After nine years of working from home, you would think I’d have mastered it, but life keeps throwing curveballs.
A move, new babies, starting my own business, and now a pandemic mean that I have to keep re-examining how I do things to move forward with my goals, but keeping my boundaries in place has been the key to keeping things moving at all.
During this time of quarantine, many people find themselves suddenly thrust into a work-from-home situation. Many who already work from home find themselves suddenly trying to keep up with children—and for school-agers, their homework as well—on top of meeting their business goals.
Here are a few simple things you can do to ensure that you handle client work/work tasks, keep on top of your goals, and if needed, also keep your kids from burning the house down without you abusing screen time.
- Set a boundary around your work day. This may mean that you are only working your standard 8-hour day. This may mean that you are only working in your office. This may mean that you are only completing 3 tasks today. Look at what empowers you without destroying your drive. It’s different for everyone and for every household situation. For me, it means that I have to limit my tasks that require serious brainwork, like client calls and editing, to time that my daughters, who are 5 and 7, are otherwise occupied. My boundary is around the tasks I complete in a day, as well as when I focus my most important tasks. Having my oldest complete 2 or 3 assignments and then take a break to play outside (weather permitting) or watch a movie with my youngest means that I get some quality, uninterrupted time at my computer to handle my zone-of-genius work, the stuff that my clients keep coming to me for. Other time, like when she’s doing homework I may need to help with, is for checking email, creating a new social media image, or doing other low brain-power work. And I have a hard stop at 4 pm—for everyone—each day.
- Take breaks. Don’t kill yourself by trying to stay at your computer for 8 straight hours if you aren’t wired that way. If you typically worked at an office, then you would likely break to go to the bathroom, grab lunch, chat with a coworker for a few minutes, attend a staff meeting, etc. The same should apply at home. Your brain needs an intentional pause or you will find your workday 100x more stressful. For those used to working from home but navigating having the kiddos there, work when they work and play when they play. Structuring it will help them see that both are important in the long run AND keep you from running yourself into the ground.
- Give yourself grace. You might call this a boundary around perfection. This is a time of transition, and nobody is going to do this perfectly. Even though I’m used to working from home, only working part-time, and having a kid on my lap or begging for snacks periodically doesn’t mean that I’m super-momming this time either. My kids are frustrated with their routine being interrupted, they miss their friends, and my oldest is so over homework because “home” means “play” to her. Many adults are having the same problem right now because “home” means “relax.” If this is an issue, try touching your office door or your desk and telling yourself that you are leaving your work concerns there at the end of the work day to help reinforce the boundary in time since you don’t necessarily have it in space right now. And don’t stress about the small stuff.
- Refuel to dodge burnout. This one has been a major lesson for me. As someone who lost her job on her youngest daughter’s first birthday, I have completely built my business with two little ones at home. I struggled to set boundaries because caring for children and building a business are two full-time jobs that I was largely doing on my own. I used nap-time and bed-time as my time for client work, and I had zero downtime for the first three years of my business. What happened? I was fried. All the time. And I didn’t have a chance to rest my brain or my body. I felt zapped of energy and excitement all the time, and it showed in my business. My lack of boundaries and focus on baby steps kept me in freak-out mode, and that translated to more of the same and very little revenue. For the past year, I’ve worked on my boundaries (see above), which meant I had time to think about where I wanted to go with my business and actually put out a book on how to write a book while I was still caring for my girls, my clients, and myself. It took discipline not to stress myself out trying to check off all my to do list in one day—hello high-achievers—but discovering that I needed to pause to daydream and set goals, create more art, and spend time with friends and family was paramount to giving myself the energy and excitement needed for more successes. Refuel in whatever way fits your personality, but by all means don’t skip it to “accomplish more.”
Boundaries like these tend to be mental, but like anything else in life, they do take work. It requires discipline to tell yourself that you are taking a break and the world won’t end. It takes discipline to tell yourself that you are a valuable, worthy person with amazing ideas, but those ideas will fizzle if you don’t take some time to sleep, read a book, or watch a movie.
Boundaries with others can be challenging too. I always loved when well-meaning friends would tell me to explain to my kids that Mommy was working and needed quiet time. At age 7, my oldest still doesn’t get that. The only reason she didn’t interrupt me while I was writing this is because she is watching a movie. We are still working on this, and we are still imperfect. I still flip out when I get stressed about a “brilliant idea” I was trying to write when I get interrupted to listen to another story about a cartoon they watched. But I apologize. I discuss. And I move on. Judging those imperfect moments don’t undo them.
You really can adjust and thrive working from home. You can make progress in your business. You can still write a book. It’s all in you.