Achieving balance between our work life, personal life and online life has become harder and harder in recent years. Answer the following two questions (and be honest):

  1. How many hours are you in front of a screen – any type of screen, phones included – in a typical day?
  2. How regularly do your work and personal life mix, especially in the online world?
    For example, how many times a day do you check work emails on your phone at home, outside of work hours, or on weekends? How often do you do a quick scan of Facebook or send a meme to a friend on your computer at work?

To give you an idea, if you have a smart phone and a tv, and you work in an office environment, it’s not unusual for us to hear answers like 10-12 hours a day, with work and personal commitment blurring throughout those times.

There is also ample evidence that those increasingly-blurring lines have a significant negative impact on our productivity, focus, stress levels and mental health.

We are now faced with the reality that most of us will have to work from home, and for an indeterminable amount of time. This has added a layer of complexity. Some common things you may feel at the moment are:

  • A sense of isolation from your team, colleagues, work mates and organisation
  • A lack of achievement, creativity and productivity
  • Inability to focus on work tasks
  • Generally low morale
  • A feeling that you are at work all the time or not at all, which can create frustration and confusion

I’m fortunate enough to have worked as a consultant in education and management for the past 17 years. This means that I’ve had both the luxury and burden of working from home for nearly 2 decades. It means I’ve had plenty of opportunities to get things wrong.

It also means I’ve had plenty of time to learn what works.

Here are 5 tips to help you achieve better balance, productivity and stress management when working from home

Have a physical space that will be your dedicated work space at home. If you have a study or a home office, that’s great. If not, try and find a space that you can convert to a work area, ideally one that you can close a door to so you are not interrupted. At the end of the work day, leave that space and don’t come back until the next work day starts (i.e. close the door and turn off the lights). This physical separation will help create a mental separation between being at home and being at work.
A couple of tips:

  • Make sure that the work space you are designating is not a living space, like your dining or living areas, as this will make it harder to separate them. If you can’t, get yourself a large portable screen or room divider that you can put up and pull down as necessary.
  • Make your work space pleasant to be in, but not distracting.
  • Do a quick risk assessment and make sure your work space is safe from hazards such as tripping or slipping hazards.

Working from home can be challenging, and even more so with kids now being home all day.
You are likely to get interrupted continually. Now is the time to set some ground rules around how, when and what is acceptable when you are working. Here are a couple of simple ways you can do this:

  • Close the door and put a ‘do not disturb’ sign on it when you are working so that family members know not to come in
  • Have set hours for breaks, coffees, lunch, etc., just like you would at work. Use a timer to make sure you don’t cut yourself too much slack
  • Set ‘do not disturb’ on your phone for certain hours to you stop getting notifications for work tasks and emails outside of your work hours
  • Get some ear plugs or noise-cancelling headphones so you can minimise background noise

Don’t work in your pyjamas all day! This will help blur the lines between work time and home time. At the start of your work day put on work clothes. Don’t go over the top – you don’t have to dress to the nines. At the end of the work day get changed to your home clothes. This is a simple way to create separation mentally and physically.

Schedule times to have a video chat with your team. For example, it might be nice to have your coffee breaks at the same time, just like you would at the office. I highlight again – use a timer so that this doesn’t become a 2-hour coffee break.

Another great thing to do is organise a team catch-up at the usual time. For example, if your work place has a routine of going to get a drink after work on a Friday, then organise a weekly team catch up via video where you can have a chat and unwind together.

These will help you feel less isolated and stay engaged.

This last tip is a 3-in-1! The feeling of uncertainty around the current situation together with the sense of isolation can make it hard for us to navigate our tasks and focus on what we need to do. Here are some tips to help:

  • You can’t achieve what you don’t manage, and you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Do a goal-setting session at the start of each week so that you have clear goals and know exactly what you aim to achieve by the end of the work week.
  • Learn to differentiate between important tasks (ones that contribute to us achieving our goals) and urgent tasks (things that need to be addressed immediately), as well as which tasks are both or neither.
  • Once you’ve done your goal setting and prioritised your tasks, have a chat with a work buddy who can help you stay accountable and help steer you back on track. Check in with your buddy at the stat and end of each work day and report to each other.

Once we put all of these together, we start creating better separation between our work and personal life. We start focusing better for dedicated periods of time, which greatly improves both the quality and quantity of our output. It will also help us maintain a better relationship with our colleagues at a time where all feel more isolate than before.

Put these into play now and good luck!