It has been my privilege to work from home since 1986. Back then, the big convenience was having an AOL email account. When fax machines showed up – WOW! Sending printed documents to clients over the phone lines – AMAZING! What a time saver!
So, all you newcomers to the club, let me give you one word of advice. I’m not going to give you five steps or 10 rules to follow. It’s time to simplify. All you need to know to make working at home productive and enjoyable is the full meaning and power of this one word:
Working from home is a blessing – no commute, no dress code, no office gossip, no distractions. It’s also a curse – because now that your work has followed you home like a lost puppy, it acts like a lost puppy. It never goes away! It’s always demanding attention.
It’s too easy to say, “Oh, let me just take care of this one little thing before I forget...” and then you’re sucked in for the next four hours.
That cute little puppy becomes a needy, demanding beast that has suddenly taken over your life. You can’t get away from it – because it lives with you! And what’s worse, it threatens you in the worst possible way: “If you don’t take care of me, I’ll go away – leaving you without a paycheck!”
Yeah, it’s a nasty beast that doesn’t play fair....
So, how do you tame it? What’s the secret to blissful co-existence?
To understand the power and worth of separation, let’s remember the old office-related routine. You’d get up and get ready for work. You’d commute to work. You’d use the time to amp-up and prepare for the day. At the end of the day, you’d leave that location and head home. On the way, you’d reflect and decompress. Once home, you’d change out of your clothes into your after work wear and go about living your evening routine.
Did you see all the separation activities? There are four of them.
• Getting ready for work in the morning is pre-separation. It is getting you ready. It’s a time for you to start breaking away from home life.
• Commuting is the obvious separation. You are physically, consciously moving to another location.
• Driving home, you leave your work behind you. You physically and consciously move away from it.
• When you come home and change your clothes, you are literally taking off your work personna and putting on your home one.
Now let’s take a look at what happens when you work from home. How many times have you worked in your pajamas – even bragged about it? It may sound like the chill thing to do but look what is really going on. You have combined your bedroom mentality and work mentality. They have merged.
If your office is set up in a corner of your bedroom, guess what? There’s even less separation. You’re practically sleeping with your work.
If you actually work while sitting on your bed – call for an intervention. You have slid down the slope of total work immersion. You have now been transformed into a drone.
See how quickly you can lose yourself when there is no separation in your life?
How do you avoid this?
Set up your office in a separate area of your house. An actual room is perfect. If you must dual purpose a room, clearly define what is “office space.” (Full disclosure – for years, I worked out of half of a closet that was converted to an office space, then upgraded to working from a converted walk-in closet.)
Don’t work in your pajamas. Casual clothes or sweats are fine, just make sure they aren’t normal sleepwear.
Use your morning bathroom routine as your substitute “commute preparation time.” Take a shower. Put on your day face. Comb your hair. Prepare yourself for the workday battles. You can still work from home and be a warrior.
Set distinct start and stop times. If you have an actual home office, close the door at the end of the day. Lock it if you have to. Keep the beast caged.
Change out of your work clothes into evening clothes at the end of the day. Nothing says, “I’m done with work” more than taking on a whole new look.
Before you think that sounds silly, remember – you used to look forward to doing that everyday. And it felt great! Keep doing it.
Establishing and practicing good separation habits will help you create the mental boundaries required to keep work from becoming the untamed, demanding, all-consuming beast and maintain your sanity & humanity.
Working at home brings with it the opportunity to enhance the quality of your life – when you learn how to keep work life and home life separate.