8 strategies for keeping work and personal time separate

Written on 
June 9, 2020

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In our “always on” era, we often find ourselves replying to emails when we should be relaxing, or feeling expected to reply to a 10pm Slack message. For remote workers, switching off can be even trickier: with no physical boundaries separating work and home, working late can soon become the norm, leading to higher rates of stress and burnout than their in-office counterparts.

But with a little structure, discipline and boundaries – not to mention universal company policies – we can avoid this. Here are just eight strategies used by the remote workers here at Memory to keep work and personal time separate.

1. Have a mock commute

Commutes acts as natural bookends to the start and end of the working day. If you work from home, consider creating your own mock commute. Instead of a 20-minute bus ride, you could spend 20 minutes in the morning enjoying a coffee while reading the news, or taking a short walk. Whatever works best to gently ease yourself into gear for a day of work.

2. Create a designated workspace

After you’ve “commuted”, the best way to psychologically access work mode is to have a physically gated workspace to step into. Ideally, this will be a separate room you use just for work, where you can shut the door on the rest of your home and create a productive work environment away from the kitchen, TV, and any other people. If you don’t have a spare room, create a space in a corner of your living room or kitchen, and treat it like an office. Make sure it’s not somewhere you relax, like the sofa, and that you step away from it once you’re done for the day.

3. Schedule activities directly after work

This one removes all room for negotiation – if you have a class, exercise session or meet-up to get to, you have to step away and disengage from your work. While you probably won’t have something planned for every day (this could itself quickly get exhausting!), commit to a regular calendar of events for personal investment outside of work. Aside from helping you become more intentional with your downtime, it brings important structure to your week too.

4. Set boundaries around communication

It's natural to have some overlap with your personal and professional lives – you might need to take an important personal call at work, or respond to an urgent work email at home. But you should still try to keep the two as separate as possible. When you’re working, limit personal communication by muting WhatsApp and social media, or just leaving your phone in another room. Similarly, protect your personal time by turning off alerts for work apps and email once you finish. Healthy work cultures don’t expect you to be constantly available, especially in your own time; whenever people disregard this policy, raise it with your manager – don't just accept it.


5. Schedule proper “deep breaks”

When you work from home, it’s easy to feel trapped in your own house, staying at home for days on end. Because you don’t have the normal distractions of office work – lunches, colleague chats, meetings that force you away from your desk – you need to create your own so you don’t find yourself working continuously for an unhealthy period of time. If you struggle with this, set an alarm to remind you to take a proper lunch, or to get up every hour and stretch. Then actually take a deep break – stepping away from your desk and doing something completely unrelated to your work.

6. End your day with a to-do list

Reserve about 15 minutes at the end of each work day to make a to-do list for the following. This helps you draw a line under your tasks – even those you haven’t yet finished – and quickly pick up where you left off the next day. This small exercise is also great for managing your own expectations, so you don’t push yourself too hard; knowing exactly what you’re doing in the makes it easier to switch off from work, instead of incubating on a load of incomplete tasks.

7. Have a shutdown ritual

After you’ve written your to-do list, bookend each working day with a shutdown ritual that helps your brain accept that work is over. Writing a to-do list can be a step towards it, but something like going for a walk, doing a yoga or meditation session, popping to the shops, or doing a quick workout can help shake off the last dregs of work mode and allow you to relax and look forward to the evening ahead.


8. Minimize your screen time

Most of us spend the majority of our working day sitting in front of a screen – so it’s good to try and cut down on this as much as possible in our personal time. Being “on” all the time can make it hard to get into rest mode, and too many of us reach to check our phones every few minutes while we’re watching a film or eating dinner. Try leaving your phone in another room so you’re not drawn into passive scrolling when you’re relaxing, and stay conscious of how much time you’re spending on your devices. To be intentional with your downtime and protect your personal space, you cut back on all the time confetti these devices can create.

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