Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance

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[Guest post from Wisebread.com’s Lynn Truong, co-author of 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget]

Working from home sounds like a very simple concept. But there are a lot of built-in structures and boundaries inherent in a going-to-the-office job that we often take for granted.  Recreating those boundaries when our home and work is one and the same is a crucial part of achieving a work-life balance.

The personal battle

One common trap of working from home is allowing your personal life to bleed into your work. A lack of discipline and motivation as well as a myriad of temptations lurking in every corner of your home can affect your productivity big time.  This is the most obvious situation (and the one most often addressed) when considering the pitfalls of working from home. But there is a lot of support and feedback (in fact an entire industry) for this problem, and can be remedied by a host of productivity tools and exercises.

The work battle

However, the other trap, the one that is less easily recognized, is allowing your work to bleed into your personal life. Now, I realize that this doesn’t apply to everyone. I work with two partners who are both single guys who sleep too little and work too much. But they enjoy their work and are motivated by it. I don’t suggest that they take more “me” time. If they ever start to get burnt out, their balance can be restored by simply taking a week off or watching a season of 24 in one sitting.

When I talk about needing work-life balance, particularly when you work at home, I’m referring to those who have personal relationships that are a part of the home – be it spouse, children and/or partner. Compromising these relationships in the name of your work is easy, and often completely unintentional, but damaging nevertheless. The following tips are the things that made it possible to live my entrepreneurial dream and keep a happy home at the same time.

Unconscious Cues

These tips are often used to help productivity, but in case you’ve ignored them because you have no problems with productivity, these things will also help you create an on/off switch for “work mode.” Your body is amazingly attuned to your environment and habits. Sleep experts will tell you not to work in bed so your body will be able to identify the bed with rest. Keeping simple routines will help your body tell the difference between work time and home time. When you don’t have something like a commute to and from work, you need to create other cues to help your mind and body ramp up for and then wind down from work.

1. Get dressed. Yes, this is one of the biggest luxuries of working from home. It’s beautiful to be able to walk from the bedroom to the office in my PJs to turn on the computer, walk downstairs with bed hair to make coffee, and make it for a conference call before brushing my teeth.  But it’s important to cue your body and mind to take off “home” and put on “work.”  Then, when you get out of your work clothes, you might be better able to get out of your work mode, too.  You don’t need to get into your best suit and tie – wear something comfortable, but at least suitable for the UPS guy to see you in (admittedly, the UPS guy has caught me in bed hair and bunny slippers on more than one occasion).

2. Create a work space. Don’t work in bed. Don’t work on the couch. Get a grown up chair and table that’s only used for your work. Find a space that you can get peace, quiet, and privacy. Get the supplies and equipment that you need to be efficient and comfortable. Make the space separate and different from the rest of your house (try painting the room a different color). If you can create a boundary for your work space, you will also be setting up a home space by default. If you’re taking your laptop all around the house to work, your family will feel that no place is safe from your work. At the same time, don’t allow your family to take over your office space, either. It should be clutter free (or in my case, only cluttered with work stuff).

3. Display family photos. Do you have a photo of your family in your home office? I find it very interesting when people don’t consider it for their home office, yet most offices and cubicles are littered with photos of family and friends. When you are physically away, it seems of utmost importance to have that reminder at your desk of your life away from work. When there is little physical distinction between your home life and work life, you might start to think you don’t really have a life away from work. Put some photos at your desk so you are reminded how lucky you are that you can give your kids a hug and a kiss right now…and go ahead and actually do it.

4. Set office hours. It doesn’t have to resemble normal business hours. It can start at 2am and end at noon. It can be in 2 hour blocks with 1 hour breaks to attend to the kids.  It can change on a daily basis. But having a schedule with your set office hours will let your family know when you’re working and when you’re available for them. This will also ensure that you schedule in your family every day, too. It’s hard to believe, but if you don’t, you may forget. Take advantage of your flexible schedule to take a few hours off to bring the kids to the beach on a weekday, when it’s less crowded. Make a to do list with your family, so you can plan and look forward to hanging out with them as much as your conference calls and deadlines.

5. Don’t do chores while you work. Set parameters around doing personal tasks during the day. There are a lot of errands and chores that we have to take care of when running a household. If it isn’t a trip to the grocery store it’s laundry that needs to be done. If it isn’t dishes to be put away it’s the garden that needs tending. The beauty of working from home is that you are less restricted by when you need to do those things. But if you take work time to do home stuff, you’ll just as easily take home time to do work stuff. Like I pointed out above, it’s perfectly fine to work for two hours and then take a one hour break to clean the house, if that’s the schedule you’ve decided on. Just make sure that you’re not jumping back and forth haphazardly.

6. Keep hydrated. You might not even notice that you’re thirsty, but before you know it you’ve gone six hours straight on no food or water. If you don’t take care of your health while you work, you won’t fully be present when you’re with your family. All of a sudden you’ll realize how exhausted you are, and will fall asleep during movie night. Also, drinking water will force you to get up and at least walk to the bathroom, so you’re not literally glued to your chair for hours.

7. Take breaks. Schedule in break times . You can schedule them at a certain time or after a certain task, but it’s important that you schedule them. It gets you into the habit of stopping work. If you just take a break whenever you feel like it, you’ll find that you won’t feel like it too often. But if you take your specified breaks, the idea of letting work go at the end of the day won’t be so hard. For example I will be sure to catch Oprah every day. You’ll learn that work will still be there when you get back, and that it’s okay to stop working to do something less “important.”

8. Go outside. In the confines of your small home office, it’s difficult to see beyond your work. Make sure to get some real world time every day, even if it’s just to stand out on your porch for 10 minutes. Walk, get some sun, smell the fresh air. There’s no better way to quickly get some perspective. There’s a lot of life to live. Remember what and who you’re working so hard for, and make sure you don’t miss any of it.

9. File. It’s amazing how much paperwork and just stuff can pile up in your office. Unlike a regular office environment where there might be an abundance of file cabinets and administrative assistants to take care of menial tasks like filing, you have to do it yourself (or hire someone). Either way, make sure you take care of it, and during your office hours, please. If it gets out of hand, you’ll be tempted to use off office hours (because you’re too busy during) to tidy up…time that is supposed to be for your family.

10. Have a trigger for winding down. Most 9-5ers are eagerly watching the clock at the end of the day. They know they have to start finishing things up for the day by a certain time so they can get out of there. They are prepared to do what they can, and get back to it, tomorrow. For those who work from home, though, this is an extremely difficult thing to do. The computer is always within reach. It’s always possible to get back to work and get more things done. If you have an office you need to leave, the only option you have at home is to spend that time with your family. But when your work is at home, it’s always in competition. Do I watch Lost with my husband or work on that project?

It shouldn’t be an option though. You need to develop cues to help you wind down and let the work go…until tomorrow. Decide on a time every day to close out your email. Write up notes on things to do tomorrow and plan out your next day. These are things that will help you leave work for the next day. Also, by making a to do list and preparing for the next day, it will remove any guilt you might feel about stopping work, even though you are still able to work.

Flexibility is your greatest ally

The reason I love to work from home is that it gives me the freedom to be flexible with my time. I hated that I was forced to be at my desk every day for a specific duration for no good reason, really. So putting aside all these rules, parameters, schedules and boundaries that you have to have in order to keep you from working nonstop and ignoring your family completely, the biggest advantage you have is that you can be flexible. Use that. It’s easy to move things around without affecting your work. We often forget that making time is actually an option. If the car breaks down or the pipes explode, we have no other choice than to drop what we’re doing and make the time to fix it. We do this without even thinking. But we rarely consider making time for the small things in life, because it’s easier to just put it off. We can always make time. It’s just a matter of whether we really want to.

___________

Lynn Truong is the co-author of 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget, a book filled with savvy personal finance and career tips.  Lynn is giving away 5 Flip Cams to 5 lucky readers who buy the book today.  Anyone who buys the book can also get a $15 bonus from Ebates.com, where you earn 3-10% cash back from over 1,000 retailers.

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54 responses

54 responses to “Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance”

  1. […] Read the rest here:  Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance […]

  2. Mouli says:

    Some good points. My dad works from home, and goes into his ‘office’ every day in the morning at 9AM. We have rules not to disturb him, unless absolutely necessary. And he is always in formals.

  3. […] Go here to read the rest: Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance […]

  4. […] Read the original post: Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life … […]

  5. I recognize the value of all of the above advice but I have to admit that I’m breaking most of the rules on a regular basis.

    No matter how I have tried in the past, I am resistant to schedules and thick boundaries.

    There have been seasons where I had clear lines between work and life but mostly, they are blurred and moving all the time according to my needs and desires.

  6. Laurie says:

    Great tips . I obviously need to make some changes.

  7. This is the best post I read today (and I read a lot of posts today!). I think that adopting your ideas can really increase my productivity. I especially like the dress for work idea – it does put me in a different frame of mind when I wear a suit. I will try and see what difference it makes to my day when I try it!

    Cheers,
    Gayathri.

  8. I want to work from home soooo badly. This is a great post for reminding me exacly why I need to get off my you-know-what and get to work on finding a way to work from home. Thanks for posting this guest post!

  9. Laurie Foley says:

    I’ve been working from home since 1995. And I still learned some great tips from this post. Thank you!!

  10. Linsey Knerl says:

    Hydration? What’s that? Seriously, though, I think this is my worst clue that I’m stuck in a work-at-home rut. The water is literally one room away from where I work, and I’m too lazy to refill the water glass. Thanks for the reminder, Lynn!

  11. You know, I know these things, and yet I still fail to take this advice almost every day. I think the biggest challenge I face is not setting clear parameters on my work day. It is far too easy to just respond to a few more e-mails, do a few more discussion posts. I suspect that clearer boundaries would make my work week much shorter. I need to give myself the permission to just walk away.

  12. Paul Peixoto says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with this post. I think that work/life balance is a myth, an artifact of an ancient civilization, the 1970’s. It’s unachievable. Work and life aren’t two equal categories that can be balanced.

    The fact is that life is a blend of all the roles we play – that’s how our brains work. Learning how to blend those roles is much healthier and productive. Living blended keeps me integrated and whole. I want to live one life, do one work, and do it well.

  13. car us says:

    I’ve been working from home since 2005 too

  14. I have no troubles being productive business-wise working at home, but when it comes to my fiction writing I have to leave the house if I want to get any done. At home there are just too many distractions, so I go to the library and write there. Works like a charm to keep me going. Unfortunately however when I don’t go, I don’t write fiction.

  15. […] Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance (Awake at the Wheel) […]

  16. […] have your own tips for keeping balanced while working from home, share them in the comments below. Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance [via The Simple Dollar […]

  17. […] have your own tips for keeping balanced while working from home, share them in the comments below. Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance [via The Simple Dollar […]

  18. John says:

    Great article! How you guys deal with the lack of human interaction?

  19. […] have your own tips for keeping balanced while working from home, share them in the comments below. Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance [via The Simple Dollar […]

  20. […] have your own tips for keeping balanced while working from home, share them in the comments below. Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance [via The Simple Dollar […]

  21. […] have your own tips for keeping balanced while working from home, share them in the comments below. Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance [via The Simple Dollar ] Tagged:healthoffice culturework at […]

  22. […] have your own tips for keeping balanced while working from home, share them in the comments below. Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance [via The Simple Dollar […]

  23. […] have your own tips for keeping balanced while working from home, share them in the comments below. Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance [via The Simple Dollar […]

  24. […] Working from Home: 10 Unconscious Clues to Create a Work-Life Balance I find that I’ve unconsciously begun to use most of these cues with my own work, though this would have been very useful early on in my home office. (@ awake at the wheel) […]

  25. […] points out a delightful post from Lynn Truong over at Jonathan Fields awake@thewheel blog. In this post, Lynn describes how to […]

  26. […] have your own tips for keeping balanced while working from home, share them in the comments below. Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance [via The Simple Dollar […]

  27. Dear Jonathan, stop living in a dream world.This might be okay for a man, but in a woman’s world who is the mom , wife and a small business owner, things could be a lot harder to manage. One person and one million things to do in a day would be a better title for a book, but who would time to read the book. My suggestions are: plan the week on Sun night write down on tablet I use every day,include all most important things including family and business. Scratch out as you do. Walk away from the desk, to eat lunch, go to post office, go to store, most important family always comes first. E Hall

  28. […] an interesting piece on Lifehacker that pointed to an article entitled Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance. Being a remote worker for Red Hat, and before that Mandriva, I’ve worked full-time at home […]

  29. […] an interesting piece on Lifehacker that pointed to an article entitled Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance. Being a remote worker for Red Hat, and before that Mandriva, I’ve worked full-time at home for […]

  30. I agree with the tips and they are fabulous advice however I can’t seem to come around following the rules..lol 🙂

    Serena Carcasole
    Your 1STOP Business Service Shop!

  31. […] Lynn Truong offers a great “10″ list of ways to keep your work separate from your life, even though your smack in the middle of […]

  32. DJ Nelson says:

    I don’t really agree that getting dressed up to work is a necessity. I know it’s a highly debated topic as I’ve interviewed people about it and the answers varied greatly. What I found is that everyone is different in terms of what impacts their productivity.

  33. […] Working-from-home-10-unconscious-cues-to-create-a-work-life-balance – From Jonathan Fields comes an article about creating a work/life balance while working at home.  An important topic that many of us should think about! Top 30 Tips for Staying Productive and Sane While Working From Home – From Zen Habits this is a list that we should all print out and have taped up next to the desk.  It is helpful to have it up there to glance at from time to time for encouragement. […]

  34. Ritu says:

    I have been working as a freelancer for quite some time and sometimes I have to work for 8-10 hours a day. I have worked many times in loose clothes but then I put on so much of weight. I too decided to follow disciplined life while working from home and like you have mentioned, I do dress up for work and I do not do any chores while i am working. thx for the great post

  35. Janet says:

    So so well written, i have never read this before. How can we deal with with the lack of human interaction? Thank You

  36. […] it seemed fitting when a friend forwarded me an article about how to stay focused, 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance. That is, until I read author Jonathan Fields’ first tip: Get dressed. He writes: Yes, this […]

  37. Marlo says:

    I love number one- get dressed. I worked from home and field for three years. I would have never thought that getting dressed was as important as it is! I often found myself getting up, getting coffee and quickly checking in at the office. Next thing I would know, it was noon and I could not open the door to the UPS guy.

    I found that getting dressed, and keeping a schedule really helped. I never perfected it. I still work from home somedays and check in at work all hours.

    It has been difficult to go back to “going” to work in a car. I feel so much time is wasted in a traditional work place.

  38. […] No Startup Cost Computer Jobs Working from home sounds like a very simple concept. But there are a lot of built-in structures and boundaries inherent in a going-to-the-office job. […]

  39. […] Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance […]

  40. nicky says:

    Good tips to work at home. But keep in your mind it’s not easy, everything need your attention and and work hard.

  41. […] says: Working out of my bedroom is half my problem. When possible, he recommends work-at-home folks carve out a dedicated space for an office – […]

  42. […] Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance Keeping simple routines will help your body tell the difference between work time and home time. When you don’t have something like a commute to and from work, you need to create other cues to help your mind and body ramp up for and then wind down from work. […]

  43. I’m working at home and I obviously need some changes. Since I’ve moved from my working in office to working at home, I simply can’t motivate myself. I think my problem is transition from ‘home guy’ into ‘businessman’ every morning when I wake up…

  44. […] Working From Home: 10 Unconscious Cues to Create a Work-Life Balance | Jonathan Fields http://www.jonathanfields.com/blog/working-from-home-10-unconscious-cues-to-create-a-work-life-balance – view page – cached Working from home sounds like a very simple concept. But there are a lot of built-in structures and boundaries inherent in a going-to-the-office job — From the page […]

  45. Rose Jeudi says:

    What a timely article! I definitely will try the get dressed thing. I’ve also found that keeping the same schedule that I did when I worked in corporate makes me very productive. So, I still wake up at 6 a.m. and workout for an hour, get dressed, walk the dog, etc. before “leaving” for work at 9.

    As for Mr. Peixoto’s comment above. While I don’t necessarily agree with his delivery, I think he makes a good point. Technology has allowed us to achieve a work/life blend that is much preferable to some.

    For those who ask about the loneliness, perhaps joining the local professional association for your field would get you out of the house. Also, join your local chamber of commerce or rotary club and you’ll be out of the house at least once a week.

    Cheers,

    Rose

  46. Misty says:

    this are great tips Jonathan thank you so much for sharing. having those things listed would definitely make your readers to this particular posts think so many times into getting into working on their respective homes for a living.

  47. Kristy says:

    There is some excellent advice here and I am glad I stumbled on this post. The hardest thing for me sometimes working from home is allowing my personal life to get in the way of work.

  48. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by travis_king: Some good tips for working at home – http://bit.ly/llYSk

  49. […] Working from Home: 10 Unconscious Clues to Create a Work-Life Balance I find that I’ve unconsciously begun to use most of these cues with my own work, though this would have been very useful early on in my home office. (@ awake at the wheel) […]

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  51. Sydney says:

    These were helpful tips! Thanks for the advice!