Five Ways to Create Healthy Home-Work Boundaries
I’m Jo Lee, I’m a That Works For Me Start-up Coach. I’m also a full-time professional coach, mum of two and school chair-of-governors with a penchant for red wine and good coffee, and have worked for myself, based from home, since 2016. Prior to that I spent twenty years building a career in marketing and business management – developing and launching brands, growing new and existing businesses and leading teams both large and small, most recently as Managing Director of the retailer that so many of us rely on for support – Bravissimo!
Many small business owners, and most freelancers, work from home.
There are some obvious advantages: a low cost-base, no commute, the ease with which you can intertwine bits of life admin with your work, and, depending on their age, the ability to keep a watch on children whilst working.
Plus, you’re always in when a parcel is being delivered or the gas man is coming to read the meter!
As with all things worth doing, working from home has it’s challenges too. Chief among these is the fact that your home and your workplace are now one and the same, which means that switching off from work is much more of a challenge than if you’re able to leave the office at the end of a busy and stressful day.
Having previously worked from home one day a week during my corporate life, and now being a home-based business owner that helps other business owners manage their stress, I know how easy it is for the flip-side of working from home to become a stressful problem too. There are regular interruptions from friends and family who know you’re at home; a myriad of distractions awaiting your attention in the kitchen; and not to mention the finale of Game of Thrones screaming at you from your Sky box. These all lead to difficulty in focussing and getting stuff done.
There are two polar opposite issues arising from one core problem: lack of boundaries between work and home life.
Here are five steps you can take to get the kind of healthy boundaries you crave. They will help you manage your work-life balance and stress when you work from home, so you can be productive while working and able to switch off at the end of the day:
Create a specific place to work from
Having a specific place that you work from anchors you into your working day, and sends a message to your brain that this is work-time. Being able to work with your laptop on your knee whilst lounging on the sofa might sound idyllic but, apart from not being great for you physically, it gives you no separation between the serious job of running your business and the important relaxation space in your home.
Having a separate room (inside or out) designated as your office can really help you leave work physically behind at the end of the day.
If you don’t have the luxury of a whole room, creating a designated work space which is used only for work is the next best thing. You may not be able to shut the door on it, but at least you have to make a specific journey to sit down and work. And you’ll still get the benefit of anchoring yourself into work mode once you sit down at your desk.
If working from your dining table is the only option (it was for me, for many years), you can still anchor yourself into your working day by having something specific you put out onto the table when, and only when, you are working. A specific lamp, all your stationary bits and pieces or a picture frame with an inspiring quote in it, maybe? And, you can anchor the end of your day and mark the boundary between work and home by putting it all away, out of sight, once you finish work. You can add to that “home-time anchor” by creating a new end-of-day habit (sitting down with a cup of tea, going for a walk, going upstairs to change clothes) that tells you you’re back at home now.
Whatever you do, avoid creating a workspace in your bedroom, as it’s known that working in your bedroom can affect your sleep quality – and business owners already tend to struggle to get enough shut-eye as it is!
Identify Regular Working Hours
This may sound like the boring old 9-5, but it doesn’t have to be! The fact is, to work from home successfully you need to treat your work like a job…. albeit one that you are in control of and which has more flexibility than any employer will ever offer you.
Your working hours can be anything that suits you, your clients, your customers and your family. I work school hours plus three evenings a week, but never allow work to encroach on my weekend.
Setting working hours doesn’t need to limit you during busy periods, nor does it stop you making the most of the flexibility you have to arrange a personal appointment at a convenient time. But having that boundary in place means you need to make a conscious decision to work beyond those hours or to give up some of those hours for fun or errands when needed. Otherwise you may fall into it by accident and unintentionally sabotage your own time, then regret it later.
Practice The Power of No
If you’ve not worked from home (and many of our friends and family won’t have done), it’s tempting for people not to think of your job as being like proper work. Particularly if they know the whole point of setting up your own business or going freelance was to give you more flexibility or improve your work-life balance.
My advice? Tell them what your regular working hours are and that you only make occasional exceptions to it. Then once you’ve set those boundaries, stick to them. If you keep saying yes to them when you really want or need to say no, you’re just giving them permission to keep on interrupting you!
Being equally clear with your clients or customers about when you are available for them is just as important – setting expectations by including the times you’ll be available to talk or respond to emails in your contract or terms and conditions can be really helpful.
Switch Off The Tech
ISMA research last year showed that the “always on” connectedness of personal devices was a significant cause of stress for many workers. You can significantly reduce the always-on stress by getting a second phone for business-use only, the cost of which will be tax-deductible. It seems obvious but, I’ve discovered, it is something that’s so often overlooked or deemed an unnecessary expense, and not just by those that are running home-based businesses.
For one thing, having a separate business phone number means that you can keep your personal phone number out of the public domain. But, possibly more importantly, it means you can simply switch off from business calls, texts and emails at the end of your working day, to give yourself a genuine boundary between work and your precious down-time, without losing access to social media and messages from friends and family.
Nobody reasonable will expect you to answer a business query at 10pm, however important it may seem, and there is very little indeed that can’t wait at least a few hours to be responded to.
If you really can’t bear to carry two phones or remember two phone numbers, try switching your phone off for an hour after the end of your work day to give you a tech-break. Leave the phone out of your bedroom overnight to resist the urge to make checking work emails the first thing you do each morning.
Get Dressed For Success
Like having your own work space, dressing ready for work anchors you into your working day, and marks the boundary between work and relaxation.
But there is another reason to avoid working in your tatty joggers: we tend to live up (or down) to the view we have of ourselves at any given moment, and there’s no doubting that what you wear can change how you feel.
For example, psychologists have proven that putting on some makeup (if you would for out of home work, of course!) gives your self-esteem a boost, which in turn enhances performance. So getting dressed, into real clothes – it doesn’t have to be a full-on corporate suit, just a set of clothes that make you feel you’re ready to do business – is likely to give your self-esteem and confidence a boost…just what you need as motivation to tackle the challenging or boring items on your do list!
Bio – Jo Lee
Meet Jo, our Start Up coach. As a business and career coach, Jo is that unusual beast – as well as being an experienced, professional coach, she has also walked the talk: Before starting her own business in order to coach others full time, she developed a highly successful 20 year career in marketing, business management and senior leadership that culminated in running a well-known £50 million company while raising her two young daughters… and somehow incorporating a voluntary role as governor at her local primary school into the bargain. Having launched and grown a number of brands in her career, and having worked closely with a well-known, award winning UK entrepreneur, Jo uses that blend of first-hand experience, with her coach’s knowledge of the psychology of success, change and happiness and a host of evidenced based tools and techniques, to help career professionals and business owners get unstuck and achieve more success with the things they want and less of the stress, overwhelm and self-doubt they don’t.