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.
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.