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When Home is No Longer a Refuge: Overcoming the Work-from-Home Challenge


As a result of the pandemic, many people are spending an unprecedented amount of time at home. This has made "shutting down" and relaxing at the end of the workday difficult. Bookkeeper Billie Anne Grigg, who's been working from home for 15 years, discusses ways you can ensure your house is still your sanctuary.

Aug 31st 2020
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Humans are creatures of habit, and this is especially true of accountants and bookkeepers. 2020 has seen major disruptions to many of our ingrained habits, not the least of which is where and how we work. Even if you’re accustomed to working from home some or part of the time, there’s a good chance you’re spending more time at home than ever before. Now, instead of home being a place to escape to at the end of a long day, many are viewing their homes as a place to escape from.

This effect is compounded if you have children who are experiencing distance learning this fall. Although the idea of doing school in pajamas sounds appealing, our school-aged children are now being asked to make their living rooms or bedrooms their classrooms. This can cause your children to feel like they are always (or possibly never) in “school mode.”

As a 15-year work-from-home and homeschooling veteran, I’d like to share some ways you can make sure your home remains a refuge, even if you rarely leave it.

A Place for Everything

The thought of everyone having their own office sounds appealing, but this isn’t practical for every family. Even if you have a very small home, it’s possible to set up “zones” for your different work and school activities. And there are benefits to creating zones for your various activities: When you have designated places for work and relaxation, you overcome the challenge of feeling like you’re always “on” and unable to disconnect.

As much as possible, try to avoid doing work – or school – in your bedroom. Seeing your workspace while you’re trying to drift off to sleep at night can make shutting down your mind and actually going to sleep difficult. Also avoid the kitchen table (a place best reserved for family meals and connection) and the living room sofa (a place for relaxation.)

If you must set up your work zones in a space you would usually use for sleep, connection, or relaxation, contain your work zone to a small in that room space. Then, separate that space with a room divider, curtain, or some other visual cue you can use to “shut the door” at the end of your work time. This will prevent your home from becoming, as one colleague put it, an office with a bed.

Time and Boundaries

Perhaps now more than ever, it’s important to maintain as much of a routine as possible. Although there is a freedom that comes with the flexibility to work anytime, without boundaries, you can soon start to feel like you are working ALL the time. What’s worse, you could find you are working more and getting less done due to Parkinson’s law (the concept that work expands to fill the available time).

This doesn’t mean you have to work a standard 9-5 day. Choose what times will work best for you to do your work, inform your clients and team what your work hours will be, and – this is important – stick to your declared work schedule.

There are some caveats here. If you must break your working time up into multiple time slots, try to schedule 2-hour blocks of time for each work session. This will allow you to get into the flow of work and will help you avoid mistakes that can come from rapid context switching.

Also, be gentle and flexible with yourself. Especially if you have kids at home, your scheduled work time might not align with their needs 100 percent of the time. Work with your children to explain the importance of dedicated work time. For younger children, you might need to use visual cues – like a fun “thinking cap” you put on when you’re working – to remind them you are unavailable at the moment. But recognize there will be times when you will be pulled away from your work. As long as these times are the exception rather than the rule, try to just roll with it.

Regarding your children: This past spring, many parents were concerned their children’s education was suffering because they weren’t “doing school” from 8am until 3pm. One of the first things I learned as a homeschooling parent was that it doesn’t take seven hours a day to educate children. The traditional school model contains a lot of time for classroom management, interaction with peers, and non-educational activities (lunch, physical education, etc.) This means your children might be “done with school” by lunchtime, which, in turn, means they might be ready to embark on their after-school leisure activities hours earlier than usual.

In order to keep screen time (TV, social media, gaming, etc.) at a healthy level, consider implementing a quiet reading time after school is done for the day. You can also use this additional after-school time to let your children do their own enrichment (art projects, learning about a subject that interests them, etc.) Of course, if you need to leverage some screen time for your children in order to get some work done – or have some time to yourself – doing so on occasion isn’t harmful.

Pattern Interrupts

Part of what makes our normal routines so enjoyable is the change of pace that comes with each new activity. This happens naturally when we drive to the office, go to lunch and come home at the end of the day. But how do you get that same change of pace when you never leave your home?

Creating and leveraging pattern interrupts throughout your day can signal to your brain and body that it’s time to “shift gears” and give you back that feeling of refuge you might be missing.

If you have a separate office space in your house, this pattern interrupt can be as simple as going to the kitchen for lunch and closing the office door at the end of each workday. If you use zones instead, pulling the curtain, putting away your work, or even just closing the laptop and plugging it in can signal that it’s time to shift into “home mode.” You can also leverage an end-of-day routine that mimics your commute home: a brief walk works well, as does a short meditation.

Reclaiming Home as a Refuge

These simple and easy-to-implement tips and tricks have helped my family and me maintain a healthy work-life integration for well over a decade. Our routines have been disrupted this year, too, but having these tools has helped us maintain the feeling that our home is a refuge. I hope they help you and your family reclaim your home space for relaxation and connection as well.

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