Does Work-Life Balance Exist When Working Remotely?

The COVID-19 virus significantly impacted work routines for many people. While there were a handful of remote positions previously available, the number of people working from home has drastically increased over the past few years. It can become quite difficult to separate your work life from your home life, and if you’re not careful, your work-life balance can quickly become non-existent. In this article, I share my struggles and some ways I try to keep myself from blurring the line between work and personal time.

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My work-from-home journey began in February 2020. It didn't take long for me to start logging in earlier than required, and I began skipping lunches and staying on past the time I would have left the office. In the evenings, I would do a "quick" email check just to be sure I wasn't missing something important, which often led to logging back in and working on something that could have easily waited until the next day. While going to the office allowed me to have dedicated work hours, transitioning to working at home left me feeling like I wasn't allowed to turn it off. I realized this was not a healthy (or sustainable) way to manage my days, and over time I have learned to separate my work and personal time (ahem...for the most part).

Set A Structured Work Schedule

The main thing I have done to counteract this self-created imbalance is, adhere to a more structured work schedule. I log in when my day is scheduled to start, and I log out when the workday is scheduled to end. Of course, there are always exceptions, but I generally try to limit myself to working only during the hours designated on my time sheet. As a nurse, it isn't in my nature to leave work unfinished, and adjusting has not been easy. I am three years into the work-from-home routine, and I still struggle with this every day.

After committing to a more structured schedule, I will admit I enjoy the "extra" time it seems I have in the mornings! I spend more time with the kids before they go to school, do some household chores, and even manage to get a little reading in every now and then! I feel more prepared for the workday because I have a better mindset, and I don't feel so sluggish when it's time to "clock in.” I'm able to have dinner on the table at a reasonable time, and I don't feel so mentally drained in the evenings. I still give 100% of myself to my work during those set hours, but I am finally appreciating the true value of putting my family first and enjoying quality time with them. (Why does this still make me feel guilty sometimes?!)

Get Up and Move!

In the office, it was easy to pause and take a trip to the breakroom or stop by a co-worker's cubicle to say "hi" and catch up for a few minutes. At home, I found myself working for hours (and by that, I mean all day) without leaving my seat. I am reminded of my days in the Emergency Department when people would ask, "How can you forget you need to use the restroom?” Well, I just want to finish one thing, and that turns into five things, and before you know it, the time is 3 pm, and your stomach is wondering why you haven't eaten all day.

"Get up and move" sounds simple, but I tend to be so focused on my work I truly don't notice the time passing me by. I've been known to set alarms throughout the day as a reminder to separate myself from my chair. I know the work isn't going anywhere, but for some reason, I still have difficulty putting it on hold, even for just a few minutes. It makes me sad to think of how many sunrises I've missed because I chose to start burying myself in work several hours before the sun came up.

Mobile Apps ... Friend, or Foe?

The ability to access work-related information on my phone is a bit too convenient for me. Just like texting while driving should not be happening, neither should I be reading work emails while making dinner or in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping. I have not removed the apps from my phone, but I have chosen not to look at my phone for anything work-related outside of my scheduled hours. (I did turn off the notifications; my willpower is not strong enough to just let that "ping" go unnoticed.) One step at a time!

Something To Prove?

Not everyone gets to experience the benefit of working from home (and not everyone sees the opportunity as a positive thing.) On some level, I felt I had to work harder and put in longer hours to show my boss I wasn't taking advantage or abusing the privilege. Guess what? She doesn't think any less of me for sticking to my scheduled hours, and she encourages me to enjoy my personal time. I had burdened myself with expectations that actually caused her to worry I would burn myself out. It was eye-opening to realize my work-life imbalance had the opposite effect on how she viewed my work performance. She knew before I did that longer hours don't make someone a better coworker.

In The End

I still think it's perfectly okay to have a strong desire to perform well and go above and beyond what is required, but I also know my work should not be the primary thing defining me as a person. I believe the best way to bring value to my team is by setting boundaries for myself that contribute to my overall well-being. Having a work-life balance allows me to be more productive both at work and at home, and by lifting the burden of impossible expectations, my sanity has a greater chance of remaining intact!

CMagill has 21 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in Emergency.

4 Articles   6 Posts

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Lunah, MSN, RN

33 Articles; 13,728 Posts

Specializes in EMS, ED, Trauma, CNE, CEN, CPEN, TCRN. Has 15 years experience.

I started working from home full-time in 2019. My tactic has been to keep work and home as separate as possible. Thankfully each of my full-time remote jobs in have provided a dedicated laptop, so when I turn it off, it's off and doesn't come back on until the next day. There is no checking after hours. I have not installed any of their work email accounts on my phone either. There is no prize for "most hours worked." I work hard during my work time and excel there, and then hard stop at the close of the workday. 

I have also been teaching online part-time since 2017, and those blur the line far more. I use my own laptop for my teaching jobs, and they are done after-hours outside of my regular workday. I have an email account for teaching on my phone, and the other part-time faculty send Teams messages 24x7. It ends up being a lot of my "free" time, and I have discovered that my "free" time belongs to everyone but me! I am rolling back my work commitments this year to improve my work-life balance as it was decidedly out of balance! I had four jobs at one point. I am down to two, and winding down my last part-time job in the next few weeks. I will be a one-job person again!

I love my work-from-home life, though. As someone with previous horrendous DC-area commutes, I feel rewarded. Haha.

My most important things: a separate work area, if space allows, with a door you can close at the end of the day. A coffee cup warmer. A soft footrest. A good chair (don't skimp here, your back will thank you). Following the 20-20-20 rule to keep my eyes happy. Taking my lunch and breaks! Don't skip these. I have alarms set on my phone to remind me of this. I just started using a vertical mouse - I like it, but I think it might be too big for my little hands and I'm going to try a smaller one. I am intentional about daily workouts, though I need to get back to cardio as I have mostly been doing yoga every day. But I make sure to not eat at my desk! 

CMagill, BSN, RN

4 Articles; 6 Posts

Specializes in Emergency. Has 22 years experience.

I very much appreciate your comment of "there is not prize for 'most worked hours'." I may need to put that on a sticky note and put it on my monitor! I do have a bad habit of eating at my desk, so I will have to work on that! Thank you for taking the time to comment! 

kdkout, BSN, RN

159 Posts

Has 28 years experience.

I'm sorry but I don't get it. You need to learn boundaries. This is exactly why employers take advantage of us!

 If you were still working in the ER, would you clock out and then turn around and go help out on that code? Change that dressing? Go talk to that family? 

If you had little kids at home, would you skip their bath time and say "I'm sorry, but I can't make you dinner/give you a bath/read to you because I need to check my email one more time"

No  

Quit doing this to yourself 

 

 

 

 

 

CMagill, BSN, RN

4 Articles; 6 Posts

Specializes in Emergency. Has 22 years experience.

Actually, yes. If I clocked out in the ED and a patient started coding, I would help my peers and take care of the patient. There were many nights when I would be stopped by a coworker or a patient on my way out who had questions or needed help with something. Part of being a caregiver is putting the needs of others before your own. It isn't always about boundaries, it is about recognizing that I have been that person who needed help, and I appreciated those who stopped what they were doing or stayed late to make sure I had what I needed, and I want to pay it forward.