If you work from home, you know it’s both a blessing and a curse.
On the one hand, you can set your own schedule and do what you want, when you want. No daily commute, no annoying co-workers, and no idiot boss.
On the other hand, it’s difficult to balance your work-at-home and personal life. The lines between the two are blurry and can leave you feeling overwhelmed, unproductive, and burned out.
That’s how I feel most days. Maybe you do too.
Sure, occasionally, I can string a handful of days together where I feel productive. But what follows is usually twice as many days when I’m spinning my wheels, frustrated, and I hesitate to say… depressed.
And having had long conversations about this with many others who work from home, this seems to be par for the course. Most people struggle with it, so you're not alone.
So, in this article, we'll explore some tried-and-true strategies that should help you with the ever-challenging work-at-home/personal life balance and frustration. Grab a coffee (or tea) and dive into the world of boundary-setting, time management, and self-care.
- Designate a dedicated workspace, establish working hours, and communicate your boundaries to family and friends.
- Focus on action goals, use time management techniques and tools, and allocate time for personal and family activities.
- Avoid burnout by taking breaks, starting your day with exercise, and prioritizing physical and mental health.
- Avoid toxic media and distractions like the plague by establishing healthy boundaries with social media, the news, and anywhere else you get your information from.
- Create a family schedule, enlist support from your partner or others, and set expectations for your children.
- Use tools and apps to manage tasks, declutter your workspace, and plan meals in advance.
- Build a support network by connecting with other work-at-home professionals. Participate in online forums, and share experiences with others.
- Foster personal connections through face-to-face conversations. If not in person, through phone calls and video chats with friends and family.
A Dedicated Workspace and Office Hours
First things first, let's talk about your workspace. When I started working from home, I had a small desk in our living room three feet from my recliner.
I also had a horribly uncomfortable chair that I bought from Ikea for maybe 30 or 40 bucks. So you can guess how that played out.
By lunch, I was leaning back in my recliner with my laptop and fighting to keep my eyes open. My afternoons were often wasted, so I’d have to work, in the evenings, with my family at home. In the living room, the TV on, the crunching of snacks…
So, it’s incredibly tempting to work from your couch, bed, recliner, outdoor lounge, Adirondack chair, or anywhere but where you’re most productive.
If you’ve been working from home for a while, you’ll know that having a dedicated workspace is critical for productivity and mental well-being. I’ve had my own workspace, probably since around 2018, and if I didn’t have it, I’d probably be back to working a regular job because not having one is unsustainable, in my opinion.
Here are some other boundaries you should consider…
Establish “Office” Hours
This can go one of two ways.
1. Working from home turns into working all of the time, or…
2. Working from home turns into not working at all.
Neither of these options are sustainable, so to avoid this trap, one solution is to set clear office or “work” hours and stick to them.
For years I took advantage of the freedom working from home provides, but if you give yourself in inch, you just might take a mile.
So now my day is scheduled as if I was working in an office with co-workers and a boss. I have an alarm that goes off at my start time, 8 AM. I must be sitting at my desk by 8 AM.
It’s a little tricky because my kids also leave for school at this time, but not together. So I’m up, down, and outside for a bit, saying goodbye and waving to them as they walk down the street.
But my general work schedule is no different than when I worked a regular job. My alarm goes off for breaks, lunch, and for anything else, I need to schedule into my day.
When balancing your work-at-home and personal life, deciding when your workday starts and ends is very helpful. Set it in stone if you can. And communicate your hours to your clients, colleagues, etc.
Set Boundaries with Family and Friends During Work Hours
One thing you may realize when working at home (if you haven't already) is that if your family and friends know you’re at home, they'll assume you’re free to get together, run errands, keep the house clean, and whatever else they expect of you.
They don't think of it as “real work”.
It’s true, you have more flexibility than most people, but if you don’t communicate strict work hours and stick to them, you’ll play into their assumptions.
Just tell them these are the hours you work, no different than the hours they work. If they can’t come and go from their job whenever they want, they shouldn’t expect you to either.
Everyone’s favorite topic… time management. It’s like a brawl with a beast you can never win. Or at least, that’s how it feels to me.
Maybe you’re more successful with it. But if not, maybe my strategies will help.
Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan
Some people start each day by creating a list of tasks they need to accomplish. If that works for you, it’s probably the right strategy.
It doesn’t work for me.
Instead, I have an alarm that goes off at 7 PM every night after dinner when I’m usually scrolling on my phone. It reminds me to plan for the next day.
So instead of getting lost in the news, social media, an unproductive game, or whatever else I can waste my time on… I open up a daily planner database in Notion and just casually brainstorm all of the things I need to do the next day. Or things I didn’t finish that day.
I’m usually just sitting on my recliner at this time of night anyway, so this is a good time to reflect on where I’m at with work and what I need to get done.
Of course, you don’t need to use Notion. Any note-taking app will work.
After brainstorming, I’ll go through my list and make a plan for the next day.
This is critical. I have a personal rule to never sit down at the computer in the morning without knowing what I will do. It’s not an unbreakable rule, unfortunately, because it happens occasionally. But when it does happen, it’s a reminder of how important it is to have a plan.
Harness the Power of Time Management Techniques and Tools
With so many time management techniques and tools to choose from, how do you find the right one?
There are many strategies to try. For example, you can take the Pomodoro Technique for a test drive or try time-blocking or the Eisenhower Matrix.
There are also apps like Todoist and Trello that can act as digital companions to keep you on track. As mentioned above, my favorite is Notion.
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. Named after the tomato-shaped timer Cirillo used as a student, this technique involves breaking work into short, focused intervals (usually 25 minutes), called “pomodoros,” followed by a brief 5-minute break.
After completing four Pomodoro’s, take a longer 15-30 minute break.
The Pomodoro Technique helps you keep your mind fresh and focused. Or at least that’s the goal.
By concentrating intensely for short periods, followed by restorative breaks, you’re giving your brain a mini-vacation every half hour.
Maybe “vacation” is a little too strong of a word (it makes me want to take a real vacation), but it gets the sentiment right.
The time-blocking strategy is one of my favorites because it’s simple. I’ve tried to break my time management into smaller tasks, but it never works. I overestimate the time it will take for some tasks and underestimate the rest.
And it’s not a 50/50 split. They don’t balance each other out.
I might overestimate the time it takes to complete one or two tasks for every ten I underestimate. Everything just seems to take longer than I think it will.
The end result is that the overall project takes significantly longer than I expect it will.
So time blocking is a good strategy for me because I don’t put pressure on myself to finish something, but rather, just work on it for the allotted time. That allows me to set action-based goals rather than result-based goals.
To be more specific, because I may have gotten ahead of myself, time blocking involves dividing your day into blocks dedicated to specific tasks, activities, or areas of your work.
Instead of creating a to-do list that floats untethered in the abyss of possibility (like mine does), you assign tasks to specific time slots in your calendar.
By allocating a specific window for each task, you can manage your time more effectively and minimize distractions.
The Eisenhower Matrix
This is the Presidential guide to prioritization. Yes, the Eisenhower Matrix comes from President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It’s also known as the Urgent-Important Matrix.
This method involves prioritizing tasks based on urgency and importance. The matrix is divided into four quadrants…
- Urgent and Important – Tasks that require immediate attention and have significant consequences if not addressed. These should be tackled first.
- Important, but not Urgent – Tasks that contribute to your long-term goals but don't require immediate action. Schedule these tasks for completion after dealing with the urgent and important tasks.
- Urgent, but not Important – Tasks that demand your attention but don't contribute to your long-term goals. Delegate these tasks to others or set aside a specific time to tackle them.
- Neither Urgent nor Important – Tasks that don't contribute to your goals and don't require immediate attention. Minimize or eliminate these tasks, as they don't contribute to your overall productivity.
The Eisenhower Matrix will help you can prioritize tasks effectively so that you’re focused on the right things.
Each of these time management techniques and tools offers a different approach to productivity, and the best one for you depends on your work style, preferences, and current habits around time management.
Turn Up the (Instrumental) Tunes for Maximum Focus
You already know that music can make you feel happy, sad, nostalgic, energetic, and even agitated. I agitate my wife with music all the time 😊
So it’s no surprise that music can also help you zero in on what you’re doing and focus.
But not just any music. For most people, instrumental music is the elixir that gets your brain in the zone.
I like hypnotic music. Sometimes it’ll be something a little more relaxing, like lo-fi beats. Other times, like right now, as I write this, I’m listening to brain.fm. Brain.fm provides music with a neural modulation effect for various purposes such as deep study, learning, and creativity.
You can find music to help you focus on YouTube. Here are some examples.
Classical symphonies and ambient soundscapes also have the power to transport you to the planet of productivity, where distractions fade, and concentration thrives.
If you’re not already listening to instrumental music to get work done, I recommend the next time you're trading punches with a beast of a task, put on your headphones and let heavy (or chill) beats or the serenade of Mozart put you in a productivity trance.
And it’s not just a theory. There's a strong body of evidence showing that instrumental music can indeed help improve focus and concentration, at least for some people.
The concept, often referred to as the “Mozart Effect,” gained popularity in the 1990s.
The original Mozart Effect study is somewhat controversial and focused on spatial-temporal reasoning rather than general focus or intelligence. Nevertheless, the idea that music could have cognitive benefits went mainstream.
Since then, researchers have conducted various studies to understand the relationship between music and concentration. One such study found that participants who listened to music with a steady tempo and no lyrics performed better on cognitive tasks than those who listened to music with lyrics or no music at all.
This suggests that the absence of lyrics allows our brains to concentrate better on a task without getting tangled in the web of words.
At the end of the day, each person's brain marches to the beat of its own drum. You may find instrumental music, whether classical, ambient, hard-hitting, or even movie soundtracks, improves your focus and productivity. It doesn’t hurt to try.
Carve Out Time for Personal and Family Fun
Working from home can feel like you're trapped in a never-ending loop of work and chores, with no escape in sight. Ugh…
The key is to intentionally schedule time for personal and family adventures, although I must admit, I find this hard to do. I’ll just keep working if given the chance.
My wife has been amazing at scheduling family outings.
I’m not an advocate of perfect work-life balance, but rather finding the right balance. Depending on the situation, radical imbalance may be required for a certain amount of time.
However, your friends and family might not always understand this, and it’s important to nurture your personal connections so that they are still there when you’re done crushing it at work.
Self-Care and Sustainability
A borderline obsession with your work is not a bad thing. I think it might be my ADHD, but I’m prone to burying my head in what I’m doing and going full throttle. I know it frustrates my family at times.
When I set my sites on something, it does become an obsession. But I have a healthy relationship with obsession. As Robin Sharma says, “Until your mission is an obsession, nothing will change”.
When I do something, I want to really do it, not just dabble.
However, there are limits, which is what this section is about.
Manage Expectations and Avoid Burnout
In the wonderful world of working from home, managing your expectations and avoiding burnout is necessary. Obsessed or not, we are still human.
Set high but realistic expectations for yourself, and know when to say “enough” and walk away from work. Not permanently, but there is a time to step away. It might be for an hour, for the rest of the day, or for a week.
The beast known at burnout is always lurking, salivating to pounce on all who push it too hard. Be a fighter, but know when it’s time to recover.
Take Regular Breaks and Rest
I talked about scheduling breaks earlier. You can do this by scheduling regular work hours and using time management strategies like the Pomodoro Technique.
But we’re talking about self-care and sustainability, and that includes taking breaks.
However you schedule them, you should make time to stretch, grab a snack, or simply step away from the screen. Regular breaks don’t harm productivity. They improve it.
Take Care of Your Health
This is one of my favorite topics. Nothing else matters if you don’t have your health.
And try to be productive when you’re unhealthy.
I’ll be turning 50 in a few days, and a few years ago, I was stuck on the couch for months due to health issues. My productivity dropped to zero, but what’s worse is that I didn’t care.
I didn’t have the energy to care, and there was one quote that stuck in my mind…
A healthy person wants a thousand things, a sick person only wants one. – Confucius
If you’re young, you can get away with neglecting your health for a while, but it will catch up to you. If you’re 40 or older (give or take), you absolutely must look after your health.
This is not an article about the best way to eat and work out. There’s an entire section of the bookstore and the magazine rack for that. And if that’s not enough, you’ll find no shortage of gurus online.
But if I had to suggest anything, it would be to keep it simple. Whether you eat all veggies, all meat (I’ve done both), or something in between matters less than the amount of processed foods you eat.
Just eat real food.
If it has more than 2 or 3 ingredients and comes in a package, it’s probably not good. It might be, I’m just saying, in general, the more whole foods you eat and the fewer processed foods, the better you will feel.
Combine that with a workout 3 or 4 times a week, and everything in your life is likely to get better. You’ll be better prepared to deal with tough situations. You’ll have more energy to focus. You’ll be happier in your skin, and that will radiate out into the world around you.
The other option, to ignore your health, will likely bring health issues (more of them if you already have some), lead to low energy, and poor sleep, and both your work-at-home life and your personal life will suffer.
Again, if you’re young, you might get away with it for a while, but the clock is ticking for all of us.
Your best life can only be lived if you’re healthy enough to live it.
Practice Mindfulness and Stress Management
Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can help you manage stress and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Just take a few minutes each day to center yourself.
It will lead to increased focus, reduced anxiety, and improved overall well-being.
There are numerous apps and resources available to help you develop a mindfulness practice that fits your lifestyle.
I was using Headspace for quite a few months, as well as the Waking Up app. I recommend both.
My practice now is to just take ten or fifteen minutes for breathing exercises, or on days I’m not working (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday), I stretch and do mobility exercises that I can combine with meditation.
Mindfulness is also critical to alleviating stress, and if you’re not familiar with mindfulness, I recommend The Power of Now by Eckart Tolle.
Avoid Toxic Distractions When Working from Home
Another one of my favorite topics. Just as eating junk will kill your body, toxic media, and distractions will kill your mind.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve spent weeks or months in a swamp of toxicity. It may have been politics, conspiracy theories, or some other dystopian portal.
And even though I can see it happening, I still let it suck me in.
It’s been quite some time since I’ve let that happen, and I’m much better at managing it, but I admit it’s an addiction. I something I work on every day, and going by the popularity of toxic distractions, I’m not the only one.
And for those of us who work from home, we are particularly susceptible.
Doom Scrolling and Toxic Media Consumption
Doom scrolling and toxic media consumption are serious distractions that not only annihilate productivity but also destroy your mental health and suck the life out of your relationships.
And I’m not being hyperbolic.
You probably already know this. You may have found yourself a time or two scrolling into the abyss of endless feeds and sensational headlines.
Not to mention the increase in depression and loneliness, two things we who work at home already fight with.
A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that limiting social media usage can significantly reduce feelings of loneliness and depression.
Establish Healthy Boundaries with Social Media, News, and Online Content
Yes, boundaries will be your best friend. When it comes to social media, news and online content, it's all about limits.
Don't let work hours turn into an endless scroll-fest. Be intentional about what you consume, and choose content that aligns with your goals and positive interests.
I used to have a rule for myself, no news until after 5 pm. I needed my fix, but if I could hold off until 5 pm, my day was still productive.
These days, I’ve been pretty turned off by the news anyway, so it doesn’t matter.
But the important thing to know is that you don’t need it, and it doesn’t need you. It’s not helping you reach your goals, and no matter how much you shower in toxic media, there’s probably not much you can do to change what it is that’s consuming you.
And these days, half (or more) of the stuff that literally manufactured to make us enraged and angry is BS. It’s not even real.
Strengthen Your Personal Connections
Before moving on from this topic, let's talk about the power of human connection. Instead of relying on social media for social interaction, try good old-fashioned face-to-face conversations if you can.
If not, at least phone calls and video chats with friends and family are better than doom scrolling.
I mentioned earlier that I’ll be 50 in just a matter of days, so I remember life before smartphones and social media.
Maybe you remember it too, and if so, do you ever find yourself missing that era?
A few years ago, I wrote an article inspired by a thought I had, which was, “When was the last time I was really happy?”
My conclusion then was that I was happiest when my daily interactions were real. In other words, many years ago, before all of this techno stuff.
I’m a little more pragmatic these days. Our tools and technology offer us a lot, including our ability to work from home.
I’ll have to read through that article I wrote again, but it was probably lost on me that the very technology I was lambasting was the same technology that allowed me to write that article and work from home.
Anyway, technology also allows us to connect with others in ways we couldn’t before, so I definitely embrace it now, but as a great man with a spider for a nephew once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Balance Parenting and Work-at-Home Responsibilities
I touched on this topic earlier, but it’s particularly relevant for parents. As a father of two, I can relate to the challenges of having kids and working from home.
However, I’m also lucky because mine are a little older now and do their own thing.
Also, when they were “young-young” and needed hourly (or minute-by-minute) attention, I was still working a regular job. Many of those years, I was out of town for weeks at a time.
But I know many of you who work from home have young children that require you to have eyes in the back of your head.
Enlist Support from Your Partner, Family Members, or Babysitter
It’s okay to ask for help if you have help. I know that’s not always an option.
If you can though, when the balancing act gets wobbly, reach out to your partner, family members, or even a babysitter for support. Sharing responsibilities and delegating tasks can take some of the pressure off and give you the focus you need to crush it at work.
Create a Family Schedule and Routine
It’s much easier said than done, and it feels a little foolish even to say it when it comes to young ones, but routine can bring some order to the chaos.
I know, and I get it. It’s not like you haven’t tried that… probably a million times.
There’s no question my wife and I were lucky. Our daughters, for the most part, were very good. I won’t go as far as to say, angels, although at times they certainly were… but they were very good at keeping themselves entertained, and they were a joy to be with.
Most of the time 😀
Perhaps not in all cases, but a family schedule and routine can be a game-changer when it comes to balancing parenting and work-at-home duties. Get the whole crew involved in planning out your work hours, family time, and personal time.
With a solid routine in place, (just maybe) everyone will know what to expect, and your days will be more productive and less frustrating.
Foster Independence in Children and Set Expectations
Children are definitely the most challenging topic to discuss when it comes to balancing your work-at-home and personal life.
It’s one thing to keep yourself on track and build better habits, but we’re adding an untamed monster to the mix. Sorry, I meant to say a beautiful angel.
Of course, they can be both.
Again, every child is different, but if possible, fostering independence will not only boosts their development but also give you some breathing room.
Let them take on age-appropriate tasks if they haven’t already, like getting dressed, whipping up a simple snack, or tackling homework independently.
And don't forget to set expectations for behavior during work hours (what am I saying, as if you haven’t already done that).
Another one of my biggest challenges is organization. Maybe you can relate. And despite the plethora of tools and apps we have to help, it can still be challenging.
Use Tools and Apps to Manage Tasks and Projects
You already know that Notion is what I use to keep (aka attempt to keep) my digital life organized. But I also use tools like sticky notes that sync with Office 365.
Other tools that you might find helpful are Trello and Todoist (as mentioned earlier), as well as Asana and Google Keep, to help you manage tasks, projects, and deadlines.
If you’ve been working at home for a while now, though, I suspect you already have an effective tech stack. If not, the above tools may be helpful.
Declutter And Maintain a Clean Workspace
Is your desk a disaster zone? Mine is. Or at least, it often is.
I had some time last week to tidy up, but no matter how often I declutter, it just comes back. I can’t be the only one, so if you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments below.
But it’s well known that a messy workspace can zap your productivity and stress you out.
Put some time aside (like you have extra time…) to organize your home office and create a clean, focused environment. A tidy workspace equals a tidy mind.
Or maybe just a tidier mind.
Plan and Prepare Meals in Advance
Don't let mealtime chaos eat into your work or personal time. Get ahead of the game by planning and prepping meals on weekends.
This is one I’m still working on, but when I get it right, the benefits are obvious. It also makes eating healthy much easier.
A little time spent planning, grocery shopping, and prepping will set you up for a week of quick, healthy meals that won't derail your work-life balance.
Build a Support Network
A tribe of work-at-home allies or side hustle friends can make a big difference. Bonding with people who “get it” gives you a sense of camaraderie, a place to share advice, and helps to combat the isolation.
Look for online groups, virtual meetups, or local networking events to find your work-at-home soulmates.
You can also reach out to others in a similar industry for collaborations. Look for ways to partner that are mutually beneficial.
Participate In Online Forums And Communities
The internet is bursting with forums and communities filled with people working from home and pursuing side hustles. And they are in the same situation as you and probably struggling with the same challenges.
Check out platforms like Reddit, LinkedIn, or Facebook for groups dedicated to your industry, side hustle, or work-at-home gig. These forums are perfect for asking questions, swapping stories, and learning from others who have walked in your shoes.
Seek Advice and Share Experiences With Others
Don't shy away from asking for advice from those who've mastered the work-at-home magic act. Or should I call it the circus act?
It certainly feels like that sometimes. Most of the time, maybe.
You can learn so much from other people's experiences. Their wisdom can help you fine-tune your situation. And sharing your own tips and stories can help others with similar challenges.
By building a support network, you create a valuable resource for yourself and others in your community.
At the end of the day, this is an ongoing process that requires regular maintenance and reassessment. And its also a personal journey that requires us to get better at being ourselves.
It’s not perfect, nor will it ever be. And life is constantly changing. It deals us new challenges every day our work-at-home lives go through seasons.
There are times when it’s fulfilling and times when it’s frustrating. Times when the money is good and times when it’s not so good.
By being adaptable and doing your best to draw a line between your work-at-home life and your personal life, you’ll be better equipped to maintain a healthy balance (which at times is unbalanced, and that’s good too).