30- A Telecommuter’s Guide to Work-Life Balance
Do you telecommute? I often talk to young professionals who want to have a more flexible work schedule. In one recent study, 75% of millennials polled by Deloitte would like to work from home more. There are different reasons workers want to report from a home office. Some people believe they are more productive when working from home. Others desire a more flexible schedule, or to save time and money on their daily commute. While working from home may seem easier, balancing your personal life with a “9 to 5” schedule can actually be more difficult than if you report to a traditional office building.
If you love your work, and become adept at telecommuting, you are likely to find it difficult to leave work at the “office,” when you should be spending time with friends or family. It is easy to work extra hours in the evening, or on weekends, when your office is so accessible. For example, I work with engineers, estimators, and project managers within my company and many different types of external clients every day. I love my work and enjoy helping people solve their problems. I want to be a responsive team player so much that I often find myself sitting at the kitchen table after dinner with a laptop, writing emails or preparing spreadsheets. While this is great for my company and my business relationships, the relationships in my personal life suffer.
One of the widely known benefits to working from home is the ability to better balance work and family. However, just like working from a traditional office, your work-life balance can be negatively affected. Two recommendations to maintain a work-life balance are to use a separate physical space for your home office, and use timers for your work.
Divide your office from the rest of your house:
If you have a room dedicated as your office, and only work when you are in that space, it will be easier to “turn off” when you need to. Consider the doorway to your office to be a boundary. Once you’ve set this boundary, it becomes easier to leave work at the office and focus on other aspects of your life. This isn’t to say that you should never work outside of your typical work hours. On the contrary, because your brain is not wired to generate great ideas only during the work day, you may find that you want to send an email or work on a project on a weekend. When this happens, simply walk to your office and complete the task. If, like me, you allow yourself to work in different parts of the house, you run the risk of getting caught up in work and spending more time than you allotted. Last weekend, for example, my goal was to spend Saturday morning gardening. As I brewed the morning’s coffee, however, I had an idea about how to make a project design better so I opened the laptop, and started working. Three hours later, there I was sitting on the couch working through a company presentation (that had nothing to do with the initial reason I turned on the computer) instead of working on my garden. In comparison, if I had walked to my office to do the work, I likely would have completed the single task I had an idea for, and then started gardening earlier in the day.
Set timers for your work:
Even if you are able to abide by the boundary you set between your office and the rest of your home, you will likely find yourself putting in extra hours when you work from a home office. A 2010 study by Brigham Young University claims that telecommuters can work, on average, 19 more hours (as compared to employees who work at an office daily) before a work/life conflict occurs. However, these conflicts still occur and if you don’t set limits on your work time, they can cause havoc in your life.
One study has shown that if you are happy with your job on a day-to-day basis, you are more productive. While an increase in number of hours worked was not analyzed in this study, it is intuitive that the more you like your job the more hours you want to put in. This can be a dangerous position, however, as the more hours you spend working, the less time you have for family and home life. For many of us, the problem is that we love what we do for a living so much that we get caught up in the task we are working on and time seems to fast-forward.
Time flies never to be recalled. — Virgil
How often have you finished working on one thing, and then, instead of turning off the computer, you start working on something else because you want to cross it off some list? Soon after, you realize you’ve spent too many hours working and something slipped in your home life. The result is that you become more vigilant with your time, for a short while, and within a few weeks, you find the cycle repeats. Rather than continue this way, schedule your time and use accountability tools to be sure you stick to the schedule. For example, if you have a report you’d like to review, set a stopwatch for the anticipated amount of time you need. Once the timer ends, stop working. I prefer to use the timer function on my iPhone. However, if you are easily distracted by having your phone nearby, try a virtual timer. One that I like is the Tomato Timer, which solely operates in 25 minute increments based on the Pomodoro method of time management. Another option is to use a friend or family member as your accountability tool. You can schedule an activity with them so that you have no choice but to put your work down, or you can let them know that you would like to be interrupted in X minutes and ask that they call at that time. Remember, there will always be “one more thing” that you can, and probably want to, finish; to keep a work-life balance set a timer and abide by it.
When you work from a home office, it can be easy to neglect your home life. Two ways you can help avoid this unbalance are to use a separate physical space for your home office, and use timers for your work. By keeping this balance, you will go to sleep knowing that you’ve given adequate care and attention to all aspects of your life.
Do you work from home? What are your tips for maintaining balance?