If you leave your home to go out to work in an office or other workplace, your day’s pretty much mapped out for you. It probably goes something like this: you’re woken by your alarm, you get showered, dressed and eat breakfast, you commute to your workplace by foot, car, bike or train, you arrive at your desk and start work, you have a lunch break, you do some more work until it’s time to go home, then you go home and do whatever it is you do in the evening, then you go to bed and start the cycle again in the morning and each morning after that until the weekend.
Monday morning comes and it’s rinse and repeat ad infinitum. Or until you retire, anyway.
If that all sounds a bit dull and tedious (and when I say ‘a bit’, I mean ‘very’), you’d be right, it does. But one of the advantages of a routine like this is that the lines between work and home don’t get as blurred as much as they do for the remote worker. For the remote worker, leaving work at work, when they work at home, is difficult.
There are benefits to working from home. No long commutes, no queuing at the sandwich shop at lunchtime and no having to put up with *that* annoying colleague. But when you work from home, it’s more difficult to switch off at the end of the day, and you can end up thinking about work when you should be relaxing on your sofa.
So, if you’re one of the millions of remote workers around the world, whether that’s because working from home is something you’ve always done, or whether you were forced into the world of remote work by the Covid-19 pandemic, you’ll know it’s not always easy to switch off at the end of the day and leave work at work.
Why you should leave work at work, when you work at home
Being ‘busy’ has become something of a status symbol.
If you’re not someone who worships at the altar of busyness and you roll your eyes at those who brag about how busy they are as if it somehow makes them important and/or a better person, if you work at home you may still feel like you’re working 24/7.
This isn’t your fault – in this ‘always on’ culture, it can be difficult for anyone not to feel overwhelmed, and this feeling intensifies for the remote worker who lives in their place of work.
Not being able to leave work behind at the end of the day leads to burnout, which in turn leads to a decrease in productivity and, more importantly, has a detrimental effect on your physical and mental wellbeing.
How to leave work at work when you work at home
Below, I’ve got some tips to help you switch off when you finish work for the day. This will allow you to fully focus on kicking back to relax and enjoy your spare time.
Create a dedicated workspace
Having an actual room you can literally shut the door on at the end of the day helps with leaving work at work.
In an ideal world, you’d have a fully insulated, wired and wifi-connected garden office from which you could gaze upon your manicured lawn on a summer’s day. However, if your budget doesn’t stretch that far or you live on the top floor of a high rise block of flats, perhaps you can stake a claim on a spare room in your house to turn into an office furnished with a desk, chair, computer, printer and a forcefield through which children can’t pass.
This may also be just a dream (especially the last bit) so, if the only way you’ll be able to have an entire room as a dedicated office is to turf the kids out to sleep in the shed, you’ll have to come up with another plan.
Claim a bit of space in the house, whether that’s the kitchen table, corner of the bedroom or the space under the stairs. Set it up with everything you need at the beginning of the day – laptop, pens, printer, etc., and pack it up again at the end of the day.
It may be tempting to leave everything out when you need it again the next day, but setting your workspace up and packing it away again will mark the beginning and the end of the day in your brain. Also, once it’s packed away, you won’t have that task on your to-do list silently judging you from the kitchen table. Out of sight, out of mind and all that.
Speaking of to-do lists…
Draw up a to-do list at the end of each day
If you’ve ever had an incompleted or unstarted task buzzing around in your head long after you’ve finished work for the day, you’re experiencing what’s known as the Zeigarnik effect. We all go through it – that nagging voice that tells you something needs to be done. We also all know the relief that follows when we’ve done whatever it is we’re supposed to have done, as that little nagging voice fades away into the distance.
This nagging voice can be somewhat silenced by a to-do list. Just the act of making a plan can ease the mental burden an unfinished task can bring and allow you to enjoy your free time instead of worrying about what’s left to do or trying to remember what you need to do.
So, at the end of the day, reflect on the tasks you’ve completed and what’s left outstanding, then get your to-do list out and write down the list of tasks to be completed the next day (don’t forget to put your to-do list away out of sight until you need it the next day).
Stick to a schedule
If you’ve got set hours you need to stick to, say 9 to 5 or whatever, then you can skip this bit if you like, as you’ve already got your working hours mapped out for you.
You might also be tempted to skip this bit if you like to think of yourself as one of those carefree laid-back types who doesn’t do schedules and you’re only working remotely in the first place because it allows you to work when you like. You might as well carry on reading now you’ve got this far though.
If you haven’t got set hours and your workload allows you to be as flexible as you like as long as you get the work done, or your work is results-based – not hours-at-desk-based – you may find yourself doing bits and pieces of work at odd times, including evenings and weekends, when you could be relaxing at home instead.
If this is you, you need to draw up a schedule to stick to. Don’t panic at the word ‘schedule’ – it doesn’t have to be rigid and you could even draw up a schedule that works alongside the 4 hours of productivity principle.
Don’t forget to schedule time off too and, when you’re on vacation or if you’re lucky enough to work somewhere that offers a sabbatical, make sure to put your out of office on and – most importantly – do not check your emails while you’re off.
Close your tabs at the end of the day
Take a look at your browser. Do you have the same tabs constantly open? If you’re anything like us, the answer will be yes.
Close your browser tabs at the end of the day. Every one of them.
Closing your browser tabs at the end of the day is especially important if your home laptop or PC is also the one you use for work. Yes, it’s handy keeping tabs you use all the time open to save you opening them again the next day or remembering what you had open to look at later.
The problem with this is that it’s too easy to get drawn into doing a bit of work if you go to your computer to do a bit of online shopping and see a tab open that relates to work. Also, just catching a glimpse of something relating to work is going to make you think of work.
If you use the same web sites each day, you can create bookmarks for them or there are browser extensions that saves open tabs into a list of links for easy reference.
As well as your browser tabs, also close down your email software and if you have work email notifications going to your phone, switch them off.
Ideally, you’ll have a separate laptop and phone for work, which you can simply switch off at the end of the day but, if not, make it as easy as possible for you not to be reminded of work each time you go to your computer.
As we said at the beginning – it can be difficult to leave work at work when you work at home, but if you take these steps to create boundaries between work and home, you’ll be happier, healthier and more productive.
About the author:
Gary Bury is co-founder and CEO of Timetastic, an independent and profitable web app for managing time off work, used by thousands of companies around the world.