With the sudden shift to working from home caused by COVID-19, work-life balance has become even more important, yet elusive. Your firm’s employees are likely finding themselves working longer hours and faced with unprecedented stress. There is added pressure to respond faster because constant digital connectivity makes it more difficult to disconnect.
While the natural division between work and home has become blurred, all hope to change the situation is not lost. Here are some simple tips we use at Horsford Accounting & Advisory to manage our work-life balance.
Schedule, schedule, schedule
The most important way to balance your work and life is to set a schedule that works for you. Your schedule should be broken down into blocks of time you designate for different tasks: responding to emails, taking phone calls, joining meetings, doing your actual work, eating, family time, and just about anything else.
Examine your work habits and determine when you work best. Are you a morning person or night owl? For example, if you are the most focused in the morning, consider blocking off a few hours early in your day to get ahead of the curve. This may require waking up a little earlier, but it could set the tone for the rest of your day. Really, this is nothing different than going into the office a couple of hours earlier. There will be fewer interruptions and more time to yourself, and you may not have to wake up any earlier than you used to since you no longer have to get dressed or commute. Bottom line: Use the extra time to your advantage.
Productivity tip: When you start earlier, you’ll be at peak energy levels with the least amount of distraction. Use that time to knock out the most important or time-consuming tasks.
Conversely, if you are a night owl and like working late, you can handle your calls and meetings during the day and save the brunt of the heavy lifting for later in the day. Some employees, for example, wait until the evening to respond to lesser important emails and tasks.
However you determine your schedule, make sure it is flexible yet consistent. Consistency allows others to know when you are available – which brings me to the next tip.
Set clear boundaries
Having clear boundaries between work and life is essential for maintaining balance. A clear boundary is a block of time with a soft start/stop time that lets others know when you are available. For example, you can be available 8:30 a.m. until noon, break for lunch, and then again from 1 p.m. to 5 or 5:30 p.m. Or, it could be all pencils down by dinner time, whenever that is that night.
I say soft start/stop as a nod to flexibility. It’s often better to work until you reach a suitable stopping point as opposed to abruptly stopping and breaking your cycle of productivity. Hard stops also don’t leave room for overages. We’ve all been on that call that goes beyond the hour, setting us back for the rest of the day. By having a soft stop with say, an hour buffer, others will have an idea of when you’re logging off for the day, but you will still demonstrate flexibility when needed. Once others are aware of your schedule, they generally make an effort to fit all requests within that time.
Dedicate some time for yourself or family activities where you are completely disconnected from work. Depending on your work situation, you may not be able to completely unplug, but make an effort to put the work phone away and shut down your computer. Some of our employees shut off their work phones and computers, and leave an out-of-office message with their cell phone number in case of emergencies. This again demonstrates flexibility. You are making it clear that you are not actively checking your work email, but you are still reachable if something blows up. I’ve had to contact someone in a similar situation and definitely thought twice about the urgency of the request before contacting them.
Going further, you can also help others manage their work-life balance by thinking twice about when you send emails. Considering people’s urgency to reply, try to avoid sending non-essential emails outside of work hours if possible. What if you were the recipient? You would probably think about the matter all night or until you get it done. If it’s not urgent, save it for tomorrow.
Create a designated workspace
In the past, you would normally have a designated workspace in the office, but working from home has changed that. Try to have a physical separation between your workspace and your living area, if space allows. A home office allows you to enter an area that is solely for work. Of course, not everyone has a home office, but there are good alternatives.
If you live in an apartment, you can transform an area, perhaps the couch, into your workspace. Once work is over for the day, pack up all work-related items and remove them completely from the area. Out of sight, out of mind. If you live with a significant other, try working in separate areas to minimize distractions during work hours. Only enter their workspace when absolutely necessary – not unlike you showing up to their real office when you’re not working from home.
Here are a few more simple tips to maintain your work-life balance:
- Take mental breaks.
- Meal prep so that you can maximize your work time during the day.
- Avoid working on weekends, if possible.
- Schedule family and social time.
- Step away from screens (laptops, phones, TVs, and tablets) and get outside!
What are some of the work-life balance tips you and your staff recommend? Leave a comment below to share your ideas with other tax professionals.