Work-Life Balance: How to Compartmentalize Your Life When Working from Home

Work-Life Balance: How to Compartmentalize Your Life When Working from Home

I have to be honest: Yesterday was not a great day for this work-from-home mom. My youngest daughter stayed home sick from preschool, which meant I had a tiny, grouchy royal ensconced in the bedroom next to my office. In between Skype meetings with clients and loads of laundry, I catered to Her Majesty’s constant, unhappy demands for water, coloring books, juice, a story, her ponies, and everything else she “needed.” Her elder sister came home from school just in time to start a fight at the same moment I logged into an important meeting with my accountant — and I lost focus, trying to remember how I ever thought I could balance these two worlds under the same roof. 

But then I thought of everybody else across the country doing the same thing. If they could do it, then I certainly could, too — right? The number of people working from home has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade, and even significantly more in the last few years. In 2018, a survey found more than a third of the U.S. workforce (35%) were working as freelancers or running their own businesses from home.

The benefits of working from home are tremendous. You get to devise your own schedule, choose your wardrobe, pick your projects (or clients), and even work while you’re traveling, if you wish. But though the advantages can be amazing, this doesn’t mean it comes without challenges. Not by a long shot. And some of those hurdles can be pretty difficult to climb over.

On the plus side, you can overcome any of these challenges by learning how to effectively compartmentalize your life while working from home. It takes some practice, but if you can get your brain to turn certain things off, it can help you maintain a healthy balance between your work and home lives.

Juggling kids and work

School, sports, scouts, teacher conferences, oh my! All the things we have to do as parents are overwhelming — and that’s not even considering the additional responsibilities that come with our jobs. Add a full-time gig into the mix, and life gets downright chaotic. I can help if you train yourself to focus hard when it’s time to work and then definitively turn off work when it’s time for family.

  • Use a calendar consistently to make certain nothing accidentally falls off the radar.
  • Set primary office hours for the times when kids are in school or at extracurricular events. For a little more flexibility, see if you can establish a carpool with other parents.
  • Have a contingency plan for the days when the kids are home from school sick (i.e., build some flexi-hours into your calendar each week, so you can shuffle things around if the unexpected happens).
  • Set alarms so you know when it’s time to switch gears.

It’s important to keep this in mind: One reason you became a solopreneur was to have the flexibility to do All The Things. The problem is, that’s often easier said than done. Tools like online schedulers, alarms, and spreadsheets can make it easier for you to compartmentalize.

Maintaining work-life balance

Establishing that balance is tricky for anyone who works and is a parent. For work-from-home parents, though, there are additional challenges, since life tends to bring lots of interruptions. Since you aren’t physically removed from a situation like you would be at a traditional office, you might have to improvise if you want to get anything done.

  • Commit yourself to household chores in your “off work” hours — and stick to the to-do list!
  • Find ways you can multitask, such as folding laundry while you’re on the phone with a client or preparing lunch while you dictate notes to transcribe later.
  • Set up a separate space for work and keep it off-limits to the rest of your family. Set rules dictating that, when you’re in that space, you’re not to be disturbed for anything that’s not an emergency. (Then help them understand why “Ashley took my toy” isn’t an emergency).
  • Set hours during which the kids know they’ll get your undivided attention. If they’re younger, show them what the clock will look like when that time starts. Plan to do something extra-fun or special at least a couple of times a week during that time frame.

Importantly, be sure to let go of the guilt. No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. There will be days you’ll either drop the ball on a project or forget you have a soccer game to attend. We can’t change our mistakes, but what we can do is learn from them, apologize, and try to make up for them.

Taking care of yourself

As a parent, you’re probably no stranger to sleep deprivation. If you’re working for yourself and not getting enough sleep, you can really do yourself harm if you don’t reverse the trend. Since a lack of sleep can lead to depression, anxiety, migraines, and a host of other health problems, you need to make time for yourself to stay healthy. Set your quitting hours and hold as firmly to them as you can. If you find you like to work at night, but it gets your brain spun up and you can’t turn it off easily to go to sleep, find other hours to work.

Also, be sure to work in healthy meals and exercise. Always give yourself a lunch break, or at least something healthy you can eat during a working lunch. Exercise daily if possible (or a minimum of a few times a week). Look at exercise as a way to clear your head. When you’re finished, you might even find you’ve unexpectedly found a solution to a problem you’ve been facing.

Techniques for compartmentalization

An article published in Forbes shares some techniques for successful compartmentalization. While it was published in 2012, the advice is still very relevant even as we approach 2020.

  • If an issue emerges, forget about everything else for a while and dedicate your entire focus to it.
  • Apply that “extreme focus” to that compartment only for a short period.
  • Move the needle a little with each step toward a solution. Take baby steps.
  • Once you’ve resolved an issue or completed a task, move on to the next compartment.
  • Keep your priorities clear. Say “No” to anything not worthy of its own compartment. 

It’s not easy for people who are their children’s primary caregivers to juggle working from home while managing family life. But by training your brain’s attention to focus where it needs to be — and using organizational techniques to anchor it in the right place at the right time — your personal and professional lives can be a lot easier to balance. 

Keep in mind, there will be some spillage between compartments from time to time, and that’s OK, too. Successful compartmentalization takes steady practice, but in time it’ll help you to get what you need to get done.