Staying productive while working from home

Why it’s essential to set clear boundaries—even with yourself

During the coronavirus pandemic, everyone who can work from home (WFH) should be doing exactly that. If you’re working remotely and live with family, a partner, or roommates, some relatively predictable issues may come up. You might imagine that physical distancing means boundaries will be easier to set and enforce. However, your being at home can blur the lines between free time and work time for those sheltered in place with you. So, getting clear on your boundaries and enforcing them can help preserve your productivity and your mental health.

Let’s look at six actionable tips for working from home that may help you improve your boundaries with others during this time.

  1. Get to know your boundaries
    You can’t enforce your boundaries if you don’t know what they are. Think through your typical WFH day. Do you need a quiet place or time to take business calls? Do you need to work in silence to get things done? Were you used to having an hour-long lunch break when at the office? All of these needs can be easily translated into boundaries.

    Being able to understand what you need can also help you better manage your day, as you will be more aware of when you should rest, take breaks, and how to navigate an extensive workload.

  2. Communicate boundaries clearly
    We all know to stay at least six feet away from others whenever possible. But we can’t assume we always know what physical boundaries our partner, parent, or child needs to feel comfortable and happy. Nor can they read our minds. Now that you know what your boundaries are, it’s your job to make sure people understand them. Try role-playing to communicate boundaries with children, or schedule calls ahead of time with loved ones so they know when you are available to connect. Find healthy ways to practice saying “no” at work when possible. Every little bit of effort counts.

  3. Create reminders to keep the peace
    Adjusting to your new normal isn’t going to happen immediately, for you or for others. The people you live with may forget some of your unique work-from-home needs, and you’re bound to forget some of theirs. The best time to remind others of your boundaries is before you’re on a super-important video chat with a brand-new client. Creating reminders, like putting a note on your door, can help preserve boundaries in a household of people who aren’t used to being together 24/7.

  4. Dedicate a separate workspace
    Your family or roommates will have an easier time respecting your work boundaries when they know where you’ll be. Set up a makeshift office in the dining room versus spreading your papers all over the living room or pacing the hallway while on a work call. Pick a corner of your home and designate it as a work-only zone where you know that you won’t be interrupted. Plus, at the end of the day, leaving your workspace is a great way to signal to your brain that you’re shifting from work time to play time.

    If you are unable to work remotely, set aside time throughout your workday to unplug and reconnect with yourself during your shifts. Even a few minutes per day can help renew your energy and focus.

  5. Set a household schedule
    Everyone will benefit from knowing when it’s okay to be social and when to leave you to work without disruption. If you have kids and your partner is also working from home, decide together a schedule for who is on “parent duty” while the other works. Even without kids, if you live with others during this pandemic-induced quarantine, a household schedule can help everyone feel a little more balanced.

  6. Forgive generously
    Are boundaries a challenge to uphold? Yes. In the heat of the moment, a crossed boundary may seem like a Really Big Deal but long-term, your patience and forgiveness are more valuable. With communication and clear expectations, you can find a happy balance between working from home and spending an unusual amount of extra time with the people you live with.

One thing’s for sure, working from home sure isn’t as glamorous as it looks in movies. It’s more like a long, drawn-out game of trying to ignore family, roommates, and pets long enough to be productive. That’s why setting boundaries can be the game-changer that helps you cope best. When everyone in your home is on the same page about what is expected of them (okay, maybe not your pets), the day will run a lot more smoothly. Ready to get some work done? Let’s plunge into some extra tips.

Bonus Tips for Setting Work-From-Home Boundaries

  • Wear headphones when you want to focus; there doesn’t even need to be any music playing. Headphones on means “do not disturb,” which is a concept that even young kids can grasp.

  • If you need to escape — going straight from working to parenting to working again can be a bit much — you can still go outside and take a walk to calm down and be on your own with your thoughts. Just remember to practice physical distancing.

  • If you have young kids, be honest with your coworkers about how that will affect your work-from-home flow. At the beginning of the call, it’s perfectly okay to remind people that they may hear kids in the background.

  • If you have a crowded home, replace work calls with emails whenever possible. They’re faster, and you’ll have less chance of being interrupted.

  • Shower and get dressed in real clothes before you start working. Not only will this help you get into your professional mindset, but it will also signal to the other people in your home that you’re in “work mode.”

Finally, while it can be tempting to repetitively scan the internet or social media for updates on COVID-19, it may be better for your mental and emotional health to limit screen time. Consider designating specific times for browsing. To help you reduce the overwhelm, we’ve created a site for the latest Blue Shield of California COVID-19 news, advice, and resources.