It sounds so dreamy—until you try to do it and find that working from home is an interesting juggling act that doesn’t include a whole lot of balance. You may have had visions of long leisurely breakfasts and quality, uninterrupted work time in your pajamas—but the reality may be more likely to include kids underfoot, interruptions from friends who think you don’t really work, and a never-ending stream of work that is not limited to standard work hours.
Schedule Life First: It’s tempting to schedule work first, but that is actually a backwards approach. Instead, grab your calendar and fill in your personal and family responsibilities first. Don’t hold back—pencil in the laundry, the grocery shopping, the carpools, the meals, and more. Once you have those things filled in, you’ll be able to step back from the calendar and see the big picture, which will help you with your next task—determining your work schedule.
Set Your Work Hours: Evaluate where your empty blocks of time are and create a work schedule that fits around your life. Perhaps you drop the kids at school at 9:00 and don’t need to pick them up until 2:00. That’s a solid chunk of time for work. Be realistic and practical:
- How much work do you have and can you accomplish it during your empty blocks of time? If not, perhaps you’ll need to hire a babysitter for a few hours after school. Sometimes it’s worth spending money on babysitting, housecleaning, or meals if it frees you up to earn income.
- Evaluate your personal habits. Do you work best during the morning hours? If so, perhaps someone else can be on morning duty with the kids so you can maximize your productivity.
Set Boundaries: Once you’ve established your work schedule, make it public. Spell those hours out loud and clear.
One of the main drawbacks of working from home is that most people perceive you to be available for anything at anytime. Friends drop by for coffee and neighbors ask you to let the cable guy in for them. By posting your work hours everywhere—on your website, your email signature, and even your door—you’ll help prevent unnecessary interruptions.
Regular, consistent work hours help your family and friends know when you are available for play and when you are on duty and not available. Tell your family and friends that your work hours are off limits, except in the case of emergency
Once you set the boundaries, it’s up to you to maintain them. Resist the temptation to respond to every interruption. Instead, hold firm to your schedule—and watch your productivity soar.
Focus: Working from home can be a challenge. It’s tempting to get up and switch the laundry or prep dinner—but stopping for those tasks actually prolongs your workday and blurs the line between work and life. To maintain a healthy work-life balance, aim for focused work time and be strict with yourself about maintaining it. It takes some discipline, but over time you’ll find your groove and you’ll be able to work when it’s work time and play when it’s playtime.
Play: The problem with working from home is that you never really get to step away from your work. There is no such thing as “out of sight, out of mind.” Many people who work from home find that they end up working all of the time. It’s just so easy to check email constantly or stay up late every night trying to squeeze more work into the day. This is counterproductive and unhealthy.
Your scheduled work hours can do more than help you set boundaries for your friends and family—they can help you set boundaries for yourself. When work time is over, walk away. There will always be more work to do. More often than not, that task that you think is so important can wait until tomorrow. If you want to maintain a healthy work-life balance while working from home, this may be the most important strategy of all. Work is only one part of life. If you find the balance, working from home can be rewarding on many levels.