Working from home: separating personal time from work time

By on Aug 13th
Offbeat Empire HQ

Ariel's home office in her bedroom complete with adorable toddler.

When my husband and I get home from our day jobs, we don't waste much time before jumping into our second jobs of operating an at-home business. Now that our careers take place both in and out of the home, the line between work and personal time has started to blur. Our house now doubles as a work place, and I often find that I can't truly relax when I'm there because I feel guilty when I'm not working on business operations.

What steps can I take to separate personal time from work time when at home?
-Melanie

Ariel says

OH LORD. Megan and I both think about this issue a LOT, since both of us work from home, and both of us work in multi-purpose spaces — my desk is in my bedroom, and Megan works in her living room. We both use the internet for business AND pleasure, which makes things even more complicated — sometimes I'll catch her on IM at 10pm, and try bitching at her about working too late. "And what are YOU doing online?" she'll ask me, and I'll be all, "Uh, reading the latest posts on the Tribe and making sure no one barfed any spam on any of our Facebook pages…" GUILTY.

This is all to say, separating personal time from work time at home is an ongoing challenge that we BOTH have a lot of experience with navigating. That in mind, I thought we'd do a she said/she said with Megan and my tips for the boundaries we try to set for ourselves…

Turn off the computer after X:00 pm

Unless I'm behind on work, I try to turn off my computer at 8pm. Granted, I still have my smartphone in my pocket for the rest of the evening… but I tell myself that's just crisis control. I can glance at my phone, know everything's fine on the Empire, and stop thinking about it. (Hopefully.) 8pm works for me and my life, but your exact time may vary.

Remind myself that it looks bad to do business at night

Sometimes I'll get an irritating work email on my phone after my computer is off, and it's all I can do not to boot up and send back a quick reply. Then I remind myself that when someone emails me, say, an advertiser complaint at 9pm, it actually looks bad if I write back immediately. It says I have nothing better to do than be staring at my email all night, and really: we should all have better things to do. (Even if we don't.) Plus, I'm more likely to be impetuous and rude late at night.

Never interrupt in-person face-time with work

Ask any Offbeat Empire spouse, and they'll tell you: it can suck being married to someone who works from home on the internet. We're starved for in-person social interaction, but harried and maladjusted from moderating comments and dealing with crazy bitches online all day. We want to talk (and tell you ALL ABOUT the craziest bitches), but we also have the attention span of a ladybug on Ritalin. We need to hang out, but can't stop checking our datafeeds. We're bossy and blabbery, but prone to dropping out of conversations mid-way to check server stats. It's fucked up, and the best way I try to compensate is to try (and sometimes fail) to always give my husband my full attention when he's talking to me — no fingers on the keyboard, no glances at the smartphone, no half-assed "uh-huhs" when he's trying to talk to me.


our living room

Megan's living room/office/dining room.

Megan says

Oh man, when your living room is also your office, many problems of work v. private time boundaries arise. It's extra hard for me and my loved ones, as I look the same while relaxing AND working hard — butt on my couch, laptop on my lap, feet up on the coffee table, tv on. Is it work time? Is it hang time? Is it kind-of-sort-of both? Sometimes even I don't know. So Ariel's rules have also become my rules. And trust me: we've had to work hard to force ourselves to NOT keep working after a certain hours and I know that I still struggle with the not interrupting in-person time with my cell phone.

Here is what I'd add to those rules:

Take an entire day (or days) off

I hear you all too well on the "feeling guilty when I'm not working" thing. Like I said, my relaxing time looks a lot like my working time. And, sometimes when my laptop is open I feel the urge to sneak a peek at comments, or just put the finishing touches on a post, or even check my email, and MOST times I give in to those urges. But NOT on Saturday. Saturday is my one full and proper day off where I give myself permission to not EVER feel guilty for not working. Whether I'm just staying home and watching tv with my laptop, or spending the entire day out in the wild, having an entire day to take a break from the guilty feeling is necessary for my sanity. And my husband is stoked to know that he gets his non-Empire-slave wife back for 24 hours at least.

Create a designated office space

Do as I say and not as I do on this one, guys. I have a cool-looking desk that was supposed to be my "office" but I don't use it. Even if I did, it's still part of my living room. How I wish we had one extra room that could be the designated office space with a designated office computer that would be able to separate "living space" from "work space." When you're in that office space it's work time, but once you finish, leave the room, shut the door and turn off work-mode.


Your turn

What advice would all our other work-at-Homies give to Melanie, and the rest of us who blur the lines between private time and work mode?

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