The very minute Dutch schools closed, my brain switched to work mode. Everything immediately went digital, meaning communication about work continued 24/7. Soon I was beginning to find difficulty switching off and separating free time from work.
Some days I’ve managed to find a pleasant rhythm and routine, but other days I’m still struggling. It’s a work in progress. However, knowing that many of us are faced with this challenge, I wanted to share some of the tips I have to help you separate work from home during this bizarre isolation period.
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My issues with working from home
I found that I couldn’t switch my mind off anymore because we’re now so dependent on the digital world, and that world never switches off. Often I was also tempted to work through my breaks, or even outside my regular working hours. During free time, thoughts and worries about work kept roaming around in my head. I found myself ruminating about work before going to bed and having lots of stressful dreams about it. On top of that, I was having trouble deciding what to do with my free time. It became clear to me very quickly that this was affecting my sleep and mental health.
Tips for separating work from home
Clearly, this new task pressed upon us isn’t without its challenges. If we want to stay sane and healthy during this strange period of isolation, we’re going have to find ways to switch off whenever we need to. To help us get there, I’ve written up my best tips to help you separate your work environment from your personal space.
1 Set working hours
Decide what your “office hours” are going to be, and only switch on your work devices during this time. Once your office “closes”, put away your devices in a safe secluded place. Out of sight, out of mind.
2 Schedule breaks
Schedule breaks at regular intervals. Take into account your usual break times, like your lunch hour, but also think about other moments of rest you might need. It’s so easy to get stuck behind your computer at home, glued to the screen, forgetting the world around you – whereas at the office, you are usually taken out of these trances by colleagues and meetings and bathroom breaks. Make sure you leave tiny gaps for breathing in your schedule!
3 Make a to-do list or planning every day
A lot of the time during work nowadays I start to feel a little lost about what I’m doing. In a normal world, my day would be broken up by classes I need to teach and people I have to see and places I need to be. Now that I’m just sat behind my desk all day, time becomes a blur – and so does my task list. In order to help you organise the massive amounts of time working from home, make a to do list or planning at the start of every work day. You don’t need to cross them all off: just make sure you’ve got some ideas down for how you can fill your time effectively.
4 Switch between activities
Another thing to take into consideration is switching between activities regularly to bring enough variety into your work day. It will stop you from obsessing over one particular task, and refresh your brain a bit. It may also start a new flow of energy and inspiration in your brain!
5 Delete work from your phone
Now that you’ve probably got all sorts of work devices at home, you don’t really need to use your phone for work anymore. Therefore I strongly advise you delete all work-related apps from your phone. Of course you can’t delete any social apps that may also include work chats, but at least this way you create some sort of division between your work devices and personal device.
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6 Mute work and switch off notifications
For the (social) apps you can’t delete, mute the work-related chats. You won’t be able to completely stay clear of all work stuff, but at least it won’t be in your face as much. It may also be wise to switch off notifications for apps, to help give peace of mind. I’ve only got notifications switched on for mail and Whatsapp.
7 Set a time for checking email
Set a time and time limit for checking your email. Try to break it into tasks, too. Here’s a trick that helped me; go through your unread emails at the start of your day, organising them in four different ways:
- Deleting – immediately delete anything irrelevant to you.
- Archiving – file away any informative emails that you may need later. I have different categories for this, i.e. “General information”, “IT manuals”, “Class 1A”, etc.
- Respond – if you are sure it will take less than two minutes to reply to an email, do so right away.
- To do – set up a “to do” folder in your inbox where you file emails you need to spend some time on. Schedule this task into your planning for the day.
I always found it very frustrating to check my mail in the mornings, because often it would delay and reduce the amount of time I had for other much more important tasks. This way, however, I don’t get stuck with it anymore.
NL: deze tip kwam uit het boek Kleppen Dicht! van Patricia Slobbe en Michel van Ast.
8 Take breaks to do nothing at all
Something I learned in sleep therapy recently: take breaks where you do absolutely nothing at all. Drink a glass of water, stare out the window, or just close your eyes and breathe. Take these moments for 5-10 minutes every day, preferably twice a day. It will help you disconnect from work for a moment and improve your energy levels.
9 A list of things to do in your free time
Of course everyone’s spending their time very differently these days, as many of our favourite activities and hobbies have been eliminated by the isolation measures. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I’m sat around the house wondering for hours on end what I should do with my day now. Here’s where the magical list of ideas comes into play. Write down any activity that you like and can do at home. You can work on little projects, start books you’ve been wanting to read, or have a solo dance party. Just jot down anything that may entertain and occupy you during these strange times!
10 Talk to people
Last but not least, make sure you’re talking to people. Whatever you’re going through, you’re not alone. Discuss your thoughts and worries about work with your colleagues, have chats with your friends, or organise Netflix watch parties with larger groups. I can assure you it will pull you through.
Netflix Party with my friend Patricia and cat Remi.
What helps you separate work from home?
Share your best tips down below in the comments, or send me a Tweet!