Growing up, I thought working from home would be a dream. However, I craved it not unaware of its demons, too. When I was fifteen years old, my father who had always worked in a small cubicle as a sales engineer began working from home. Some benefits of this change included nixing the daily commute, always having a pitcher of brewed coffee at arm’s reach, having access to isolation or silence when needed, avoiding work drama, and having a flexible schedule that made him available when we kids needed him. Ironically, its shortcomings also include having a fridge full of food at arm’s reach, having family drama, and always needing to be available once the kids got home from school. I watched him struggle between sitting down to get a block of work done and getting up to complete a list of chores before my mom got home. I saw him cringe every time the dog barked as one of us strolled through the door while he was taking a conference call. He prepped breakfast and lunches in the morning between emails, spilled coffee around his work laptop, and took breaks a few too many times walking the dog and turning on the TV.
So here I am, fifteen years later, double the age I was then (GULP!), following in my father’s footsteps. When I’m not at my dental office taking care of teeth, I am working from home as a writer for this blog and other blogs, and an at-home baker for a bakery that I dreamt up out of nothing. Sometimes, my writing gets interrupted by a mid-morning snack, while other times I feel the need to complete household chores in between bread turns. I am going through similar difficulties with creating a healthy work environment at home as my father before me.
Of course, the situation looks much different for a person without kids. I can find silence easier, have more isolation, am without the family drama, and have a flexible schedule. It helps that one of my days off lands on a weekday while the other members of our household are out of the home, giving me full reign over my own space. Yet it still takes a certain level of discipline to resist the calling of a sink full of dirty dishes, the running of a vaccuum, or the organizing of an entire home … a discipline which is not as strong as I would like for it to be. It requires a delicate balance for switching on and switching off. For the sake of productivity, it is important (for me) to follow a set number of guidelines that create a division between my work environment and my home environment, the most important of which I suggest here. A separate space, for a separate peace.
Create A Designated Work Zone
The best part about going to work is the fact that the environment you enter is strictly professional. You dress professionally, act professionally, and speak professionally. At home, however, you are dressed in your sweats, you act as if no one is watching, and you mutter curses under your breath. When your work zone consists of a bed or a couch rather than a designated desk, the productivity greatly decreases lest you feel too comfortable in the sheets or fall asleep amongst the pillows. And just as we isolate ourselves to a place of work when we commute, it is equally important to isolate our work to a designated space when we don’t. The physical boundaries between work and home are imperative. My father struggled because his work desk was at our dining table, where us kids always gathered to eat, do homework, and watch TV. He set his laptop in the middle of our home to be more involved with family life, not realizing how much it disrupted professional life. I am lucky in that the distractions are much less when I type from the edge of a dining table. A table itself is my designated space. Whether it be at the edge of the dining table, at my husband’s unoccupied gaming desk, or on the table on our patio, the designation itself lies in the physical object. When it comes to baking, it is even easier since I must work within the confines of my kitchen.
Keep a Tidy Space
The habits that make up a creative space certainly includes tidyness. Keeping a tidy space helps with clearing the mind. The less the mind has to process, the less it is distracted, and the more open it is to insight, imagination, and order – all ingredients to productive creativity. This is part of the reason why I keep bare walls in my home. Since it is also my work space, I need it to be conducive to work. The same goes for when I bake. I need to first put away everything in the kitchen that does not involve baking. I cannot bake for the bakery and cook my own meals at the same time. Once dishes are used for the bakery, I have to wash them right away, which is unlike my methods when I cook for myself. Tidyness is a bigger key to a successful at-home work environments than most people think.
Be Near the Light
When I listed my three favorite places to write, I listed the three areas in our home closest to natural light. It has been said that light positively affects our mood and productivity due to our intrinsic, age-long connection with its presence and however apocryphal that may be, I would agree that when it comes to creative work, this is especially true and applicable to me. When it’s dark and gloomy, my mind tends to cloud over too. I lose the heat that makes my joints want to move. When there’s light, I feel motivated and inspired. So I set myself up for success each time. I choose work spaces that feed my creative soul. I position myself wherever there is the most sun, pull back the blinds, pull aside the windows, and shun the dark. And then, I begin.
This is by far the best advice when it comes to setting a boundary between work and play. It is also the most difficult boundary to achieve. A certain level of resilience is required in order to successfully switch on and off between tasks. I’m the first to admit that I fail sometimes. It’s so easy to think of something to write about and to ignore the time set aside for reading a book before bed in order to chase that thought. It is easy to all of a sudden accept a bakery order because you are at home anyway, technically available to bake, even if it means sacrificing your personal time. I’ve cancelled staycation plans, plans to watch a movie at home with my husband, coffee dates with colleagues, all because something came up “at work”. But working at home means that you DO have the final say. You ARE in control. Until you ignore all timelines, and then you are not. Something that I have learned but have still yet to master. My suggestion? Be intentional with your timeline rules. Be strict and treat yourself as both an employee and a boss by holding yourself accountable. Learn how to say no. Learn how to switch off. It takes great will power to create mental barriers, but create them we must, or else we may fail to create at all.
How about you guys? I would love to hear of ways in which you create a boundary between work and play. Feel free to comment below!