At GAIA Insights, our staff have worked 100% home-based and collaborated virtually across different countries since 2012. Seeing others struggle to adopt “new” ways of working given they now find themselves in a distributed team or hybrid setting, is when we realize how “normal” it feels for us to work this way… and that we may have acquired an expertise others can benefit from!
If you are being forced to work from home, or even if you choose to do it, unless you know how to set healthy boundaries, sooner or later you will most likely find your personal and professional lives intertwine, and possibly entangle to an extent that is beyond your desired work-life blend. Having gathered advice from our team, here are our 10 Top Tips for a healthier balance while working from home:
1. Establish Routines
Many people find that routine is crucial to their personal balance. They like to plan their work at least a day in advance, to start/stop at specific times, break up their days in chunks, or schedule working hours around fixed break times. Easing yourself into and out of your workday, for example by reading the news or responding to messages, can also be a helpful practice. By the way, routine is an excellent antidote for natural-born procrastinators!
2. Eliminate Distractions
Whether you need to trick yourself by limiting daily access time to social media apps on your phone, or you are disciplined enough to stick to self-imposed rules such as “no screens in the bedroom”, or whether you switch off notifications on your mobile devices, or you simply don’t install emails/certain apps on your phone in the first place – there are plenty of ways to eliminate unwanted digital distractions.
3. Spatial Separation
If at all possible, set up a dedicated workspace which is not shared by other family members. This doesn’t mean that you could not take your laptop and sit in another room occasionally, but being able to “retreat” from distractions allows you to focus and concentrate if necessary, and helps you physically carve your work space out of the home environment. At the same time, it helps you leave work behind and protect your personal space as a private sanctuary for you and your loved ones.
4. Regular Breaks
We all know about the importance of breaks, and yet so many of us are really good at ignoring them. Thereby it is so important to plot your work commitments around breaks for recovery, fuel and movement. Regular hydration, high performance snacks, a screen pause for your eyes, lunch with a friend – ideally, breaks are planned and structured, otherwise you’ll find a reason to scam yourself out of them.
5. Happy Moments
Going beyond small breaks, some people report that getting out of the house at least once a day or doing a non-work activity, sport or hobby that puts a smile on their face each day, is also a critical ingredient to staying well-balanced. Apart from the dopamine release, activating different parts of your brain can lead to surprising ideas that pop up out of nowhere and might help solve a work-related problem!
6. Prioritize Tasks
Working from home is sometimes overwhelming and prioritizing your pending items can be a lifesaver. If you have too many tasks on your to-do-list, classify and cross them off in this order:
- Urgent and important
- Important but not urgent
- Urgent but not important
- Neither urgent nor important
7. Stop = Stop
A smart person once told me: “Stop when you’re tired, not when you’re done” – it’s been written on a post-it note stuck on my desk ever since. When you stop work, make sure to seriously disconnect. Switch your phone off, chat with your spouse, go for a walk, read the paper, prepare dinner… whatever you need to close the work chapter of your day. At night, certain triggers can help to unwind too like a shower, reading, journaling or meditation.
8. Define Off-limits (and honor them!)
Certain moments in your life deserve to be protected like a holy grail – your annual vacation, time with your kids, unique life events with loved ones, volunteering, spiritual service to name but a few. This means sometimes you are simply not available, your phone is switched off and you are disconnected. While some people may cringe at the pure thought of it, most of us will find that if we try it, the world doesn’t stop. Hell does not break lose. And our very capable colleagues can handle more in our absence than we tend to think.
9. Green Breather
This is a bit of a “secret weapon” in the arsenal of setting boundaries to enhance your balance and I have only recently discovered this for myself. A green breather essentially is a micro-break in nature – in my case typically a 3-minute mindfulness moment in the garden. Clearly, not everyone has a garden or even a balcony, but with a bit of creativity, everyone can take a green breather: Open your window, look at the sky or at a tree, close your eyes and listen to natural soundtracks on YouTube or visualize yourself taking deep breaths outside in nature.
10. Accept Diverse Preferences
“Balance” means different things to different people. Therefore, find out what works for you and don’t feel pressured by well-intended blanket recommendations that are pitched as THE silver bullet to conquer work-life stress. Equally, stop telling others how or when they should work – some of us actually do our best work at night, or want to benefit from a flash of genius on a weekend or simply love our work so much that we happily work away 12-hour days. As long as we feel our boundaries work for us, let’s support and encourage each other to live our individual balance instead of adopting or enforcing a one-size-fits-all approach.
I hope the above tips spark some ideas and I invite you to try some new behaviors for healthier boundaries in a virtual workplace. However, this comes with a note of caution: All of the tips above require a certain level of discipline in order to be implemented effectively. Doing a little bit of this and little bit of that may work for some, but most of us would benefit more from picking a couple of measures and consistently turning them into habits by deliberate practice.
As we acknowledge in our BALANCE video, finding personal balance is not an unattainable ideal, or a destination you reach. It is a lifelong journey. And the sooner you embark on this journey, the more well-being you can preserve for the rest of your life.
What helps YOU set healthy balance boundaries when working from home? What practical, easy-to-implement habits or routines could help others improve their desired work-life blend?
Authored by Martina Mangelsdorf, Chief Strategic Dreamer at GAIA Insights