I recently tried to go back to the office after 15 months of working from home. It didn’t go very well. I have always struggled with work/life balance. In fact, I don’t even know if that’s a real thing? When the pandemic first started, it got even worse, as I’m sure it did for lots of people as we were all trying to figure out how to work in the middle of our living rooms with toddlers saying “mom. mommy. mama. mom. mommy” every 15 seconds. It was an uphill battle, for sure. I found that I was working more late nights and I had zero separation between home and work because… I was working in the middle of the living room and my computer was always there, always on and my to-do list was always there, always on. The first time I realized I had an actual problem was at 2am on a Tuesday morning. I was still at it, trying to get something done before a meeting the next morning and I was literally eating a tub of frosting and drinking a coke. At 2am. It took me 6 months, a bigger living space, and a lot of effort to find my groove. Here’s what I tried, what worked, what didn’t, and why I think I’m probably a work from home person now.
Tip 1: Dedicated Office Space
I read this tip in almost ALL of the work/life balance and work from home articles I read over the last year. And it was just NOT POSSIBLE for me. At the start of the pandemic, my four person family lived in a two bedroom apartment with an open floor plan. I couldn’t get a second to myself for anything, I don’t know how I thought I could get work done. I thought briefly about converting my closet into an office, but my husband asked the very valid question of where would we out all of our clothes? I thought about putting my desk inside of a Privacy Pop that used to be on my daughter’s bed. Nothing worked for me until we moved into a larger space – a house with a guest room that could double as my office. I realize this is not an option for everyone, but let me tell you – IT WAS WORTH IT. Just to have a space where I can close the door, both when I go in and when I go out, is life changing.
Tip 2: Keep a To-Do List and Stick to it
Every time I see this tip, I’m like yeah that sounds awesome, seems reasonable… I’m gonna go buy a new notebook. I desperately want to be one of those people who keeps a bullet journal with beautiful designs and fancy notes and to-do lists. In fact, just over the last 3 months, I’ve purchased FOUR Rocketbooks with this in mind. (My 3 year old now uses them for coloring, which is cool because I can scan her artwork into the app and its fun!) I get a new notebook every quarter. I buy colored gel pens by the ton. With each new notebook, I use it for probably 3 days max. And then my notes are all sideways on the pages, 9 days crammed onto one page because maybe I was just too lazy to flip the page? I don’t even know why. But you know what? It works for me. Its like organized chaos. I’ve tried keeping lists in Evernote, Google Keep, OneNote… I always go back to crazy notebook pages full of brain dumps. I say its ok – find whatever works best for you and just do it.
Tip 3: Take Time For Yourself
What. Does. This. Even. Mean. I never knew. I work on a team and I’m always there for the team. I’m a mom and I’m always there for my kids. I’m a wife and I’m always there for my husband. I can’t even remember the last time I took time for myself. Even if I’m alone at the mall, I’m buying clothes for the kids because that’s all I can think about. What’s up with that?! I know people who do yoga, who meditate, who journal… all of these things sound cool and probably really relaxing, but I’ve just never been able to do them. My time for myself actually has come in the form of running with my dog at lunch time. I was actually able to lose TWENTY POUNDS doing this which has been really great! I told you that I recently tried to go back to the office. The first few days, I went downstairs to the gym at lunch to try and keep my routine, but as the days went by it got progressively harder to leave my desk. Why though? I still don’t know. A month back at the office and I actually gained SIX POUNDS. I fell back into all my old habits. Eating lunch at my desk. Snacking. Never getting up to walk around. It was all work all the time, and no balance, no me time, no nothing. Making time for myself has probably been the best thing I could ever do – and I need to keep doing it.
Tip 4: Get a Hobby
And don’t get paid for that hobby! When I’m not working I’m hanging out with my family, chasing my kids around, being a chauffeur… #momlife. Besides my lunch time runs, its been really important for me to focus on other things that make me happy that are just for me. In my case – its crocheting. And yes, sometimes I crochet Salesforce stuff too because I’m a junkie and can’t stop, but mostly I just make dorky stuff that I can make without a lot of thought while we’re watching tv. The repetitive motion is super therapeutic and helps relieve stress, plus I get cute things at the end. Right now I’m making blue hats for Hat Not Hate! I think its also important that this hobby does not turn into money. If I was getting paid for it, it wouldn’t be as relaxing and it would just be more work.
Tip 5: Say No
I’m the yes person on the team. I will say yes to your request and I will do it at 2am if you need me to. This is the most unhealthy thing in the whole world and people take advantage of it and therefore me. Its so bad that even when I take vacation days, people still ping me or email me because they just “assumed I was still working”. I’ve been trying really hard to say no to things. I’m definitely not there yet! More recently, I can tell you that I can get to that request by the end of the week, or maybe tomorrow, which is a huge improvement for me and is decreasing my anxiety and stress. It also frees up my evenings for playing with yarn and watching Camp Cretaceous for the 12th time with my kid. (But seriously, have you watched it? It’s AWESOME!).
Tip 6: Socialize
Like seriously. Anyway you can think of to do it. I know we’re all burnt out on video calls and virtual meetings, but its important to talk to people about non-work things. Or even work things, but like venting about work things. A couple of my co-workers and I have a standing meeting every week to just vent and talk about life and talk about whatever. Its what we did at the office – we could just wander over to someone or grab lunch, meet in the kitchen or walk around the hallway together. That’s the thing I miss most about the office – the people. It turns out you really CAN work from anywhere, but staying sane while you’re doing it and maintaining a healthy, collaborative environment takes a lot of effort. Set aside time for this. Really. If I didn’t have my people I don’t know what I’d do.
Tip 7: Put on Clothes That Are Not Pajamas
This might seem like one of the best parts of working from home, but I found a had worse work/life balance when I didn’t get dressed in the morning. I worked for months in a t-shirt and some joggers. I was super comfortable! But after work, I was still wearing those same clothes and time just ran into itself. When I work in the office, the first thing I do when I get home is change my clothes! There’s like this moment of just taking off the work day and putting on your lounge clothes, and I think I was missing that. When I made the decision to start wearing real pants again, I could really feel the difference. When I was dressed for work I felt ready for the day, and when I changed into my lounge clothes, I was ready to lounge. It seems silly but this must be a real thing – it was for me.
Tip 8: Manage Yourself
I guess really all of these tips are about managing yourself, but sometimes I forget. I ask my team multiple times a day how they’re doing, what can I help with, what do you need. I almost never ask those same things of myself. Sometimes you need to take a step back and just evaluate yourself. What is causing you stress right now? Is there something on your desk that could change to make things more efficient? Who can help you with something on your list? Managing myself makes all the other things just a little bit easier.
I read a Harvard Business Review article about how work/life balance is a cycle, not an achievement. This has definitely been true for me. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to a place where someone else would say I have good work/life balance, but every month I get a little bit better. I found that my work/life balance is much higher when I’m working from home, so that’s what I’m doing again. I’m really proud of myself for recognizing this after a month of being back in the office and that I took a step back to reevaluate. Work/life balance requires effort, reevaluation, and patience but I’m in it for my health and for my sanity.
How do you do with work/life balance? What tips do you have?