Drawing the Line Between Work and Private Life [5 Time Management Tips]

Drawing the Line Between Work and Private Life [5 Time Management Tips]

Guest post by Ieva Sipola from DeskTime.

One year into the pandemic, most of us have learned that while remote work definitely has its benefits, there’s also no lack of challenges. If during the first months we thought it was all sunshine and roses - getting up later, not having to commute, having more time for family and home chores, working without office distractions, we soon came to face the other side of the coin. For some, the realization was literally painful, with our backs and eyes suffering from non-ergonomic seating and lighting. For others, pain points were more intangible - from missing in-person socializing to feeling that your private life blends too much with your work.

Don’t blame yourself for losing the strict border between your professional and personal worlds. We were not exactly prepared for such a long-term plunge into remote work and it’s only healthy to admit to experiencing some challenges. These five tips will help you draw that line between work and life and regain your personal time.

Set up a dedicated office station at home

It might seem tempting to work from your dining table or even the living room sofa. However, your body will soon beg you to find a more ergonomic workstation - if not for the back pain and sore eyes, then for the extra snacks you consume being too close to the fridge.

Here’s why you need a designated “office corner” when working from home long-term:

  • At a psychological level, you need to feel like you’re “going to work.” This will be helpful for your productivity and for separating work and private life.
  • Being away from the common areas of the apartment means fewer distractions and work-unrelated noise.
  • For health reasons, your workspace should be ergonomic, clean, well ventilated, and have good lighting.

If you don’t have a proper table, chair, or lamp, consider asking your employer to supply these items, as they are essential for your productivity and well-being. Alternatively, get creative and use what you already have - a plank or a shelf for a table, a spruced-up old chair, or a curtain as a divider - find inspiration in this article. Don’t forget to add a plant, a motivational poster, some souvenirs, or design elements to make your workspace more enjoyable.

Pro tip: if space is an issue in your home, use earplugs or noise-canceling headphones to help you get in a mental zone of work.

Set office hours for yourself

If you don’t already have fixed office hours set by your employer, consider setting them yourself. Sure, having flexible hours is a great perk, but if you overdo it (taking an afternoon nap, ducking out to an appointment when necessary, and then making up the time later that day), you end up turning all your days into a fuzzy work/life blend.

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If you have trouble following such strict rules (especially when you made them up yourself), consider using a helpful time management app or a tool that helps to track the productive hours of your day. As soon as you’ve done enough hours - it’s time to call it a day!

Pro tip: To make it easier to stop working in the evening, turn off push notifications for work emails and any other messages that might distract you from enjoying your private time.

Create rituals to mark the start and end of your workday

It sounds nice and cozy to start your workday by rolling out of bed and saddling up to your laptop to start work on time. But this tactic can be detrimental to your work-life balance because the transition from your private world to your professional life is...nonexistent. The same goes for the end of the day and not knowing when to stop working because your laptop is always so close at hand.

If this is your case, try implementing rituals that mark the beginning and end of a workday. One way to do this is to begin your day with a walk around the block. This way, when you get home, it will feel like you are “arriving” at work. Alternatively, you can do a quick meditation at the start or end of your day.

Here's why such rituals work:

  • They create a mental association with work starting and work ending.
  • They give you a clear line – and it permits you to turn off entirely.
  • The walk in the morning simulates a commute to work, so it helps to psychologically prepare and keep the feeling of “going” to work.
  • A walk or exercise before work gets the blood flowing, which leads to more energy to get started on work tasks.

Pro tip: If you are working with a team, a simple ritual to implement is to say “Hi” in your work chat - just like you would do when arriving at the office.

Automate parts of work to shorten your workday

As trivial as it may sound, having more time for your private life essentially means… working less. If you manage to complete all your tasks in less time, you have the chance to unplug on time (or even earlier) and move on to your hobbies or spending time with your loved ones.

One way to shorten your workday is by using apps that streamline and simplify numerous menial actions that take up too much of our time. Allowing a powerful tool to handle minor yet crucial and time-consuming processes for you can hike up your productivity and give you more space and mental energy to do things that count.

Pro tip: Regardless of whether you work solo or with a team, think about the daily processes that take up much time and could be automated. For example, if you feel that you have too many online meetings per day, consider using an online collaboration tool or an app designed for asynchronous communication. Perhaps you’ll find that you are able to achieve the same results by communicating differently.

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Reduce your smartphone usage

In the last years, smartphones have become the most notorious thieves of time - both at work and at home. When you work from home, reaching for the phone seems even more natural - after all, nobody is watching you. Today, most of us would benefit from an app or a tool that would help control the relationship with our phones - and give us our valuable time back.

There are apps that restrict social media access for a set amount of time, like Freedom or SelfControl; apps that aim to help you focus like Forest or Flora; and even mobile phone jail gadgets that lock away your phone for a set time. If you’d like, you can even schedule receiving notifications for certain parts of the day with an app like Daywise. It’s up to you if you only want to block several distracting apps, the internet in general, or even access to your phone altogether.

Pro tip: An original way for reducing your phone use is co-working with your team leaving cameras on all day. Try this experiment to see if it improves your productivity and makes you shy away from using your phone too much.

Good luck separating work from your private life!

One of the biggest issues of working from home is that your workday bleeds into your personal life, and after a while, you don't know which is which anymore. Office ambient sounds like printers, phone calls, and the sweet purr of the coffee machine have been replaced by the washing machine working in the background, your partner zooming from the other room, and possibly kiddos or pets running around.

It may be all good for some of us. But others may have to take up stricter measures to stay sane and be well during these home-bound times. We hope these tips will help you draw that line in the sand and separate your professional life from your personal time and interests.