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Pre-pandemic, the advice on having a healthy work-life balance focused mainly on separating those two realities - “Leave your laptop at the office!” “Don’t take work calls after 6 pm”, etc. As many of us have been thrown into a work-from-home reality full-time, how do we leave the office behind when home and office are one and the same? Start by taking stock of your physical space, mental space, and your ability to set aside quality time.
Physical space - From room dividers to fold-up desk panels, there is no shortage of clever design hacks to create an office space in even the tiniest studio apartment. (This article from the Spruce is a great starting point for small spaces). If you have the luxury of a dedicated room for your office, take the time to thoughtfully set up the space. Do your best to keep your workspace free of clutter and ask family members to respect your space by keeping their belongings out of your work area. You likely wouldn’t be tripping on your spouse’s shoes at your office outside of the home, so your home workspace should be treated with the same courtesy.
Mental space - Sectioning off your physical office space doesn’t, unfortunately, keep work stressors from taking up residence in your headspace. In the absence of co-workers to coax you out for coffee breaks, or an evening commute to help you unwind, make a list of three or more break ideas that get you away from your desk. Post the list in a visible spot in your workplace and set a timer to remind yourself to take those breaks, using your list for inspiration. Even in the most demanding careers, professionals need and deserve those breaks to attend to their mental health. Walk your dog, make a cup of coffee, lay down on your back for 5 minutes of deep breathing. When you have days that are less jam-packed, cook yourself a nice lunch or get lost in a book for an hour. Consistently taking time for yourself throughout the workday is vital to your long-term mental health maintenance.
Quality time - While the workday breaks focus on your individual mental health, the concept of quality time broadens to include our home bubble. If you live with a family that includes a spouse who also works from home and children engaging in remote learning, quality time can be as simple as having one meal together as a family every day. If that meal ends up being boxed cereal in the morning before everyone starts their day, that still counts as quality time. Making the effort to coordinate one time of day to share a meal allows parents and kids alike to voice stresses or celebrate accomplishments. That daily communication will enrich the collective mental health of the entire family unit. If you live alone, quality time might mean setting aside time to video call loved ones or meeting a local friend for an outdoor walk. Set up your laptop on a kitchen counter and call a friend to do a virtual cook and dinner party.
In all of these areas, keep in mind that the smallest changes can make meaningful impacts on our mental health. Four bowls of cereal is still a family meal. A living room nook can be a home office. A five-minute break is still a break. Invest in your mental health in small increments daily and the benefits will touch all facets of your working and personal life.