Estimated reading time: 16 minutes
Okay. So you probably hear the term work-life balance get thrown around a lot these days. After all, a pandemic entered our lives in early 2020. Most of us began to work from home. Kids started remote schooling. And today, many of us still call our homes our office. Now we have to figure out how to build work life balance from home.
Fun, right? It is. (Cue sarcasm).
But seriously, this is exactly why work-life balance is important. Without it, you can log waayyy too many hours at work in any given week. And sometimes, you don’t even realize you’re working.
That’s because it’s too easy to step into your office and work on a project or pop in and answer a quick email. Before you know it, you have just spent an additional seven hours in your home office. It was supposed to be just a super fast check in, right? RIGHT?!?!
On the flip side, you might find yourself distracted and unmotivated at home. Netflix is calling your name or the endless scroll of social media monopolizes your time.
Both are unhealthy ways to work from home. And that’s why it’s seriously important to consciously think about how we work remotely so we can build better balance across the board.
What is Work-Life Balance?
So, the official definition of work-life balance, according to Cambridge Dictionary, is:
In the real world, it boils down to how much you work and when. The WHEN part is important and often overlooked. Outside of “business” hours or “off the clock” are inappropriate times to work just as running errands and taking personal calls are off limits during work hours.
To build better balance, let’s look at both sides of the scale. First up, working too much.
What it looks like when you work too much
Often, we glamorize busyness. We wear it like a badge of honor. But it’s not something to be proud of, especially if being overly busy at work spills over into our personal lives.
Does any of this sound familiar:
- Are you picking up your phone and answering your email during dinner with family?
- Is a night out with friends half spent taking business calls from clients?
- Do you obsessively check your phone for work notifications over the weekend?
- Have friends and family noticed just how much you’re working “off the clock?”
If so, you’re busy too the point of going bust. It’s a slippery slope to allow work-life balance fall in work’s favor. But it happens. A lot. In fact, a whopping 77% of Americans have reported burnout at one point or another at their jobs.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a real concern. According to the Mayo Clinic, burnout at work looks like:
- Lack of energy or productivity
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irritability with coworkers/customers/clients
- Zero job satisfaction
- Being cynical or critical
One of the biggest causes of burnout is, of course, work-life imbalance. When work takes up too much time and effort, it leaves little left for friends and family. This quickly leads to feelings of resentment and turns to job burnout quickly.
Burnout for Remote Workers
And burnout is a real concern for remote workers. A study from Nature on Human Behavior learned remote workers punched out later and logged more hours. On average, about 10% more hours than traditional office workers. Yikes.
As remote workers, we’re always connected. Like 24/7. This is especially true if we work with clients or coworkers around the world. They might be in the middle of their day when it’s after midnight your time. So, you could find yourself sneaking in an email at weird hours and even on weekends. It happens from time to time, but this is the exception not the rule.
Does that mean work from home jobs are too good to be true? No, not at all.
It’s easy to highlight the Burnout factor of remote work. It’s the wicked remote coworker, after all. And, of course, there are ways to avoid Burnout (which I’ll cover later). But, before I do, it’s important to bring up the opposite side of the work-life balance spectrum. The side where life wins out and we put work on the back burner. I call this side “Living it Up.”
What it Looks Like When You Work Too Little
We know Burnout is working too much and at inappropriate times.
Living it Up is the opposite. You opt to slack on work duties in favor of personal pursuits (or no pursuits at all, ha!).
There aren’t a lot of statistics about Living it Up. After all, who’s going to admit that they aren’t really working when they’re supposed to be? However, you know deep down when you’re not meeting your work responsibilities as well as you should be.
Signs You Aren’t Working Enough
Just as it’s easy to work too much, it can be just as easy to put work aside. For some, being home is a little too comfortable. This results in not enough work time and too much personal time. When this happens you:
- Miss important deadlines because your time management favors personal pursuits
- Spend the majority of your work day sitting at your desk but you’re scrolling through social media or watching Netflix
- Often “knock off early” to head out to dinner or grab drinks with your friends
- Have a serious cause of FOMO so say “yes” to everything even though you should say “no”
- Get complaints from coworkers about your lack of responsiveness
- Fail to respond to teammates or clients in a timely manner
- Forget to do routine tasks or put in minimum effort to get by
If any of this sounds familiar, well then, you are on the opposite side of the balance scale. You, my dear, are clearly Living it Up. You might get away with it for a bit. But, after awhile it catches up to you and causes a level of distrust with your coworkers.
Remote Workers and Trust
So, are remote workers just sitting a home watching Netflix all day? Is that really why workers don’t want to head back into the office? Plenty of remote workers report increased focus and productivity. But managers don’t always agree.
In a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) study,
Clearly, the goal is for companies and managers to trust remote workers. Typically, companies look for specific traits in remote hires for this very reason. But trust in general is so important that, when a group of remote-friendly companies was asked “what traits do you look for in candidates for a remote job” dozens (and I do mean dozens) included several similar answers about trust and work ethic:
- “demonstrated responsibility”
- “strong work ethic”
- “self-starters that are good at budgeting their time”
- “high degree of independence”
- “receptive to feedback”
- “doesn’t need a lot of hand holding”
- “initiative and discipline”
- “the ability to find answers and figure it out”
I could seriously keep going on and on and on. But the takeaway here is that companies want to hire remote workers who can manage their time and have a desire to do the job (and do it well) even when no one is looking.
It’s up to you and you alone to manage your time well while working at home. Clearly, some companies are skeptical of the work ethic of telecommuters. Do not tip the scale too much in favor of life. Otherwise, you’re gonna give remote workers a bad name.
And then we’re all gonna come after ya. Just kidding. Remote workers are typically introverted people who prefer to stay inside and dislike confrontation. So, you’re safe
How to Achieve Work-Life Balance as a Remote Worker
We’ve done a deep dive into what happens when you live in a state of work-life imbalance. When you work too much, your family life suffers. And if you work too little, your work performance suffers.
Of course, neither of these is optimal. That’s where work-life balance comes into play. It’s a simple enough concept but difficult to master. Fortunately, there are two fundamental concepts that will help you achieve the often elusive balance you seek:
- Time Management
Time Management for Remote Workers
It’s true there are a lot of benefits to remote work. One of which is time saved with no commute. On average, a US worker’s commute is 27.6 minutes one way according to the Census Bureau. That comes to 55.2 minutes of work travel every day. Yes, almost an hour saved not sitting in traffic is good for your health. But in reality, an hour isn’t a ton of extra time. And for remote workers, it’s important not to replace that hour saved with MORE work.
Fun fact: In additional to being a Certified Professional Career Coach, I’m also a certificated Time Management Coach. Betcha didn’t even know that is a thing. But it is and it’s a credential I absolutely love. Why? Because teaching remote workers better time management (or anyone in general, really) results in a ton of positive changes.
That’s where time management comes into play.
What is Time Management?
For a basic definition of time management, Wikipedia offers the following:
For remote workers, proper time management leads to work-life balance. It provides a set structure to your work day so you don’t work too much or too little. In other words, don’t wing it. Go into your remote workday with a plan of action so you feel like you’re actually getting sh*t done and not just endlessly busy without much results.
Time Management Benefits
Think about it. No matter how much money you have or wisdom you possess, you are never given more than 24-hours in a day. It’s how you choose to spend those same 24 hours allotted to each of us that will make all the difference in how accomplished or unaccomplished you feel. And when you feel like you’re using your time to its fullest, you:
- Can do more without being frantic
- Make better (and easier) decisions
- Work toward goals and complete them faster
- Feel greater confidence
- Free up time to focus on what actually matters
- Reduce stress and boost happiness
- Avoid feelings of overwhelm and burnout
Reminder, time management is about prioritizing and using time effectively. It is not about cranking out tons of work as quickly as possible. You are human, not a robot. Doing too much leads to burnout. Instead, focus on planning and execution so you make the most of your time.
Types of Time Management Styles for Remote Workers
Psst: There is no secret to time management for remote workers. Every person will have a different method or manner of time management that provides them the best work-life balance.
It’s up to you to find which system or style or software works best for you. Try out different methods. See what sticks. Research them. Some might sound too whacky right out the gate for you, and that’s okay.
There is no right or wrong answer. However, and I can’t stress this enough, you absolutely have to have a time management system in place to achieve work-life balance from home. Period.
5 Popular Time Management Methods
1. Getting Things Done (GTD)
This method was created by David Allen, an authority in all things work-life management. His signature method, Getting Things Done or GTD for short, helps bring order to chaos in both work and life (kinda sounds like work-life balance, right?).
The GTD System is broken down into five fundamental steps: Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect, Engage. You can grab a copy of Allen’s book, Getting Things Done along with the Getting Things Done Workbook on Amazon for around $20 bucks.
I own both, and particularly love the workbook and the 10 moves it breaks down for you. It’s a must-read to help you gain control of your work-from-home time.
2. The Eisenhower Matrix
When you have decision-making fatigue, the Eisenhower Matrix can help. It’s a fairly simple method that helps you figure out which tasks actually need to be completed in your workday.
This method allows you to ignore unimportant tasks and helps you feel like you’re making progress and in charge of your day (instead of your day ruling you). Simply put, it allows you to keep work tasks in check so you don’t end up working too much, especially on things that are unnecessary. The smart folks over at MindTools created a handy infographic to illustrate how it works:
3. Pomodoro Method
The Pomodoro Method or Technique is pretty straightforward. It works wonders for procrastinators and those who struggle with focus — which is admittedly two BIG struggles for remote workers.
So how does it work? You break your workday into 25-minute chunks of time. Each chunk is referred to as a pomodoro. You literally set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on a single task during that sprint. After a single 25-minute pomodoro, you take a 5-minute break. Then you rinse and repeat. When you’ve finished four or five pomodoros (with breaks in between), you take a longer 20 minutes break.
The idea is the forced breaks prevent burnout (woohoo) which helps with work-life balance. And you also get a realistic idea of how much (or little) time you actually have in your workday. With the Pomodoro Technique timer ticking, you focus on work, avoid distractions, and work on tasks that actually need to get done and not filler items.
4. Time Blocking Method
The Time Blocking Method has you break your entire workday into smaller blocks of time. During these smaller blocks you focus on a single task or a group of like tasks. For example, you block off a chunk of time just for meetings or phone calls. Another chunk is devoted to answering emails. And so on and so forth until your workday is filled.
This method, like the others, forces you to think about important work tasks you need to complete and set aside time for them so they get done. It keeps you from getting distracted or working on too many things at once.
Remember, multi-tasking is actually a time management disaster. According to the Cleveland Clinic, multitasking makes us less efficient and more prone to errors. Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, has said about planning workdays that
5. Rapid Planning Method (RPM)
Tony Robbins is the guru behind the Rapid Planning Method or RPM for short. His inspiration was to create a system that focuses on results rather than tasks. With this method, you get rid of your daily to-do lists and instead prioritize tasks.
This method combines both work and life goals, which of course plays well into our goal of work-life balance for remote workers. On top of prioritizing tasks, the method shifts your mindset, too. Every day (whether at work or home), we have tasks that have to get done but thankless (i.e., answering emails, laundry, etc.).
RPM helps you think of all tasks as meaningful in their own way and a small part of a much bigger picture.
Boundaries for Work-Life Balance from Home
The other secret to creating better balance when you work from home are boundaries. Because the lines of work and home are blurred remotely, boundaries keep you from combining the two. That way you don’t constantly feel like you’re at work, even though work and home are one and the same.
What are Work Boundaries?
In a nutshell, work boundaries are the limits you set to protect yourself. They are put in place to allow for a distinction between personal life and professional time. Without them, you end up feeling like you’re being pulled into too many directions at once. And, as we already know, that leads to stress and burnout.
Who to Set Boundaries With When You Work from Home
Typically, you only have to set work boundaries with yourself and coworkers. But, when you work remotely, you have to set work boundaries with your coworkers and:
- Spouses or significant others
- Family members outside the home
This can be tricky and downright delicate. Nonetheless, it needs to be done. I’ve worked remotely for a decade. To this day, I still have to remind everyone on the list above that Monday – Friday, 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (I’m an early bird), I’m working. This means I cannot just pick you up from the airport or have you drop in for a visit. Similarly, it means you can’t just burst into my office. Not only is it rude, but it ruins workflow.
According to Harvard Business Review, our brains have a hard time switching from one task to another (more reason not to multitask!). So, when we are interrupted, by roommates, spouses, kids, neighbors, and unexpected visitors, it takes much longer to complete the task at hand. This ultimately upsets whatever time management plans we have in place. The end result is often working outside of work hours to make up for it.
How to Set Healthy Boundaries for Work-Life Balance from Home
Remember, time management helps you work on what matters most. The boundaries you set allow you to seamlessly separate work and home when you work from home (no easy task!).
A lot of people have a hard time saying “no.” But it’s important to create your work-life balance from home. You need to say no to requests from friends and family members during work hours. Similarly, say “no” to coworkers or clients who put in requests on weekends or nights. Being able to say no without guilt is a learned skill.
Set a Schedule, and Stick to It
Whether you’re employed or self employed from home, know your work schedule ahead of time and stick to it. Again, this is why it’s important to have a time management method in place. That way you can easily “say no” to personal or professional requests that fall outside of your schedule. So, if you don’t work weekends — then don’t work weekends. Period. At the end of the work day or workweek, close your office door, shut down your laptop, and do not “return” to work until your next scheduled day or time.
Communicate Clear Expectations
Let your friends and family know your work from home schedule. And that means during those time you’re unreachable, unless it’s an emergency. It’s also helpful to define what is and isn’t an emergency.
Similarly, remind your coworkers or clients that you sign off daily at a specific time and don’t work on specific days. Let them know not to expect responses from you until you “return” to the office.
How to Build Better Work-Life Balance from Home
In a perfect world, you would work as much as you needed, get all the right tasks done, and have plenty of time left over for personal relationships and hobbies. But we are human, and perfectly imperfect. That means sometimes we work too much or not enough. And that’s okay. (Seriously, it’s okay).
As long as you recognize imbalances and correct them, you’ll be okay.
Through time management and firm boundaries it’s absolutely possible to build work-life balance from home.
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