The fact that so many hundreds of careers can be accomplished from one’s computer, at one’s kitchen table, with flexible hours is a magnificent thing. The trouble is that careers of this type showed up overnight with no outline of job etiquette or expectations. The upshot is that many people make money from home, using the internet, boasting flexible hours and yet, are experiencing fatigue and frustration in their chosen careers.
The problem? Unlike a job in a brick-and-mortar establishment, working on the internet is a job that never ends. You don’t have to go home at 5:00pm, you don’t have to stay away from the office over Saturday and Sunday and you don’t have to use up your paid time off. You also don’t have to get dressed to go to work, don’t have to get out of bed to go to work, and definitely don’t have to look nice for anyone you will see at work. Sounds a bit depressing right?
What can help this demoralizing, downward spiral? You said it. A digital detox. Why? Because you will never experience time off of work if your storefront (a.k.a. your screen) is constantly available to you.
A side note to those of you that don’t work from home: this message is for you too! No matter what profession you are in, if you are answering work-related texts at 11:00pm, if you’re hearing from business associates or colleagues on your days off, and if you’re worried about missing your work emails when you go on vacation this message is for you too. Because, whether you work at home or not, today’s invasive amounts of technology have made us too accessible to our jobs.
Here are a couple tips for maintaining digital boundaries when you work from home:
Set Up An Office
Whether you blog 4-6hrs a week or work 8-10hrs a day on the internet you should consider setting up a space in your house that is exclusive to work; basically, an office. And this isn’t to emphasize that only work is done in this space, but that work is only done in this space. Get it? Don’t drag your laptop around so that you end up working alternately on the couch, at the kitchen table and in bed. Craft a space that is comfortable, quiet, well-lit, equipped with paper, pens, a charging cord and whatever else you might need.
Act Like It’s An Office and Observe Regular Hours
Once you’ve set up an office act like it’s an office. Once in a while the flexibility of working at home may mean working in your pajamas. But on a daily basis this can build up a subtle feeling of depression. Before you sit down at your “office” for the day prepare yourself physically. Take a shower, put on some nice looking clothes and get a little bit of exercise or movement to wake yourself up mentally. Don’t drag your phone around through the house. Sit down at the desk to use it and then allow yourself to be free from it when you go into the kitchen to make lunch or go outside to stretch your legs.
You don’t have to pack up and leave at 4:30pm on Friday because you work at home, but believe me, those people that do experience a sense of relief that internet freelancers don’t experience. Set a time limit on work and stop when you’ve reached that time limit.
Allow Yourself to Be Interrupted
If you live with kids, parents, a spouse, or any other people, make sure that they fit into your schedule somewhere. In a brick-and-mortar office human interaction is inescapable and an integral part of the human experience. Seeing other people, relying on other people and even just being aware of other people can improve our mood, focus our intentions and put us back on track if we’re doing something out of line. For instance, if you were sitting crosslegged in your desk chair, staring at your screen and picking your nose your colleagues would be disgusted. Force yourself to work in an environment, at least some of the time, that fosters human interactions, social cues and manners.
This is also where the “regular hours” set up can be easily accomplished. The fact that the dog needs walking will help you get that bit of exercise before the work day. The fact that your spouse and kids are expecting you to make their dinner will give you that perfect evening cutoff from work. And the fact that you work in the same establishment as your washer and dryer means that you can take a 5 minute brain break every 90min to fold some laundry and put in another load. That’s what I call two for the price of one!
Use social media wisely
I recently deleted my social media apps from my phone. I will admit I did experience that 10-second, teeth-gritting sense of panic, wondering if I’d ever be able to communicate with the world at large again. But I calmly mastered it because I knew my alternate plan was sound: once a week I check instagram on my computer, upload something that promotes my blog or business and peruse a few of my friends’ stories that day. I know I’ve missed their hourly stories over the past week but in many cases I had an interaction with them in person and that’s a good enough story for me any day. Since I’m sitting in my desk chair, at my computer, during my “screen time business hours” I’m not tempted to scroll instagram for very long. I’ve switched my focus from entertainment to advertising and networking. I can still use the platform but it doesn’t use me.
Highlight the Pros and Cons
Sometimes it’s really easy to lose track of the pros and cons of a situation when you’re right in the middle of it. People often like to rattle off all the benefits of their new job during the first week or even the day before they start it. And then there’s hindsight, which they say is 20/20. But when you’re right in the middle of tasks and deadlines and a genuine muddle it’s easy to get confused. My advice is to make a list of the pros and cons of working at home and reorient yourself towards a feeling of gratitude and joy.
As you analyze your list your pros may become your cons and vice versa. For instance, your list could read something like “Pro: Wear sweats to work. Con: My dogs are antsy and interrupt me a lot during the work day”. After a little self-reflection these might turn into “Pro: My dogs force me to get out of the house to walk them every morning before work. I love that I get some exercise and clear my head before diving into the day’s assignments. Con: I can get away with wearing sweats to work. Instead wear something stylish and take a selfie at the desk”
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When you dive into your tasks this week enjoy the freedom that a digital detox will foster in your career. And if you’ve discovered other strategies for digital boundaries in the work environment share them with us in the comments below!