Closing the door on homeworking - Manchester Mind Matters

The joy of homeworking

Well, there’s no denying it’s been a year like no other.  There have been many downsides to this pandemic. But for some there have been unlikely positives too.  Enjoying the garden, spending time with the kids and home working. HOMEWORKING!  Wow, no commute!  Biscuits and tea on tap!  Ah the joy of it when we realised we had no more commute and could wear our pyjamas all day.  Well ok pyjama bottoms!  You really have to wear something nice on top for a zoom call.  In fairness, I say all of this like working from home was completely new to me.  It wasn’t.  I run my counselling business from home.  The difference since March being I no longer clean the bathroom every day and wear my slippers to zoom calls!   Yes standards have slipped.  But I digress!  This blog isn’t about the joys of home working.  It’s about what happens after we’ve got used to it and the novelty wears off.  Essentially, it’s about boundaries around homeworking, because if we don’t have them, even with the luxury of working from home we can burn out.  Once work enters your home it can, if you’re not careful, invade every room. If you can’t put work down, you might struggle to relax in that place that’s always been your sanctuary.  BOUNDARIES!  If you haven’t already started, put them in NOW!!

Why do we need boundaries?

In counselling we talk about boundaries in terms of keeping you and others around you safe.  It’s essentially about not taking on too much at the expense of yourself.  We can also relate this to home working.  I have a home office and pre-Covid it’s where I did all my work.  My lap-top stayed upstairs in my counselling room, I saw clients there, I did my admin there.  So why during Covid did my lap top sneak downstairs and end up on the coffee table.  Why have I suddenly started doing counselling courses and admin on a Saturday night.  Now there’s nothing specifically wrong with this other than if I continue to work all week where’s my relaxation time?  When do I put my work down?  And that’s the point.  I noticed recently I had lost a little of my mojo.  It just felt like all bed and work and that’s because it was!  Work had crept into all aspects of my home life because I’d let go of my boundaries.  I had to work on firming them up and I did this using the following techniques.

Designated space and time

Try if you can, to have a designated place to do your work and keep it there.  Not easy if you work from the kitchen table, I grant you, but if that’s the case then buy a big storage box and when your work is done put it away.  It has to be out of sight or you have to be able to close the door on it!  And as you do pack away your work stuff, pay attention to this act and tell yourself mentally “I am finishing work for the day and putting my work away”.  Or if you have an office, clear your desk, close your diary and notice the sound and feel of the door as you close it – as you do so again saying something like “I’m done for the day”.  Eventually you will start to anchor the action so that your brain knows when I do this my working day has ended.

Transition time

I’ve spoken to lots of people who say they didn’t realise how useful their commute was.  For some people listening to their favourite podcast, radio programme or CD just gives them the chance to discharge their day before they get home from work.  When your commute is the 30 seconds it takes you to get downstairs or moving from the chair to the sofa then it doesn’t give you chance to let go of things.  Maybe think of doing something that gives you transition time just so you can separate work from home.  It might be ten minutes pottering round the garden, meditating, a quick walk round the block or a run or it might be something as simple as sitting quietly for 15 mins with a cuppa and letting the workday fall away.  One thing is for sure, try not to go instantly into home life because then you may find both worlds collide and it might not be pretty!

Rituals

I’m a big fan of rituals!  And before you panic no animals were harmed in the making of this blog.  I’m talking just little things you can do to close the lid on your day.  We mentioned some above in terms of clearing your desk etc but what about emotional discharge – say if you work with people and they’ve told you difficult things which you’re left with or if you have a caseload of clients – it’s easy to leave them at the office  but you don’t really want them rattling round your home (as nice as they are) and interrupting your thoughts as you are cooking your chilli.

I’ve discussed this on several occasions with friends, colleagues and clients themselves in terms of how we let go of  the emotional work we do.  Assuming you’ve firmed up your boundaries and created transition time, there are also a couple of creative ways of ensuring you aren’t left with too much emotional residue.  We have to say goodbye to our clients and file them away somehow.  The simplest way is at the end of the day to reflect briefly on each client and mentally put them in a folder – you might note anything left over from your work with this client, acknowledge it and let it go.  If it’s really troublesome maybe you could note it to take to a manager/supervision meeting or discuss with a trusted colleague.  Once you’ve done this you put them in your metaphorical filing cabinet and visualise locking it.  Keeping them safe but out of your space.  You can get really creative with this process.  If a filing cabinet doesn’t work, you can imagine you are on a bus with your clients en route home and then drop them off at various bus stops along the way.  It just gets them out of your mind until the next time, giving you headspace for your home life.

I urge you if you are home working to just stop for a moment and consider if your work is leaking into your home life.  If it is, now is the time to do something about it or risk burning out as work takes over.

I’ll leave you with my favourite method for discharging client work.   I knew someone who cycled home and metaphorically put each client on a frisbee and flung them home.  It was done in the spirit of fun and it made her happy to think of them whizzing their way home.  So, get creative and make sure you close the door on your home-working tonight.