Who would have thought, even 10 years ago, that “the office” would start to become more and more obsolete? Going to and from work every day has been the norm for decades, but with the rise of global communication and instant access to almost anyone, anywhere, anytime, leaving the house isn’t always necessary for a lot of jobs anymore. I’d say about a quarter of the people I see on a monthly basis work from home (and love it), but it’s also a challenge for them to separate home life from professional life. They often struggle with maintaining a strict schedule, focusing on work related tasks tasks when nagging chores are literally right on the other side of the wall, and grazing on snacks all day because the leftovers are right downstairs. It’s been interesting helping folks find ways to cope with productivity working from home while maintaining a healthy balance of work + home life because honestly – I do this too. Two days per week I’m usually working from home (if I want to), and the struggle was/is real.
The first and most important strategy for maintaining a healthy home + work environment is to establish your work space. Find an area in your home that you can devote 100% to be your professional space. If you can sequester this from the rest of your house that’s even better (close a door, put up a curtain, face yourself towards a window and away from the mess behind you, etc). Keep this space clear of any annoyance or house clutter, and try to keep non-work related things away from the space. Focus on keeping the space clean and professional, but you can always add your flare, articles of inspiration or whatever you need to make it your own. Just remember – this is your productive work space – not your “home” when you’re in it.
Second, always have a back-up space to go and work. No matter how luxurious or perfect your home office is, there will always be days when you just can’t get out of the house funk and get stuff done. Seek out another place (outside of your house) to go and work. Whether it’s another studio space, coffee shop, library, cafe – doesn’t matter. As long as you can get out and get yourself to working again – make that happen. On the 10% of days when I just get too fidgety to work from my home office, I go straight to my actual office for a few hours until my to-do list is finished.
Which brings us to the third strategy – keeping a visual to-do list. At the start of the day or the week, make a detailed to-do list of everything you need to get done and their deadlines in a notably visible place. This keeps you on track to finish tasks on time and budget your time accordingly. Every day when I’m working from home, I have a to-do list + their deadlines and I make a structured daily schedule, allotting X number of hours for every task so my time can be uninterrupted but also deadline oriented. I schedule in breaks, exercise and mealtimes too to make sure these fit in.
Fourth – the kitchen is closed when it’s not breakfast, lunch or dinner time. This is the biggest struggle I hear most people deal with when working from home. They linger around the kitchen, or just get the munchies all the time when they can’t focus on their tasks and end up grazing all day. Parents that work from home always feel like they need to prepare dinners and meals during work time that drastically takes away not only their focus, but their actual professional time working. There are 2 ways to deal with this: 1) Prep dinner in the morning before you “go to work” in your home office. Put stuff in the crock pot, or pull stuff out of the freezer or pre-chop all your veggies in the morning so it’s not nagging away at your while you’re working; and 2) put a physical barrier in front of your kitchen to remind you that the kitchen is closed. I’ve had people put a chair in the doorway or drape tape / curtains in the doorway to mentally and physically keep them out of the kitchen. If you know you like to have a snack while working, bring it with you in the morning and keep it at your desk.
Finally, my last recommendation for maintaining a healthy home + work environment is to make your space a joyful, creative haven. Of course you need your essential tools like computers, printers, files, office supplies and the like – but you also need a good head space and a clear, creative setting. I always encourage people to bring house plants into their office for some living greenery or fragrance. The more alive the space looks and feels, the more alive your mind and body become while working. I also like smudging out my office every morning to clear the space from the previous day and start fresh. I like burning incense or candles and having the windows open so stagnant nervy doesn’t build up. And (although not for everyone) I especially like having soft music in the background to keep me a little more alert.
So how can you start? First, pick your spot, then clean it up, put your essentials in the space, and decorate it to your taste. Sometimes collecting ideas and making an inspiration board is helpful to get started and have a direction for what you’d like to create. If you’ve already got a home office that’s feeling a little stale, re-arrange everything and give it a good, deep cleaning. It’s amazing what some pictures, fresh paint and some fresh air can do to revitalize a space!
Lindsay Kluge M.Sc, CNS, LDN | HealthCoach@EllwoodThompsons.com