Simple practices to keep the “W” in WFH from taking over your life

Simple practices to keep the “W” in WFH from taking over your life

Something that’s been coming up consistently in the last year with clients and professional colleagues is the overwhelm around the “blessing” of working from home.

Don’t get me wrong. For a lot of people, WFH is terrific – a great way to keep closer tabs on your kids, throw some laundry in between Zoom meetings, and save time and money on commuting and office lunches.

But there’s a dark side to this way of working, and it's something that can wreak havoc on all your efforts toward balance.

Work from home has become a “toil from home” arrangement. And that ain’t it, kid.

Toil as a noun means “long strenuous fatiguing labor” and as a verb, “to work hard and long.” And that’s exactly it. What’s happening now could – and should – actually be called TFH or “Toil from Home.”

In the time that you would have been commuting before, you’re working.

When you have lunch – AND breakfast (!!) – you’re working.

Then after you take a break to make dinner, pick up children, do homework, do the dishes, and so on, guess what?

You guessed it. You’re working again.

Now I know some industries are more work-intensive than others and this is not a manifesto on changing the culture of certain professions. People thrive in all types of environments. But if you were thriving you wouldn’t be reading this. Because the WFH/Toil From Home problem is all about boundaries.

In order to make working from home feasible, manageable and enjoyable, we need to learn to separate the WORK part of home from the HOME part of home.

Below are some methods and tools you can use to create that separation and ideas on how to integrate these into your day.

Depending on where you work, look at ways to separate your workspace from the rest of your home.

If you have a door, this can be as simple as closing the door and putting a sign on it that says, No entry until Morning!

If you work in a dining room or open space, this might mean you close your laptop and put it on a shelf and put your papers/notebooks in a basket or tote. Tuck it away neatly in a place that’s not within view of where you’ll be hanging out for the night.

My barrier between work and home

The photo above shows my solution to this challenge. I had a spare single sheer curtain not being used anywhere, so I got the idea to try a tension rod to put them together to create a literal barrier to my workspace. This fix cost less than $20 and it’s been so very helpful, especially because I work in a kitchen nook, so I see my office ALL THE TIME.

My curtain has been a great way to focus and let others know that I’m not to be disturbed because it’s closed and I’m “inside” my nook, and then after my end-of-day rituals, I “go home” by slipping it closed. NB: if you try this, I suggest you use a grabber tool to open and close the curtain because falling tension rods are scary, especially if you have small animals in the house.

Practice boundary setting in your communications.

I know you’re thinking, “But Gladys, all these separations don’t change the fact that my laptop is RIGHT THERE. What if something happens at work and I need to get on Slack or email or send a document? That laptop is coming right off the shelf!”

Depending on what you do, the answer is variable. Is there truly an emergency? Are you in a position of having to cover business going on in Asia or other time zones far from you? If so, then you may need to handle things that come up. That’s just how business goes. But often, it’s not an emergency, it’s a person needing something that could have waited until the morning.

Here are some ways to manage intrusions that are NOT emergencies or “pedal to the metal” types of situations.

  • A note about time boundaries in your email signature: like this,
    “-You are not expected to respond to my emails after the close of your business hours or on your weekend. Thank you!
  • Don’t reply until the start of business time the next morning. If life is a dance, then we’re changing our dance. Others will find it weird at first, but they will adapt.
  • Out of office reply – these can be friendly or on the terse side. I’m super nice, but I kind of love this one because it really draws that line in the sand:
    “I do not respond to emails on weekends. If this is an emergency, please call my mobile. If you do not have my mobile number, then you do not have a weekend emergency.”

These suggestions are just ideas to get your thought process percolating on ways to make space for your home life that’s free from work. Because we all need down time.

But boundaries are not just about closing curtains and doors, they are about speaking up, at work, at home, everywhere. This culture we’re in of being constantly connected is wonderful in many ways, but sometimes you really do need to bask in the sanctuary of home, even when it’s not feeling like a sanctuary because it’s noisy or messy. It’s yours. And it’s what you make it.

You get to decide what you put your mind to and when you work, and no one would want a job that calls the practice of it “toil” instead of work. That's never in any job description- can you imagine?

Toil is exhausting. And yet … that's what Work from Home has become for a lot of people. Let's dial it back. Let's change this troublesome toil arrangement that doesn't serve you.

Work can be joyful, freeing, satisfying, but “toil” is not. Not ever.

So make your changes. Erect those boundaries, be they curtains or out of office replies. Make your WFH life the best it can be. Because as Ferris Bueller says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

I'm here to help if need be, OK? You don't have to do this alone.

Staying cool when the world is on fire

Today is Memorial Day and it's been a terrible week here in the United States. On top of more shootings – Chattanooga over the weekend, another school shooting last week in Texas on top of the horrific Buffalo shooting just a couple of weeks ago – Covid cases are on the rise again, and everywhere we turn there is some emergency or natural disaster looming. The politicians seem more focused on keeping peace – with their funders or their colleagues – when what we need is real action that’s based in compassion, common sense, and stone-cold resolve. Because the world is burning. And like I said, that's just in the United States.

There is no way around the fact that this is a really tough time for human beings everywhere and it can be hard to feel anything other than terrible. Feeling OK seems foreign at times, and by “OK, I mean happy, accomplished, fulfilled, content, you name it. It almost seems obscene to be OK despite the world's goings-on, doesn't it?

But that's the thing. Being OK is our work.

You did know I was going to have a "but," right?

There's a big lesson that comes out of the pain of collective grief and loss. And that lesson is, as rough as these times are and as much as you want to do your part for the world, you have to mind your corner first. That means you need to make sure YOU are OK. Because in order to effect change in the world, we have to start with ourselves.

I’m going to paraphrase Gandhi here and say you have “to be the change” first.

So let’s focus on being OK – which by the standards above means being happy, feeling accomplished, fulfilled, content, and so on. Your days might not be rainbows and roses, but you feel like you are on the right track and making a difference. Not being OK makes it harder to do the things you want to do, like help your family, get your work done, and keep yourself healthy.

Being OK means you're taking the time you need to manage your emotions while you handle your job woes, your health issues, your family's shenanigans, the world breaking your heart at every turn, and anything else that comes up.

I know it’s a tall order. Specifically, though I’m hearing from a lot of people who are leaving jobs right now or realizing now that they're back in the office that their old situations no longer work for them. So many people have shared that their work-life balance feels even worse than it did before the pandemic.

We cannot afford to be worse off at work than we were before the pandemic when the world is in such disarray. This is not conducive to feeling/being OK – because when your professional wellbeing is severely compromised, it will leak into your personal wellbeing. There is no line, no divider to compartmentalize the unhappiness and dissatisfaction from such important areas as work and family and health – they will always seep through to the other areas.

And that's not even considering the collective grief and loss we're all dealing with here.

I'm going to posit that unhappiness – at work or anywhere – can and does lead to poor choices, which in turn lead to negative consequences like health issues and lower productivity, among other things. And again – we can’t afford the high cost of reduced immunity and increased stress. Not with everything going on.

If you've made it this far, thank you. I know I'm being a bit of a downer, but there is a payoff. I know you want to be happy at work, at home, everywhere. You want to be present for your family. You want to be productive. You want to help the world in some way. And you want to the madness to stop.

I get it. And I suggest you stop watching the news.

Before you jump on your high horse, note that I don't suggest becoming an uninformed troglodyte. If you’re on social media at all, you’re probably getting some news that way. But I’m suggesting you read it. Reading your news means you can learn more than what's reported on TV or on the socials. More importantly, you choose what you read and avoid getting bombarded with tragic images over and over again. Those images are really powerful and not in a good way. Believe me, your mind, heart and adrenal glands will thank you for making this small shift in how you get your news.

Another tip? If you're overwhelmed and feeling unrecognized or unrecognizable, try my 10-minute Self-Connection Exercise below. It will help you stay cool in the midst of all this heat in the world. And I hope you know I don’t mean heat as in “temperature.” This exercise is only 10 minutes, so it’s doable and something you can decide to give yourself any day – or every day.

You help the world when you take time to show up for yourself. So do it. Show up. First for yourself, then for your family, then for your community. You might cry, feel lighter or heavier or numb. It's all OK. Grieve, make plans, love on your people, and love on yourself. The world needs you, so you’re doing us all a service when you cultivate peace and release in yourself. I promise. Plus, you deserve it. And that’s no small thing.

Sending you much love and peace,

Gladys

10-minute connection exercise

Supplies (optional): Journal, pen, a timer

Sit quietly where you won't be disturbed (a bathroom is fine) and set your timer for 10 minutes or as long as you like.

Put your hands on your heart and breathe deeply, imagining the breath is filling your heart center, your chest.

Breathe in through your nose for a count of four (4) and then sigh it out for a count of seven (7). Do this for at least four (4) rounds.

Then ask yourself – in your mind, out loud or in your journal – one or all of these questions:

  • What would make me feel happy?
  • How can I best serve my purpose?
  • What do I need to know?

Meditate or journal on the question(s) until the timer goes off, then put your hands back on your heart to say, "Thank you."

In transition? Don’t forget this!

In transition? Don’t forget this!

I made another video – this one is about………..

Self-care and how important it is when you’re transitioning or even planning a transition within your career, family, life, and so on. Check it out!