As of August 2018, approximately 11 percent of the U.S. workforce was composed of full-time freelancers — people who rely solely on the gig economy for every penny of their income. In addition to that, there are countless others who dip into the freelance market to pick up a side hustle or two. Many modern workplaces also provide generous remote work opportunities for their employees. The numbers are significant, but the change has heralded a new struggle in the modern workplace: the issue of separating our lives from our work.
Working From Home: A Paradise?
Working from home is a flexible situation, with a large portion of freelance and remote work taking place directly on smartphones and computer screens. However, this flexibility also brings the challenge of knowing when to call it quits. How much work is enough? The question isn’t an easy one to answer — certainly not as easy as packing up your briefcase at the end of a 9-to-5 workday and heading home for the evening.
In many ways, freelancers and contractors face similar struggles to small business owners, as they technically run their own miniature businesses and face many of the same burnout threats as other entrepreneurs. Overworking can lead to things like anxiety, depression, anger, insomnia, or even the (terrifying) inability to work.
Often the home conditions of remote workers can worsen these struggle as they attempt to focus on work in a household that constantly demands their attention. This is especially true for single parents who often take freelance or remote work in order to remain home. While this sounds like an ideal situation — and in the big picture, it’s certainly a good one — the day-to-day concerns of working from home are anything but a paradise.
Balancing Things Out
So, what can you do in order to help balance your work and personal life when they occur in the same space? While it does take some proactive effort both mentally and physically, it’s possible to draw some lines, separate the two, and meet the needs and requirements of both with quality efforts that don’t threaten desperation and burn-out. Here are some actionable tips and suggestions you can employ in order to help create an optimal work-life balance as you work from the comfort of your own home.
It sounds cliche, but this really is one of the key places to start your efforts. As long as work and life are fluidly intertwined, it can be impossible to find separation from one or the other, a situation that inevitably leads to that age-old aphorism of burning the candle at both ends. However, setting boundaries is a bit more complicated than simply putting your foot down and deciding that you work these hours and are “at home” these hours. It takes mental endurance that must be practiced.
When you’re constantly checking your email while at the dinner table or keeping your smartphone (and the work apps they inevitably contain) right by your elbow no matter where you go, you’re setting yourself up for failure right out of the gate. It’s important that you take genuine time to define your boundaries clearly, both to yourself and to others.
Setting boundaries gives you specific times to approach your job as a real job and not just something keeping you from your other responsibilities. When you separate your work from the daily routines, it allows the former to maintain a sense of importance in its own, unique way. During work time, work can be a priority. However, when you’re done working, it can be put on the back burner without feeling irresponsible. Take the time to designate work hours and home hours. Then do your best to stick to them the same way you would at an office. Remember, it takes practice, so don’t give up.
Don’t let that fear of rejection and failure stop you from telling those who depend on you when you are working and when you’re not. When it comes to work, psychologists have reported that communicating boundaries with coworkers simply sends the message that you have a backbone, which is hardly a negative impression.
It’s also critical that you communicate your boundaries to your families. A whopping 60 percent of those who work from home reported in one study that family members were the number one distraction while they were working. The issue here isn’t learning to prioritize your work over your family, it’s communicating to your family the importance of work and the proper place that it should have in all of your lives. Naturally, this is also a much easier message to send when you have boundaries set to keep your work from pervading your life, as well.
Create a Real Work Space
Make sure that you have a physical space for work. Even if it’s just a corner of your bedroom, it’s important that you define a “workspace” where you can allow yourself to shift gears and focus on your job. If you set up at the kitchen table or on the couch or even from bed (as tempting as that may seem), it can make it very difficult to do your best while working. This doesn’t mean that a home workspace needs to be a harsh cubicle. By all means, make it comfortable and tailored to your own tastes. The important thing here is to make sure that you have a space to work, as well as a place to leave your work behind.
Finally, when your work is done, it’s critical that you unplug from your professional labors. Of course, this doesn’t always mean you can sit back and relax. Often it simply means shifting to the next responsibility. However, it’s critical that, whatever comes next, you don’t drag your work into it as well. This can be done by having a daily ritual to end your work, making sure you keep all work-related things out of sight when you’re off the clock, and ensuring that you utilize things like organizing and scheduling tools to help keep your work under control … as well as out of sight and out of mind.
If you can set and communicate your boundaries, focus on your work during work hours, and then genuinely leave it behind during your personal time, chances are that you’ll quickly begin to feel the genuine benefits of working from home.