Pre-Covid, it wasn’t easy to balance work and home, but when work is at home, it’s even harder.

We’ve undergone a tremendous cultural shift over the past few weeks thanks to the Coronavirus. Jobs that never lent themselves to work-at-home in the past have suddenly become at-home enterprises. Our kids and dogs are our newest co-workers, as we roll out of bed and commute to our dining room table desks. This is a topsy-turvy world we’re working in, and it’s required quite an adjustment.

Trouble Leaving Work “at Work”

One thing we haven’t resolved yet, though, about working from home: How do we keep a good balance between work life and home life? How, for example, do we know when to stop for the day? How can we signal to our bodies and minds that we’re allowed to be off duty? Many of us are finding it hard to transition from home to work and back to home in a way that preserves our sanity. Add concerns about the economy and the fate of our jobs and it can make it especially hard to step away from the work to-do list.

5 Tips for Balancing Work and Home

  1. Channel Mr. Rogers. No, you don’t have to talk to puppets, but you may want to grab a natty cardigan and some leisure shoes. Mr. Rogers gave a clear sign that he was transitioning from his work self to his at-home self by hanging up his jacket, putting on his cardigan, and changing his shoes. What can you do to signal to yourself that your work day is done? Changing your physical state can help both your body and brain know that it’s time to disconnect.
  2. Stop Using Work to Cope with Anxiety. When we’re anxious, many of us throw ourselves into work as a way to cope. Unfortunately, this can create other problems, including burnout, unhappiness for our partners, spouses, and children, and workaholism. Recognize when you are over-using work to deal with anxiety and shift to dealing with the anxiety directly. Online counseling can help, as can apps for anxiety. Exercise is also a wonderful way to cope with anxiety.
  3. Move Around Your House. Sleep experts will tell you that one important way to get good sleep is to limit your bed to sleeping. Similarly, try to limit your working to one room or area that you can physically leave at the end of your work day. Bonus points if it has a door you can close!
  4. Keep Regular Hours. Your work-at-home schedule may be different from your old schedule by necessity. (After all, who is going to homeschool the kids?) However, “different” doesn’t necessarily mean longer hours or worse, being perpetually on-call. Keep track of the time you spend working and when you hit your 8 hours, it’s time to wrap it up. You need some downtime.
  5. Prioritize People. Work is important, no question, and you may be feeling especially grateful for it after seeing so many people out of work. But the people in your life are very important, too, and they are likely stressed and freaked out. Time with you — in which you are both physically and mentally present — may help all of you to feel better. During these times, no work allowed.

Above all, recognize that all of us are new to this situation and that it’s time to be kind to yourself. It’s going to take us a while to find our balance and our new normal.