How do you draw a line between work and home when your work is at home? This is one of the biggest pain points with remote work. What starts out as a quick after-dinner email check-in turns into an expectation that you’ll deal with after-hours emails every night; what begins as a one-time weekend sprint to deadline turns into an ongoing habit of 7-day work weeks.
To keep work from overtaking your entire life, you need big-picture mental shifts and nitty-gritty tactics. Let’s start with the big picture.
Focus on results, not office hours.
The more you can structure your work around specific goals and priorities, the better you’ll be able to preserve some time and energy for priorities other than work. If you can reach an agreement to focus your work days on the results your boss really cares about, you’ll be able to reduce or eliminate the meetings that overcrowd your days and push work time into personal time.
Consider personal priorities alongside professional goals.
So many of us compile annual, quarterly or weekly lists of our professional priorities, setting out our ambitious goals or our specific to-dos. But if those lists are dominated by your career goals and professional tasks, is it any surprise if your personal priorities get continually sidelined? If you want a life that’s about more than your career, you have to incorporate your personal goals into your planning process, every time you sit down to make decisions about how you’re going to prioritize your time and energy.
Conduct personal performance reviews.
Just as you can’t keep your personal priorities front-and-center when they’re not on your to-do list, it’s hard to give your personal priorities the room they need when you never stop to assess how you’re doing. Most of us have annual or semi-annual performance reviews at work; it’s just as important to do those performance reviews at home. You might choose an annual self-reflection process (I love Year Compass), periodic meditation retreats, monthly check-ins with a therapist or quarterly family meetings. What matters is to develop a process and cadence for evaluating whether you’re giving your home life the attention it deserves, and if not, developing a new game plan.
“Start as you mean to go on.”
This line comes from Katrina Marshall, one of the remote workers we interviewed for Remote, Inc. When you are starting a new job, a new remote work arrangement or even a new project, you have an opportunity to set expectations for how and when you will be accessible to your boss, colleagues and clients. If you can set boundaries early on, it will be easier to stick to them. Even if you miss that initial window, you can still find opportunities to reset expectations.
Stop thinking in terms of work-life balance.
Your goal is not to somehow level the scales, keeping work and home in the same proportion. What you’re looking for is a relationship between work and home that ensures you have time and energy to pursue both professional and personal priorities. Sometimes the best way to support that whole-life vision will be by drawing a firm boundary that prevents work from intruding on personal times — but at other times the best way of achieving your vision is by knitting work and home even closer together. Remote work gives you an opportunity to experiment with new ways of harmonizing your professional and personal life so that they support one another.
My next post will spell out how to do that by sharing 6 ways to integrate remote work with your home life. And for those times when you really just need to put a wall between your boss and your kids (or your sweetheart, your dog or your garage band) read part 3: 6 ways to separate remote work from home.