The importance of switching off when working from home

Published on June 26, 2020 by Andrew

The government message may have changed from ‘Stay home’ to ‘Stay alert’ but for many that still means working remotely. As lockdown rules ease, those able to work from home are well into their third month of home working.

Maybe you’ve settled into a routine that works for you? Maybe the novelty is wearing off and you’re struggling to remain focused? It’s possible that your work and home life may be beginning to blur.

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is important at any time but even more crucial in the current climate.

With many homes turned into home offices, drawing a line under your working day can be tricky.

Here’s your guide to switching off when working from home.

1. Stick to a daily morning routine

It’s important to stick to a routine each morning. Get up at a similar time each day, get showered, eat breakfast, and then give yourself some time to relax. This will help you ease into the day.

Remember that you’ve lost your normal commute. That time is crucial for getting you into the correct headspace for work.

As Professor William Castellano of New Jersey’s Rutgers University recently told the New York Times, “Get up at the same time and do all the things you would typically do to get ready for work. Thinking about how you’re going to structure your day similarly.”

2. Have a separate workstation

A daily routine is crucial, and an important part of that routine is where you work. Having a separate workspace helps create an environment in which you can be efficient and effective, as well as helping you achieve definitive cut-offs between your work and home life.

The longer lockdown continues the easier it is to forget the importance of this distinction.

Wherever your workstation is set up, keep it tidy, professional, and distinctly separate. This will help to prevent a blurring of your home and work life and stop your work-life intruding upon the lives of those you live with.

Kristen Shockley, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Georgia explained to the BBC the importance of creating boundaries within your home that your family members understand: ‘When the door is closed, pretend I’m not there’ she says.

Avoid the temptation to work from the sofa, or even from your bed, and you’ll create an environment conducive to effective and efficient work. You will also have a definite space to leave – a headspace to switch off from – when the working day ends.

3. Take a lunch break

Your working day will likely be more regimented when you’re at the office, compared to working from home.

Whether it’s the daily commute, regular meetings, or winding down at the end of the day, it’s important to maintain a similar, organised approach to working from home.

When you’re at home, without the distraction of face-to-face interactions, it can be easy to work for long unbroken periods. Take regular breaks but avoid distractions too. Stretch your legs, walk into the garden, but remember that you are working and don’t be tempted to switch on the TV.

Be sure to take a lunch break, and wherever practical, take it between the hours you would lunch at the office.

Get some fresh air at lunch too. It will stave off cabin fever and mean that you return to the house reinvigorated to begin your afternoon.

4. Power down to fully switch off

It might seem obvious but the best way to switch off is by switching off and unplugging your laptop.

Have a routine that involves a period of winding down beginning half an hour before you intend to finish for the day. Wrap up loose ends, send any emails that need to be sent and make a to-do list for the following day.

Then stop work at home time. Turn off your laptop and clear your workspace completely. Put your laptop and notes in a drawer, or in the cupboard under the stairs. Having these work items out of sight will prevent a slip into after-hours working.

Also delete, or at least sign out of, any work-related apps on your phone. This should help to stop you from checking work emails or joining in on workgroup chats during your downtime.

Having the same wind-down and powering off routine each evening will help to turn it into a habit.

Joshua Zerkel, Head of Global Community at work management company Asana, told the Metro recently, ‘Opting out of notifications breaks the “always-on” mindset. To avoid continued disruption, I’d suggest turning off all but the most critical notifications – whether from a specific person or related to a particular project.’

5. Have an after-work routine too

Ensuring that you can switch off at the end of your working day means having an evening routine as robust as your morning one. Stick to these routines for long enough and they’ll become a habit.

An evening routine will look different for everyone. Whether it’s going out for a run or relaxing in the bath, once the laptop has been packed away you need to make a definite switch to home life.

Have a shower, relax with a book, and forget about work.

Be sure to try, as much as possible, to go to bed at a similar time each night too. This will help ensure you get into a sleeping pattern that maximises your productivity and make keeping to your morning routine easier too.

If you find it hard to wind down try sleep apps such as Headspace, Calm, or Noisli. All offer relaxing soundscapes, meditations, and grown-up bedtime stories to help you clear your mind, ready for a great night’s sleep.

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