Work-Life Balance: How I Stay Off-Task

When you work from home like I do, it can be difficult to maintain a work-life balance.

Your work is always there, staring you in the face.  It makes you feel guilty for every activity that isn't work: watching Netflix, checking your phone, even eating dinner can feel like slacking!

I got to the point where I never felt like I could rest.  Everything made me antsy to get back to work, because there was always work to be done.  I couldn't focus on reading a book, I couldn't sit still for a conversation.  And the result was a feeling of constant anxiety and stress, because I couldn't relax or even think.  It was bad!

It's taken a long time for me to improve my life balance, and I still have a long way to go.  But I've taken some concrete steps that have helped immensely.  Here are 5 of them.

  1. Keep work physically separate from other activites.  While I don't live in a big place, it's enough to keep my work space separate from other things I do.  I have my work desk, a dining table, a desk for planning trips and social events, and a "fun desk" where I do relaxing creative things like write this blog.  This way, I can focus on one activity at a time without being drawn back into work.  And no, they don't have to all be desks.  I just have a lot of desks.
  2. Keep work out of view when you're not working.  Simply having papers or computer windows in view can take your mind back to your work.  Close or minimize your computer windows, organize your papers into folders according to project and store the folders in a binder.  (Neatness alone can reduce stress.)
  3. Take breaks.  I try to take a 10-minute break every hour.  I use that time to play with my bird, check phone messages, and reconnect with the world a little.  If I need to work through a break, I let myself take a longer break later.
  4. End the workday.  Too often, I work until 6, eat dinner, and then get back to work until bedtime.  But I'm getting better at setting down the stylus and not looking back.  I try to find a milestone to end on so I can feel good about stopping work for the day.  And the rest of the day is about family, friends, and catching up on all the other things in life that aren't work.
  5. Don't work on weekends, vacations, or holidays.  This is another hard one for me.  All too often, I use days off to get caught up on work.  It can be easy to rationalize, because I love what I do...but other facets of life need attention too.  I have a few strategies for countering this impulse.  I'll fill up my social calendar so I can't work, or I'll spend the day at one of my non-work desks, or I'll get out of the house without bringing my computer along.

There's a common thread here: it's all about boundaries, both physical and time-wise.  These methods help me control my own behavior, a bit like being my own cat-herder.

I hope these methods help you in your quest for work-life balance.  What strategies do you use to keep yourself off-task?  Please share in the comments...I'd love to hear them!

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