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December 10, 2020

Office Hours: How to Keep Boundaries While Working From Home

This post originally appeared on Medium.

Now that we’re well into working from home, some of us may find ourselves working more as compared to when we went into the office everyday. The physical act of actually leaving the office, paired with the commute home, created the separation needed to feel like our workdays were ending and our personal time was beginning. With nothing to break up our work-to-home life flow, it feels like we’re taking less time for ourselves, even though our work environments may be more comfortable than they’ve ever been. (Shout out to jogging suits). In this edition of Office Hours, we share a few tips that will help you break up work and personal time — whether it’s just finding a way to end the day, taking a staycation, or even actually getting away.

Set timers and alarms.

A lot of us would never get out of bed without the extra push of an alarm. Work has a way of consuming us often to the point where we lose track of time. Setting timers and alarms for our tasks and breaks while at home can help us feel more productive with small goals to work toward. And for those who place their alarm across the room to ensure they get out of bed, you can do the same to make sure you get off your couch and stretch in order to continue your day.

In addition to the occasional stretch and keeping tasks on track, alarms are important indicators that help us reclaim time. They can signal when it’s time to eat lunch, give mom that call back you’ve been promising, or send along the email about the missing online order that was on your mind. If only for a split second, alarms and timers help arrest our attention to give us a moment of reprieve from the grind of a work day.

Schedule or block off time.

Whenever an important meeting comes up we schedule the time to give it our undivided attention. We add vacations and out of the office reminders to our calendars so our coworkers know we’re unavailable. So why wouldn’t you do the same for important tasks or errands that need to be completed while working from home?

Much like setting alarms, calendar blocks provide clear parameters around your availability. If it’s on your calendar, it’ll make your colleague think twice before scheduling that meeting or give you much needed time to complete work when you’re on a tight deadline. You could even schedule a fake commute to help you create boundaries. Doing this is also good practice in creating intentional habits about how our time is used or shared with others.

Turn off notifications.

Technology is a wonderful thing, especially during these unprecedented times! We’ve been able to stay connected like never before, but that also means we’re a little too available sometimes. However, we can use that same technology to unplug. Dig into your settings on your apps to set timers for your notifications. Set up parameters for your email with away messages. Let technology help you disconnect and block out things that take away from personal time.

Set yourself as “away” on Slack, hold off on answering emails after hours, put your phone on do not disturb — use all the tools (and technology) at your disposal to help you step away. Urgent requests are just that, but if it doesn’t need immediate attention you can get to that notification in the morning. This is also an exercise in restraint. Many of us have the urge of clearing notifications, but if we don’t check those instincts, it makes creating clear boundaries more difficult — especially with our work devices in arms reach around the clock.

Create an off-time itinerary.

While we don’t recommend planning out every minute of every day (unless that’s helpful to you, no judgement here), it can be beneficial to create an itinerary for your personal time. Maybe you want to catch up on a favorite show, exercise, or take a much needed nap. Allowing yourself to physically write out the activities you want to partake in in your off-time will give you something to look forward to.

It also gives you the chance to continue to foster your interests that extend beyond work. With many of us working remotely, taking time to ourselves can, oddly enough, help us grow relationships with our coworkers. Whether it’s talking about the most recent episode of The Walking Dead, another virtual award show, or a new dish you tried to make, sharing our personal interests can help us connect with colleagues on a deeper level. And as we strive to create boundaries around how we spend time on work, this can play a huge part in using relationship building to alleviate that.

Communicate with your boss and team.

Lastly, we need to make sure that we communicate. Communication is key when it comes to establishing boundaries between work time and personal time. We get that things can come up last-minute and sometimes those have to be dealt with immediately, but don’t be afraid to ask “can this wait until tomorrow?” Having open communication with your team and supervisors can help you establish your work-from-home boundaries in order to respect each other’s time. If you lead a team, you want team members to feel empowered to make decisions when you’re unavailable, and it’s also a helpful exercise in time management. So don’t be afraid to let your team and superiors know what your time boundaries are, and that you respect theirs as well.