Boundary issues - the surprising downside of homeworking

Being a motivated person is the starting point for being an effective remote worker, but that motivation can also become your biggest weakness when working from home starts to take over your life...

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I’ve worked from home on and off for the last five years. Some days I absolutely love lazily walking from bed to my desk, opening my laptop and tearing through hours of work that would take me a week to do in a traditional office. The lack of interruptions and ability to work when I want to allows me to be more productive, working on your own terms can be very satisfying.

However I often try to discourage people from working from home, it’s simply not very everyone and there’s a very delicate balance that needs to take place in order to work from home effectively.

My personal life quickly takes a turn for the worst when I lose myself in my work. Being a motivated person with no boundaries can quickly lead to burn out. While it certainly requires motivation in order to work from home, it also takes a good degree of awareness in order to stop yourself falling into the 24/7 work trap. Here are a few helpful tips I have learned whilst navigating the delicate endeavor of working from home.

1. Only do work in your home office

This scenario is easy to fall into: my living room is where I take calls, my bedroom is where I read interesting articles, my kitchen is where I listen to business-related podcasts, my front porch is where I brainstorm new ideas, my dining room is where I check email and, oh yeah, I do some work in my home office every once in a while too.

Spreading your work out all over the house means your home is no longer a space for renewal, socializing and relaxation. It is your in-home laboratory and it makes it difficult for your brain to shut down and rest. By keeping your work confined to one room, you can compartmentalize your space and thoughts. Try to keep that room off-limits at times when you are not working so you can train yourself to only do work when you are in there and stop yourself from working when you are relaxing in your living room.

2. Get out of the house

I try to schedule full days at home and full days of meetings, so I can then make the most of each day. If I have a full day at home, I can start to feel a bit stir crazy by 16:00 . If I still have work to do, I’ll pack up my laptop and give myself a defined list of things I want to get done. I’ll head out to a coffee shop, pop in my earphones, and do the work I assigned to myself while I am there. It’s important to remain focused, always remembering to give yourself a deadline for tasks is a good way to ensure this.

3. Set clear boundaries for yourself

It’s easy to get up, turn on the computer and work for 10 hours straight especially if no one is around and you don’t have any interruptions. You can easily spend 90% of your waking life working, but you will soon find that your work isn’t as creative or as interesting to you as it should be, not to mention losing sight of other areas in your life.

Set clear working hours for yourself to avoid the work creeping in on your personal life, as well as impacting on the quality of work you are producing. I try to keep an eight hour work day and take the weekends off as often as possible. Running your own business can make this hard, but if you know you have a defined window of time to work in, you may get more done than you’d think possible.

4. Create small goals and rewards

Setting a weekly or daily goal is a useful practice, but I find that if I can set small, incremental goals throughout my day, I get more done and I am much happier. Yesterday, for example, I told myself I would have a writing blitz and pen four articles in two hours. If I did this, I would give myself an hour after that to make lunch and watch a television show. After lunch, I gave myself one hour to respond to eight important emails. If I did this, I would go for a ten minute walk.

In a sense, it’s a game I play with myself to break up my day and make sure I take care of myself as I get my work done. It may sound childish, but it keeps me focused and gives me something to work for each day. Without it, my To Do List seems daunting and I tend to only get about half of the work done in the same amount of time. 

5. Give yourself a break

One of my very favorite parts of working from home is that I get to control how much or how little I get done. The down side to this is that some days, I cannot focus on anything. I have days when I am not feeling creative or articulate. I might head to a coffee shop in hopes of gaining some sort of super power to help me, and I still may not be able to work. I will assume duty as the unpaid door watcher and look up at each person coming into the coffee shop. If that is the case, I take it easy on myself and reassign things for the following day if it can wait.

The beauty of being your own boss is knowing when you should take a break and allowing yourself to do so. Getting out of the house can often help provide new ideas because of the change of scenery and energy. Or maybe you need a mini-vacation, allowing yourself to take time off is a good thing.

The real secret to working from home is awareness of yourself and your actions. Pay attention to how much time you are spending on work and what is suffering because of it. Being a motivated person is a great blessing, but it can lead to burn out. Be kind to yourself and learn what works best for you. Doing so will make working from home a rewarding experience.

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