It seems that more than ever people are talking about work/life balance. It’s a continual struggle, and that balance only seems more and more elusive as our lives get busier and busier. Taking a break from work is important for maintaining mental health, for viewing problems with a fresh perspective, and of course, for maintaining relationships with the people in your life. It’s also a particular challenge for those of us who work from home.
There are so many advantages to working from home. The commute is A-MAY-ZING. I never have to pack a lunch. I can run loads of laundry while I’m logging wholesale orders. I never forget anything at work. That said, there are plenty of downsides as well. When your office is your house, your work and your life are always vying for your attention: that laundry is calling when you’re trying to create your new line sheets, and that new collection is pulling you toward the studio when you want to read a book with your kids. So how do you prevent your home life from becoming all about work? I can’t pretend that I have the answers, but I have come up with some strategies for myself to keep from going completely insane.
1. Get out of the house.
This is probably the very most important thing for me to do every day. It doesn’t need to be a hike, or even a long walk. I just need to get out of my house for 20 minutes and do something completely unrelated to work. For me, it works best if I get out first thing in the morning. It pushes me to get dressed and when I return (coffee in hand, of course) it feels as if I’m entering the work part of my day.
2. Set firm boundaries for yourself.
With work within reach at all times, I find it really hard to resist the pull to complete just. One. Last. Thing. If I’m not careful, I can be sucked into the vortex of my workspace and never get the break I know I need. I’ve found that I need to set some rules for myself about when I need to step away from the bench and end my workday. During the week, I don’t work after 9pm, and on the weekends I designate one day when I don’t touch work at all. OK, OK, sometimes when I’m facing a crazy deadline I break these rules, but I really do try to abide by them for my own mental health and the mental health of those in my family.
3. Make time for transitions.
When you’re commuting from work to home, that commute time can serve as an opportunity to unpack and process your day and set your goals and intentions for the next day. I like to think of it as transitioning from “work brain” to “home brain” and vice versa. When your commute consists of walking from one room to the next, there’s no built-in transition time, so I find that I need to carve it out for myself. In the morning, my coffee run is my time to think about what I need and want to accomplish in the day ahead, but in the evening I have to be more creative about finding time. Some days I find a quiet thinking space when I’m driving to pick my kids up from school, on other days it might be when I’m cooking dinner for my family.
4. Find coworkers.
The lack of coworkers can be one of the most positive and most negative aspects of working at home. On the one hand, you are not forced to share a cubicle wall with someone who has no volume control during phone conversations. On the other hand, you have no one with whom to gather around the water cooler to discuss the latest episode of OITNB. Because of this, working from home can be isolating. Furthermore, I find that since there aren’t coworkers to meet with, I feel pressure to work continuously throughout the day- no excuses because no distractions, right? Wrong. Interaction with others, especially those who understand your business and its challenges, is an integral part of preventing work from usurping more power than it deserves. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to find yourself some coworkers. For example, there are coworking spaces popping up all over, such as Makeshift Society in San Francisco (and now Brooklyn as well). Another way to find coworkers is to join a business group. For me, the Creative Business League has been a great way to celebrate and commiserate with other makers hustling to build their businesses.
Overall, balancing work and life needs to be a more intentional process when home is your workplace. Natural limits that exist when you work outside the home are just not going to be there, so you have to be diligent about creating them for yourself. For me, striving for this balance is an iterative process- as my work and home lives shift and change, I need to step back and tinker with the systems that I’ve put in place. I’d love to hear- how do you strike a balance when you’re working from home? Share your ideas and strategies in the comments.