Establishing a work-life balance has never been as important as it is today. Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, more people are working from home now than ever before. The graph below shows that as much as 20% of people are working from home due to the pandemic.
Pre-coronavirus studies say that working from home increases productivity, with workers completing 13.5% or over an extra day’s worth of work per week.
New studies show that being forced into this remote set-up due to the pandemic is actually decreasing productivity by 7.2% overall.
Factors involving work-life balance — like children, privacy, space, and choice — make it harder to separate work life and personal life, let alone balancing the two.
With the COVID-19 pandemic significantly contributing to the rapid shift to a remote working environment for all businesses, balancing your work and personal lives have now become more than a preference. It’s become a necessity.
So here are a few tips to make sure you can make the most out of work from home, while still keeping your personal life in check:
1. Get into the right mindset
Moving from an office set-up to a remote set-up can be a harrowing transition:
The flow of your workday changes.
Physical interactions become limited.
Screen time dramatically increases.
All these can leave you in a rut because it’s tough to dive straight into work when you’re anxious about the adjustment.
Getting yourself out of a negative mindset and into a positive one will change you into a more productive and proactive person in your work and personal life. A positive mindset can increase worker motivation and productivity by 50%.
Actively trying to change your mindset is an important first step to achieving work-life balance.
Adapting may be a struggle, especially for long-time office workers, but there are plenty of new opportunities working from home can produce.
Think positively about this new phase of your life. Be glad you don’t have to spend time commuting to and from work daily.
Find comfort in spending more time with your family, especially when you will no longer be in the office eight or more hours a day. Accept the time you’re given to start a new hobby or to finally reorganize your apartment.
2. Set clear goals
It’s easy to become less productive and motivated when you’re living in uncertain times.
Getting things done begins with goal setting.
Without this, it’s easy to get lost and flustered trying to remember what you need to do. Studies say that people who have goals can be up to ten times as successful as those without them, and people who write them down are up to 30 times as successful.
Setting your goals gets you prepared to knock tasks down one-by-one.
Dedicate 10 to 20 minutes at the start of your day to list down what your goals are. Follow the SMART goals framework to better list your goals.
Source: University of California
This framework helps you accurately target your goals and effectively go after them. Listing your goals before you begin the day gives you a better perspective of what you need to get done and how you’ll get them done.
3. Develop a morning and evening routine
You have clear-cut routines when you’re working in an office: You get ready in the morning, go to work, come home, and rest.
Now that you’re working from home, sticking to your usual routines can help you ease into your new working arrangement.
Having a morning and evening routine also allows you to take care of yourself.
Give yourself some time to slowly warm-up for the day by introducing a morning routine. Here’s an example of the morning routine I do before I start working.
A nightly routine, on the other hand, signals that your workday is over, and gets you ready to spend the rest of the night doing activities for your personal life. This allows you to wind down after work because it helps you draw the line between work and personal time.
Here’s an example of what my night routine looks like.
By setting time boundaries between work and personal life keeps you balanced. These routines also calm you down, reminding you that you have more to look forward to in the day than work.
4. Keep your work schedule sacred
Productivity is still important for business owners and employees, and it is harder to stay focused if you give in to the multiple distractions at home.
Sticking to your assigned work time and taking periodic breaks balances out a sacred work schedule and avoiding burnout. Working continuously builds productivity momentum, as tasks become easier when you’ve already begun.
Keep your work schedule strictly for work. Set aside time for the day for you to knock down work-related tasks and keep that time untouchable by your personal life.
Find out what times work best for you, and stick to that time. Fit your work into your desirable morning and evening routines, and build your morning and evening routines around the times you’re most productive.
5. Practice the art of time blocking
Time blocking is an effective way to make sure your days run efficiently. Know how long certain tasks take and plan your schedule around these time constraints.
A productivity principle called Parkinson’s Law states that deadlines make work feel more urgent, forcing you to focus more on a task to finish it before the end of the timeframe you set for it.
Make sure all your tasks for the day are not only listed down, but also have a specific allotted time.
Activities like checking social media or sending proposals over email can go on forever, so you might want to use productivity tools like TimeDoctor to track your work time.
Time blocking can also show you how to balance your time between work and personal life better. You might have a tendency to do too much work, but blocking time out for yourself will help give you that balance you need.
This is an example of a complete time blocked schedule. Yours might be filled in with more specific tasks, but the idea is to know what to do at what time.
Break down a six-hour time block into four 90-minute time blocks. It’s a lot easier to work through, and it might also help you become more efficient.
To time block, follow these five steps:
Start with high-level priorities
Think about what’s most important to you right now. Whether it’s reducing your time doing mindless tasks or finding time for your family, immediately pencil it in to start framing your schedule.
Bookend your day
Input your morning and evening routines and the time it takes for you to complete them, then put them at the start and end of your day to narrow down the hours you will work.
Deep and shallow tasks
Your most meaningful and important work should align with when you feel like you are most productive in the day.
Studies show that productivity usually peaks at 11 a.m., so schedule crucial tasks like making your reports or spreadsheets then. Schedule more shallow tasks like checking social media when you’re less likely to perform well, like after lunch.
Schedule for reactive tasks
Set aside time in a day where you can respond to emails or scheduled calls. This prevents you from tainting blocks where you need to focus on your work and avoid losing your work momentum.
Write down your daily to-dos and fit them in
Once you have your daily schedule time blocked, remember to put in the time it takes to cook dinner, or to shower and dress up. These small to-dos still take up time, and putting them in your time blocked schedule guarantees you time to do them instead of having to rush to jam them in your day.
6. Know your priorities
Listing down tasks is the first battle, but prioritization is just as important.
If you go straight into work without knowing your priorities, you lose track of which tasks need to be done.
The Eisenhower Matrix helps you decide on the urgency of your tasks, and keeps your to-dos organized.
Source: Eisenhower Matrix
For example: a deadline today would always go in the first quadrant. Replying to emails are important, but not urgent, so they’ve moved to the second quadrant.
The third quadrant is usually set aside delegating tasks to your employees so they can work on them.
Tasks that don’t contribute to your work or your personal well-being go in the last quadrant.
Many tasks take up more time than you think, and knowing which tasks should be higher priority can mean the difference between a productive day and a wasted day.
An example of a time sucker would be social media, with most people taking up 2 hours of their day on various social media sites.
You also need to take your personal life into consideration when you prioritize.
If you need to move your schedule around for a video call with a loved one, then try to rearrange your tasks accordingly.
Work-life balance starts when you recognize that your life is just as important – if not more important – than your work.
7. Eliminate distractions
It’s hard to keep your eye on a specific task when a dozen different things are calling out for your attention. Even a 5-second distraction can derail you from your workflow, and a distracted worker can make almost double the mistakes on their tasks.
These distractions don’t only eat up your time, but kill valuable momentum for you to work effectively. Keep your phone on silent to stop those notifications from pinging their way into your life.
If possible, disconnect yourself from the internet to ensure that nothing gets in between you and the work you need to be doing.
You can also download productivity apps to find tools that help you stay on track with your outputs. Apps like Freedom and Strict Workflow to block distracting websites and track the time you work productively.
Once you eliminate distractions and use your work-time to actually work, you’ll feel less guilty about spending quality time with your loved ones.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Working from home may seem like you’re doing tasks by yourself.
But remember that even though your co-workers might not be with you physically, you’re still a team. Delegating tasks and collaborating with them is still essential to getting things done.
Communicating with your team regularly helps you keep tabs on what they’ve accomplished, asking for their opinion, and getting help to complete your work.
Collaboration also comes with multiple benefits, such as lower fatigue and higher success rates. Collaborative companies are 5x more likely to be high performing. Working together also encourages people to stick to tasks up to 64% longer than working individually.
When your work starts piling up and you begin to feel overwhelmed, delegating tasks to people in your team makes the process quicker and less daunting.
It’s also relieving to have a support system. The struggles of working at home can feel isolating, but remember — your entire team is going through the same thing.
Social isolation has been put on par with obesity and high blood pressure as a factor contributing to illness. Building a support group gives you an outlet where you can share your struggles and give suggestions to each other on how to cope with your new remote set up.
9. Stop multitasking
It might seem like a timesaver to get some work done while making dinner, but all that leads to is burnt food and a half-baked report.
Multitasking takes your focus away from your important tasks and diverts them onto activities that you could set aside time for later.
You may save a few minutes of time, but a study by the University of London shows that your IQ drops 15 points while multitasking. This dramatically decreases the efficiency of how you work.
The types of tasks you do simultaneously also affect the effectiveness of multitasking.
While you may be able to jointly do tasks that reinforce one another, it’s a completely different story when it comes to two mentally taxing activities.
The human brain can only take in so much information before forgetting important details.
Multitasking leads to information overload. and the physical clutter of dozens of opened browser tabs and scattered paperwork can prevent you from performing at your peak. It also takes time to shift mental gears from one topic to another, hurting your productivity further.
Focus your energy into one task and do it well. This will increase the quality and speed of your work, which allows you to move on to other tasks as well.
Getting all your work tasks out of the way with a focused approach can allow you to better balance your time with personal activities.
10. Schedule time for yourself
Life can get hectic.
Between your job, keeping your living space together and social interactions with your family and friends, it’s not easy to find time for yourself in the mix. The global pandemic has made it even harder to focus on yourself.
Your personal projects or hobbies are just as important as your projects at work. Always jot down your personal projects in your schedule, and stick to it. Dedicate time and effort into setting up your project so you can stay motivated to finish it.
Personal projects keep you sane and healthy, but also opens the door for self-discovery and development. Keeping your hobbies around can lead to a decrease in stress, higher levels of creativity and more energy for work.
Find activities that make you happy, or that benefit your well-being. Whether it’s reading a book, gardening, or going for a run, these activities help keep you sane in these trying times.
Your passion project could even become a viable business in the future and could earn you profit on the side.
When you actively choose to set aside the time, you turn your “me time” into a healthy habit.
11. Practice the Pomodoro Technique
Work can get dragging and boring, especially when you’re working from home. It’s easy for your mind to drift or burn yourself out so you can finish a huge pile of work.
After all, working longer doesn’t mean you were productive.
The Pomodoro Technique can help increase your productivity by setting a limited time for you to do deep work.
And since focusing for long periods of time can overwhelm your brain, this time for intense focus is split into small time increments.
In between the suggested 25-minute blocks of productivity, the technique recommends taking short 5-minute breaks followed by a 15-minute after four Pomodoro sessions. These breaks relax your mind, allowing your thoughts to flow freely.
Source: A Life of Productivity
The best part about the Pomodoro Technique is that it is customizable to your work style. The technique prescribes 25 minutes of uninterrupted work. Other people find round numbers like 30 or 60 minutes more productive for them.
This practice is connected to Cal Newport’s concept of Deep Work. Without distractions, your work intensifies over a period of time. Leveraging on this intensity by not cutting it off with interruptions lets you produce more high-quality work for every minute you spend working.
This tool is only a guide, so feel free to see what works for you, and what helps you finish work faster and easier than you have before.
12. Invest in the right tools
Improving your working environment also involves using the right tools to help you stay focused and productive.
To get the perfect work set-up, find out what motivates you to work better and which ones distract you and bring down your mood.
For example, a better coffee machine at home or an air purifier can help improve your physical well-being. Invest in a comfortable work chair and desk lamps to improve your work-from-home set-up. Find the best set-up that will make you the most motivated to work.
When your physical setup is fixed, move on to your software setup.
Working with incomplete software programs and apps can make you a lot more inefficient.
Try using Spark for managing your emails and Zapier to automate repetitive tasks or more sophisticated software like marketing automation, make sure you equip yourself with what you need to work more productively at home.
13. Make the “To do” list your best friend
David Allen’s Getting Things Done method states that the first step to finishing tasks is listing them down in a master list. This serves as a place to “dump” everything you need so that you stay on track and on time.
Each day, choose 3-5 things from this list. This will serve as your “To Do” list for the day. Doing this helps prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.
A simple pen-and-paper list can keep you on track with your to-do list. You can also use more comprehensive software like Asana.
Make your to-do list detailed, and add tiers to each major task to make sure you can keep track of each step of the process.
For example, if you’re writing a blog post, you can include researching, writing each of the sections of your blog post, and proofreading in your to-do list.
Crossing off a completed task, no matter how small, is always satisfying. Remember to list down your personal tasks to reinforce your work-life balance.
For the mind to work right, the body has to feel right as well. Being in good physical health helps you endure a strenuous workday. Due to COVID-19, it’s more important now more than ever to be conscious of your health.
You don’t need to do athlete-level workouts to live healthily. Stretching throughout the day can already greatly improve your mood.
According to Harvard Medical School, stretching and walking are already great stress-relievers, which leaves you in a better mood to tackle work.
Starting the day with a workout warms you up for the rest of the day ahead. A workout at the end of the day helps take your mind off work as well.
Even exercises as easy as a brisk walk around your neighborhood can already account for your day’s worth of exercise.
15. Have a designated workspace
Work-life balance isn’t mental, but physical as well.
In a work from home setting, the lines between the two modes are blurred, and it often makes you feel like you should be working every waking moment.
Typing out a spreadsheet while you’re on your bed or writing a report on the dining table isn’t a great way of separating your personal and work-related spaces.
The physical separation between an office and home makes it easier for your brain to switch from work mode to home mode.
Take your laptop out of your bedroom and bring it into a place with a comfortable chair and a clean desk. Find a spot with great lighting and quiet surroundings.
To help improve work-life balance, try to emulate your office workspace as much as you can so that you can be as productive as you would be in your office. In small spaces, the key to having a dedicated workspace is to make use of your space and furniture smartly.
An example of smart furniture usage is transforming your dining room table into a desk by having a desk organizer and a desk pad there when you work. When it’s time to eat, store these in a separate place.
Foldable furniture also comes in handy to maximize the small space of your apartment.
Keep resting spaces, like the dining room or the bedroom, clear of any work-related items. Keep your work computer strictly for work and remove all social media tabs and avoid using it for personal agendas. Defining what is work and what is rest makes it easier for you to balance the two.
Work-life balance isn’t something that automatically happens. You need to work on it and make sure you have the tools that work for you to stay focused and productive.
The tips shared here will guide you into the “new normal” era of work that came about due to COVID-19. The separation between work and life isn’t as clear as before. But that just makes it more important to find the balance between the two.
I’d love to hear more tips from you! How do you stay sane and keep your work-life balance in check?