Working From Home – Is Your Personal Life Bleeding Into Your Work Life?

One of the best things about owning your own business is that you have complete control over where and when you work, and working from home is, to some, the epitome of those perks. But as great as working from home can sound on paper (no more laundry into the wee hours of the morning!), in practice it can be a struggle to adjust. There’s a definite learning curve involved in suddenly being in control of how your time is structured — think of it like moving away to college, where suddenly you have to scold yourself to do your own homework instead of having parents around to remind you.

Of course, working from home cannot really be compared to doing your homework; you likely have far more personal responsibility than you did in high school or college — children, pets, home duties, more time commitments, and so on — and these important outside-of-work priorities combine to create serious distractions for you. And you’re not working to get a good grade, you’re working to make a living.

When your work life and your personal life are primarily centered around the same location, how can you keep the two separate so that you can continue maintaining both effectively? With a few mental tricks, you can rewire your brain so that you can switch from “off time” to “work time” whenever you need to. Here’s how.

Separate your home office from your home.

Make this your mantra: Your workspace is not your living space. To return to the homework analogy: if you’re doing your homework in your bed, one of two things is likely to happen: your concentration on your work will suffer because your brain is preparing for sleep, or your sleep is going to suffer because you can’t let go of work when it’s time for bed. Ideally, you can’t even see your desk from your couch or your bed, and vice-versa.

Of course, not everyone is blessed with a spare room — what if you’re working with an open space? No problem. When I moved into my studio apartment, I simply chose the corner of the studio with the best natural light and walled it off with a few bookshelves. It’s kind of like my own personal cubicle, only I don’t have to wear shoes!

Maximize your workspace.

While the comforts of home are great, what you’re aiming for is the convenience of the office. Invest in the things that will help you expedite your time: Make sure everything you find yourself using frequently is close at hand. Get a filing cabinet, and spend the necessary time organizing. Your home business may be small now, but you should structure your organizational infrastructure so that if business takes off, you’re not worrying about classifying old unsorted documents and making room for new customers or clients. For help with this daunting yet completely doable task, check out this great article from Entrepreneur on getting organized.

Remember: you have complete control over your surroundings. Just because your workspace should be organized doesn’t mean it needs to feel like a dentist’s waiting room. Get out the paint! If you find it difficult to tune out the internal dialogue, surround yourself with a cool blue — it will help you focus. If you’re not a morning person and you’re trying it out, go for bright colors to help you feel invigorated. If you rent and aren’t allowed to paint, try curtains or wall hangings. Hang up a picture of something that reminds you why you’re passionate about your business. Whatever motivates you and helps you focus, do it.

Minimize the distractions you can’t eliminate.

Forces outside of your control are conspiring against you. For example, when I remove my headphones and listen to the world around me for a moment I can hear a snow plow clearing the sidewalks, the hum of my refrigerator, a truck starting up outside, at least two neighborhood dogs barking, and my own dog taking an intense interest in the cause of the ruckus. Luckily, with my headphones on, all I can hear is Brian Eno — an instant distraction-dampener.

Make sure that everything on your desk has a reason to be there — pencils, lamp, telephone, calendar, reference books, and so on. Spend a few minutes passing careful judgment on the objects you’re surrounded with; if you haven’t touched an object in the last week, turns out your desk is not its proper home. Find another place for it to live that’s out of sight and out of your mind.

Set your boundaries, and stick to them.

Friends and family can sometimes laser in on the “home” aspect on working from home, hearing the “work” part with deaf ears; it’s up to you to remind them that your home office is not your home, it’s your office. Let people know when you’re on the clock (even if it’s your own clock), and tell them firmly that while you’re happy to be available during your free time, work time is for working. If your loved ones still aren’t getting the picture, ask them whether they would interrupt you during your day if you were in an office with other coworkers around. The only difference is the location (and the fact that you aren’t wearing shoes).

Along these lines, it’s important that you define your boundaries not only to your loved ones, but to yourself. Pick whatever hours fall in line with your personal circadian rhythm and work practices. If you’re a morning person, embrace it. If your best hours of productivity are in the evening, no problem. Whatever you do, make sure that you’re holding yourself accountable not only to starting on time and putting in the hours, but to making that after-work switch back to your personal life. At whatever time you deem your day to be finished, change your clothes, make some dinner, and relax. You’re working from home, but this doesn’t mean you need to bring your work home with you. Congratulate yourself on a job well done, and stop for the day. There’s always tomorrow.