At the best of times it can be hard to keep our work and home lives separate. Add to this a global pandemic, school closures and lockdowns and it can be nigh on impossible to keep the two apart. We no longer have the luxury of leaving our work, and any associated stresses, at the office. Our houses or flats have now become our homes, offices, schools, nurseries, gyms, pubs and restaurants.
As we move further into this crisis, for many, home and office life has converged at an alarming rate. Many of us might be feeling like they are ‘always on’ and don’t have the chance to properly switch off and escape the office.
So, how can you keep your work life separate amid the chaos and uncertainty?
Have a ‘workspace’ and a ‘home space’
Having a physical difference between the two really helps in the ability to switch off. If you can, have a dedicated work area set up in a separate room to where you spend the most of your free time. This can of course be a luxury that many don’t have, so if this is the case, try to have an area set aside for work and, at the end of each day, shut down your computer, and if you can, put it away or cover it up.
Find a routine and stick to it
For some of us, sticking to our usual routine will help us to distinguish between our work and home lives. Starting work at the usual time, having regular tea breaks and virtual chats with colleagues will make you feel as if you are working in an office, and will help you to keep boundaries around your work.
However, for others, this could be an opportunity to shake things up. Look at having dedicated ‘sprints’ of activity, focusing on a particular task for a dedicated period of time, then have a short break, and set a new task and goal. You could look to take a longer lunch break in the middle of the day to unwind and recharge, so that you can come back to work refreshed. If you have family then you will have to change your routine to fit round them, but they too will benefit from a rhythm and a set timetable. Whatever works, find a routine that suits you and stick to it to help maintain some sense of normality.
Regulate how much you talk about work
If you are working all day and then talking about it to your partner or family at the end of it, you may find it hard to escape it all. Banning work chat after hours is one option, or if you need to talk about it to alleviate stress, then set a specific timeframe in which to do so. Avoid doing it over dinner – keep that to family time. In some instances, it can help to use a partner, housemate or family member to bounce ideas off; be careful not to overstep confidentiality guidelines though.
Act the part
Let’s face it, a lot of us might have been tempted to work in our pyjamas at the start of this, but this is one sure way to accelerate the merger of work and home. It’s really important to dress as you would for the office or at least dress appropriately. Consider changing your clothes at the end of the day if that’s what you normally do. Whatever happens, don’t be tempted to work in bed or you will never escape it!
Reinstate your ‘commute’
Unless you’re one of those lucky people who previously only had a short commute, chances are you are used to travelling at the beginning and end of the day. The commute can play an integral role in helping us to switch off at the end of the day. Make the most of this time – whether it’s for exercise or learning a new skill or just doing something you enjoy, like reading or watching a programme. If you have a family, then use it as time to do something with them that’s neither work nor school.
None of us can tell how long this period will last, or how many weeks are ahead of us before we are “back to normal”. By keeping your work and home life separate you’ll be able to protect you work/life balance and mental health, building resilience to help navigate this challenge.