and friends.
Every workday is a little different no matter what you do for a living and there’s potential for distractions to disrupt your daily routine whether you’re at home or the office. Doing your professional thing at home means you’re more likely to be sidetracked by your dog or kid than a chatty co-worker, but taking control of dividing your space and adopting healthier work-from-home habits will allow you to own your billable hours and your much deserved work-free recharge time.