3 ways to set boundaries and be more productive when working from home

  • If you’re struggling to stay productive and avoid burnout while working remotely, consider setting firmer boundaries between your work and non-work hours.
  • The smallest adjustments, like shutting your door and turning off virtual distractions, can help you continuously work without interruptions. 
  • Create time blocks throughout the day to accomplish your work tasks, and set a specific time when you plan to quit working.
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No matter what happens with the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is clear: Working from home is going to be with us for a while. In some cases, companies have decided their employees can work from home forever. Others have given their employees the flexibility to work home for the next year, or more. If you love the flexibility of working remotely, that’s great news.

For a lot of people, however, working from home has been a challenge. I understand. I’ve been working remotely for years, and it definitely requires a high level of planning and organization in order to be productive. 

Part of that means setting boundaries between work and everything else that happens at home. If you won’t do that, no one else will. If you don’t create boundaries and systems that help you stay focused on what matters most, you not only won’t be productive, you’ll end up burned out — not just in your work, but in your life.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to create boundaries that will help you be productive, and help you thrive during this challenging time.

1. Shut the door

Easily the most difficult thing about working from home is that you don’t have the same physical separation between life and work. When you go to an office, you know you’re there to work. When you work from home, it all runs together, unless you create a dedicated space to work and go there when it’s time to get things done. 

I happen to think that a space with a door you can close is best. Why? Because you can close the door, and you should. Not because you don’t love the people you live with, but because if they can walk in and talk to you, or give you a hug, or ask you to come and play, they will. On the other hand, when they see that the door is closed, that’s a cue that you’re working and need some distraction-free time. 

By the way, shutting out distractions also applies to the virtual world as well. It’s OK to turn off notifications for Slack, Twitter, and Messages. 

2. Chunk your time

I know it sounds strange, but this is so important, and it’s helped me be far more productive than I would be otherwise. The reality is that when you work from home, it can be hard to keep a regular 9-to-5 schedule, especially with homeschooling and other challenges. That’s OK — the more important thing is to have a plan for how you’ll accomplish your task list.

I block my time into chunks throughout the day. I have a morning chunk for writing before anyone gets up. Then, I respond to emails and messages. In the afternoon, I might be doing research or have a block of time for meetings, each scheduled together so they don’t interrupt other things.

This also makes it easy to prioritize. If someone wants to have a meeting, you simply offer them a time during your next “chunk.” If a task comes up, it either needs to fit into the appropriate block of time or it will have to wait.

3. Plan when to quit

Just as important as being intentional about how you use your time is to be intentional about when to quit. And when I say quit, I mean stop working. All of it. No more emails or Slack messages or “I just need to send this one thing.” Just stop. 

There will always be plenty of work to do, but if you don’t decide when to stop, you never will. You’ll keep working, and to be honest, even if you love what you do (like I do) that’s not a good thing. You need balance in your life with time to do other things. That starts with deciding to quit.

Let’s face it, quitting doesn’t just happen. And if you wait until you’re in the middle of a big project to try and figure out where to stop, that’s not a plan. And, most of the time, you won’t. You’ll find a reason to just keep working.

Instead, when you plan out your day, decide when you’ll quit. When you get to that point, stop, even if you have more to do than when you started. Quit, and don’t think about any of it. It’ll all be there in the morning when you can make a new plan to get it all done. Just make sure that one also includes a plan to quit. 

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