Your sense of wellbeing is determined by a complex web of experiences that influences how you feel each day. Working from home requires a recalibration of your thoughts and behaviours as the boundaries become blurred between work and play. Simply shifting the work environment and behaviours to the home without redefining the boundaries can result in reduced productivity, increased stress, exhaustion, mental health issues, insomnia, anxiety, relationship troubles, and negative changes to your health.
Many years ago I started a business from home. I thought this was going to be the best way to set my self up with plans to also start a family in years to come. It was so exciting to be a new “entrepreneur”, starting my own life, my own business, getting to be in charge of how and when I spent my time, making my own decisions. I was excited to be the “boss of me”. The dream was alive.
I got off to a great start. I worked day and night getting set up, fuelled by excitement for my future. Frustration would set in when my husband would get home from work and want to “hang out” for hours. Wasn’t dinner enough? To me, at the time, this was a distraction from my dream and my goals. I didn’t have time for that! I was a start-up! Multi-tasking was my M.O. Eating while sending e-mails or doing research and taking calls at all hours or weekends because I wanted to “be there” for my clients.
Soon enough the tell tale signs of poor self-management, structure and routine started to show. Tasks that should have only taken an hour, could easily take up half a day, the hours worked didn’t equate to the funds in the bank, and my husband and I were barely communicating. I gained weight that was hard to shift, and eventually found myself struggling to get up in the morning. Partly from exhaustion and partly from a lack of motivation. The potential of my business had died right along with my dreams, and wellbeing.
Deflated, I went back to working for someone else, in a shop front and sucked on those sour lemons for a while. In time though, the lessons I had to experience in order to learn, became crystal clear. Since I figured out the success foundations for working form home, the idea of going back to a location specific life is no longer appealing.
Whether you work for an organisation or work for yourself, working from home can offer the benefits of flexibility, improved efficiency, tax benefits, reduced business overheads, better nutrition, and a better work life balance. To achieve and sustain these things there are some important considerations to negotiate.
Here are four core foundations to set yourself up for a successful home-work life and long term wellbeing.
- Remember Who You Are
Having a good routine means scheduling non-negotiable times for the important stuff.
Eat & Hydrate Well. Set a routine that works for you and your nutritional needs and stick to it. Set alarms if you need reminders through the day. Eg. On workdays, take your meals at the same time each day. Allocate a specific time for your meals and snacks throughout the day, and give yourself time away from the desk or work space to eat mindfully and chew your food well.
Plan your weeks worth of meals ahead, so that there are no excuses for poor eating behaviours or unhealthy snacking. This way you can have nutritious meals at your fingertips. To help you on your way, check out this healthy eating habits checklist from Louise Ellen Nutrition.
Stay Active. Schedule your exercise time for 30 minutes each day of your work week. Pick a time and stick to it. Put it in your diary, block out your appointment/meeting calendar for that time each day, turn off your phone or notifications for that time. Set an alarm to go off 10 minutes before the scheduled exercise time, to alert you to wrap up your task for that session.
Connect with People daily. When working from home, it’s easy to get caught up in your tasks and flow and forget to nurture human (or pet) connections, or become irritated by interruptions. Make it clear in your household or family, when you will start and finish work tasks, and when you will take breaks for conversations to be had. This can be a bit trickier with young kids and toddlers, but I find the more you create a routine around spending quality time with your kids, the better they understand the boundaries.
If you live alone, it’s important to schedule dates with friends, family, pets or colleagues each day. Whether by phone, video or face to face. It could be something like a morning walk together, a quick face-time chat at lunch time, or a phone check in while you make dinner. Put it in your diary to do everyday until it becomes a habit!
Sleep. Set a wind-down alarm, about an hour before your planned bed time, so you can start turning off screens, dimming lights and start your sleep hygiene routine. Plan to rise at the same time each day, to help your body get into a good rythm. Getting regular, adequate sleep is essential to your health, well being and productivity.
Setting boundaries means deciding what works for you first.
What do you need in terms of time to complete a task, rest, play, sleep, connect with others etc?
Which parts of your day are sacred, and need to be uninterrupted?
Who are you willing to invest your time with and who do you need to say “No” to?
What fits in with your ideal work:life ratio and what does not?
How can you create rules and defined guidelines around what is best for you?
Make the boundaries clear to everyone in your household and virtual office/business space.
Some tips for Healthy Boundaries When Working from Home
- No work related conversations can occur once you cross the bedroom door threshold.
- The kitchen table is for eating and family or friendship communication. Not project management and packaging products.
- Voicemail kicks in from 5pm as does your email responder so you can feel free of work outside of your business hours.
- Bed time is 9:30pm during the week.
- Have specific “work clothes” and home/fun clothes.
- Keep your work zones and leisure zones seperate. Ie. Avoid working on couch in front of the TV.
- Don’t take your laptop to bed with you.
This foundation is about telling others what you are thinking and planning, so they can support your plans. If you don’t let your family or household know that you have changed your schedule on a particular day and plan to work late, their could be issues with mismatched goals or intentions. If your partner is planning to cook you dinner on Monday night and you have planned to attend a webinar, their could be disappointment and frustration if you both only discover this at the last minute. Not great for mental health!
Remember who you are
Are you a person who thrives on strict routine and structure, or one of those people that prefers a more free floating, and at the same time productive go with the flow kind of day? Likely there are many personality traits and personal preferences that are not easy or sustainable to change. It’s important to know your strengths and work to them, rather than trying to enforce actions and behaviours that don’t suit you.
Do you enjoy technology, stationary and your work desk, or do you prefer nature time? If you don’t do well in confined spaces, is there potential for you to work outdoors? Maybe you could schedule daily nature time to bring the best of both worlds together.
Are you a foodie? Planning to eat a banana sandwich every day for convenience is soon going to do your head in! Working from home gives you the opportunity to set aside a time to meal plan, choose some new recipes to try and food prep. Think of all the time you save on commuting too and from work, and on grocery shopping when you can order online. You can use that saved time to meal prep and plan tasty and exciting meals and snacks for the week.
Maybe you thrive on sports and fitness? Great – plan for it. You can work around whatever you need! All you need to do is decide, schedule it, set boundaries and communicate your plans with those that matter or who are affected.
In other words, don’t force something that isn’t your style or M.O. Find your way to work within these four foundations, and you can enjoy success and wellbeing while working from home.
Maintaining a sense of wellbeing when working from home is a wholistic process. Remember to also include the ergonomics of your work space, ventilation, lighting, etc. Your achievement of a balanced life needs you to take the time to consider what makes you comfortable and happy in mind, body and soul and set your foundations around this.