Have you ever felt wistful at the though of returning to a “normal” workday job? One where you could just turn things off and get in your car at a set time and leave your work behind? While working from home has many benefits, socialization and set work hours are definitely pluses to an office job.
If you've found that your dream home office job is turning into an endless cycle of work that needs your attention, it may be time to implement some actual office job boundaries. Consider these five traditional work boundaries to help separate your work and home life a bit more effectively.
Boundary No. 1: Treat your home office as though you were going to write it off your taxes, even if you don't. Writing off a home office isn't easy, as those who do so will tell you. But it's the very trouble you must go through to write it off that makes it worth applying to your home office whether you go for the tax break or not.
You'll have to go elsewhere in your house for all those things — and that's healthy.
To qualify for the exemption, you have to be able to prove that you have dedicated a certain space in your home solely to work. It has to be a defined area, and the phones, faxes, computers and other equipment in that room must be dedicated to your work. If you set up your office using these guidelines, you won't be taking personal calls in your office, you won't be playing computer games on your office Mac, and you won't have a bed in there either. You'll have to go elsewhere in your house for all those things — and that's healthy.
Boundary No. 2: The office opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. M-F. And you don't go in there to check work email outside those hours. This is the toughest boundary to obey. You've been working nights and weekends for so long that clients call and email you with no regard to the time of day. It's amazing how quickly you can train them to fit your new, healthy schedule. Once they know you won't pick up the phone or hit “send” outside of those hours, they'll wait till they know you are there.
Boundary No. 3: Friends and family do not hang out in your office. Make sure your office has a door. Hang a sign on the outside of the door that says, “I'm working! Please knock before entering.” Then close the door. If a friend or family members wants something from you during working hours, they can see you during your non-work coffee breaks (one in the morning, one in the afternoon, half an hour each) and your lunch break (one hour). Like your clients, they will soon respect your need to work during certain hours. Tip: Limit family member phone calls during these hours to true emergencies.
Boundary No. 4: Keep visual and oral distractions to a minimum. Of course you want a window in your home office, but resist the temptation to work where you have a panoramic view of the neighborhood. You lose focus every time something outside catches your eye. Plus, there's the possibility that if a neighbor or family member (or worse, solicitor) sees you through a window, they may try to engage you.
The same goes for noise. Choose a room that is relatively quiet. Soundproofing is a great idea if possible. It helps keep out street noise, and that way, family members don't have to listen to you working and you don't have to hear them tromping around, chatting and rattling who knows what.
Boundary No. 5: This is a non-boundary — don't have your office less comfortable than the most comfortable room in the rest of the house. Make your office comfortable enough so you want to be there when you have to be there. Don't work somewhere with drafts in winter and the hot sun roasting you in summer. If you're in the basement, get a dehumidifier to fight dampness. Lighting should be great, not just good enough.
You are working–treat yourself with respect. You wouldn't want to work in a freezing cold or stifling hot office, so why do it at home? Poor climate control in your home office gives you one more excuse to get up and drift into another room with your laptop and your trailing mess. Make your office more than comfortable enough to keep you satisfied during your work hours (but not so comfortable that you don’t want to leave at six!)