How to Distribute Work & Play in a Remote Environment

A quick Google search for ‘how to separate work and life’ throws back 624,000,000 results. Countless of psychologists, entrepreneurs and wanna-be writers (like me) have tried to answer that question.

But before we start, let’s get something out of the way — if you are looking to separate work and life, stop reading this and go read this.

The notion of separating work and life implies life is good, and work is bad. Work is something you need to carefully extract. Like a cavity.

Well, let me get you in on something. Work is just a part of your life. Yes, it’s one of the building blocks of your daily activities, but it’s just one of many.

This means extraction isn’t necessary. Instead, you need to focus on distribution.

Think of activities in your daily life as plants you need to grow. Water is the resource these plants need to live. In this case, the amount of hours you dedicate to each.

If you don’t care for them, they will die. But suffocation via too much water can kill them.

That’s work. You just need to make sure that you don’t do to much of work for extended periods of time, because other aspects of your life will suffer.

As anything that’s good in the world, too much of it can backfire. Even too many sweet potato fries are unhealthy.

Distributing Work and Play — The Basics

First, let’s start by defining work and play — which coincidentally, have nothing to do with how fun they are.

Work is defined as output you get paid for (in cash or appreciating stocks in your company). Play is activity you don’t get paid for — reading, Netflix, meeting friends, grabbing coffee with your girlfriend, family time, learning, working out or kickboxing.

Distributing work and play is particularly difficult when working in a remote environment. If there is one thing in which a regular office job excels is imposing a regular routine on you.

The alarm sounds at exactly the same time, you grab breakfast at home, commute to work, do your thing, have lunch, attend a few meetings, and go home. Rinse and repeat.

Work stays in the office, fun is at home. Your brain knows that.

When you work remotely, it can be tough to mentally drop your work and resume home life when they both take place in the same environment. If your work MacBook is five feet away from your TV, the line between work and leisure becomes blurry.

7PM: “I’ll just work on this real quick. It’ll take 5 minutes”

Yeah, right.

What you need for a healthy work/life balance is clear boundaries between the both. With remote working, you don’t have that so you’ll need to create them. Demarcate the limits between work and play.

I believe that people overestimate their own will. We are terrible at self imposing limits. The best way to avoid these problems is to create systems or pre-set artificial limits to avoid temptation.

Hopefully, there are a few tips & tricks you can apply that will help you distribute life accordingly while working remotely.

Change your clothes

They say change starts with you. The first step in establishing clear limits between life and work is getting out of your sleeping clothes, and into something different.Working from your PJs may sound fun, but it’s far from optimal.

Wake up, take a shower and put your regular clothes on. If you fancy a suit & tie, go for it. Even sweatpants — simply have work sweatpants and fun sweatpants. What clothes you’ll wear isn’t relevant. What matters is to put on something different to signal the change to your brain.

Personally, I like AyNotDead skinny jeans, Urban Outfitters cotton t-shirts and Vans Old Skool. I own 10 t-shirts, 4 pairs of jeans, and 2 pair of shoes, and use them for almost everything.

Nothing fancy.

Have an “office”

Isn’t the whole point of working remotely to NOT have an office? Well, no. The point of working remotely is to do it when, and where you are the most happy.

It might sound counterintuitive, but having an office is actually a good thing. The Golden Rule for remote workers is having a separate space used exclusively for work.

Personally, I have a home office.

Every morning, after my usual routine, I go in and close the door. That signals my brain that I’m in Work Mode. I don’t take breaks, have lunch, or do strategic planning in the office. That’s the place where I lock myself in to focus on output.

If you don’t have an extra room, you can designate a special place in your living room. Or go out — get a co-working membership, or visit a regular coffee shops near by (That’s what I do while traveling).

The idea is to avoid working from any space that’s associated with Play. Your bed, your couch, or your kitchen table.

Don’t take your computer to bed

I like Netflix. I really do. Laying down in bed at night, and watching a few re-runs of Friends is one of my guilty pleasures.

A few years ago, I took my laptop to bed, and streamed a few episodes from there. The problem is I had to ignore all work distractions, mainly email notifications. Whenever one popped up, I had to force myself to not click it.

Well, I don’t trust myself anymore. As I said before, I often overestimate my will to commit. So I put something in place that prevents me from taking my Macbook to bed. Whether you want it or not.

I bought an old Apple TV, and kept my computer in my kitchen counter. Now, I don’t start any show I can’t stream from my Apple TV. Yes, I know I don’t have every single season of Suits. But that’s fine.

My sleep, and therefore my morning, improved immediately. I rather stay healthy.

Get an Apple TV. $100 will go a long way.

Work device vs. Play device

Another hack to impose limits is to segment your device use based on whether you are working or not.

It’s even more effective when your Play device can’t run the apps you really need to get your workflow going.

Tablets are particularly good for this. Although it’s technically possible to work from an iPad, we don’t like to do it when we are uncomfortable, outside our usual flow. Plus, the simple act of swiping and tapping vs. typing and clicking will be enough to show your brain that it’s Play time.

Reserve your computer for work, and your iPad for fun.

Pro tip: If you have a home office, hook your computer to as many cables as possible to make it hard to disconnect. That extra step will discourage you the next time you want to take it out.

Make it hard to access Email & Slack on your phone

For most remote workers, there is no real need to check our email every 3 minutes. But we do it anyway.

At least I did, and it was driving me crazy. At the gym, during dinner, or while watching TV — I was addicted to checking my phone. This prevented my brain from really disconnecting to focus on other areas in my life.

Well, I had to do something.

First, I disabled all push notifications. If something’s on fire, I can get a text. Second, I disabled my work email from my phone. Finally, I moved Slack to a folder in the second screen.

Pro tip: Inbox allows you to quickly disable your work email from the app, without the need to re-tenter all my details whenever you need it.

Now, I don’t get any external pushes, and I don’t check emails, as there are no emails to check.

I’m still addicted to Quora, but that’s OK.

Call it a day

Recognize when it’s time to call it a day. I do it under two different scenarios.

First, if after 5–6 hours of work you can proudly say: “Today was a fun, productive work.”, then call it a day. The other, less healthy but equally valuable, extreme is when my brain can’t function anymore.

Sometimes it’s at 7pm, after a great afternoon on the zone, or sometimes it’s at 3pm. Recognize that, shut down all your devices and reboot.

Tomorrow will be another day.

Thanks for reading! I genuinely 😍feedback and great conversation, so feel free to tweet me, or comment below.
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