At the start of 2020, I was working in the office full time. We had six people in the office and there was a really great vibe. Then the pandemic hit and we all worked from home for the best part of two years and to be honest, at the end of 2021 I was mentally cooked.
Typically when you work from home, there are two things that happen…
One is you struggle to get motivated. And so you might sleep in, do a load of washing or watch some daytime TV.
The other end of that spectrum is that you can't switch off and so you find yourself working to all hours of the night. I used to have this tendency and so I’d make myself turn off the computer at 5 pm.
The problem was that I still found that I mentally couldn’t switch off. I was constantly thinking about work and I wasn’t being present with my family.
So as I said, by the end of 2021, I was cooked and I knew I had to make some changes.
In this post, I’m going to explain some of the things I’ve learned over the years and some of the changes I’ve made recently to stay productive and find the perfect work-life balance – especially if you work from home.
1. Have a Dedicated Work Space
Have a dedicated work space that allows you to separate your work (where you need to be switched on) from home (where you need to relax). This will help your body and mind adjust between the two. It will also help you be more productive when you aren’t distracted by washing or mail that’s sitting on the table.
Try not to use your work space for your downtime because having that separation is really important.
If you don’t have the space or you live with flatmates, then use a Japanese screen to block it off so that when you’re not working, you aren’t constantly reminded of it.
Try and make your workspace as pleasant as you possibly can. I love to use led lighting and I have all my gear set up in a way that puts me in a good headspace and helps me transition into work mode.
2. Have Boundaries Around Your Time
Have specific working hours, otherwise, you’ll find yourself finishing dinner and grabbing the laptop which means you’re not fully winding down which can negatively affect your sleep and even lead to burnout.
This year, I have placed even stronger boundaries around my time – I don't take any meetings on a Monday except with my business coach or my CFO working on the business. I don't talk to my team, I don't join in the daily huddle and you can’t book anything on my calendar.
From Tuesday to Friday I work hard each day until 2 pm. And at 2 pm I do something for myself such as go for a swim or to the gym. I basically unwind and take some time to transition from work mode to home life.
Now my brain isn’t working at 100 miles per hour in the evening and I feel like a totally different person. The key is distraction – I've realised that I do not do my best thinking or make my best decisions while I'm looking at the computer.
If you think you’re too busy to take time for yourself – consider this quote from Elon Musk:
“If you give yourself 30 days to clean your home, it will take 30 days. But if you give yourself 3 hours, it will take 3 hours. The same applies to your goals, ambitions and potential”
3. Work Hours That Align With Your Energy Levels
Look at your work week and ask yourself what days and times are you most productive. And then think about when your energy levels are at their lowest.
I stopped working after 2 pm because I realised I wasn’t getting much done in the afternoons because I was tired and distracted… I was basically just breaking stuff and going down rabbit holes on the internet.
When you stop being productive, this is where you step away from the computer and do something else because it gives you space and time to think about the business.
4. Have a Morning and Afternoon Routine
Having a morning and afternoon routine is another thing that will help you transition between working from home and being at home.
Coach Pete Perry recommends starting your day by writing down or taking some time to think about three things that you’re grateful for. And then plan your day.
There are a couple of helpful methods to help plan your day. Pete uses the daily and monthly planner.
Or you can also use the rocks method.
At the end of the working day write down what went well and what you learnt. Then take a look at the things you didn’t get done and transfer them to the next day.
5. Use the Pomodoro Method
The Pomodoro Method is based on taking frequent 10-minute breaks. I do 50 minutes of focus and then take a 10-minute break. You can use an app called Time Out on Macs and program it so that every 50 minutes it shuts down your computer for 10 minutes and plays some music. I find this extremely beneficial for my focus and productivity.
6. Use Downtime on Your iPhone
If you spend hours scrolling through social media on your phone, let me tell you – it’s a waste of time and it isn’t good for your state of mind. Studies have shown that it can lead to low quality sleep and harm mental health.
If you have an iPhone, there’s a function called Downtime. It allows you to block apps within a certain time period each day. I set mine from 8 pm until 6 am so that if I click on Facebook or any other time-wasting app…
By using this function it forces you to find healthier ways of relaxing such as reading, meditating or spending time with family or friends.
7. Have a Separate Business Phone or Line
If you don't have a separate business phone, you absolutely have to have a separate business line because as I explained earlier, you need to have boundaries and keep work and home life separate.
You can even get a virtual phone number that directs the call to your mobile or your voicemail depending on what you have specified as your work hours.
8. Have a Plan
If you get distracted easily, it might be that you don't know exactly what you're supposed to be doing at any given time of the day or week. Or it might mean that you have a plan, but other things are getting in the way.
I think the main challenge for people is that they don't actually know what their quarterly priorities are. And therefore, they end up just reacting to things that will take them off course. Such as distracting emails, requests or social media.
If you don’t have a quarterly focus, you’re not clear on what you're supposed to do. So you end up getting knocked around like a pinball inside a pinball machine with no control over the levers. Other people are just whacking you around and you're responding to their agenda and to their demands.
Once you have a plan and set goals it stops you from getting distracted. For example, if something pops up that might be an interesting work opportunity but isn’t in your plan, then you know to say no. Because it’s not a priority and it will take you off course.
Not sure what to focus on next? Download our Your Agency GPS™ Scorecard.
9. Delegate Outcomes Not Tasks
The problem with delegating tasks is that the team member doesn't have a clear context around why the task is important. Therefore, they’ll come back to you and ask questions when they get stuck.
The idea is to delegate outcomes to team members, not tasks.
When you delegate an outcome to a team member, they will typically then figure out the tasks that need to happen to achieve that outcome.
Empowering your team and giving them the responsibility to make decisions without you is good for them because they feel like they have more responsibility and that you trust them. It also frees you up because you don't have to micromanage or approve every single thing.
The first thing you have to do is get really clear about the outcome that you want your team to achieve and write the success criteria for that outcome.
When hiring new team members you also need to assign outcomes for their role and assign a success criteria. Find out how to create a job scorecard for your team here.
10. Use the 4 D’s of Time Management
The 4 D’s come from David Allen's methodology of getting things done.
Use the 4 D’s to help you manage the sheer volume of stuff coming at you.
Here’s how it goes:
- If you can do it yourself in less than two minutes: Do it
- If you’re busy or not the best person to deal with it: Delegate it.
- If it’s not urgent: Defer it. (Tip: I use Polymail which has a “remind me” function to get back to that email at a later date)
- If it’s an unnecessary task: Delete it.
It’s extremely common for entrepreneurs and business owners to burn out. It’s so important to maintain a work-life balance to reduce the risk of burnout and to live a happier life.
So get out of the office environment at various times throughout the day and move your body. Even if it’s a short walk outside to take a few deep breaths. And make sure you block out a few hours in your calendar each week where you do something to distract yourself from work and rest your brain.
If you’re struggling with your work load, then reach out to us. We have helped thousands of overwhelmed agency owners find their balance by working smarter not harder.