it’s not rocket science: setting boundaries by setting a schedule
What I’m about to tell you will either change your life, or it will make you roll your eyes at how incompetent and ridiculous I am at being an adult. I hope it’s the former, but I’ll not fault you for the latter. Either way, I hope you relate.
The ability to work from home is all I’ve ever wanted in my work life. I love the freedom of being able to attend field trips with the kids’ classes or have lunch with my husband. I like to go to the grocery store and get my hair cut during the week.
But it also means “leaving work” is harder to do. On my worst days, my never-ending to-do list is always in the back of my mind, and in the other room at my desk. The lack of boundaries causes me great stress.
Now. I work part time in a position where I am lucky to be able to set my own hours. But being someone who also thrives on structure, too much flexibility was stressing me out. I could work whenever, wherever, and I did.
I’d unloaded some of my frustrations on a friend one day, and we both groaned at the elusive concept of work/life balance.
“Have you ever tried giving yourself a schedule?” she asked.
“Well, I’ve thought about it…” I trailed off.
I made a million excuses as to why I hadn’t yet set a schedule for myself:
I like to run errands during the week while the kids are at school. I prefer to work out during the day, instead of the exhausted evening. Not to mention appointments and unexpected events, like a sick kid or a last-minute errand.
After some brainstorming about what my most satisfying day would feel like (not necessarily my most productive, but what would make me feel best at the end of the day), I figured out that I am at my best in the morning hours, directly after dropping the kids off at school. I mean, to be honest, every time I drag myself out of bed at 6am I tell myself, “Just get them to school, and then you can go back to bed.” But once I’m up, I’m up and ready to start the day.
So for the next week I focused on setting aside my morning hours specifically for work. I planned all my errands and appointments around those parameters. Before, if I had to go to the grocery store, I’d go in the late morning. This segmented my work day and made me feel perennially scattered. This week I went in the early afternoon after I’d completed a good four-hour chunk of uninterrupted work. (Side note: In the documentary Minimalism, they mention that people are happiest with a four-hour work day, but that’s another discussion for another day. The doc is well worth a watch though.)
Now because of this new scheduling system, I was able to allow myself to truly leave work when my “day” was over. Whatever I still had on my plate would wait until tomorrow.
Guys, I was like a new person. [insert hallelujah emoji] This mental and physical shift altered not just my days, but my attitude. Like, I’m almost ashamed to admit how much this tiny change impacted my satisfaction.
It’s not rocket science. I knew that setting office hours for myself would help me retain some boundaries between work and life. But it was like I needed someone to tell me to do it.
Once I had my work schedule down, I found another thing that helped me stick to my boundaries: going into the office. I’ve worked at home for years in various gigs from freelancing to contract work. I needed a change of pace. Being at the office relieves me of the distractions of home (and snacks), and allows me to feel the camaraderie of our team. We are a small group who, prior to obtaining an office space, mostly only saw each other at our monthly staff meetings. Now we could interact face-to-face regularly, ask a question right then and there instead of pinging and waiting for a response, and just be in a place that was dedicated to our work. Sure, it’s much easier to just step out of the shower and sit at my desk with dripping wet hair. But there’s something to be said for putting on actual clothes, showing up at the office, and getting shit done. It’s been a game changer.
What I learned about myself the past few weeks was that it wasn’t necessarily working from home that I craved all this time. It was freedom and flexibility, but with some healthy parameters. I haven’t really figured out why I need someone else to tell me this, but right now I’m happy to report that my anxiety about work and frustration with looming tasks has greatly lessened, and most importantly, I feel much more satisfied with my days.