Leaving Work at Work…Especially When Working From Home

“Flexible work boundaries often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being.” ~ William Becker

Many of us received a crash course in working from home recently. The belief that working from home would provide more leisure time during the day and allow us to be more productive has been directly challenged since March when many businesses sent employees home to work. While working remotely offers flexibility and freedom, it also has its difficulties. The challenge many of us are facing is how to leave work at work when working from home. Read on for my two cents.

One common topic of discussion in my sessions is that of boundaries. In relationships, having boundaries means determining what behavior you will or will not accept from others and what YOU will do to maintain that boundary. Boundaries can be physical boundaries as well as emotional. Physical boundaries include your body, personal space, and privacy.  In this case, it is imperative to set proper boundaries in order to separate work life from personal life. Each of the following steps describes boundaries that are needed to be able to put down our work and re-engage in our personal life:

  1. Have a designated work space. This is such an important tip to leave work at work even when you are at home. You need a set space where you can work and concentrate, and then close up shop and be mentally and physically present at home during the off-hours. Maybe you have an office you can hole up in for the duration of your work day, or maybe you create a workstation on your dining room table or in your living room. The important part is that you can close the door or take down your workstation to separate yourself at the end of the workday. 
  2. Set hard deadlines for the end of your workday. When working from home, it may be easy to always have your computer open or be available for calls. However, it is very important to separate yourself from work by having set hours where you go from being an employee to being off the clock. 
  3. Remove the expectation of dealing with emails outside of work hours. A friend of mine worked a support job right out of college. She constantly got emails and phone calls from clients needing help, and she quickly got burnt out by answering queries after hours. Her boss wisely advised her to not check her email after work, and to let those customers contact the after hours support crew. Like my friend, you may think that going above and beyond means answering emails around the clock. In some cases, this may be your job. Wherever possible, however, leave your work for when you are “at work.” This separation will make you a better employee, and you do not need to feel guilty about it!
  4. Create a ritual that marks the transition between work and personal life. A perfect example of such transition would be when you used to use your commute to clear the mental clutter of the day. Since working from home eliminates the need for a physical commute, you may need to get creative. Some people may signal the end of the day by closing their laptop and putting it in another room, out of sight. For others, it looks like changing clothes, or taking their dog for a walk.  
  5. Write tomorrow’s to-dos today. I know I often have a hard time leaving work at work because I have a lot on my mind–reminders, things I want to accomplish or need to do, etc. I have found that the best way to free myself from stressing about work after hours is by jotting my to-dos down. Write down the things you left undone or need to do the following work day. This enables you to clear your mind and enjoy your time off the clock.
  6. Set aside time for hobbies, interests, and things that you truly care about. Self-care is always something I will push for because I truly believe in its power to make you happier and more successful in every aspect of your life. Exercise, it will change your physical, mental, and emotional energy. Play an instrument, read a book, do something creative, it will help release stress. Pursuing your personal interests will keep you from fixating on work after hours. 
  7. Prioritize sleep each night so that your mind and body can recover. Getting a quality night’s sleep will help you be more effective and productive regardless of where you work. Many sleep professionals advise against working in the same space where you sleep. Keep your work space separated from your sleep space so you are able to associate your bed with a restful night’s sleep which will prepare you for the next productive work day. 

Working from home can take over your life if you do not have boundaries in place. It is important to take control of your environment and time by having a designated work space, following set hours for working and checking emails, having a ritual to transition from on to off the clock, writing down tomorrow’s to-dos, practicing self-care, and prioritizing quality sleep. These are just some of the many ideas to help you leave work at work–especially when your home is your work space. Feel free to comment below if you have additional ideas! If you are struggling with working from home and need assistance during this difficult time, please do not hesitate to contact me today and schedule a session. 

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.

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Melissa Cluff, MS, LMFT, CSAT

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.