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You’ve probably heard the age-old advice that you should make a point to “switch off” from work when you’re at home. But even if you used to be pretty consistent about establishing work-life boundaries, those likely went out the window if you’ve started exclusively working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s simply too easy to fire off work e-mails at all hours — or run non-work errands in the middle of the day — when you’re living in your workspace. (Related: How to Take Care of Your Mental Health When You Work from Home)
It can be beneficial to take steps that’ll help you mentally draw that line between when you’re on and off the clock, according to Anita Yokota, interior designer and licensed marriage and family therapist. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to create boundaries between work and rest at home,” she says. Studies suggest that work-from-home employees tend to have higher stress levels and more trouble sleeping than commuters, and people who lack a work-life balance may be at higher risk for serious health issues, such as heart disease or stroke. Thankfully, there are ways to mentally separate work and life even if you’re physically working, eating, and sleeping in the same studio apartment.
If your home has a dedicated office space that you can use for nothing but work, you’ve already got a head start. If not, you can consider converting a guest room or other room that doesn’t get a lot of use in order to set aside a spot for working. Having a designated workplace is ideal since that can allow you to maximize your productivity when you’re working and mentally distance yourself from your other to-do’s when you eventually leave the area.
Even if you don’t have the luxury of a separate room you can designate for work, you can still be able to create a functional work-from-home setup that allows you to avoid working from your bed. (If at all possible, you want to avoid working from bed specifically, as that might lead to sleeping problems.) “When designing a smaller space, especially one that’s going to be multifunctional, it might take a bit more creativity, but it can be done!” says Yokota. “I love pieces that can serve multiple purposes — something that you can use to work during the day that will also serve you when you’re off the clock. When designing a small space, every inch is precious.” Maybe that means choosing a desk that doubles as your vanity, folds down at the end of the day, or has room to store more than just your office supplies. You can even try converting a closet into a workspace that you can close up. (Related: The Best Ways to Ward Off the Aches and Pains of Working From Home)
Whether or not your space allows you to create a home office, you can use your organization scheme to your advantage. “A lot of people are having to carve out office spaces in their bedrooms or living rooms, so I always emphasize the importance of having a designated spot where all work materials are placed at the end of the day,” says Yokota. It might seem pointless, but this can actually affect your mindset — even just seeing your laptop on your table at the end of the day might make you stressed, says Yokota.
“I love using a basket to keep laptops, notes, chargers, etc.,” she says. “This is a great way to keep everything neat and organized, while also keeping it out of sight when you’re trying to wind down and relax. Out of sight, out of mind.” It’s also fine to temporarily store your work if you need a mini-break during the day for meditation, lunch, or to complete a non-demanding task. Doing so might help boost your productivity, creativity, and happiness as you return to your home workspace to get back to your tasks. (Related: How to Be Productive While Working from Home, According to Your Sun Sign)
When you’re no longer among your coworkers, it’s easy and tempting to roll out of bed and right to your computer, but that’s not the way to go if you’re trying to establish work-life boundaries. “Aside from design strategies, I would strongly recommend incorporating some rituals into your day that keep you on task and focused,” says Yokota. “I always recommend making your bed, changing into ‘real’ clothes, and taking a few minutes before you start your workday to meditate or set your intentions for the day ahead.” After showering and getting dressed, you’ll feel primed to take on those e-mails that you didn’t address the night before. At lunchtime, make a point to eat away from your computer to avoid mindless eating and a drain on your productivity.
One of the biggest challenges of working from home is choosing and enforcing a cutoff when you’ll stop working — especially if you now have fewer evening plans that pull you away from work, thanks to the pandemic. In addition to putting all your work materials out of sight at the end of the day, you can try practices such as lighting a candle when you’re working and blowing it out when you’re done or taking a walk around the block immediately after you log off. You can also dim your lighting — perhaps from bright overheads to softer lamp lighting — after work to create a new feeling in your space and help you wind down for bed.
Working from home comes with its challenges, but by adjusting your routine you can avoid the feeling that you never escape the office. And if you’ve always struggled with work-life separation, you should be able to use some of these strategies (e.g. hiding any work materials you bring home) in post-pandemic life.