5 Smart Ways to Keep Home & Work Separate

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

One of the biggest benefits we have as moms who run their own business is the ability to work out of our homes. If you’re in a city of any size at all, cutting out your commute saves at least an hour per day and reduces the stress that goes along with it. Now, I know it doesn’t work for everyone – especially those who have local employees. But if you hire remote team members, having an office at home can give you so much flexibility.

Of course, there are some downsides too – and one of the biggest challenges for moms running their businesses from their homes is keeping work and home life separate. Home chores bleed into your work day, and you find yourself on the laptop after dinner instead of hanging out with your family.

I definitely struggle with this. I do have a home office, but I tend to work all over the house depending on my mood or what I’m working on. I’ve talked with lots of women who work out of their home, both entrepreneurs and employees. I even asked in Facebook groups I’m in, and I’ve gotten some real help. Everyone who’s making it work says it just takes time to work out a plan and routine – keep trying things until you find what clicks for you. 

When I asked for some specific strategies, a bunch of them kept coming up over and over. Here are the top 6 tactics for keeping home and work life separate.

Getting dressed

Okay, ‘fess up. Who rolls out of bed, feeds the kids, packs the lunches, sends them to the bus, and fires up the laptop? Without properly getting dresses? Me, that’s who. And lots of my friends do the same, except for video call days! Typically, I wear some sort of schleppy workout outfit because they’re comfy and I know I’m going to do some sort of exercise later. 

But, over and over, people told me to get dressed and put on shoes before starting up the computer because it feels like getting ready for work. The theory is that while you’re in work clothes, you’ll work, and when you’re in super casual clothes, you’ll fuss around the house or procrastinate.

This fall, I’ve been dressing more – not in office-wear, but jeans and a sweater or something that’s a few steps up from workout gear, and I do feel more work-minded. I’m not on board with shoes around the house, but I get it. Shoes = serious. For some, this could include hair and makeup too. This is one tactic that I’m going to keep, and I’ve started to recommend. It’s deceptively simple, but I notice that it changes my whole mindset.

Official work space within your house

I fully admit that even though I have an office, I wander around the house and the back porch (my favorite!) when I’m working. I have trouble staying put. Even when I worked in a corporate office, I would reserve different conference rooms to hide out in if I needed a change of scenery or needed to work without distraction. But, having a designated place helps lots of women focus on work time.

Like getting dressed, having a place to go is part of the ritual of getting ready and going to work. It’s a mini-commute, but it still fulfills a habit of the transition from home to work. If the location in your house that you pick for work can be used only for work, that’s a bonus. When you sit down in that spot, you mind knows it’s time to focus on your business.

Task Lists with set breaks

Another big idea is a set task list with breaks built in. I use my own variant of time blocking for my daily calendar, and I definitely see the value of adding in break time. I notice that even when I don’t plan to take breaks, I do. And sometimes, because I’m distracted by a messy house or errands that would be handy to complete, my breaks can take up most of the day. Taking a break on purpose, with a set task or meal, though, means that when it’s done, it’s done, and back to work.

For those of us trying to finish up by the time kids are out of school, it’s tempting to try not to take breaks. The sneaky thing is that our brains and bodies don’t care about what we’re working on. When they want a break, they take one whether you’ve meant to or not. What I mean is that if you push too long, your mind will start to wander. You’ll start wondering what you can make for dinner and are there any recipes for the three things left in your pantry and whether the Kroger will deliver and do they do rotisserie chickens…. 

Instead, scheduling a break lets your mind and body have a bit of a rest that you really need. When you know that a break is coming up in 30 minutes, it’s so much easier to stay focused for the rest of that half hour.

Set working hours, even if unconventional

Just as most jobs have working hours, you should set working hours for your business.

I can hear a group of you objecting already, “But the flexibility is why we’re doing this!” And you want to work whenever you want to work….  I don’t mean that you need to work 8:00 to 5:00 on weekdays. But, set a schedule that will work for you and your family. When you have set work time, you know when you should be working. If you never have set working time, then who’s to say you really should be working? Sure you could run out and meet your friend to shop. Or, of course you could run all over town to get school supplies.

Just like setting breaks intentionally, setting your working hours means that your non-working hours are set too. And they’re coming up. So that makes it easier to work. If you don’t set working hours, they’re ALL working hours and NONE are working hours, and that adds stress you just don’t need.

Set firm boundaries with clients

When you do break into your family time with work, it’s often because you’ve gotten an after hours call from a client or a client who requests so much work that you’ll have to work more hours. 

Most of us are in the habit of accommodating those clients because when we worked a corporate job, we had no choices. We were employees at the mercy of promises made by our bosses. It was up to the boss to push back or take on the extra or after-hours work. But we forget – now we’re bosses!

We get to set hours and policies and boundaries. If dinner time hours are sacred, work-free hours for you, make sure clients know those are off limits. If you make exceptions, make them intentionally, not by default. 

This is one tactic that I really embrace. I may sneak in work in the evening, but I don’t generally take business calls after 3:00pm. My clients know this, and respect it. If I have a call after 3:00, it’s on purpose, not just because I thought I had to. Have I lost business over this? Actually, yes I have. But I suspect that wasn’t someone I wanted to work with anyway – I didn’t want to spend my evenings on the phone. I wanted to spend them with my family.

5 Smart ways to keep home and work separate

How about you?

Do you have any strategies or tactics to keeping your home and work life separate when you’re working from home?

Quick! What do you do?You have 43 minutes until carpool. You have 17 items on your to-do list.

You're a business-owning mom, so you use this guide to prioritize your tasks in 2 minutes, and have 41 minutes left to knock out a task.

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