Remember When Work-Life Balance Was a Thing?

William Delaney

We’re all sick of re-hashing the effects of the pandemic on our lives and professions, but the switch to working remotely so unexpectedly can’t go undiscussed.

From one day to the next we left our 9 – 5 office lives and turned kitchen tables into desks, living rooms into gyms, any comfortable seat into an entertainment zone. Bedrooms became boardrooms, now commonly known as Zoom-rooms.  

At first it was kind of exciting, being able to roll out of bed and turn on the laptop, attend meetings in sweatpants and hit the fridge as often as you wanted without judgement from colleagues. But the novelty quickly wore off.

All of a sudden time seemed to slow down and the hours morphed into each other. You’d think the home office environment would reduce motivation, but surprisingly, the opposite happened! With little else to do, people began to fill their days with work, and this led to an unhealthy decline in the work-life balance. Working overtime and on weekends was not an uncommon thing to witness or partake in.

But when work-life harmony is out of sync it can have a significant impact on both a person’s professional and personal life. While in the short-term it might seem that this over-achieving nature is getting you somewhere, the long-term effects on mental health, relationships and even your physicality can be devastating – which will actually negatively affect your career down the road (burnout is a real thing!).

Figuring out ways to control the urge that drives you to just do one more hour, which turns into two, three, four… is of the utmost importance. Understanding that your productivity, concentration and efforts will be significantly decreased when you push yourself into this “just keep going” mentality will in turn improve on your deliverables and ensure you reach your goals in a healthy, safe and satisfying manner.

Everyone has their own way of changing from working-from-home to just-at-home mode, but if you’re struggling with the switch here are a couple of ideas that might help.

Keep your work and personal spaces separated

We’re not all privileged enough to have the addition of a dedicated office in our homes. Many of us live in confined city spaces or share our homes with family or flatmates. But one proven work-life balance technique is to dedicate a particular space, whether it’s a table, a piece of the floor or a particular chair as your workspace. This allows you to detach from the workstation to focus on yourself, but also means all of your work equipment isn’t within reach at all times, “just to check an email or see a stat” because we all know where that goes.

Work equipment is for work

Normally when you work for an organisation, you’re given a computer or laptop – (I know people starting during corona mightn’t be so lucky – please skip this suggestion). It’s vital that just like your work station you only use your work laptop for work and during working hours. In this era of  notifications, and having the innate curiosity built into the human-race it’s difficult not to check or answer a request after hours if it shows up on the laptop. Along with this allowing yourself to constantly check for issues increases anxiety and reduces productivity. If something happens you can fix it tomorrow is an attitude we all need to adhere to during these times.

Remove yourself completely

Once the workday has ended, it’s recommended that you completely remove yourself from the workspace and even from the sanctuary of your home. Going for a walk and getting fresh air allows you to recharge and relax into the evening. Studies have proven that the out of sight out of mind theory is truly one of the strongest. By completely removing yourself from the situation even for a short period of time, the urge to stay going can be reduced and the feeling of guilt lowered allowing you to focus on yourself (in whatever way that means for you).

Don’t waste your time

One of the main reasons our work-life balance is out of sync is because our day-to-day routines were mostly taken from us. However, while they may have been thrown around a little, we still have 24 hours in the day. This time is precious and should be used with quality and purpose. It’s time to make your own routine! Start by planning your evening. To begin, try to set an alarm to the max of one hour of overtime, after this plan a minimum of 3 activities, sports, cooking, moving, reading whatever floats your boat. By having planned activities you’re less likely to allow yourself to continue working.

Involve a friend

Trying to break a habit is difficult. When you initially set out to find your personal “off” switch, it’s good to plan an activity with a friend. Perhaps a workout buddy at 6pm or a catch-up call with family. By bringing another party into the mix, you’re less likely to fall off the wagon and stick to your separation of work and me time.

Everyone wants to succeed, and we’re all struggling with COVID fatigue – but using work as a crutch or a time filler is not a healthy option. Study after study shows you need to take time out, exercise, socialise and relax. Your productivity, sanity and core need you to look after your mind and body as much if not more than your job.