Working from home blurs the line between “work time” and “free time.” On the plus side, you can throw some laundry in during the middle of a busy work day. On the flipside, you might struggle to watch TV at night without feeling a twinge of guilt that you don’t at least have your laptop in front of you.
The pandemic has definitely made the division between work and home even more complicated. For many families, home has become the gym, the office, and school.
And while you don’t need to have a clear delineation between home and work all the time, a little separation between the two can help you feel more present when you’re working and allow you to fully enjoy your leisure time.
1. Establish a work area
Most people don’t have the luxury of having a dedicated home office. If you do, commit to working while you’re in the office and when you’re done, exit the room and leave work behind.
If you don’t have a separate office, create a work area. This doesn’t have to be the place you physically work from all day (like the dining room table or the couch). Instead, it might be the place where you store your work-related items when you aren’t working.
If you can, put the laptop, piles of papers, and other work-related materials completely out of sight when you’re not working. Tuck them in a drawer or put them in a closet.
Just tucking those items away can grant you some psychological relief during your off-time by signaling to your brain that you have permission to relax.
2. Change your clothes
While some people say they feel better wearing nice clothes while working from home, dressing up isn’t mandatory.
After all, when you’re at home, you might find wearing nice clothes adds more stress to your day because you have to worry about getting dog hair on your shirt and spilling your soup on your lap.
If you’re into more casual wear in the confines of your home, you can still use your attire to your psychological advantage. Simply change your clothes when you’re done working — even if that means replacing your green joggers with the black ones.
There’s something about putting on different clothes that can help your brain see that it’s time for something new — even if it’s a lateral switch in outfits (as opposed to the downgrade from the business suit to the sweatpants).
You might even find you dress up more in your off time. If you’ve been trying to pass off your pajamas as business casual on a blurry Zoom call, you might find a trip the grocery store actually warrants a wardrobe upgrade. Either way, a change of clothes can go a long way to helping you create a distinction between “work time” and “free time.”
3. Create a fake commute
Under normal circumstances, commutes are often the one thing that helps people prepare for the transition between work and home. Whether that commute involves listening to a podcast on a train or it’s a daily call to mom while driving on a country road, physical distance can help us create some psychological distance too.
So you might find it’s helpful to create a fake commute for yourself. Even if it’s just a walk around the block before you start working, a daily activity like this can signal your brain that you’re going from “home” to “work.”
I know one man who walks out his back door as if he’s going to work and then just re-enters through the front. He swears this helps him feel like he’s “going to work” again. So while his “commute” only lasts a minute or two, he finds the strategy helps him feel more effective.
4. Use a different page for work/home apps
If you have a lot of apps for work — like your work email orchannel — put them on a different screen on your smartphone.
Separating your “fun” apps from your “work” apps can help you resist the temptation to check your work email at all hours of the day.
This can also help you enjoy your fun apps a little more. And signal to your brain that you have permission to have fun right now.
Distinguishing work time from free time can go a long way toward helping you feel your best when you’re working from home. This can be key to preventing burnout and helping you perform at your best.