How to Re-Establish the Boundary Between Your Work Life and Personal Life

When the world shut down one year ago, millions of Americans took their work home and now, 12 months later, are still working from their home offices, makeshift or otherwise. Many stay in their pajamas all day, or at the most, change into athleisure-wear. And such is life; working from home has become a 24/7 activity, in no small part because it’s hard to escape your office when it’s literally in your bedroom or living room. In one recent survey, 45% of respondents said they spend more time working at home than they did when they went to an office. That extra time can lead to burnout, which can lead to a lack of motivation, physical and emotional fatigue, difficulty starting work and focusing on tasks, changes in sleep habits, irritability and physical issues like headaches and stomach problems.

In mid-February, the hashtag #TakeTimeBack began trending on social media, with average people and experts alike flooding the internet with suggestions on how to wrestle your personal life from the jaws of your work life. Here are six suggestions to help you create healthy boundaries.

Interact with the World Outside Your Workplace

Yes, socializing is difficult with the pandemic and social distancing rules, but you can still go for a walk around the neighborhood, run out for a coffee, or take audio-only calls from a local park bench or your front stoop. Because you’re not interacting with co-workers in-person like you did in the office, you literally never avert your eyes from your computer screen. Taking just five minutes per hour to step outside, take a few deep breaths of fresh air and feel the sun on your face can make a huge difference in your mental health, and focusing on your neighbor’s house down the block or a pretty tree in the yard is also a welcome and necessary break for your screen-weary eyes.

Set Your Work Hours and Stick to Them

When you had a commute to and from your workplace, your work day began when you walked in the office door and ended when you left. While working from home, those lines often blur, and many find themselves answering calls and responding to messages through the evening hours up until the moment they shut out their lights for bed. To combat this, set your working hours and stick to them. Set an alarm for the end of the day if you have to. And when the day ends, turn off notifications for all strictly work-related means of communication, shut down your computer, push in your desk chair and focus on you-time. You have left the office, and whatever messages you receive can wait until tomorrow.

Start with Daunting Tasks First

If you tackle the things that are stressing you out the most early in your day, you won’t allow that stress to build. By addressing your most difficult tasks first, you also ensure you are facing them with the freshest possible mind. And procrastinating early in the day and putting off difficult tasks until later can extend your workday, while crossing that anxiety-inducing task off your to-do list can make the rest of your day seem like a breeze. This way, when you do clock out for the day, you can do so comfortably and feeling accomplished and successful.

Take a Lunch Break

Remember these? They’re an hour long and they typically involve you leaving your desk to pick up take-out or find a nice spot to eat your packed lunch. Sure, the kitchen isn’t very far away, and you could probably wolf down last night’s leftovers in just a few minutes, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the full amount of time allotted to you to step away from your desk, relax your eyes and mind, stretch your legs and properly fuel your body. You’ll return to your desk refreshed and better able to focus on your afternoon tasks.

Find an Official Way to End the Day

If you used to enjoy listening to the radio, a podcast or an audio book on your commute home from work, do this at the end of your workday. If you used the time in the car to call your mother or your college roommate, do that. Consider going for a walk for the same amount of time that your drive would have taken while you accomplish those day-ending activities. Or schedule an activity like making dinner, working out, or helping the kids with homework right after work to make the delineation between your job and your regular life abundantly clear. It’s even better if these post-work activities can be low-tech or technology-free. You’ll feel your stress level decrease the moment you step away from all the bright lights, beeps and dings.

Respect Your Weekends

You never used to work on weekends, so why are you cracking the laptop on a Saturday afternoon now? Sure, with activities cut down, many of the days feel the same, but you don’t have to allow this to be the case. Schedule safe, outdoor family activities on the weekends the same way you used to, or set aside some personal time for the long bike ride, baking extravaganza or movie marathon you couldn’t fit in during the week. This way, you’re not tempted to fill the down hours with work tasks that can wait until Monday. And learn to say “No.” Just because you have a cell phone and are easily accessible all the time doesn’t mean you have to answer work messages immediately during non-working hours. If you actually set boundaries and stick to them, your coworkers will be more likely to respect them as well.