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How to have work life separation when you work from home

September 25, 2020

Working from home definitely has it’s perks. If you run your own business from home or if you work for a company that gives you a lot of autonomy, you will appreciate the freedom.

I realized that because I enjoyed working from home, I tended to work longer hours. I soon realized that the work hours and my rest time started to blur.

Signs that I needed work life separation at home

I began to lose track of days in the week, and when my work for the day ended. I found it hard to stop thinking of work. When I got work messages from my boss and colleagues, I felt pressured to continue working – because I was always so close to my “office”.

It felt like I was always working, and the lack of work life separation made me feel burnt out from work. My productivity dropped sharply, and I began having signs of depression. My relationship with Rin was affected as well.

I knew I had to make a change.

This led me to do research and find various ways to keep a separation between my work hours and my personal life. It was hard, because I consider myself a workaholic. I enjoyed working, and my mind was constantly thinking of ways to improve my business.

I pressed on, and made several changes to my life to make sure that I was able to reclaim my life from work – even though work is always literally around the corner and outside my door.

Remember, work life separation is not only about benefiting the LIFE part of the equation. It’s also about making sure your life doesn’t interfere your work. When you are able to keep your personal life away from your work, you tend to become more productive at work too.

Easiest ways to have work life separation at home

1. When possible, work in a separate room

When I first started working from home, my workstation was literally beside my bed. It felt like a good idea at the beginning. Eventually, having this table beside the bed became too much of a mental stress trigger.

I have since moved my entire workstation into a corner of the living room.

Now, whether I’m just waking up, going to sleep at night, or even taking a break on my bed, I don’t have to feel stressed by the look of the computer. The notification sounds of emails and chats don’t trigger me in my place of comfort.

The other benefit is improved productivity. I don’t always have the urge to take naps or long breaks, because my bed isn’t in my line of sight. 😀

One downside is that I could no longer play my PC games in my room – but this is a small trade-off.

set boundaries with family

2. Set boundaries with your family

Most of us have family staying with us while we are working from home. Especially in Singapore, where it’s common for working children to be staying with their parents, and our small home sizes mean we are often in close proximity with each other.

Tell your family not to disturb you when you are working. Inform them of your official working hours, and remind them that you still need to maintain a level of professionalism even though you work from home. (This can be especially hard with young kids)

Create a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign for your door or work desk when you start working and do not wish to be disturbed. When possible, remind your family to keep their noise level down so you won’t be affected too much during calls.

To be fair, you working from home also causes your family to have to adapt to you. To balance things out, let them know of your schedule and plans ahead of time. Inform them what times your meetings are, when your mealtimes are, and when you take breaks.

3. Set boundaries with your supervisor and coworkers

Have a clear start time and end time, and stick to it as much as possible. If you have to, inform your coworkers of this timing that you’ve chosen.

This gives your boss and colleages anticipation on when they can rely on your presence, and when to give you your space.

In fact, it’s also good to have a clear time period within the day to have meetings and calls. That way, your lunch and dinner times can be clearly blocked off, and you can have your meals in peace.

4. Set clear communication boundaries

Have clear communication rules between you and your coworkers so that they limit chats to you outside your work hours. Let them know that they can still send messages, but your replies will be delayed.

You can also let them know what communication channels you prefer. I would recommend that office work communications be limited to emails and work chat apps like Slack. Personal chat apps like WhatsApp, and especially SMS should be avoided when possible.

before knockoff time

5. Say no to unreasonable work requests

Do you get work requests minutes before knockoff time? Do you get new work on Friday evenings that is due on Monday morning?

Have the courage to push back and ask for time extensions. Let the task issuer know that the request is unreasonable, and that it will eat into your non-work hours.

If you aren’t paid for overtime, and if overtime work isn’t explicitly stated in contracts, you have the option of saying no.

I completely understand that this is much easier said than done. However, if you let someone overstep the boundaries once, they won’t hesitate to do it again.

Sometimes, your coworkers aren’t intentional in making you work outside your hours, so you just have to gently remind them.

6. Create a separate user account in your computer for work

When you log in to your computer for work, are you using the same account for your personal usage?

I would suggest that you create a new user account on your computer and designate that as your work profile.

In that account, you can install all your work related apps and software. You can log in to Internet browsers like Google Chrome or Firefox with your work email. Your browsers will have bookmarks of sites related to work.

That way, you won’t get distracted by your entertainment sites, like YouTube, Twitch, or Netflix. You are also able to keep all your work related chat to that account.

When you end work, you can simply sign out of that account, and log in to your personal account. You’ll be able to chat, surf the net, and play your Steam games in peace – without being bothered by work notifications, chats, and emails.

7. Create a separate user profile in your phone

Nowadays, it’s more common than ever to have many of the same apps on your computer to appear on your phone. Many of the software that you use for work can also be found on the phone.

Because of this, I get notifications on my phone for things like:

  • Work chat, email, calendar reminders
  • File updates on cloud storage like Google Drive and Dropbox

It is very intrusive to my personal life, but it’s not so easy to be totally cut off from my phone. I can turn off my laptop, but my phone is always on.

The good news is, you can make use of separate user profiles in your phone. It’s similar to how you can create a separate user account on the computer.

On the designated work account, you can have all your work apps, emails, and work chats.

On the personal account, you can have your entertainment apps, games, and personal chat. This helps you to avoid getting distracted during work too.

For example, my Google Pixel allows me to create a different user profile quite easily. You can probably do this on most modern Android phones. (Not iOS – Sorry, Apple users)

work personal profiles

When I start work in the morning, I simply switch to my Work account. I turn on my Personal account when I’m done with work, and on weekends. I also use the Personal account when I travel. This really helps me to unplug and reduce the anxiety of getting work notifications.

8. Consider getting a second phone number and phone for work

Sometimes, creating a separate user profile on your phone is not enough to maintain that work life separation. When you use the same number for work and play, you’ll still get work messages and calls when you switch profiles.

What you can do is to buy a cheaper mobile plan so that you have a phone number that you use only for work and business. Pair this cheap SIM card with a used phone, and you’ll have a phone designated for work!

If you like to use your phone for entertainment during your breaks, you can leave your personal phone in your bedroom, while you keep your ‘work’ phone outside your bedroom.

You can check out this budget SIM card comparison by MoneySmart to find the SIM card for your needs.

9. Creating mental and emotional separation

Lastly, you need to keep yourself mentally and emotionally separated from work – not just physically.

For remote working, out of sight does not mean out of mind. We have to let ourselves recharge by filling up our mental and emotional states with as much positive experiences as possible.

Consider having a hobby or pastime that will force you to be away from your computer. While gaming and watching Korean dramas on your computer can help you keep your mind away from work, you are still relegated to sitting at your desk.

Go out with friends! Go exercise at a park! Heck, going out for a shopping trip can be therapeutic (as long as you don’t overdo it). Maintain strong relationships with a close support group like friends and family.


To recap:

How can you have work life separation when you work from home?

  1. Work in a separate room
  2. Set boundaries with your family
  3. Set boundaries with your superiors and colleagues
  4. Set clear communication boundaries
  5. Say NO to unreasonable work requests
  6. Create a separate user account in your computer for work
  7. Create a separate user profile on your phone
  8. Get a second phone number and phone for work
  9. Create mental and emotional separation

Understand that work is a marathon, and for most remote workers, our mental sharpness is an asset. In order to keep our brains happy, we have to learn to keep ourselves happy.

Marc

Marc has worked from home for over 10 years, started as a freelancer, then a consultant, all the way up to being a marketing agency owner. He's an entrepreneur at heart, and is passionate about helping others find success in remote working.

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Marc & Rin

We are a husband and wife team that are both working from home in Singapore. We share our experiences working from home and to impart our knowledge to others who are seeking to do the same. Learn more about us

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