Christina Pashialis On How To Set Boundaries To Prevent Burnout
By Christina PashialisJan 28 2022
For many people, the idea of working from home used to seem like a euphemism for a day off.
Now look at us!
The pandemic has created a BIG conversation about how to manage our working lives.
For some people, not having to go to the office has been a dream come true.
For others it’s been a living nightmare.
The pros and cons of working from home are fairly equally balanced, which is probably why 85% of those who are currently working from home are in favor of a hybrid approach to working from the office and working from home.
But whether you’re working from home full- or part-time, setting boundaries around your working setup is one of the most important things to do.
Boundaries are personal rules about what we will and won’t do 🙅♀️
And they’re super important for work.
For example, we probably all have boundaries around how much of our personal lives we share with our boss.
This might not be a rule we’ve consciously set – it’s often just what we’ve grown accustomed to.
People often look to company culture for these habits, or take cues from peers.
Other typical work boundaries might be:
Studies show that setting proper boundaries around work can not only reduce stress, but actually make you a better worker.
Which is why they’re at the top of my working from home productivity tips list.
But when we’re not in the office, it’s hard to take cues from other people. Where are the boundaries?!
The problem: “It takes me ages to get my head into work when I’m at home”
How to set a boundary: Find out what works best for you.
The stereotypical advice here is that you should make a to-do list for your day the night before.
Working from home is a great way to exercise the freedom to experiment with whether tips like that actually work.
Maybe the to-do list itself is holding you back 🤔
That routine will probably change depending on things like the seasons, or who you’re working with, so staying flexible is key.
For instance, I like having meetings in the afternoon and focusing in the morning, but that’s not for everyone.
But knowing what suits you best will help you set the boundary.
The problem: “It’s so boring sitting at my desk by myself for 8 hours a day”
How to set a boundary: Stop worrying about virtual presenteeism!
We’ve all heard that sitting is the new smoking.
But moving around is really important for getting through the work day.
Mentally, I mean.
Think about it, in the office, you’re not at your desk between 9 and 5 (I hope).
In fact, this blog says that we only actually work around 5 out of 8 hours of our workdays, the rest is spent on "in between" tasks or distractions.
For me, not having to use my mental energy on being in the office every day means I can get my work done much more easily.
I’m not getting distracted by politely listening to my colleagues’ stories about the traffic, or getting in my own head about imagined office politics.
This is a huge boundary between working in the office and working from home.
But that doesn’t mean I love sitting in the same place every day...
There are loads of ways to spice things up! 🌶️
The problem: “I’m sick of my house”
Set a boundary: Create your dream office, and use work time to do boring house tasks.
Yes yes, when you’re working from home you can put the wash on, use your lunch break to tackle mini cleaning tasks, go shopping at an unusual time between meetings when the supermarket will be empty.
But this is psychologically important too, so that when you clock off, those annoying jobs are out of the way and you can put some space between work and play.
If you’ve ever taken a holiday day for life admin, you know what I’m talking about here.
It’s about setting the mental boundary that lets you play multiple roles at home.
You have to be the office manager and look after your workspace, but you can also be the CEO who gets to dictate exactly how the office runs.
And then you get to be neither of those when work finishes.
Taking advantage of working from home looks like planning an extravagant lunch, getting your favorite snacks in, and making yourself quite literally as comfortable as possible.
Plus, you’re free from office dress codes.
There’s a reason athleisure sales have spiked during the pandemic 😉
The problem: “I don’t have enough space when working from home”
Set a boundary: If you can’t have a separate office room, changing even small details about a dual-usage room can help your mindset.
I work in my living room, but do a very minor shift at the end of the day so I can relax there after work.
All I do is turn my chair 90 degrees, so it goes from facing my desk to facing my TV.
And even though I don’t sit in the desk chair in the evening, that simple turn is a great way to signal that it’s the end of the day to my brain.
It’s a great boundary to set.
So if you’re working in a room that has another function, can you set up something similar to mark the shift from day to night (or night to day if the case may be)?
This next tip is working from home 101, but make sure you pack up your desk at the end of the day!
Other ways to change around a room could be a lighting change.
Turning the overhead light off to some mood lighting, or even lighting a scented candle just gives a different ~vibe~ after work.
It’s tempting to just drop everything and run away from your desk at the end of work, but not having proper closure on the day means that you will never really escape.
It’s a perfect example of a simple boundary to set.
The problem: “I’m so uncomfortable working from home”
Set a boundary: Take time for self care while working from home.
Health and safety gets a lot of stick for being boring.
But maintaining a safe and comfortable office is a lot of work, and a very different mindset to the way we set up our homes.
Suitable chairs? Regular safety checks on electrics? I’m willing to bet they weren’t on your interior design list.
One boundary we need to set while working from home is about taking care of ourselves.
While the typical advice here means making sure we’re showered and fed, it’s also about literally making sure we’re safe.
Safety begins at home, as they like to say.
But in a working from home context that means not taking calls while you’re chopping up your lunch, and making sure you don’t leave your computer charger all over the place for you and your pets to trip over.
Ask for new equipment if you need it – even getting a mouse instead of using a trackpad can help.
It’s all obvious stuff, but if working from home is something you’re going to be doing long term then you need to do it right.
The problem: “I hate video meetings”
Set a boundary: take some time to pimp your set up, so you feel more comfortable.
Video calls are a necessary evil.
They’re a bit of a nightmare boundary-wise, offering a view into your literal house.
While we’re all much more comfortable with that now, it’s still worth making sure you’re happy with where you’re chatting so that you can concentrate on the meeting itself.
Firstly, make sure you’re communicating to anyone else in the house when you’ve got a call, so you’re not worrying about interruptions.
If you can’t set up a studio-perfect situation, a really easy fix is to use a blurred background on Zoom and Google Meet.
Or a computer stand to avoid a double-chin situation.
And don’t feel like you have to be on camera in every meeting.
Read the room - if you’re just listening, switch your video off until it’s your time to speak.
The problem: “I don’t know what I’m doing when I’m working from home!”
Set a boundary: Improve your project management, and overcommunicate.
Communication is one of the most difficult parts about working from home.
But the key to setting boundaries here is that you don’t have to SAY (or write) everything.
These tools are also great for collaborating with your team, saving you from yet another video meeting about admin.
Catch ups can then be about the substance of the work itself, not the structure.
They’ll make sure people get the bigger picture without you writing out lengthy emails or presenting for hours.
The problem: “I work really long hours when I’m working from home”
Set a boundary: Work smarter, not harder when you’re working from home.
Without having to physically leave the office, we can get carried away with how long we work.
The boundary to set here is with your colleagues.
Have a conversation about flexible working – could you start earlier in the day in order to take a longer lunch break? Finish later so you can take your kids to school?
But also bear in mind that others need to be flexible too.
Start a conversation within your team or company to make sure everyone’s happy and work is working for them.
And one of my oft-repeated working from home best practices is "don’t just stay online for the sake of it".
If you’re worried that your manager doesn’t trust you to be working, that’s a much larger conversation.
Download an app like Strict Workflow to block those distracting sites. (I’m using it right now to write this piece!)
If you’re a manager, make sure your expectations are clear and your employees aren’t suffering from burnout.
The problem: “I miss the office and my colleagues”
Set a boundary: Recreate your office dynamic and embrace the weird bits of working from home.
One of the worst things about working from home is the removal of all sorts of casual conversation.
In jokes, chit-chat, and shared experiences helps us get to know our colleagues properly.
Which can make work a hell of a lot easier, and more fun.
But it doesn’t mean you’re now working with strangers.
This is an interesting boundary to set because it’s actually about relaxing your boundaries or trying different things.
Don’t feel like you need to be super formal all the time.
Silly things happen when working from home.
Make a joke of the technical difficulties or the wacky things that happen like a cat wandering across the keyboard, and make an effort to make sure your colleagues feel appreciated when they’re doing the same.
Making light of small things also means it’s going to be a lot easier to talk to your colleagues when bigger things go wrong.
It’s definitely best practice when working from home (or working at all) to set boundaries around what you will and won’t talk about, but don’t feel like you have to actively blank out your real life.
The problem: “I find it really hard to raise problems when I’m working from home”
Set a boundary: Keep everybody in the loop.
If you’re struggling at work, it’s going to be hard to let people know what’s wrong unless you tell them.
While in the office it might be noticeable if someone’s not getting along well, you’ve got to communicate when working from home.
This is another one about actually relaxing some boundaries with work, but it might be a case of setting some at home.
Have a frank conversation with everyone you live with about your preferences around you working from home.
Whether you’re in a house share where everyone works different hours, or juggling work and parenthood, figure out what works best for all of you.
And make sure you stick to the rules you’ve set!
It’s not fair to be inconsistent, and just because people aren’t in front of your face, doesn’t mean your behavior doesn’t affect them.
This is a great boundary to set to make you both a better worker, a better housemate and to be honest a better person.
So there you have it. Ten productivity tips for working from home that hopefully will make it easier to set boundaries and feel more comfortable in work as we move into "the after times".
Seeing as it’s going to be a reality working from home, it’s worth taking the time to implement some of these ideas as working from home ultimately is what you make of it.
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