When your work space is also your home space, it’s easy to blur the lines between work and relaxation. Here, an expert explains how to establish a proper work/life balance when we’re working from home.
Humans are creatures of habit. Every day, most of us will get up, get dressed, take the same route to work, do our jobs, and then do the same thing in reverse, perhaps meeting our friends for a drink or picking up some shopping on our way home. However boring that may sound, we thrive on routine.
So when a global pandemic comes around and puts that routine on hold, it can be overwhelming to say the least. Adapting to a brand new schedule – working from home, only leaving the house for all but essential travel and staying two metres away from people outside our household – is going to be difficult.
Because we’re not really sure when this lockdown period will come to an end, it’s important that we take the time to work out a new routine and adapt to the change of pace we’re experiencing. And one such area we should all be paying attention to is our work/life balance.
When we first start working from home, it can be tricky to establish a divide between our work and home lives, because we don’t have that “leaving the office” moment to mark the end of our working day. It’s all too easy to open up your laptop after work has ended “just to send an email” or “check something” – but doing so isn’t conducive to a healthy working routine.
There’s also the problem of digital presenteeism to counter. Just because we’re working from home, doesn’t mean we need to work ourselves even harder in an attempt to compensate for not being in the office. Your employer should trust you to do the same job as you normally would – it’s not up to you to work harder, faster and longer just to show them you’re “really” working.
As mental health advocate Jo Love previously told Stylist: “Overcompensating due to the fear of looking like you might be shirking or slacking is a common problem for those of us who WFH. And sure, blitzing the to-do list, the non-stop working and saying yes to everything your boss throws at you might make you feel awesome in the short term, but if you try and keep that up for more than a couple of days it can have a dark side.”
It’s clear that creating that crucial work/life balance while we’re working from home means facing a few hurdles – but it’s still incredibly important to do so. Working long hours, and letting your work life take over your personal life, can have a massive impact on your mental health; by not allowing yourself the time to relax and recuperate after a day’s work, you’re putting yourself at risk of physical and emotional burnout.
With this in mind, we asked Dr Paul McLaren, a consultant psychiatrist and medical director who works at the Priory’s Wellbeing Centres in central London, to give us some of his top tips for creating a balanced routine. Here’s what he had to say.
1. Be consistent with your sleep
“You should try to be consistent with bedtimes and getting up in the morning,” Dr McLaren says. “We are all better mentally and physically when we sleep well, and good sleep depends on good sleep habits and a constant routine.”
2. Be strict with where you eat
“It is important to keep your mealtimes consistent and try eating with others, when possible,” Dr McLaren explains. “It might be more tempting to eat at your desk but try to keep a separate eating space.”
3. Make time for socialising
“In our normal working lives, we take a lot of social contact for granted,” he says. “We interact with people going to and from work, in the corridor, by the watercooler or the canteen. We will miss that at home for a long period, so consider scheduling in break times and use it to chat with family, friends or colleagues who are facing similar challenges.
“Messaging isn’t the best replacement for face-to-face interaction; instead try picking up the phone or video calling. Live interaction is essential and when you are home-based you need to plan that in. You could even try arranging to have a coffee together virtually. It’s the live interaction that is important.”
4. Keep moving
“Exercising is vital to mental wellbeing and it is important to find time to exercise regularly,” Dr McLaren explains. “Maybe try going for a walk or run, or even a home workout but always abide by official advice. Depending on your space you can be creative about what you do.”
5. Prioritise relaxation
“Sometimes even just getting home can be relaxing, but that gets lost when you are working from home,” he explains. “Try setting up different spaces for working, eating and relaxing so you associate different areas with each activity. Being at home all the time may mean you have to work harder at this.
“If you don’t already practice active relaxation, then it’s a good time to start. It could be activities such as yoga, mindfulness or pilates. Try find something that you enjoy but remember that these only really bring benefits when you practice them regularly.”