Working from home sounds ideal when you’re a parent, but the lines between work and home can quickly become blurred as multiple schedules and family demands encroach on your business obligations. To keep your work life separate from your personal life, set some boundaries and stick to them.
1) Set aside an area in your home just for work. Keep potential distractions, like a TV, out of this space. Try to make this space in an area with a door or at least keep it as far as possible from everyday living space. Put some type of friendly “do not disturb” sign on the door to discourage family members from interrupting you.
If you’re a parent, explain to your children that you need private time and consider having an “open-door” time when they can come in and ask you questions. With a designated work space, you’ll not only maintain boundaries but also enjoy the rest of your home more, since you’ll avoid seeing your computer and other constant reminders of work you need to do.
2) Keep a schedule. Establish a specific period of time each day that will be solely dedicated to work. The schedule may change each week, but stick to it. Set it at the beginning of the week and post it on your office door. Highlight the “open” times when you will be available for your family. You’ll avoid overworking and “under-working” this way, and you can provide your clients with specific times when they can contact or work with you.
3) Separate home and business communications. Keep a separate phone line – complete with voice mail – for your business. Don’t answer it after hours. Set up a post office box for business-related mail. This way, you can avoid giving out your home address to strangers, and important mail is less likely to disappear amid the junk. Use email and IM whenever you can, establishing separate accounts for those as well.
4) Do not mix personal activities with business ones. During your scheduled working hours, WORK. At the end of the day, plan the next day, including both work and personal time. Try to keep all work-related activities together so that you can maintain a working mindset during that time. You’ll then feel more productive and less overwhelmed by personal obligations.
5) Know your limits, and do not overload yourself. Communicate with your family about upcoming time requirements. During crunch periods, create a temporary schedule in which everyone pitches in to do housework, run errands, and take care of other family commitments. Make a list of chores and tasks and assign those to family members together. When you have to say no to something your family asks of you, try making the closed door, posted schedule, or job roster the bad guy instead of yourself.
6) Make time for yourself. Get out of the house, exercise, do something fun. Reward yourself for your hard work and don’t lose yourself in work. You are a valuable asset to your clients, so take care of yourself. And no matter how tempted you are to burn the midnight oil, stop when you say you will. Not getting enough rest will increase stress and hinder efficiency.
Most important, do not compromise on these boundaries. When you give an inch from your work life, your personal life will take a mile. Stick to your guns – kindly and lovingly, but firmly. You’ll be a better parent and spouse for it.