Working from the comfort of your own home sounds like a dream scenario for many people, but it does come with some drawbacks – namely, how do you set boundaries and maintain a healthy work-life balance, when, technically, you’re always at work?
Those working from home now account for 13% of the UK workforce, and with books such as Sophia Amoruso’s Girlboss and Emma Gannon’s The Multi-Hyphen Method becoming best-sellers, the dream of being self-employed has never been more coveted.
I personally felt drawn to working for myself because of the flexibility in relation to my mental illness. Living with depression and anxiety means that my capacity for work can change dramatically from day to day, even hour to hour. So having the option to rearrange my own work schedule, avoid stressful situations, and do yoga poses at my desk, seemed like a no-brainer.
But let’s take a reality check, shall we? Working from home is no walk in the park. At the end of the day, it’s still a job and has its negative aspects.
In fact, a 2017 study conducted by the UN found that 41% of people who tended to work from home considered themselves ‘highly stressed’, compared to just 25% of those who worked only on-site.
Here’s how to strike a healthy balance when work and life collide...
1. Don’t isolate yourself
If you’re not a ‘people person’, working from home is probably your dream job, but don’t neglect your biological need for human interaction. Studies show that isolated people are likely to take insufficient exercise, have poor diets, and are less willing to visit a doctor. This can increase your stress levels, blood pressure, and inflammation in the body.
Make an effort to meet up with clients in real life, arrange co-working sessions with other self-employed people in your area, or at the least strike up a conversation with your local barista.
2. Establish a routine
Kirsty Hulse, author of The Future is Freelance, tells us that although routine is very important, it’s not always sustainable. “For example,” Kirsty says, “some days I will be travelling for a meeting, others I will be at home all day, or be somewhere for an event. It’s not always feasible when you work from home to have a set routine.”
Once you get to know yourself, you’ll find what your own version of a ‘routine’ looks like.
A good place to start is with ‘office hours’. Try making a commitment to getting ready before 9am. This is easy to let slip when no one is watching.
3. Set physical boundaries
One of the hardest parts about working from home is the fact that you’re almost guaranteed to let work bleed into your personal life. One way to avoid this is to have a space which is dedicated to work. It doesn’t need to be an entire room (although a separate home office is ideal), but instead could be a desk hidden away from all the ‘social’ spaces in your home.
My number one rule is that I never take my laptop to bed, ensuring that the bedroom is a completely work-free zone, dedicated to rest and relaxation.
4. Learn to switch off
Once you have firm boundaries in place, it should be much easier to switch off. But if you’re still struggling, don’t give up. It’s all about finding the tools that work for you. For example, I know one man who has invented a daily commute to bookend his working day. He wakes up, gets washed and dressed, and then leaves the house to walk around the block before returning home to sit at his desk for a 9am start. At 5pm he packs up his things and does the same walk around the block in reverse to signify the end of his day, and his return to ‘home’ life.
My version of this is decluttering my desk at 6pm, lighting a candle, putting on some music, and cooking dinner. For you, it might be a visit to the gym, a drink at the pub, or even setting an out of office reply on your email account. Pick an activity that you can look forward to, to make it your end of the day reward, and then you’ll be more likely to stick to it consistently.