How to Set Clear Boundaries When You Work from Home

This pandemic is affecting everyone’s jobs. Essential workers are still out there every day providing services to keep the rest of us safe and fed and sheltered. Others have been laid off or furloughed. But many people are now working from home.

For writers, this isn’t anything new, but suddenly there are more distractions that can throw everything off.

The negative side of working from home

If you have children, they are most likely home with you right now as they learn from home. If you’re a parent, suddenly you’re balancing teaching kindergarten with writing full-time and caring for your family. The boundaries are blurred.

You’re doing both of your full-time jobs- your writing job and your parenting job- at the same time. It can be difficult to find time for yourself or even get your work done.

Setting boundaries

Talk about the need for boundaries. Not only are you having to create boundaries with your family, but there are new work boundaries that need to be put in place.

Just because everyone is home doesn’t mean they have the time or the desire to sit in on Zoom meetings all day long. It can be more exhausting than doing your regular writing gig, because now everyone is available for phone calls and webinars and Facebook lives.

Clients want to reach you now more than ever. Everyone seems to want a meeting or a phone call and you spend all day talking to people. With technology, everyone can reach you easily and they think that just because they can they should. And just like that, your writing time has decreased immensely.

And it’s not just calls and meetings throughout the day. People’s concepts of time and workday hours have been blurred as well, meaning that sometimes someone wants to schedule a meeting for 7 pm on a Wednesday and expects you to be available. Even though you work a flexible schedule as a writer, you now have to set a hard end to your workday.

Another boundary that needs to be set is physical space. Not everyone has an office or a separate room in their house/apartment where they can go and work without interruptions. You may be working at the kitchen table or sitting on the couch with the coffee table in front of you.

And now you’re distracted because the dog wants attention and the kitchen is right there luring you in. The kids are running around and you’ve got papers and notebooks and post-it notes strewn about in your otherwise tidy living room. Some people can truly work from anywhere, but most of us need our own space.

So what can you do? Well, if you don’t have the luxury of having a desk or a table somewhere away from the main action, you can create a space in your dining room or living room where you only sit to do work. Set everything up that you need for work during the workday and then put everything away from that space when work is over. This creates a clear boundary around your workspace.

Another way to set clear boundaries is around your “commute.” When you work from home, you have more time at the beginning and end of your workday than someone who goes into a physical office because you’re not stuck in the car or on public transportation for two hours of your day. That time can be spent with your family or creating a morning routine. What do you do with the time you’d usually be spending in the car?

Although you’re not physically commuting to work, it’s still important to feel like you’re going to work, even if you’ve gotten used to working from home. This pandemic has created a “new normal” and everyone needs to adjust.

Even if your commute is from the bedroom to the kitchen to your desk, you need to treat your “commute” to work as if you are still going into the office. If you’re spending all day sitting in front of the computer, take a walk in between writing and meetings. Even during this pandemic, it’s ok to take a quick walk around the block, just keep yourself protected.

Make your coffee and breakfast, take a shower and put on real clothes, even if it’s just a clean pair of sweat pants and a nice top or sweater. Wash your hair. At the very least, change into different comfortable clothes from the ones you slept in.

Getting ready for work sets the boundary around the fact that work is starting. Since you’re working from the same place you’re living, you need to break it up by setting boundaries around what you’re wearing and how you’re presenting yourself for the day, just as you would if you were going into the office. Even if you’re used to working in your pajamas when you write.

Another boundary to tend to is time. Your daily schedule is probably dictated by meetings and phone calls, so if that’s you, there’s already a time boundary of when you need to be ready for the day and when your day can end. The rest of the time management is up to you. When you write and how you meet deadlines can be flexible, but you need to set time limits around when you work and when you spend time with your family.

Having a daily schedule for yourself that includes everything you need to do, not just work-related stuff, is incredibly important for maintaining boundaries. I make a schedule for everything I need to do that day and put it on my calendar. I block out time to write, I schedule in Zoom meetings and phone calls, and I schedule my yoga practice, which is one of the most important parts of my day.

Self-care

An important boundary to have is around time spent for your self-care. This could be drinking your coffee mindfully in the morning- don’t do anything else, just sit and drink your coffee, maybe listen to music but no television or phone. Self-care could also look like taking an exercise class at home or going for a run outside. Read a good book. Color in an adult coloring book. Do a puzzle with your family or play a game.

Another way to practice self-care is by being mindful and specific about the things you surround yourself within your workspace. Personally, I have plants, a candle, a picture of my husband and me and a few knick-knacks that have meaning to me in addition to all my notebooks, pens and post-its. Surrounding yourself with things you enjoy is crucial to creating a healthy work environment.

What to do next

It’s easy to lounge in your pajamas, unshowered, with your laptop on the couch in the middle of everything. If you wake up at a different time every day, you lose track of what time and day it is. Set a morning and evening routine and make a schedule for yourself. Create a specific place in your house where you work. And set time limits and boundaries with your family. It will make a big difference in your work-life balance and make you more successful working and writing from home.

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