I’ve talked before about working from home, and I’ve also spoken at length about my fluctuating mental health, but today the two are colliding as we discuss the importance of routine. When you freelance or work from home regularly, the days rapidly merge into a big, bland mess. When weekend isn’t “the time you’re not in the office”, it’s very easy to end up working seven days a week. When your home environment is also your working environment, you may find yourself working at odd times, or find yourself unable to relax in the evenings. That separation of work and home is so important, but not always possible for everyone.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up on a Saturday, gone to check my work emails and then been confused that no new work has come in. Working from home can seem like an absolute paradise when it’s a rare treat – when it’s your norm your home can become your prison. Instead of being in the office with no distractions, you’re surrounded by all of the things you’d rather be doing. Efficiency can go out of the window, or you remain efficient but it’s so much more difficult than working in an office. Then there’s the evenings, which can leave you feeling tense and unable to fully let the day go, because your brain associates the environment with work. It’s the same as how it’s not recommended to have a desk or TV in your bedroom, because you want you brain to associate your bedroom with only sleep and sex. Working from home breaks down that divide and the compartmentalisation that helps keep you sane.
I’ve found the easiest way to work through this is to establish routine. Every other day I go and work at a coffee shop in town (not the most financially responsible solution, but it keeps me sane). Just working around people, getting out of the flat and breathing in some fresh air really helps to re-establish that divide between work and not-work. I’ll work all day, and head home at 5pm. On those days I really find myself able to relax; physcially removing myself from that space works wonders.
Not everyone is able to just head to a coffee shop and is forced to work entirely from home, and for that there are only so many ways to separate work and play. If you have a spare room, even if it’s a guest room, I’d recommend trying to fit a small desk or table in there and working there if possible. It means that at the end of the day you can close the door and physically remove yourself from work. If you don’t have a spare room, try and create a “work space” somewhere in your home, no matter how small. It could be a corner of your living room, a desk in your bedroom or even just a seat at a dining table that you don’t normally sit at. Ideally you want some way to close that space off when you’re not working; but that can be easier said than done. In an ideal world we’d all have an office at home, or at least a corner of the living room that you can pull a curtain over at the end of the day.
When I’m working from home actually at home, I make sure that I still get out of the flat at least once per day, even if it’s just for a wander around the local park or to the off licence for a drink. Getting my body moving and ideally speaking to someone does wonders for waking my brain up again. I learnt recently that the brain atrophies in isolation; our brains are, quite literally, damaged if we spend too much time alone. Talking to anyone even a little makes a huge difference. It’s also good to work a little exercise into your routine; to say that I enjoy running would be a stretch, but I do try and fit in a few km at least twice a week, and when working from home I have the flexibility to go in the middle of the day if I want to.
It’s very easy to allow yourself to slip into isolation and repetition when working from home, but establishing a routine that gets you out of the house and interacting with others will make a big difference. Compartmentalising your work environment as best you can will help by ensuring your home is still somewhere you want to be and spend time in. Creating a routine when working from home will really help you to gain control over your time and use it more effectively – believe me, I’ve learnt this lesson the hard way!