Let’s face it: The traditional 9-to-5 work lifestyle is long gone.
For many of us, it’s not unusual to stay at the office until 7 or 8, or to burn the midnight oil working on a freelance gig, startup idea, or extra project to get ahead at work.
Even if your company promotes a healthy work-life balance, your workload may get out-of-control busy at some point and you’ll simply need to bring work home in the evenings or over the weekend. In fact, a recent study showed that 80% of Americans work after they leave the office. Now that your work truly can be accessed anywhere, at any time, it’s an entirely different way of working from what the norm was a decade ago.
This new reality of never truly being off the clock can send your stress levels off the charts if you let it. However, there are ways to make it less painful. It’s all about setting (and sticking to) boundaries so that when you do need to bring the work home, you can at least leave the stress back at the office.
Here are some tips for setting solid ground rules and promoting a healthy, low-stress mindset when you’re cranking on a project at home.
Create Some Space
Designate a workspace at home for those late nights. This can be anywhere you have access to a flat surface and adequate lighting that allows you to concentrate—a desk, your kitchen table, a reading chair, just not your bed! This helps your mind and body understand when you’re in working mode and allows you to more effectively transition to “home” mode when you’re done.
Know When to Call it a Day
Pick a non-negotiable time to put away all your work—and stick to it. For many people, 9 or 10 PM is a great cut off time to stow away all devices before bed. Whichever hour you settle on, it should allow you to transition into relaxation and get enough sleep so that you’re rested enough to be productive the next day. Before you go to sleep, carve out a short amount of time for yourself and read or watch a TV show to unwind and get your mind off the work and transition into relaxation.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Just as you and the people you live with have discussed logistics like who’s in charge of sending the rent check each month, it’s crucial to sort out your need for working from home as well. How quiet do you need your living space to be? Can you handle, “Hey, did you do the laundry?” or “Can you believe what my boyfriend said!?” interruptions? Having good, open communication with your roommates, significant other, or family around your work needs is key. After all, not only do you want to get your work done, you also want to be sure you’re keeping your home a happy place.
Stay Focused on Work
In addition to your workload, you probably also have a to-do list that includes going grocery shopping, washing the dishes, and doing laundry. And it’s probably making you sweat just thinking about how you’ll manage to get everything done. My advice: Compartmentalize. Prioritize the urgent to-do (your work project), and let yourself off the hook with the others. Ask your roommate or spouse to take care of the dishes tonight in exchange for you doing double duty next week—or better yet, treat yourself to Thai takeout tonight (hey, you legitimately don’t have time to cook!). If the laundry really can’t wait another day, drop it off for wash, dry, and fold. This way, you can focus completely on work without letting other to-dos go undone and make you crazy.
On a similar note, don’t try to fit in the fun stuff on an evening or weekend when you need to be working. If you’re trying to squeeze in writing a blog post during the commercial breaks of American Idol, chances are it won’t be that good, and you’ll end up spending more time on revising it later. Either commit to taking a break from work for some fun or getting everything done now so that you can enjoy yourself fully later.
Working after hours is one of those unfortunate facts of life, but you can create rituals and boundaries that enable you to do it in a healthy, productive way. Furthermore, establishing these boundaries will help you assert yourself anytime you’re being asked to do something you’re uncomfortable with—at work or elsewhere.