Even during normal times, it’s common for people to struggle to disconnect from work in fear of falling behind. This might even be exacerbated with the pandemic forcing many companies to have their employees work from home.
While working remotely comes with many added comforts, from the lack of commute to the privacy of your own home, it also makes it difficult to differentiate between “on” hours and “off” hours. The boundaries between your work life and personal life become blurred when you bring your work into your personal space. Remote employees may find themselves checking emails when they wake up, taking work-related calls at night or feeling like they’re constantly on-call during a time when many companies are now operating mostly online.
Staying online constantly is a way many people combat their FOMO, or feeling of missing out, in both social and professional settings. However, the fear of falling behind or missing out in your work life can quickly lead to some unhealthy mindsets and habits, such constantly checking your phone or feeling the need to take on every opportunity or assignment that comes our way.
The worry of falling behind is more prominent now than ever before, as we work separately in their own homes. Working remotely can lead to feeling more uncertain about the quality and quantity of your work, and whether or not you’re heading in the right direction. These concerns can become incessant and add to the already hefty burden of stressors we deal with these days.
This is where setting boundaries comes in. The first step is to take a step back and away from your desk to assess your situation and whether or not you’re approaching your job in a healthy and sustainable way. The second step is to figure out how to put some healthy distance between you and your work to make sure that your career isn’t swallowing up your life.
Without the act of entering and exiting the office signalling the beginning and end of the workday, it can be difficult for employees to unplug when they aren’t actually moving to a different physical space. Setting healthy boundaries between work and home is crucial right now when over half of Canadians reported that their mental health declined during the pandemic.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when balancing your work and home life.
1. Work in a designated space
While having separate spaces for sleeping, eating and working is a luxury only some can enjoy, doing whatever you can to set a designated place for work will help you create spatial associations at home. This might look like a particular desk in a room, an office, a particular corner of the dining room table or an area you can work comfortably in, even if you live in a small pace.
Whatever your workspace may look like, a good tip is to use the space solely for work, and then remove yourself from the space when you get off work. This helps your brain associate that space for work and other spaces in your room for play.
2. Implement a start of day and end of day of day routine
For many, picking up a coffee in the morning or listening to a podcast on the way home were small pleasures enjoyed during a normal workday. What’s stopping you from implementing similar routines while working from home? Morning routines don’t have to be too time-consuming, but having something signal the start and end of the workday can help you wire your brain to associate certain times of the day with getting on and off work.
This might be making a cup of coffee in the morning (or walking to a local cafe, if safe to do so, and picking up a coffee) or going for a walk right after you get off work. By practicing small rituals during your work week, you will begin to naturally flip between your “on” and “off” mode.
3. Plan non-screen activities outside of work hours
After an entire day of sitting in front of a screen in mostly one place, it’s a good idea to turn off your device and enjoy your free time offline. Start adding activities that don’t require looking at the screen into your schedule. Instead of watching Netflix, pick up a book. Instead of Zoom calls with your friends, if possible, try to have physically-distanced meet ups in person. Spending too much of your free time on your computer will tempt you into checking your work email and Slack outside of work hours, so allocating blocks of time where you’re completely unplugged will help you establish distance yourself further from work.
How to Implement Your Boundaries Without Hurting your Career
Some people might see setting boundaries at work as something that could paint them as lazy, unfocused or unadaptable. This is not the case. Being a diligent worker does not mean being the person that constantly says yes without regard for their workload and mental wellbeing. Diligence means showing care for your work when you’re working, not all the time.
So, how do you implement your boundaries without FOMO at work? First, you need to communicate with your boss and team. A good way to go about this is to set a time to chat with your boss and/or team about everyone’s responsibilities, when people will be online and when it is appropriate to reach out to people for work-related calls and emails. Make note of any times of the day or week where you may be slower to reply because of your personal situation, and when they can expect a reply from you. For example, if you let them know you do not check emails after 6 p.m. or over the weekends, also set a timeframe for when you will reply by.
This might require some negotiation and compromise, but being upfront about when you can be reached or scheduled for meetings will actually make it easier for your boss and team to work together. It also shows that you’re proactive and conscientious of the team’s mental wellbeing too.
It’s one thing to set boundaries for yourself, but sometimes there are people around you who don’t respect them, or aren’t aware of them. It might feel a bit awkward to communicate your new boundaries with your team, but being open and honest about how and when you work will help them understand your schedule better.
If people disrespect your boundaries, such as trying to set meetings after hours, kindly remind them of your availability and let them know that in the future, you won’t be able to make appointments at that hour. Say a polite, but firm ‘no’ for work that is too demanding or unreasonable given your circumstances (e.g. A co-worker asking you to complete a time-consuming task an hour before you’re supposed to be off).
No matter what your home looks like and what kind work you do, it’s crucial to distinguish your work time and your personal time as two separate things. Remember: your job isn’t your life, and it doesn’t define your entire identity. Make sure to set time for yourself and your own hobbies, self-care routines and mood-lifting activities during this stressful time.
Are you looking into new avenues within your current job or maybe a pivot into a different career? Christie can help – book a Virtual Career Meeting with the Style Nine to Five Founder to talk about everything from your current career situation to future goals.
By: Kayla Zhu – Kayla is a third-year journalism student at Ryerson University with a background in content writing and journalism.