Working from home presents new challenges, especially when it comes to maintaining a work-life balance.
The clear stopping points, like lunch breaks or commuting hours, are gone, so it’s easy to stay at the computer and tell yourself, “it’s just one more email.” But maintaining a line between your personal time and the time when you’re on the clock can be immensely helpful.
Sometimes, time away from the screen entirely is the answer, but using technology can also be a great and seamless way to help keep that balance in check. Here are some tricks to let technology help you help yourself maintain a realistic work-life balance.
Change your notification settings
Most computers have notification settings that you can change to fit what you want — and don’t want — to come through.
For Mac users, look to “Do Not Disturb.” You can change what will send you an alert depending on the time of day. Maybe you don’t want your text messages to come through while you’re working, but you don’t want your work email pinging you while winding down with Netflix. You can also go into the Notifications section under System Settings for more changes.
PC users can look to “Focus Assist” for similar settings. You can also change what comes through based on other details, like whether you’re playing a game or duplicating your display, which could come in handy so that embarrassing email from your mom doesn’t show up in the middle of a presentation. You can even get a summary of what you missed once your Focus Assist time is over.
The only drawback to both options is that you can’t set profiles to make it easier for certain notifications to start and stop depending on your work schedule.
Changing your notification settings on your phone and any wearables you might have, such as an Apple Watch, can help keep the office out of mind once you’re off the clock.
Remind yourself to take a break
Many of us have heard the merits of taking breaks. Small gaps in between work can help us work more productively once we’re back in action, and it can provide a mental health boost. The tricky part is remembering to do it.
An easy solution is to set an alarm or timer for breaks. The Pomodoro method recommends splitting your entire workday into 25-minute chunks. At the end of each session, you take a five-minute break. And at the end of four or five, you take a longer break of 15 to 20 minutes. You can also take a longer lunch break around the time you normally would here.
Another workaround I’m partial to is charging my laptop before starting work, then unplugging it. When the dying battery notification comes up, I take a break. I find this works better when I have a longer story to write or edit, and I know that taking shorter, more frequent breaks will be less helpful.
There are apps that help with this, including PomoDone, Focus Booster, and Focus To-Do.
Set an agenda and forget about it
It’s easy to think of the unending to to-do lists we have, and when you’re office is at home and your work computer is with your (or the only computer you have at the moment), it’s easy to start picking up tasks long after the workday ended. But barring an emergency, it can wait a few hours until the next day rolls around.
It might feel good to get that one chore out of the way, but it’s easy for one thing to turn into another or take longer than originally anticipated. Rather than jumping to whatever needs to get done, just put it on a to-do list and forget about it. Using any number of agenda-setting apps or the iPhone native Reminders app can help.
To better keep your work and personal errands separate, take advantage of the list-making features. It might help to even parse out different types of work tasks. Use the app to set reminders, either when you start your day, or when you think you can best tackle them. You can also set a priority level to get to must-do items first.
Hold yourself accountable
It’s one thing to make a plan and another to execute it. Using time management apps can help you see how you’re using your time and whether you’re letting work take up larger chunks of your day than your realize.
Apps like RescueTime or Apple’s Screen Time can show you a breakdown of where your time with tech gadgets is going. Here, you can also see when you’re using certain apps. So even if you swear you’re off the clock by dinnertime, there’s no escaping the data.
Step away from the screen
While technology can be immensely helpful when it comes to making our lives easier, it can also come with a host of new problems. Much of our personal lives exist online or through screens, so it’s impossible to step away entirely once we’re done with our work. That said, putting down the phone or closing the laptop, especially once you’re done for the day, even for just 30 minutes, is beneficial.
Before checking your personal email or hopping on another Zoom call, this time for fun, let yourself have a moment away. This can help reframe your mindset away from work and move toward relaxing.