Separating Work from Home When You Work from Home

The key to work from home success without stress is balance.
The key to work from home success without stress is balance.

I’ve long maintained folks who work at home work more hours than our commuting counterparts. For many of us, if the computer is on, we’re at work. We just can’t shut down. Last weekend I learned an important lesson because I didn’t shut off Skype and ended up working most of the holiday weekend. Where do you draw the line when you work at home? The way I see it, the problem is twofold:

Set Business Hours

When I worked a regular 9 to 5 job it was easy for me to get in my home frame of mind. I left my job every day at the designated time, went home and did home stuff.  I don’t have that kind of luxury when I work at home. You can’t put on your coat and go home when your office is in the same place you eat, sleep and bathe.

It’s easier said than done, but establishing business hours can help you draw the line. Speaking from experience, it’s tough to say, “OK, it’s 6:00. I’m done working for the day” and leave your work at home job. Once you get into a routine however, it’s  easy to switch hats.

Getting Into the Right Frame of Mind

This has been the topic of much discussion but I honestly believe clothes help to set the tone. I change into comfortable working clothes when it’s time to get down to business, and wear something else for relaxation time with my family. Yes, I have been known to wear my flannel penguin pajama pants while working from time to time, but the clothes really do help to put me in the proper mindset.

I also find that if I have established business hour, say when my family is at work and school, I have a better ability to focus. I can’t always pay attention to my job when my son is practicing piano or my husband is running power tools. Having quiet time to work each day helps to put me in the right frame of mind. Once the family starts getting down to business, it’s time for me to close shop.

Learning to Say No

I know I said the problem is two fold, but I thought of another. Go with me on this, folks.

If we’re over extended it’s hard to think about home life because there’s so much work to do. Not everyone has the luxury of saying no to work, but if the case load gets to be too much it should be a consideration. I made the mistake of sacrificing personal time to earn more money. Now that I’ve found my balance, I’m so much happier. If you want to separate your job life from your home life, you have to do just that. Separate it. No one can change the situation but you.

Establish “Me” Time

Ok. so maybe “twofold” was a poor choice of words since we’re up to four folds. Can’t help it. The ideas keep coming. Must. Write. Down.

In addition to established business hours, I also have time set aside for just me. I can do whatever I want during that time (usually when my family is sleeping).  I use it for my different projects, to do shopping, read a book, take a long bath or what have you.

I was stressed out for years because it was just work/family/work/family. There was no time for Deb. Once I started taking at least an hour for myself each day I was less cranky and less stressed. It’s so hard to find that perfect balance, but once you do life totally rocks.

Stop Doing Fun Stuff During Work Time

Yeah, I know. Five.

So here’s the thing. One of the reasons you might be up working at midnight is because you’re doing too many non-work related things during your business hours. While I do believe Twitter and other social networks are necessary, I also know when I’m spending too much time socializing and not enough time working. And face it, while Google is a great research tool, how many of us go off on tangents when we’re online and spend too much time surfing instead of working. And then there’s the TV. And the fridge. And the neighbor who stopped by with a coffee cake. Once in a while these things are cool, but if you’re spending your business hours doing stuff that isn’t business related, you’re going to cut into your family time and personal time.

Work it Out on Paper

Here’s something i did to help me prioritize and schedule my time better. I wrote down every thing I did every day for a month. I didn’t think I was a procrastinator but I wasted a lot of time doing stuff that had nothing to do with my business. I did the grocery shopping, I worked out, I surfed and socialized. Now, these are important things, but because I did them during business hours, I was working late in to the night and waking in the wee hours of the morning to get things done. So I made a schedule.

I now wake 30 – 45 minutes before my family to work out. I go out to dinner with my friends once a month or meet them during my established lunch hour. I do grocery shopping in the morning after the family leaves, but before my “work hours”.  This may not work for everyone, but it helped me to balance work and home. With scheduled activities I’m now pulling less of a juggling act and I’m less stressed. Better yet, I have more time for my family.

Tell me, what do you do to separate work from home when you work from home?





21 responses
  1. Liz Penney Avatar

    This is great and so true. Since DH and I started writing we work 16 hours a day, in the middle of the night and on weekends. What’s a holiday? Oh, yeah, a day when you can’t reach anyone by phone.

    I’ve found some people (who shall remain nameless) think we’re slackers. Humph. Just jealous, I think.

    As for balance, (we don’t have children at home) we work when we work and take time for us and walks and friends, etc. Once in a while we crash and just laze around for a day. Our schedule is different every day. I do make lists, though, and plan out goals for the week, in output (freelance assignments) and business stuff (contacts, marketing, etc.)

    After 20 years as a mom/workaholic/volunteer freak, I learned the hard way you have to take time for “pleasure” as Mama Gena says. If it ain’t fun at least some of the time, it ain’t worth living. My treat might be going to the gym or getting a manicure. Maybe romantic time with DH. Reading a good book. Whatever.

    You can’t force creativity and sometimes the well is dry. So I do research (or network on line) or take a break.

  2. Mary Avatar

    I try to do these things, I really do! Getting out of my pj’s is the hardest, it seems. Also, my 8 month old is home. I’m trying to work my business so that by the time he’s walking, I can afford to put him in part-time daycare. I think that will help immensely. Thanks for the tips!

  3. Jean Wise Avatar

    Good ideas here, Deb. Tracking how we use our time is a great suggestion and one no matter how productive we are we should do occasionally.

    I did have to laugh at your comment about clothes and the right frame of mind. I love to go barefoot or in winter – sock foot – but found I do focus better when wearing shoes while working. Strange but part of that frame of mind business.

    Thanks for the great overview.

  4. Michele Avatar

    These are great tips! I’m usually writing so late, answering e-mails from editors or even polishing up queries, that it’s hard to wind down…

  5. Anne G. Avatar
    Anne G.

    Right now, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. I used to get up at 5am, shower, get my kids off to school and then work until 1pm, clean the house, and head to the high school to pick kids up.

    However, my husband’s employer is laying workers off, those that remain are being cut to 30 hour work weeks. So he’s going to lose about $200 a week. To make it up, I’ve doubled my hours. I now get up at 3:30am, get chores done as quietly as possible and get dinner prepped for the crockpot.

    Oddly enough, since switching to a 6am to 6pm work schedule, I have employers thanking me for being available when other freelancers are not. Work’s pouring in. I’m not thrilled working all of these hours, but I’ll do what I can to keep food on the table.

  6. Doug Heacock Avatar

    Great post, Deborah! I would add that, having a particular space set aside for your work is as important as having specific work hours. One’s living arrangements may make this difficult, but for those of us with the luxury of a separate office space at home, the demarcation of that space as “work space” can help. I work in a back bedroom, in a corner of the house that is as far as possible from the living room and kitchen–this makes it easier for me to feel like I’m “at work” when I’m in my office.

  7. Amy Avatar

    Excellent points. So true. I don’t know if this works for anyone else but I listen to some music whilst researching/doing some posts. But it’s a set music list and I don’t listen to them after working hours. The moment I hear some songs now I feel like I am at work. Weird I know, but it helps.

  8. Chris Avatar

    Really interesting post and some great advice. I’m definitely guilty of spending too much time surfing the internet and posting on forums (like now for instance) only to find that I work late into the night and am not quite as productive as I should be. I’m trying to cut that down a little.

    Separating work from home is something that I definitely struggle with and am realizing more and more with the holidays here. It can be difficult to shut off, particularly if you don’t have anything to keep you occupied. I try to get out of the house on days off as much as I can or I’ll start to feel that guilty feeling that maybe I should be earning a little extra money instead of watching reruns of the A-Team. It can be hard not having that clear distinction between home and office. Also it makes it tough because I find it harder to say no to work when I know it’s really only benefitting me (as opposed to slaving away for a big company with little to no direct benefits).

  9. Abby Heugel Avatar
    Abby Heugel

    This is a very helpful post! However, I would LOVE this problem, as I’m trying to establish a freelancing routine (work in the publishing office all day.) Any tips on how to get this going would be appreciated!

    I love this site and have already learned so much…

  10. Anne G. Avatar
    Anne G.

    @Amy – It’s funny you mention music. I never used to listen to music when I wrote, but my son introduced me to Pandora Radio, I think it is Because I only listen to it on my work computer, I associate work with Pandora time. I find I’m much more productive.

  11. Michelle Avatar

    Thank you for posting this! I just began working from home a few months ago and am currently juggling a 9 month old and a new writing career. One of the things that I am implementing to help balance my life/work is a “daily grind” sheet. For me, it’s not a hard and fast schedule so much as a to do list with priorities and “best times” narrowed down appropriately.

  12. Lola Avatar

    Thanks for this post. I’m so bad at this. My husband gets annoyed with me because as soon as the baby goes down for the night and we eat dinner, I’m back on the computer. And he’s right to be annoyed, but I only have 12 “business hours” per week to get stuff done. As I’m at the start of my career, I feel I have to squeeze in every extra minute.

    The only thing I’m pretty good at is making sure I only use my “business hours” for work – all my friends and family know that when I have the babysitter, I’m not going to chat on the phone, IM, or go Having read this post, I realize that it makes sense to establish inviolable “me” time too. (Or “us” time with the hubby).

  13. Dawne Avatar

    Great Post! I had a really hard time getting into ‘work mode’ with a 3 year old very.. very active daughter and a 4 month old son.
    With everything being so tight financially nowadays, I learned how to make my own bread and got in the habit of at least starting something for dinner every morning before work. This helped me to not only get in the mood to clean house for the upcoming day, but also feel satisfied with my job as a mother/wife.. Allowing me to better concentrate on work without having to stop every half hour or so to get a little cleaning in.
    My son’s naptime has gotten to be more routine, allowing more time to write, and my daughter likes to sit in my lap watching me type. I try to take some time to play with her during the day, bringing a notepad for short jots if something springs to mind concerning a project I’m working on.
    🙂 Of course I am very guilty of checking this site and googling whatever strikes my curiosity during the work schedule. Have to work on that!

  14. Jennifer Avatar

    @Anne G – Thank you so much for posting about Pandora. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to incorporate music into my workday without getting bored listening to the same stuff. This is a perfect solution. Pandora is totally awesome. I’m very impressed.

  15. Amy Avatar

    @Anne G – Pandora looks interesting. It’s not available in Netherlands yet (where I am based) but I think it’s getting there, hopefully soon. 🙂 I currently listen to; they have different genres and it’s nice to switch between 70s or 80s for different work loads. Hope you’re setting a bit of time aside to relax, it does sound like a hectic work hours.

  16. Cheryl Wright Avatar

    I’m fortunate in that my children are grown – daughter married and son working. Once my husband, a teacher, leaves for school in the morning, I have the house all to myself until he comes home for lunch. Most days, I’m done with household chores before he leaves.I shower, take my mug of coffee and commute to my corner office in my bedroom. So from 8.300 am to 11.30 am I’m officially at work.

    I leave the office to prepare a light lunch and after he leaves again at 12.15 p.m. I spend some time reading, checking and replying to email and surfing the Internet until 2.00 pm. That is when I begin preparing our evening meal after which I return to work until 5.00 pm. Some days, I veer from this routine to work a few more hours until about 8.00 pm.

  17. Anne G. Avatar
    Anne G.

    @Jennifer and Amy – You’re welcome. My son’s high school engineering teacher introduced him to it. He’s one of those teachers that really stands out – when class starts, he goes to the next kid on the list, asks them their favorite band or musician and then types it into Pandora. So the kids always have music running in the background while they get their projects completed and everyone gets a turn choosing the station.

    Since then, I always have Pandora running. I like that you simply type in the musician or band name and it matches it with music that is of the same style. Makes it easy to hear favorites and a few songs you may never have heard of.

    And Amy – for stress, my son saved up all summer to get Guitar Hero World Tour, so when I have downtime, I’ve been trying to work my way through the drums. I’ve decided I really kind of like drumming, so I’m half way through the easy level and then I’ll move up to the harder levels. 😉

  18. John Lister Avatar

    Amy – the following article might help you out in getting Pandora running in the Netherlands:

    On the article: I can’t pretend I always stick to them, but I try to follow these rules for working at home:

    1) Unless completely unavoidable, work in a separate room with a door. Tell your family members that when the door is shut, they must treat you as if you are out of the house and only knock on the door if it’s a situation where they’d be willing phone you if you were at a traditional workplace.

    2) While working hours can be flexible, try to never work before breakfast, never work after dinner, and always make sure you have lunch!

    3) Make sure you take breaks away from the workroom. A break spent surfing the internet doesn’t give the same mental or physical benefits.

    4) It’s inevitable you’ll think about work when you aren’t officially working. However, the moment you find youself doing sums in your head, STOP!

    5) Try to start every working day with at least half an hour devoted to looking for new clients/new assignments rather than launching straight into your job.

    6) Work weekends if you need to, but take at least one day completely off each week.

  19. Andrea Avatar

    Great post.

    I’ve been surprisingly productive since I started doing freelance full-time. I was a little worried that I would spend too much time surfing during the day, but so far, it hasn’t been a problem. I do schedule breaks for myself though, usually one in the morning to take my dogs to the dog park and one in the afternoon to exercise. It helps to have a break and keeps me focused during work time.

    I will admit, however, that since I’m just starting and I don’t have that much work, I spend time reading blogs like this and updating my blogs, which I consider to be a combination of both work and fun.

    I do find it harder to be productive when my husband is around. He works four 10s, so he has Fridays off and every Friday it’s a struggle not to get caught up in whatever he’s doing, like watching t.v.

  20. jeimyre Avatar

    Great post there!

    Working freelance is really a good job though. You learn how to adjust everything out, from your families and perks and everything which is necessary. Setting your own business hours is quiet easier than you’re in an office which you have to follow the exact time you start your job and when you’re going to end it. Working at home is great because you learn when to get serious and when you get those fun stuffs. So far, your post is so amazing! I admire how you loved your work. And though it gets hectic sometimes, still you manage to get over it. Well done!

  21. Deborah Ng Avatar

    I agree with those who said a separate office space helps. For years I worked from my kitchen table. It did work for me, I grew a business from it and blogged for some very big names from my kitchen and dining room. But it’s easy for me to get into the right frame of mind, and my family to respect my work, when I’m sitting in an office.

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