Five Tips for Creating Boundaries Between Work and Personal Life
As technology advances and working from home becomes more common, the boundary between our work and personal lives has become as porous as Swiss cheese. Workers are more accessible then ever before. No longer do you have to physically be in the office in order to read work emails or conduct business.
This increased flexibility has reduced barriers for workers with disabilities, parents, and those who need to incorporate therapy and medical appointments into their day. The downside is it can make it harder to know where work ends and your personal life begins.
You may need stronger boundaries between work and your personal life if:
Thinking about work is making it hard to sleep, be present with friends and family, or enjoy your time off.
Your work day is creeping into evenings and weekends - you're constantly checking your work email or otherwise engaging in work outside of normal work hours.
You're talking about work nonstop.
If any of the above resonates, check out these five tips for creating boundaries between work and personal life.
1) Establish a commute
Whether you work in the office or work from home, you need a commute. According to an article from Harvard Business Review, commutes help us separate our work and personal identities and "structure our daily behaviors into a nice, neat pattern, and in this pattern, our brains find safety." Commutes set a clear boundary around our work day, making us less likely to allow work to creep into the evenings and weekends. How can you commute if you work from home? Try book-ending your day with movement. Take a 10 minute walk or bike ride around your neighborhood right before and after work.
2) Create an after work transition ritual
What's a ritual? It's "a process we repeat at more or less fixed times to add some stability and certainty into an otherwise unstable and uncertain world." Establishing an after work ritual can help your mind and body transition from "work mode" to "personal mode", thus helping you step off the hamster wheel of work-related thoughts. The ideal after work ritual requires enough concentration that you can't think about work at the same time you're doing it (so no zoning out in front of the TV). Here are some examples: take a group exercise class at your gym, read a chapter of a book, do woodworking or crafting, do a yoga video, play fetch with your dog. Try doing the same activity every day after work to maximize the feeling of structure, safety, and predictability.
3) Change your environment
Do you have reminders of work laying around your house? If so, put this stuff away! Put your work bag in a closet. Change out of your work clothes (even if you worked from home in sweatpants) and put them in the hamper. Put your laptop and work phone out of sight. Shut the door to your home office. It's easier to stop thinking about work if we aren't reminded of it everywhere we look.
4) Give yourself a time-limited opportunity to process the day
Having some time to process your work day alone or by talking about it with others is helpful - to a point. If you're constantly talking about work it may start to feel like your entire life revolves around your job. If this resonates, experiment with setting limits for yourself. For example, you and your partner or roommate might agree to talk about your work days for half an hour in the evenings, and then after that time the topic is off limits. If you're alone, allow yourself to think or journal about work for a set amount of time and than put it away for the rest of the night.
5) Set an out-of-office reply in the evenings and on weekends
If you get sucked into reading and replying to work emails outside of work hours, consider setting an out-of-office reply every evening and on weekends. This is as much a boundary for yourself as it is for anyone who may reach out to you. If you have an out-of-office reply set you'll be less likely to respond to emails immediately. If the thought of setting an out-of-office reply creates anxiety, ask yourself: What percentage of the emails I receive outside of work hours are actually urgent and can't wait until tomorrow? What's the worst thing that can happen if I don't respond to this right away? What's most likely to happen if I don't respond immediately?
Are you ready to have a personal life again? Pick one of these tips to try. While it can be helpful to eventually implement all of the above, set yourself up for success by only adding one new strategy at a time. You can always build from there.
This blog post isn’t intended as professional counseling or clinical advice. If you’re in need of support, please consider speaking to a professional to be evaluated. Need some guidance implementing the strategies above? Schedule a free phone consultation to see if I can help you reach your goals.