Decide When You’ll Work From Home (and When You Won’t)

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Today’s big idea is that one of the biggest problems of working from home. (And the piece that plays the biggest role in work from home burnout.) Is that it’s very easy to feel like you should be working all the time. I mean, I believe in work-life integration, believe me I do. But that does not mean that work should become your whole life. And the way you prevent that from happening when your office and your home are in the same place, is to decide when you’ll work, and when you won’t. 

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It’s a nice idea, right? Here’s how you do it:

When you work from home, in the morning, or the day before, look at your calendar and your to-do list. Then decide when you’re going to work on what, and when you’re going to NOT work. And then either write down or use your calendar to create a schedule for yourself. 

For example, Let’s say you have a dentist’s appointment in the afternoon. And one project for one client and another project for another client that are both due at the end of the week. You also want to get out for a walk and you need to call your Mom. Sit down with your planner or your notebook or your online calendar and block out the stuff that’s got to happen at a certain time first. In this case, that dentist appointment. Then block out time for working on project A. And another block of time for project B. Decide when you’ll go for that walk and maybe that’s when you can call your mom, too.

So you end up with a schedule when you work from home

At 8 am I’m going to walk and call mom. I’ll work on project A from 9-12. I’ll eat lunch and brush my teeth from 12-12:45. And I’ll leave for the dentist’s at 12:45 and be back by 2:15. 2:30 – 5 I’m working on project B, and at 5, I’m done. 

 A friend turned me on to the daily planning templates at productiveflourishing.com that I have been loving because it has a blank daily schedule as well as a spot to list your projects, your tasks, your scheduled events, and your notes for that day. Plotting out my day first thing in the morning when I work from home or even the night before makes me a lot more relaxed during the day, because I also know what I’m supposed to be doing when. It doesn’t mean I am always DOING those things when I said I would, but now I have a very clear idea of what’s NOT going to get done if I veer off script. And that can be motivating. 

Figuring out when you’re working and when you’re not helps in a few other ways: 

  1. It prevents you from falling in to that, what should I be doing now sense of dread–look at the clock, look at your schedule that you created, and you know what to do. 
  2. It keeps you from feeling like you should be working on everything at once. Which isn’t possible, anyway, but tell that to your ego, which will make you feel bad for everything undone thing if you let it. 
  3. It also clearly delineates when you are NOT working. This is time you’ve got to protect with all you’ve got! 

Three things that make it easier to really relax during those not-working times are: 

Shut. The computer. Off!! If it’s sitting there, open, you won’t be able to help yourself, you’re going to want to pop in your inbox and just see what’s happened since you last checked, and that is not helpful, people. 

And then if you can, give yourself some kind of visual reminder that it’s not time to work from home. I have a friend who works from home in a studio apartment in New York City. There’s no shutting the door to her office, so she throws a sheet over her desk when she’s done working in the evening. Out of sight, at least partly out of mind. It’s kind of like putting a cover over a birdcage cues the bird that it’s time to go to sleep, no matter what time of day it actually is. You could also put a sticky note on your computer that says CLOSED. In order to prevent and heal from burnout, you need time to just BE and not feel that nagging guilt that you should be getting something done. So give yourself all the reminders you need to just chill. 

I’m not saying you need to observe a standard 9 to 5 work from home routine (unless of course your particular job requires it, and even then you can fudge it a bit). If you have to do family or life stuff during the day but still need to get some work done, you can absolutely work in the early morning or in the evening. Just DECIDE when that time is going to be, and how long it’s going to last. If you know you have a dentist’s appointment that afternoon and you need to work that night, decide that it will be from 7-9, and then stick to that. 

And just a final note, if you don’t finish the thing during your scheduled time to work on it, that is OK

There is always tomorrow to get more done if you don’t finish in your decided-upon hours. I mean, IF you could finish in 15 or 20 more minutes, go ahead and break your schedule just so you can get that feeling of completion. But otherwise, let it ride until your next scheduled work session. Everyone I’ve talked to has reported taking longer to complete things than they ever have before during the pandemic. With all the uncertainty and the stress and the fear, our brains are tired, perhaps even close to the point of burning out. Things take longer. It’s not a failing, it’s a fact. A key way to keep burnout at bay is to be OK with things not being finished…yet. 

Daily Tiny Assignment

Your tiny assignment is to make a schedule for your next work from home day. Remember, look at your to-do list, looks at your schedule, and figure out when you’ll do what, as well as when you won’t be working. This is how you keep the work that you do from home from completely overtaking your life that you live there, too. 

And come back tomorrow, when I’m covering how to enliven your work day so that it feels less like drudgery.

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