5 WFH Boundaries That’ll Save You From Slipping Into Accidental 14-Hour Workdays

Photo: Getty Images/bernardbodo
Given the recommendation of social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have some confusion about your new work from home situation. Like, that your office is now a crumb-encrusted couch, and your commute is best explained as "waking up" and "going to bed." Because of these environmental factors, it's pretty simple to fall into the trap of something like a 14 hour workday, opening up the need to set some serious work from home guidelines and boundaries.

See, since you're home, comfortable, and don't absolutely have to spend time doing things you normally would, like shower or put on pants (though, FWIW, it's to your benefit to stick to these habits), it may seem like you'd be able to be super-duper productive, and even get ahead on your workload. But given the state of things, you're likely peppering your workday with long, anxious scrolls through the news and general worry about the state of the world. Then, somehow, 6 p.m. rolls around and you're like, "Oh geez, I should really do something on my actual to-do list." And even if you are a WFH productivity powerhouse, with no one around you physically leaving the office, knowing when to close shop for the day can be tough.

Suffice to say it's important to set work from home guidelines and boundaries now, before things get out of hand. Because, for starters, you have to set yourself up for success that's sustainable. "You are setting expectations for your boss, co-workers, and clients on how much they can expect from you in terms of output," says career coach Maggie Mistal. "Don't raise the bar so high on yourself that you can't sustain that kind of productivity."

"Working long hours can't interfere with eating right, exercising, getting out into the sunshine, and sleeping seven to nine hours a night." —Maggie Mistal, career coach

Likewise, we need to prioritize our health more than ever now, and that effort can be compromised when workdays have no borders. "The way you work needs to build your body's immune system, not take away from it," says Mistal. "Working long hours can't interfere with eating right, exercising, getting out into the sunshine, and sleeping seven to nine hours a night."

WFH doesn't have to stand for Work From Hell, so do yourself a favor and set some healthy boundaries using Mistal's advice below.

5 work from home guidelines to set that will preserve balance in your life

1. Establish and keep to a regular schedule

"To maintain boundaries for yourself and others, it helps to start with the simple but important," says Mistal. "Go to bed and get up at the same time everyday, just as you would if you were going into the office, but you can adjust the schedule to your new situation and to what works best for you."

That means that you can use up the time you normally would be commuting to sleep in (woohoo!) or maybe you can find a healthy new normal by using the time to exercise or make yourself a nourishing breakfast. Or maybe you would've been at the gym anyway, so you can just start your workout later. Do whatever you can to help you create a new and sustainable routine you can stick to.

Want smoothie inspo for your morning routine? Try this high-fiber acacia recipe:

2. Start your day by completing the most important task on your list

"Become known for getting your priority work done," says Mistal. "This reputation will help you maintain a positive relationship with your boss, and those who depend on you. Don't put off the challenging, big-thinking, creative or strategic projects until later in the day. Our brains do their best thinking when we first get up and then get fuzzier as the day goes on."

3. Take breaks every 50 minutes

Working nonstop just because you don't have a million useless meetings is not productive. You're probably not getting significantly more work done, and the overall quality will probably suffer as well.

"Brain science tells us that our brains need short breaks approximately every 50 minutes," says Mistal. "So look out the window, play a video game, take a walk around the block, have a snack. Your brain needs breaks so it can redirect attention from one activity to the next. Give yourself breaks in between different activities and your brain will refocus attention more productively when you sit back down to work."

4. Designate a "quitting time" and stick to it

"Unless your work requires 24/7 access, it's better to shut off work at the same time every day and not check email or do work projects," says Mistal. "As I said earlier, our brains gets fuzzier as the day goes on and we get less productive. By establishing a quitting time, you actually give your brain and your body much needed relaxation and rest to be ready and fresh the next morning."

5. Test out what works best for you

Practice self-compassion for yourself, especially if this is a new situation that you're navigating. You can do this in two ways: First, give yourself time to figure out what helps, and second, be your own best advocate.

"In all my years working with clients on work and life goals, it was their own productive routines that established them as top performers, and their bosses were very happy to allow them even more flexibility," Mistal says. "If your boss is skeptical of allowing you to define boundaries, it helps to ask to 'pilot' the idea and give it a test run so that both you and your boss can work out any issues or make any tweaks needed to keep your productivity high."

And how can you keep that productivity high? We have someWFH tips from productivity experts to get you started. Or if your major problem right now is loneliness, this is how you can stay connected with your loved ones.

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