Improve your working from home quality of life by separating work and home

Cover Image for Improve your working from home quality of life by separating work and home
John Masse
John Masse

Remote work a new frontier

Working from our homes can be convenient. No complicated commute, maybe we are interrupted less often, there are more options for lunch. However convenient, or inconvenient, working at home invites our work life to mingle with our personal life. Using our homes for work can have a positive effect on our lives; however, using our homes for work also invites anxiety, burnout, or even depression if not managed well. By introducing small habits and rituals into my day, while using my home as a place for work, I have a handle on when I am in my working mind and when I am at home. Here are some ways you can improve or maintain your at-home quality of life and mental health.

Do not wear pajamas to work.

Not having a physical location to go to each day reduces our social obligations to our workplace. In the office, we were business casual; at the home office, we show up in bunny slippers and sweat pants. If we end our day the same way it began, we rob ourselves of mentally checking out of our working brain and into our home, personal, or family state of mind. 

Admiral William H. McRaven's highlights the benefits of doing small things well in his University of Texas at Austin 2014 Commencement Address. In Admiral McRaven's address, he says:

By making your bed every morning, you will have accomplished your first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and will encourage you to do another task - and another - and another.

Admiral William H. McRaven.

The University of Texas at Austin 2014 Commencement Address.

Just like making my bed is a part of how I start my day, preparing myself for work is another. When I finish my working day, whether I started at the at-home office or a physical one, I know the rest of the day is mine once my relaxed wear is on. This physical segregation builds a mental one and allows us to set the tone for what we are planning to do next.

Simple ceremonies can lead to better mental health.

I use my office desk for both work and leisure. Because of this situation, I may end up sitting in the same spot for an entire day. While taking breaks throughout the day is always recommended, if I never move from the same place, I find I can run work late into the evening without ever picking up my head. Over time, I find myself feeling burn out, and thinking becomes more difficult. I have created a straightforward habit for myself; I have a small lamp that I turn on during the workday and off when it is time for my family and me. When I am ready to start my day of work, I turn on the desk lamp. The desk lamp is a sign that it is time to check in for work that day mentally. When my day is complete, I turn the table lamp off; this is a signal that if I am spending time at my computer desk, I am doing so to relax.

One personal observation I would like to share is that when the light is off, I am less likely to engage in work activities during the evening. I also don't want to ignore that working late is sometimes a requirement; in those cases, I do not turn off the lamp.

Here are some simple ideas you can try at home

  • Turn a lamp on or off
  • Leave a door open or closed
  • Setup and tear down your area for work. We pack up our laptops and put them away and out of sight, if possible.
  • We have an oil diffuser in our home while working, while work is happening in our house, the oil diffuser is running. We diffuse lavender, peppermint, or citrus oils during the day while we are working, and we turn it off once the workday is complete.
  • Ending your day by changing your clothes. Something as simple as getting into our pajamas can help us break out of our working brain and prepare ourselves to be in our home.
  • Don't consume leisure content during the workday. Aside from this being a bad habit for professional work life, it also degrades and steals from what we use to relax. Consuming leisure content during the workday gives us fewer things to look forward to at the end of the day, and also waters down our consumption of leisure content since we can't always give it all of our attention.

Protect your mental health while working from home

I have been able to enjoy my home and the convenience of working remotely, but I do know I am at high risk of burn out if I am not careful. I have also spoken with some people that have not adopted these types of practices, and many of them are feeling depressed (not clinically) and struggling to stay motivated. By developing a couple of straightforward habits, I have provided my mind a way to turn work off while I am at home. In the technology industry, I lose myself studying, experimenting with programming, researching new ideas, developing roadmaps, or thinking about a coaching strategy. Without providing myself queues to know when enough is enough, I forget to take care of myself, my home, and my family. If we fail to take care of our homes and our well being, we certainly cannot do the same for others that depend on us outside of it.

Start small, don't overthink it.

It is straightforward to get started, pick one thing to change that you will use to separate your working mind from your leisure one deliberately. It can be as simple as closing the door to our office when the workday is complete, or packing up the laptop and putting it out of sight. Develop good habits that provide mental queues to maintain a healthy state of mind while also providing a mental escape hatch from possible stress that comes your way.

So what do you do? What are some things you do to separate work from home life? Please share them with us on Twitter, #pragmaticlead, where we can share ideas.