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25 Expert Tips for a Healthy Work-Life Balance While Working from Home

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Work Shifts

In the past few weeks, the work lives of millions of employees have been abruptly upended, leaving many stressed and exhausted. Their days are a blur of responding to work emails, calls and video conferences, tracking down groceries, preparing meals, wrangling children (and sometimes functioning as teacher and referee), negotiating work time and household tasks with partners and family members, staying informed about current recommendations, and trying to find time for exercise and personal interests. Even workers who were previously telecommuting may be disrupted as they now have to negotiate for work time and access to computers with household members who are suddenly home all day.

Adjusting to this new work-life equation requires being creative and resourceful. If your office is now in your living space, you need a survival guide to protecting both your professional and personal life. Here are some recommendations for staying productive while maintaining your physical health, interpersonal relationships and sanity.

Related: 15 Ways the Coronavirus Has Changed Americans' Daily Lives

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Get Ready for Ongoing Change

Even as experts are now considering how to balance public health with a resumption of economic activity, your work life could be permanently changed. Additional local and national work-from-home measures may occur with recurrent appearances of COVID-19. Prior to the global pandemic, work-from-home policies in the U.S. had already increased 159% from 2005 to 2017, and it is likely that recent events are only going to accelerate that trend.

Corporations, bosses, and employees are learning a lot from their current experiences with a remote workforce. If you are a business owner, you may decide to adopt indefinite work-from-home policies to avoid high office rent expenses and health risks associated with a shared workspace. As an employee, perhaps you don't miss that commute and enjoy the freedom to work on your own schedule.

Related: Working From Home: 25 Things You Don't Miss About Going to the Office

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Set Yourself up for Success

Veterans of remote working offer a number of important recommendations when it comes to creating a successful workspace in your home. These include creating an optimal work environment, establishing schedules and routines that promote productivity, defining boundaries to protect personal time and privacy, communicating effectively with others, and practicing self-care.

Related: Our Team Has Worked From Home for Years: Here's How We Do It

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Creating the Work Zone

Experts recommend creating a consistent single place to perform work-related tasks in order to strengthen the psychological connection between productivity and spending that time in that space. If you have an actual home office that you can designate as your new work zone, you have the most optimal situation. If not, you might consider working out of a spare bedroom or a den.

If none of these options exist, is there a place that you have used for activities such as managing bills or spending time on the computer? This might be the dining table or a counter in the kitchen. Choose the place where you are least likely to be interrupted by distractions and other household members.

Related: How to Create a Home Office From Ikea Under $200

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Minimize Temptations

Since the idea is to build the association between working and a physical space, definitely avoid working from your bed as this might encourage daytime napping. Working from your bed can also interfere with your sleep experience by reducing the psychological association between bed and rest. Likewise, try to station yourself away from the kitchen if you find yourself grazing out of the fridge too often.

If you have a studio apartment, if your desk is the kitchen counter or if your only option for privacy is your bedroom, this calls for some ingenuity. You might try positioning yourself to look away from the kitchen, or you could create a visual partition by using a curtain, bookcase or movable screen to separate the bed from your work area.

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Find the Right Fit

Now that you have located an actual room or a corner of a room, consider the seating arrangement. If you already have a desk and comfortable chair, you have a good start. If not, you will need a clean surface at the appropriate height for your body. You'll also need a chair that supports your back and enables you to have both feet on the floor. Your ability to focus is better when you choose furniture that makes you sit upright rather than slouching on the couch.

Related: 41 Things to Do to Before Lockdown Ends

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Get Technical

If you use a computer for work, make sure that the screen is at the right elevation for your neck and that the height of typing or writing surface is comfortable for your back and shoulders. Similarly, ensure that lighting is adequate and appropriate for your tasks. You might have to invest in new office furniture or technical gear like external keyboards or monitors to arrive at a comfortable workstation, but it's worth the time and the money to purchase the right work tools to ensure you can perform your job. Otherwise, you are risking both your productivity at work and your physical health due to injuries to your neck, back, shoulders, wrists and eyes.

Related: 22 Essential Remote-Work Tools for Your Business

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Establish a Work Pattern

Setting up the right physical environment for work facilitates productivity and the process of setting up clear time boundaries further reinforces this connection. Experts recommend defining clear start and end times for your workday, with rituals that help you transition into and out of the zone.

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Get Going

The rituals that can signal the start of your workday may include:

-A morning routine that begins with a set time for waking, breakfasting and exercise
-Changing from loungewear into business casual attire
-Simulating a commute by taking a walk around the block
-Scheduling a check-in meeting with co-workers and colleagues to set work objectives for the day

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Find a Stopping Point

End of the workday rituals help you detach psychologically from work. These may include:

- Setting an alarm, a half-hour before stopping your day
- Making a list of goals accomplished that day and upcoming goals for the following day
- Adjusting settings on communication devices, such as your phone and computer, to signal that you are out of the office
- Walking around the block to simulate the commute home
- Listening to music, meditating or reading non-work-related materials
- Changing into comfortable clothing to signal you are transitioning to personal time
- Spending time with family, friends or pets

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Protect Time for Work

When your priority is productivity, these are some strategies to minimize distraction and increase your attention to work:

- Use earbuds or noise-canceling headphones to reduce auditory distractions from co-workers, family, children or pet
- Download apps, that block or limit access to social media and other distractions, such as Freedom, LeechBlock or MindfulBrowsing
- Post your work schedule and list of goals in clear view so that you stay on track
- Consider techniques like the Pomodoro method, which recommends alternating time intervals for focused work with short breaks

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Preserve Personal and Recreational Time

One of the hazards of working from home is the potential to feel that you are never off the clock and never entirely free to relax. The rituals that punctuate the start and end of your workday help differentiate the boundaries between your personal and professional life. Here are some additional ways to protect your personal life from work:

- Take time for an actual break during the workday by doing some stretches or leaving the house for a quick walk
- Step into another room in order to eat lunch rather than eating at your desk
- Use a different chair at the table when you eat a meal if you work at your dining table
- Shut down your work computer at the end of the workday to reduce the impulse to continue working

Related: 41 Things to Do to Before Lockdown Ends

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Parental Multi-Tasking

Unfortunately, employees who juggle work and family responsibilities may not have the sustained focus or long stretches of productive time to get their work done. Working parents often find that they have to make the most of small blocks of time to focus on tasks. In these situations, defining goals for the day in advance directs their attention and energies when a small allotment of that precious time does occur during toddler naps, school lessons or screen time. Working parents can also negotiate a "tag-team schedule" that defines which parent is "on duty" for various blocks of time. Their schedules may also have to include designated work time before the kids are awake or after they go to bed to manage their job assignments.

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Communicate Effectively at Work and at Home

Having a clearly identified workspace, establishing a defined schedule for your workday, and creating a set of activities and routines that differentiate work and personal time, provides you with consistent feedback about your priorities from moment to moment. However, it is not enough for you to know about these boundaries. It is equally essential for you to provide information about these boundaries to supervisors, co-workers, clients, spouses, family and household members.

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Define Time Boundaries at Work

Some experts note that as much as two to three hours of the typical workday are unproductive hours due to meetings and other distractions, and they suggest that many telecommuters are actually working longer days when they work from home. If this is your experience, identify your own expectations of your workday now. Discuss your productivity goals with your supervisor and define expectations around your availability during non-work hours.

Maintain clear and consistent boundaries with co-workers and clients. This includes explicit information about when and how you can be reached by phone, email and text, as well as the limits of your availability. Sign off all work-related apps to signal to them that you are shutting down your workday.

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Protect Emotional Boundaries at Work

Working from home often means that your personal life is much more visible to bosses, clients and colleagues. Your homelife can feel on display as co-workers can now see your messy kitchen, pets or children in the background. If you have been missing the sense of cohesion and comradery that came from in-person work settings, this new intimacy may be welcome, but if you value your personal privacy, this level of transparency can feel invasive. Place your computer's camera so that you have a wall behind you or use the settings provided by platforms such as Zoom to create an interesting background screen that blocks others' view of your home.

In a similar vein, some companies have also been encouraging online coffee breaks and lunches, game nights and even happy hours as a way to maintain team spirit. If you tend to be introverted, it may be hard to speak up during online work and team-building meetings. If social attention is unwanted, identify a couple of interests or activities that you can comfortably discuss with others, and take opportunities to recognize others for their contributions.

Related:  20 Hacks and Tips for Video Chatting on Zoom, Hangouts, and More

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Be a Clear Messenger at Home

Minimize interruptions and distractions at home by posting your schedule in a place that is easily visible for household members. You can also add stickers or use color-coding to the schedule to indicate times when you need silence for an important call or when you are free for contact. A closed door or headphones can also signal that you are working and should not be interrupted. Being consistent about protecting your schedule will help others to respect it.

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Self-Care Strategies for Uncertain Times

The experiences of the past few weeks have brought massive change and it is natural to have feelings that swing from fear, confusion, anger, disbelief and helplessness. Both the speed at which life changed and the extent of the change to daily routines are unprecedented.

Related: How to Practice Self-Care While Stuck at Home

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Validate Yourself and Others

The first intervention in psychological first aid is compassion. If you are feeling that somehow you should be better at managing these head-spinning changes, remember that there's no reason why you should be good at something that you have never done before. Be kind to yourself in your internal dialogues and make sure to notice your "wins," the moments when you were able to demonstrate your competence, resilience and positive attitude. In your conversations with others, recognize that they are also reeling internally and need comfort and affirmation.

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Draw on Past Experience

Even though you have never encountered this exact situation, you have a vast bank of life experiences to draw on in helping you navigate the present. Think about other moments that challenged you, and remember that you have successfully faced hardships, setbacks and disappointments before. It's also important to notice that periods of pain and turmoil did resolve with time. They were not permanent, and this crisis is not either. Think about what helped you to manage other times of crisis and transition. This might include a relationship with a friend or loved one, a favorite activity, a sense of humor, spirituality, or even a stubborn refusal to give up. The resources, activities and attitudes that helped you in your past (or some new version of them) may now be invaluable.

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Get Grounded

Many people are now experiencing heightened levels of anxiety. Common symptoms of anxiety include feelings of helplessness and lack of control, and physical sensations such as spinning in space or becoming dizzy. An antidote to these experiences is to sit in a chair and plant your feet on the ground. Push down with your feet and sit heavy in the chair. Notice how the floor under your feet is solid and the chair holds your body firmly in place.

Now inhale slowly and deeply so that you fill your lungs from the bottom to the top, feeling your belly slowly expand as you press your diaphragm down. Exhale slowly and empty your lungs completely. Continue breathing in this way while you imagine drawing the strength and solidity from the ground up to the top of your head. This exercise will help you to maintain your emotional grounding when you are anxious or notice "floating" sensations.

Other forms of relaxation, such as meditation, mindfulness, tai chi and some forms of yoga, also help to reduce anxiety by producing a state of calmness and focus. These activities lower heart rate and blood pressure, and also help you reconnect with your body.

Related: I Started Meditating, and This Is What Happened

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Keep Your Cool

Another common symptom of anxiety or stress is increased irritability. You might be less patient, it may be harder to tolerate distractions, and you may become more reactive than usual in conflict situations. Try to slow down your response time to situations. Remember that everyone is struggling to cope, and so try to extend an extra measure of goodwill where you can.

With your spouse or partner, make a point of checking in daily to talk about getting through the day in a mutually supportive way. As a parent, recognize that children who appear defiant may simply be trying to have some sense of control over what is happening in their lives. They are also understandably protesting the loss of friends, activities and schools. Acknowledge that this is hard for them, while also telling them that they have an important role to play in helping the entire family cope with the situation.

Both as a parent or partner, be verbally appreciative of others' positive attitudes and behaviors rather than focusing on their problematic moments. Recent news reports suggest the risks of domestic violence and child abuse are rising, highlighting the need to keep your cool in difficult times.

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Stay in a Groove

When daily routines are disrupted, normal sleep and meal patterns can become irregular. Your capacity to manage stress in the daytime is strongly determined by the restfulness of your sleep. Preserve your sleep pattern by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, resisting the temptation to binge-watch TV into the early morning hours, and minimizing your alcohol intake. Preparing and eating regular meals will also keep you from snacking through the day since that kind of grazing can often lead to poor eating choices and weight gain.

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Be Thoughtful About Alcohol Use

Alcohol use and anxiety often have an amplifying effect on each other. For example, you might have a drink because you are anxious to take "the edge off," but then your anxiety increases as the sedating effect of the alcohol recedes, so you reach for more alcohol and so on. If you are isolated and lonely, alcohol may seem like it soothes the pain, but it may also deepen your potential to become depressed. Pay attention to your relationship with alcohol and notice when you tend to reach for a drink and if your consumption seems to be rapidly increasing. If you have concerns about your use, reach out to a friend for support, talk with your physician, contact a psychotherapist or attend an online or in person meeting such as Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, or She Recovers.

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Keep Moving

Exercise is an effective antidote to feelings of helplessness and paralysis. Running, speed walking, swimming, jumping rope, and dancing are all methods to reduce powerful emotions and pent up energy through motion. Moderate exercise raises your heart rate and reduces cortisol levels, and vigorous exercise has the additional benefit of increasing your supply of endorphins, your natural soothing and pain killing hormone. Exercise also reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression.

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Anticipate More Change

For millions of people, this was a sudden transition to working from home. It has challenged everyone. Without much preparation or planning, employers and supervisors have scrambled to provide staff with information about managing tasks remotely. Meanwhile, employees had to become familiar with new communication platforms, such as Zoom, and learn how to avoid etiquette pitfalls, like having loud side conversations or forgetting to wear pants. It's been messy at times, but it is also an indicator of increasing change in our relationship with work and life.