Work-life balance has never been easy. Work-life balance during a pandemic is challenging us even more. When your home is your office, and perhaps also your children’s classroom, how do you balance it all? In early 2020 three-point, six percent of the labor force worked from home for half their time or more, an increase of one hundred and seventy-three percent since 2005. By June of this year, that number had reached forty-two percent working at home full time and exceeded the number not working or still working at a traditional workplace. It is still an open question of how many of us will return to traditional workspaces as employers and employees find that productivity has not suffered, and that technology makes virtual cooperative work possible.
While challenging, many have found that working from home leads to greater productivity and job satisfaction. Many would prefer to keep working from home. The challenges are real, but the reward can be great, especially if certain steps are taken to balance work and life within the home environment. When done intentionally, with planning, organization, and a sense of humor, the new reality which Covid-19 has brought to our lives can be a positive experience now and into the future. After all, just a few generations ago many farmers, shopkeepers, doctors, dentists, and other professionals were set up to work from home. This may be the best time for us to find our way back to balance in our lives – in work, friendships, family, healthy habits of eating and exercise, and deeply held spiritual values. Even trying to type with a purring cat in your lap can be a learning experience! Let’s look at some of the steps we can take to succeed and wear many hats – at least one at a time.
Work and school are clearly priorities. The work has to be done. Begin each day by planning what it is that must be done today. Teach children, at levels suitable for their ages, how to make the same plan and include the children’s priorities in your own plan. Then it will be easier to resist the laundry waiting to be done or that blemish on the wall that you’ve been meaning to take care of for some time. Lay out your plan for the next week and the next month. Now it is clear what is most important.
Your management skills come to bear on your entire household and not just on your job. There is no need for you to do everything yourself. Children, a spouse, or any other member of your household are part of the team, and just like the work team more will be accomplished with less stress when everyone participates. Children can be paid for doing extra chores, or rewarded with special treats that they enjoy.
Delegation can go beyond just those that live in your home. Find help outside the home too so that you can focus on your priorities. If you can afford it, hire someone for specific tasks at home. Many restaurant workers are out of work. Consider hiring someone to plan or prepare meals. Use grocery delivery services and other online stores to save time and trips to the store. Consider hiring or bartering with neighbors and friends for housekeeping and gardening chores to keep your environment organized and attractive.
Simplify Wherever Possible
There are some things you can just let go of. They don’t matter in the greater scheme of things. And simplify your environment. Clutter distracts and makes it difficult to focus on priorities. A cluttered space leads to a cluttered mind and a feeling of guilt and loss of control. So clear the area you work in. Deal with cluttered spaces and clear them away. If you don’t have time to take care of all the clutter right away, put it all in boxes and store it in a remote area where it can be dealt with a little at a time. You don’t want to see something you need to do every time you raise your eyes from your screen! Keep your email and texts cleared and organized. Save the stress of having to scan dozens of messages to make sure you haven’t missed something.
Boundaries are essential to getting anything done. If you have a designated office area that is clearly ideal. Many working from home for the first time don’t have a particular space set aside for work. The nation is hunched over dining room tables, card tables, and sitting cross-legged on its bed with a computer in its lap. But even without a home office, it is essential, and possible, to create boundaries. A dining room can become an office from eight to five and continue its actual function the rest of the time by doing a little intentional boundary work. Create a portable office by packing up your office equipment and all your papers at the end of the day into baskets, totes, or containers and restore the room to its original function. Then you aren’t tempted to break yet another boundary – when to quit work for the day. Both place and time are important in our boundary setting. If you have children doing school work for the day have them pack up everything related to school at the end of the school day and return their room, or the kitchen table, or living room floor to its original function. And take weekends, and vacation time and the occasional day off – just as you would have at the office.
Creating priorities, determining boundaries, setting schedules, delegating tasks and ridding your home of clutter may all sound onerous at first. Remember that the workplace and school provide you with a structure. Now we have to create our own. Once you have taken these steps you can relax into them and reevaluate them according to your circumstances. Flexibility is the next key ingredient because life happens no matter where you are. Creating the structure is not a one time action. You might find that you need to experiment with some different places to work in your home, and vary times of the day for starting and ending, until you find your niche.
The needs of those who are with you, and those you work with virtually, all need to be taken into account. Change will happen, but your overall planned structure will make it easier to handle. We may think of work at the office as being settled and less changeable than working from home but we tend to forget the interruptions by colleagues and the need to take time to run errands for ourselves and our families or friends. When we did this from the office we considered it part of life, and expected that our employer would be understanding if we needed to take care of something. It’s easy to think we are just not being responsible and can feel guilty when we take time to deal with these same issues when we are working from home.
Whether you are working from home on your own, with another adult, or with children it’s important to make time for fun, socializing, and relaxation. Replicate the chat at the coffee pot, or the informal conversation before the meeting begins or greeting someone in the hall by having some time for fun at home. Children and adults can take a five-minute motion break every hour. Walk or play, throw a ball for your dog. Sing along with a song your children love!
While we can benefit from being together more, sometimes we need spaces in our togetherness. We are not used to being together twenty-four hours a day. Take a drive to a park and let the children play or take a solitary walk. You can also arrange socially distanced meetings outdoors with your neighbors in the early evening. If, on the other hand, you don’t have interactions with others during the day, stay in contact with those you are close to on the phone or by social media. Take time for meditation and relaxation — and don’t overload on bad news.
While it is clear that we need physical structure and planning, that we need to simplify and declutter our lives, and while we need boundaries to make working at home possible, it is important not to make work and home conflicting realities. It is stressful to live with mental dissonance. Rather see it as one reality with many facets that you are managing competently because of your good planning. Change your hats often and be kind to yourself. It’s always good to remember that you do not have to be perfect.