Tips for better work-life balance when working from home

If you work from home, and particularly if you’re operating an online secretarial or editing business, you probably work way too much. People who are their own bosses and work from home often prioritise their work above all else and end up with no balance in their lives.

You can keep your work and life in balance and make sure you really enjoy your personal life as well as your work by sticking to these simple rules: 1) schedule in regular time off and stick to it; 2) keep your office door closed; 3) when at work, operate in work mode; 4) when you leave work, switch off ‘work-mode’ and back into ‘life-mode’; and 5) if you have kids, use childcare.

Schedule regular time off and stick to it

Decide which evenings, or weekends, every week, that you will not work. Importantly, stick to that regular time off schedule. If a job or deadline comes up that makes it impossible to take your usual time off, work until the job is finished and the deadline has been met. Then make sure you take time off in lieu of those ‘time off’ days or evenings that you worked through.

Schedule in a week or two of leave every six months or whenever is best for you. Make sure you book your leave in during those times of year where there is a natural lull in business or, if your business is always very busy regardless of the time of year, schedule your leave for whenever you like. You need to take at least a couple of weeks off every year not only to give you a rest, but also to give you space to review how things are going for you and your business and whether they’re going in the best direction for you and your business.

Whenever you take a day, night or week off, spend that time with yourself, your family and/or friends in the best way for you personally.

Closed-door policy

If you run an online secretarial or editing business your workspace will be an office. Keep the office door closed except when you are going in or out. When the office door is closed and you are inside you are ‘at work’. Do not be disturbed until break-time or knock-off time. When you finish work, close the door when you leave the office. This physical closing-of-the-door helps you switch off your work-brain. It enables you to have a real rest from your work while you are not working.

Do not pop into the office outside your official work time to make a quick phone call or shoot off a short email. Leave those tasks until you officially start work again, even if that means going into the office after dinner and putting in another half-hour of work-time. Better to spend half an hour of quality work-time in your office in the evening than to mix up your work life and your personal life.

When at work, operate in ‘work-mode’

If you work as an online secretary or editor from home, you need an office that is separate from the rest of your home. Don’t work in the lounge room or verandah or internet cafes. Use your office to do your work in and don’t use your office for anything else.

Whenever you enter your office, switch your brain onto ‘work-mode’ whereby you suddenly change from your usual self into the professional business person you need to be to conduct your work.

As a general rule, try to only use the telephone in your office where all the tools and information you need are at your fingertips and you are already operating in ‘work-mode’. However, you will sometimes need to take or make a work call outside the office. When you do, make sure you are in a suitably quiet place (e.g. not in a shopping mall or a busy cafe) and don’t forget to switch your brain into ‘work-mode’ before speaking to your client. If you can’t, don’t make the call.

Switching off

To live a balanced life you need to be able to switch your brain out of ‘work-mode’ and into ‘life-mode’ each time you finish work. You need to make sure what happens at work stays at work.

If something at work has upset you, or you need someone else’s point of view about a work matter, have that discussion if you are able to do so without breaching confidentiality. However, in general work issues should be left in the office behind that closed door.

For many years, my number one challenge of running my home-based scribing and editing business was ‘switching off’ my work-brain so I could relax after finishing work. Finally, after many years, I have learned how to do it pretty well. We are all different. Your work may be more or less stressful than mine and your tools for unwinding from work different to mine. But in case you find it helpful, here are a couple of tools that I use for switching off work and switching into life each time I finish work:

  • Focus your eyes on something distant such as a treetop or mountaintop or skyscraper against the sky, and look at that tall distant thing until your work-eyes refocus. Watching a tree, when your long-distance focus comes back you’ll see the leaves become clearer and the topmost leaves standing out in sharp 3-D contrast to the sky. You have forgotten about work, and switched off work, and switched back into normal life.
  • Other ways to switch yourself back into ‘life-mode’ are to just quietly with your eyes closed and try to not think at all (some people call this meditation); or just sit down and having a cup of tea by yourself in the lounge room or garden or anywhere that is a peaceful space for you. Don’t think about work and don’t be in a hurry, just for that five or ten minutes. Then switch back into normal life.

If you have young kids, use childcare

Operating a home-based business does not mean you can care for a young child at the same time as doing your work. In my view, it doesn’t matter how good you are at multitasking: children are little human beings, not a task, and can’t be mixed up with work.

If you have young children, use childcare (paid or otherwise) to give you the work-time that you need.

If you decide to not  use childcare but to juggle your work and your kids by yourself, you’ll probably end up working until very late every night (while the kids are asleep) with no sleep-ins to catch up, and not spending any time looking after yourself. Don’t do it.

Other challenges of working from home

If you’re working from home, and especially if you’re operating a home-based business, you will have come up against a lot of challenges that you’ve had to overcome or are still struggling with. Check out my blog for other articles where I discuss the different challenges of working from home: Work-life balance when working from home and Managing home-based businesses

This article is based on my own experiences since starting On Time Typing as a small (sole trader) online/onsite scribing business in 2002 which has evolved into a scribing, writing, editing, proofreading and assisted self-publishing services business.

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