9 Creative Ways to Separate Life and Work at HomeApr 11, 2020
I used to love working from home a couple of days a week. It used to break up the monotony of my week.
Until I had to work from home every day. Everything started to drown in sameness.
I’m lucky to be safe at home while others suffer. Instead of giving in to tedium, I decided to do something about it!
I aimed to not have to wonder what time of day or even what day it was. To have a distinct separation between leisure and work. To take back control of my time.
I am more energized and able to focus on these 9 ideas. These are intended as baselines for you to take and put your stamp on. Please share these in the comments, I’d love to hear them.
#1 Soundtrack your day
The world feels a bit like a Hollywood disaster movie at the moment. As we have been put into this movie, why shouldn’t we have a soundtrack?
Different playlists resonate with different people but music is scientifically proven to affect our emotions.
I have playlists I will play in the daytime and others for the evenings. I’m using music’s ability to affect our emotions to shock my brain into different modes.
This strategy depends on what your job is. If you need focus then a useful question is what did you listen to when studying at university? A search on YouTube for study music brings up classical, soft jazz and movie soundtracks. I’ll rotate these to mix it up.
In the evenings, I play songs I love. Songs that make me want to sing along. I find the presence of words as a great distinction as the workday is all instrumental.
Your taste in music might be the opposite. There are probably at least two styles you like and can assign one to work and one to leisure.
#2 Change clothes
It’s so easy to live in sweatpants 24/7 when working from home every day.
I won’t pretend it felt great for the first few days. The novelty soon wore off. I realized part of the effect is the joy of getting into them after a long day of work. When I wear them all the time then my treat was now my normal.
Studies have shown dressing up for work makes people feel more professional and increases their productivity.
You don’t have to be pointlessly uncomfortable though. You can set your dress code. I normally need to wear a suit every day in the office but I don’t go to this extreme.
I go for smart casual during the day time then full-on casual in the evenings. The relief isn’t the same as getting out of a suit but it still helps. My workday is over when I get into my comfy clothes.
I’m not here to judge you. Your work uniform can be a particular pair of sweatpants and your other clothes your leisure clothes. Do what works for you!
#3 Have sacred spaces
I was once awful for plopping down with my laptop in bed.
I’ve read about how it’s awful for sleep hygiene but damn it was irresistible. A few days in a row of this left me feeling terrible though.
I am a reformed man now. I have my work area set up and I never venture into personal areas during the workday. The bed is the obvious area but it’s not the only place I keep sacred.
I live in a flat and it is tempting to go and work on the balcony. I see images of people working from their balconies and gardens all over Instagram.
I asked a few of my friends who posted this and they all said after a while it got old and they came back inside.
For me chilling on the balcony or in the garden is space where I am stress-free. It’s not somewhere where I need to reply to emails or meet deadlines. I want to keep this mental association.
Maybe you don’t have a garden or a balcony. You might have a favourite spot on the sofa or a favourite chair. If you deprive yourself during the day then you might appreciate it so much more in the evening!
#4 Rearrange furniture
This may sound like a lot of effort but hear me out. Especially if you don’t have a separate room for work.
There are two of us working on a dining table in our living room. In the work week, we moved the table to the middle of the room. This made it easier to put all our extra stuff down.
When we clock off on Friday night we move it back again. Symbolically this signals the workweek is over. It’s a small ritual but also a bit of joy. The room is a bit more spacious and our work items are out of sight.
If this technique works well for you then you could even do it at the end of every day.
It’s important to consider whether the layout of your workroom is best for both life and work. There are simple steps you can take like making sure you can’t easily watch the television in your spot.
Decoration can be used to change the feel of a room. When using a table for leisure, it could have a table cover and be bare for work for example. If you use a kitchen table then take all the utensils you normally keep on there off during work hours.
I don’t know the layout of your room but I hope I’ve triggered some ideas.
#5 Schedule lunch break
Despite the belief that we are superhuman sometimes, we need rest.
The brain can’t maintain focus all the time and a bit of time away from the screen can bring new eyes to a problem.
Sitting at the same work seat while eating lunch and semi-working and semi-browsing the web is wasteful. You aren’t properly working or properly resting.
In the office, I’d always spend at least some of my break with other people and catching up. This gave me energy for the rest of the day (providing I didn’t overeat!).
If others are home then use the hour for undisturbed quality time. Tell people at work you are away from your desk. This is win-win, your mind has a chance to recover and you enjoy the company of loved ones!
Those who are home alone, why not set up a call with a friend as a lunch date? Agree a time and protect it ruthlessly.
#6 Transform laptop
I use one laptop for work and leisure so for long periods of the day I am staring at the same screen.
The lines are blurred when half of my tabs were personal and half were work-related. It was easy to dip into personal concerns in the workday and work items when it was supposed to be my time.
Firstly be brutal with your tabs. Close anything related to work at the end of the day. It’s in your history or it is saved so you won’t lose it. You won’t accidentally stumble on it. Use different browsers for work and leisure for added separation.
There are a few technology hacks to make this easier.
The secret is small changes that trick your mind into separate zones. Changing the background and screensaver are easy wins. Swapping between light and dark mode on websites can help too.
Another change I use is the desktop scaling. For work, I need a lot of information at once and have the scale smaller. For life, I can scale everything up!
#7 Schedule quitting time
When I’m unproductive during the day, it means I end up working longer hours. I fell into the trap of considering former commuting time as an extension of the workday. This opened the flood gates though.
I have minimum time I must work as part of my contract but even if you don’t, end time is still important. It’s a tip I picked up from Barbara Oakley, who literally made the course on learning how to learn (not an affiliate link just awesome).
The scarcity of time forces you to be more productive and stops you from leaking into personal time.
I find it useful to make a commitment shortly after I want to finish. I’ll plan a call with a friend or family member. If I go overtime then I have to delay this call which I would hate to do for a planned dinner.
Maybe 5:30 pm is yoga time for you without fail. Then you make sure your work is done because you are excited about this.
The secret to making a habit permanent is rewarding yourself. At home, we have ‘Takeaway Thursdays’. It is a motivating treat but urgent too. If we don’t order early then the delivery wait time escalates quickly. Few things motivate me more than pizza!
#8 Exercise before work
No, you don’t have to look like a Greek god as a remote worker. Here exercise just means something to get your blood pumping.
My old habit is gym most days so when home, I am doing intense workouts every other morning. On the in-between days, I go for a short 10-minute walk.
Exercise has countless positive health benefits that I won’t go into now. The main reason I recommend exercise before starting your day is that it mimics a commute.
I am one of those lucky people who needed to travel every day on the overcrowded and sweaty London underground. The truth is I miss it. I might be a zombie when I left but all of the noise and stimulus raised my heartbeat and woke me up.
Exercising before work means you need to shower too. If you get your timing right you create a home morning ritual and sets up your mind for success at work. After a shower and exercise your brain knows it’s work mode, not Sunday morning mode!
#9 Take regular breaks
The work-life blur of remote working means you lose your normal daily structure. Unless you live in a castle, your kitchen and bathroom are closer than they would be at the office.
When I started working remotely, my average step count fell 90%! From 10,000 steps down to around 1,000. My movements were a tiny triangle.
Packing a lot of exercise before or after work isn’t enough. Guidelines from the UK’s National Health Service recommend two hours of standing or light working in working hours. This helps to battle a whole host of diseases including some cancers.
Lack of movement is awful for focus as exercise helps new neurons survive. If you are feeling lethargic and struggling to remember work then get away from your desk!
Feeling this way makes everything else on this list harder to maintain. Your mind starts crying for pleasure so you take the life treats and put them in your working day. Now both are mushed up into one stale soup.
Try the Pomodoro technique of 25 minutes of intense focus followed by 5 minutes of activity. It could just mean wandering around the house. Your work might not let you take breaks this structured but you can still move around while on calls.
I’ve outlined 9 ways to separate living from home and working from home. These are not a diktat but I hope I’ve inspired you to make a few changes to suit your lifestyle.
- Soundtrack your day
- Change clothes
- Have sacred spaces
- Rearrange furniture
- Schedule lunch break
- Transform laptop
- Schedule quitting time
- Exercise before work
- Take regular breaks
Thank you for reading and I hope you have a wonderful day.