It Works Both Ways
Our work life bleeds into our home life and our home life bleeds into our work life. I have worked from home both with and without family there – I have found I am much more disciplined with family at home my weakness is forgetting to stop at the end of the day! If you have chosen to work in a flexible way you may have intended it to dovetail nicely with family life but are beginning to find that the overlap is more than you expected; work is overtaking your personal space, or family activity is not allowing you to stay focused.
Setting Boundaries: It’s Up To You!
It is you that is responsible for your own working needs
- Setting the boundaries is for you to do
- Set your expectations for others
- Do it with intention
When you are sharing your home with partners, flatmates, children or guests it is important that you communicate well what you expect from others, or how you expect to work together so you all get the space you need.
Work out first what it is you need and what others around you need.
- Do you need quiet from 10 – noon?
- Does a door shut mean ‘do not enter’.
- If two of you need quiet and private space do you need a schedule?
- Do you sometimes need the full strength of the internet bandwidth for a conference meeting?
Once you are clear on your boundaries it is important to communicate well and with intention. Not with passing comments outside the bathroom or while cooking dinner, not with passive-aggressive comments but clearly stating that we need to relook at my needs and your needs.
It is also important that your clients know when you are available to them.
- Do you like to set up all your calls in advance?
- Do you have hours that are strictly for work?
- Are you happy to take pre-arranged calls outside of your normal working hours?
- Do you have days when you don’t schedule meetings (face-to-face or virtual)?
You perhaps don’t need to be explicit with every new client but rather let them know what your boundaries are when you have requests that don’t work for you. We can, of course, all make exceptions when needed to ensure we are meeting our clients’ needs too.
Carving out a dedicated workspace between you and the rest of your home is so important, but it might take different forms and shapes in our homes. It may be a desk in the corner of another room. It could be the dining/kitchen table. Preferably it should be a space where there is a door you can shut when needed.
I am fortunate enough to have a dedicated desk, the room, however, has a shared purpose so ensuring I can close the door and be private when I need to has to be negotiated, diarised, and thought through in advance. If it’s mine for the morning the door closed means ‘do not disturb’. It is essential to me to be able to walk away from my desk and shut computers down at the end of the day. During the COVID epidemic, there has had to be a lot more desk/table sharing so each day has to be talked through.
Looking for ideas/inspiration?
If you use the dining table to work on being disciplined by clearing off the dishes during your work time, and equally take laptops, devices, and papers off during mealtimes. Invest in storage boxes that can be quickly packed away and unpacked.
There are lots of pictures and examples on the internet of peoples’ ingenious spaces. Here is a couple on Pinterest:
Make sure that your workspace is set up well, is your chair good and comfortable, are your computer screen and keyboard at the right height. You don’t need fancy or expensive kits but changing a few things could be beneficial. I use an ergonomic mouse which really helps with repetitive strain in my shoulder. I have recently brought a desk platform so I can convert between sitting and standing. Placing your laptop on a pile of books with a separate keyboard can stop you from hunching over. Sometimes just changing position or chair can give your body the break it needs.
Daily rituals are really beneficial for your brain shift.
- Start-up rituals – important to clear our minds and space
- Shut-down – parking your work stresses and to-dos until the next day
- Moving from one task to another
Ambling around the house in your pajamas hoping someone will make you sit in front of your computer is not a committed ritual!
I have a great start-up ritual – I begin my day with a walk, do a couple of tasks around the house, and then to my desk at the same time each day.
My shutdown ritual is not so good. I know the theory; clear my desk and write a to-do list for the next day (so I am not carrying stuff around in my head). It’s just that the last hour of the day goes so quickly I find myself going past my intended work time.
Moving from one task to another can be tricky. I find it hard to shift from logical to creative but can shift easily the other way – I take a walk and it works!
It could be since our ‘stay at home’ rule that you have had to change your rituals to suit having your family still in the house or that you can’t go for an early morning walk. Accepting that a change will have to happen is key to then finding a new routine to get to your desk.
I have found the book Atomic Habits by James Clear really useful. He tells us what we need to change our habits/routines by using our existing framework or making small changes, as small as 1% every day.
- Click here to order Atomic Habits from your local bookshop
- Click here to watch James Clear
- Click here for James Clear’s website
Organise Childcare / Petcare
The most important with children is to find some time when they are not your responsibility. As mentioned, this post started as a talk given before the COVID -19 outbreak here in the UK so finding childcare is a lot harder if you are isolated or if grandparents are your go-to childcare.
Swapping with other parents in the same situation is one option, each of you can get some concentrated work time. If both parents are at home trying to work, it is probably fairest to share the childcare burden. There are plenty of teachers now advertising and posting that they are available for online tutoring – a great way for older children to get help and give you a short break. I am sure we’ve all seen ‘BBC Dad’ from last year, but this is probably something we may all have to get more used to click here for a giggle.
Children do not thrive when they know you are not with them mentally, and you do not do your best work if you are trying to entertain them. If they are older you can set boundaries about when you need quiet and the door needs to remain shut. Someone in my network with young children told me they made a telephone hat with their children, when she needs to make a phone call she wears it and they have to entertain themselves, the reward is they get to play with toys in a special box. I’m sure other parents have great ideas too, ask around your network.
Pets can also be demanding, if you are in a meeting and distracted by getting back to the dog it will not benefit you. Use dog walkers or share your dog through an online pet share (not best advised to share during the pandemic!). Cats on keyboards are another matter! This is when being able to close a door is handy.
Look After Yourself & Self Focus
Working on your own for long periods of time can be challenging and affect your concentration levels and focus. It’s good to break up your time, one of the methods that are popular is the Pomodoro Technique work for 25 minutes and then break for 5, repeat three times more and take a longer break. This pattern gives a sense of achieving tasks and structure. There are apps available to help you use this technique for desktops, laptops, and smartphones.
Click here to find out more about the Pomodoro Technique from its creator Francesco Cirillo.
It is always best to work on tasks at the right time of day, typically most of us will set out a list of to-dos first thing and check emails. Some people find they work best on admin early or late in the afternoon.
It goes without saying that it can be isolating so staying connected with others, whether these are colleagues, fellow home-workers or friends is really helpful. Ensure you talk to at least one person per day. You could find someone who also works from home to buddy up with and perhaps talk through your ideas or problems.
Pre-COVID-19 I would find an early walk in the park with a fellow member of The Athena Network a great way to share our ideas or pain points. Networking groups are great for providing support, the added bonus is they can bring you business too!
Do not underestimate the need to stay connected.
Setting boundaries checklist:
- Set boundaries with what you expect from others
- Set boundaries with what you expect from yourself
- Define your workspace
- Organise childcare/pet care
- Look after yourself & self-focus
Helen Bantock is a web designer at www.kitewebdesign.co.uk and an Athena Regional Director running the Richmond Borough groups.
Web design links: https://linktr.ee/kiteweb
Athena links: https://linktr.ee/athenarichmond