Six ways to balance work and home life

Juliet Hodges
Senior Advisor in the Behavioural Insights Team at Bupa UK
08 July 2020
Next review due July 2023

Is it working from home or living at work? Over the last few months, many people have found drawing healthy boundaries between work and home life tricky to balance. If you’ve been working from home and that’s set to continue, try these tips. They’re designed to help you refresh your routine and iron out any niggles you’ve been struggling with.

Why it’s been hard

Burnout happens when you’re stressed and under pressure for a long time. There are some key areas that can contribute, such as your workload, control over your work and how connected you feel to your team. The pandemic and change to your working situation may have had an impact on these areas.

1. Starting your day

Have a morning routine

Having a routine Monday to Friday will help you separate your weekdays from the weekends (if that’s your usual pattern of work). This can help stop the days blurring into one and create boundaries between work and home.

  • Get up at the same time each day.
  • Have a shower.
  • Get dressed for the day ahead.

You could also replicate a morning commute by going out for a walk, run or cycle. Then come back and settle in for work. This can help you get into the right mindset for the day.

Create a dedicated work environment

Try and create a dedicated space to work. This might be a home office, your kitchen or dining table, your ironing board or your sofa. It’s important to make it as comfortable as possible to stop aches and pains.

For lots of people, an increase in video calls means you might not be moving about as much. And they can be tiring, as we struggle to decode non-verbal cues with pixelated or delayed video. A good way to combat this is to:

  • get up and move around regularly
  • do some desk stretches
  • move some video calls to the phone so you can walk while you talk

2. Focused work

Working from home can mean it’s tempting to prioritise more visible work. For example, responding to emails immediately or taking more calls. But it’s important to set aside time for key projects you need to work on. You can help set expectations for those who contact you in the following ways.

  • Block out time in your diary to show you’re unavailable at that time.
  • Put in your email signature that you might be slower than usual at replying.
  • Add an out of office message if you work certain hours and not others, especially if this has changed from your usual pattern.

Distractions at home can make it much harder to focus for extended periods of time, so minimise them where you can. For example, it can take over 20 minutes to return to full concentration on a task after an interruption like a new email. Even just having your phone next to you can reduce brain power, as you’re anticipating a message or fighting temptation to use it.

  • Turn off notifications on your phone and email.
  • Move your phone to another room so it doesn’t distract you.

3. Take breaks

Taking regular breaks is vital for your wellbeing and productivity. Some people like to set a timer and work for a set amount of time and then have a break. For example, a 45-minute focused period of work followed by a 10 to 15-minute break.

Also try and put ‘breaks’ as meetings into your calendar – and treat them as you would a meeting – take them. This is a great time to experiment and find what works for you and your energy levels.

It’s also important that you:

  • go out for a walk – the fresh air will do you good and give you time to recharge and refocus
  • have a proper lunch break – if your family are at home, have a meal with them, or head outside for some time to yourself
  • get some exercise – a short home HIIT session or workout in your garden, for instance

4. Social support

Even small interactions with others is good for your wellbeing. But these interactions have been hard to come by over the last few months. This is particularly true of your colleagues, who you’re used to seeing daily. Maintaining these connections virtually can be much more difficult.

  • Open team calls a few minutes early so those who fancy a chat can do so.
  • Organise fun team activities, like a pub quiz or virtual coffee morning, so it’s not all about work.
  • Have some smaller online gatherings so quieter team members can join in.

You and your colleagues can also hold each other accountable by sharing the ways you’re going to honour your work-life boundaries and stick to them. Support one another to stay on track.

5. How to end the day

Have a clear end to your day to help you mentally transition to your leisure time. Something as simple as closing your laptop lid can be just the signal you need. Make sure you do this every day.

Arrange to have a call with a friend or family member at the end of your working day. This gives you a deadline to finish your work tasks. A chat with family or friends will quickly switch your brain from work to play mode.

Another option is to replace your evening commute with a walk. This is another good way to draw a line between work and play.

Tips for switching off

Switch off properly by trying the following.

  • Make a to-do list for the next day. Your mind can rest easy knowing you’ve made a plan. You don’t need to think about it again until the next morning.
  • Tidy away your workstation. If you can’t see your work laptop and phone, you’re much less likely to reach for them. If you’re using your own computer and phone, turn off push notifications for work chats.
  • Clear away your work equipment on a Friday night (or at the end of your working week) and put it out of sight until you’re next due to work.

6. Be kind to yourself

At a time like this, we all must practise self-compassion – this is all about being kind to yourself. You’re doing the best you can. Treat yourself how you would a best friend or family member.

Turn off the news. It feels important to stay up to date, but reading and watching too much news can cause stress and anxiety. Check it once or twice a day, but then give yourself a break from it.

Find ways to stop thinking about work. Have a ‘trick’ up your sleeve if you find yourself thinking about work when you go to bed or on your days off.

Some ideas include:

  • mindfulness or deep breathing exercises
  • having a note pad next to your bed to jot down your thoughts
  • reading a few pages of your book
  • a gratitude exercise like thinking of the ‘three things I’m grateful for today’

Even just telling someone else ‘I can’t stop thinking about work’ or saying it out loud will help you to do something about it.

And finally…

Remember, when your home is your office and your office is your home, you’ll probably think about work more, and that’s OK. Just make sure it’s good use of thinking time. For example, think about what you can do about that meeting or presentation and come up with a plan. Take action to think creatively and positively, rather than worrying.

Juliet Hodges
Juliet Hodges
Senior Advisor in the Behavioural Insights Team at Bupa UK

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