7 Steps to Work-Life Balance When Working from Home

Working from home can be challenging.

If you have a family, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Kids get underfoot, spouses interrupt, telephone calls disturb, and friends stop by at the worst possible moments. It seems like you’re always playing catch up to get work done or feeling guilty that you’re not spending enough time with your loved ones.

Even if you’ve trained your loved ones to respect your work hours, there’s still the challenge of maintaining good work-life balance. You set your own hours and there isn’t anyone to tell you when to punch your time card for the day...or when to get back to work because you’ve been goofing off.

With good organization, however, you can have the best of all worlds: a healthy work-life balance that fits everyone’s needs and a smart schedule that gives you the right amount of office time — and some playtime, too.

Step One: Start Scheduling

Grab a blank weekly calendar (or use Google’s free calendar feature) and start penciling in family activities and obligations, from school drop-offs to lacrosse practice to mealtime to laundry. Beginning with these gives you the opportunity to work around your life — and avoid feeling that life revolves around work!

As you start building your schedule, be realistic and honest about how much time each activity takes from your day. Many people forget to factor in the time it takes to drive to activities or settle the kids in before starting to work, which means they have to work extra hours to catch up, always feel rushed or working late into the night to meet deadlines.

Step Two: See What’s Left

Once you’ve scheduled your life activities into your calendar, look over it and see where the empty blocks appear. These blocks are where you can fit in work time. Here’s where you can see whether you have enough time to get all your work done or need to rearrange life activities to give yourself enough room.

Remember that you can also hire help to free up some work hours — get a babysitter for the kids a few hours a week, recruit your spouse for driving duties, or arrange for someone to help with meals, laundry, and housecleaning. You don’t have to do it all (none of us are superheroes!), and it’s often well worth it to pay someone else for certain tasks so you can free up time to earn income.

Watch for patterns in your days, too. You may notice that you’re a productive bunny in the mornings but a sloth in the afternoons — so use the morning time to get work out of the way and take care of less strenuous tasks in the afternoon.

Step Three: Expect the Unexpected

When adding to your calendar, it’s a good idea to book in an hour of “unexpected” time every day. This block of time is a free hour that lets you deal with any unexpected delays, events, or interruptions that might arise unexpectedly.

And if nothing occurs in your day that you need to dip into that hour of “unexpected” time... well, you just gained an hour to do whatever you’d like! You can put in an extra hour to finish up that project, work on a new task, or send out some sales pitches to potential new customers.

Step Four: Be Your Own Bulldog

Once your work hours have been set into your calendar, guard them like a bulldog. Those hours are your office hours, and your family and friends need to know about them so that they can avoid disturbing you. You’ve already planned your life activities and know that you’ll be there for them, so respect your work time in the same way.

It’s best to set regular work hours people can rely on so they can easily remember when you’re “in” the office and when you’re free. Post your office hours everywhere — on your website, your blog, your contact page, your email signature, and even on your office door for your family to see. This shows people that you’re serious about your work.

Setting regular office hours for yourself is also great for customers — they know exactly when you’re available and can get in touch with you easily during that time, and you won’t feel pressured to check your email every 15 minutes when you’re off duty.

Help family and friends respect your work hours, too. Don’t get up for every interruption, especially if the person knows that you’re working. With a smile, cheerfully remind them of your work hours and tell them you’ll come to see them as soon as work’s over. They may not like it at first, but your family will soon come to respect your work time because YOU respect it. The interruptions slow and then stop completely if you stick to your guns.

Step Five: Get Focused

Treat your work hours as sacred (barring family emergencies, of course). Let phone calls go to voice mail, close your email and for heaven’s sake, stop Twittering and Facebooking when your time’s up.

Balancing work and life means being effective with the time you have to work, so don’t waste it on distractions and interruptions. If family and friends show up, politely tell them you’re busy but would love to catch up later — or even better, just don’t go to the door.

Of course, working with young children at home is more challenging. So be creative and try to make your office hours fun for them so that you can focus on what you need to do. Set an egg timer for 30 minutes and then find a fun activity that will keep kids busy. Let them take the contents of your shredder to use as nesting material for their stuffed animals, set them up to color, paint, read a book ,or (gasp) let them watch their favorite TV show.

Then get ready to get to work!

Step Six: Break It Down

Before you begin working, start by breaking down your time into small chunks of tasks. By planning bite-sized tasks for your work hours, you can maximize your time and get a lot more done. Believe me, sitting down without a plan and saying, “Well, I should do really some work...” usually results in you spending your time picking away at a bunch of things that don’t really get you anywhere.

Get focused. For example, if you have an hour of time to work, use the first 30 minutes to clean up 10 emails. Use the next 20 minutes for social media networking. Take 10 minutes to call a client. And use the last 30 minutes to write a draft blog post.

Step Seven: Take Care of You

When you made your schedule, did you remember to pencil in free hours and playtime? Probably not — you were probably busy writing in your obligations and trying to fit work around them.

But all work and no play makes for fast burnout, and that means you absolutely need to give yourself time off and consider it sacrosanct.

So book an hour each week for a long bath and a good book. Block out 30 minutes each evening to read a story to your kids. Schedule a movie night with your partner. Reserve 45 minutes every morning for a walk. Oh, and don’t forget to schedule in a good eight hours of sleep every day. Shortcutting on sleep can have detrimental effects on your work productivity.

Make time for you, your loved ones and your friends. It’s important to make sure you feel balanced and healthy... not burned out and resentful!

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