Remote Work: How to Draw the Line Between Personal and Professional Time

How do you stay focused when you’re working from home? This is like asking how do you work alone without losing your mind. The latter comes from a book titled “Solo: How to Work Alone (and Not Lose Your Mind)” by Rebecca Seal. 

Like many people who have experienced working remotely or even alone, the importance of establishing routines to be productive at home cannot be ignored or downplayed. It means you can draw the line between personal and professional time. 

Of course, it’s also a challenge to stay productive when home tempts you with many distractions. Or why would people lounge at cafes with their laptops, right?

How do you stay focused? 

“Productivity hack your brain,” Seal suggested, while a HBR piece suggests tricking your brain, too: “Pretend you’re not working from home.” And yes, learn to set boundaries, whether you’re living alone or with a big family.

But how do you establish your own work system when managing your talents as a global mobility professional or recruiter means never missing a phone call?

Well, hardly anyone makes a phone call these days. It’s possible you could get a text or email. If not, you know you’ll have to set a phone meeting ahead of time. Other than that, you can pretty much set appointments days or weeks ahead and set notifications, leaving you some time to do administration work. 

Plan phone meetings and downtimes ahead

Make sure to inform colleagues ahead of time of your availability and even when you will be disconnected. This is one thing no one talks about in any remote work policy topics so far, but it’s important. 

All too often in office workplaces, colleagues expect you to respond to emails or to other communication tools like Slack and other chat apps right away. 

They’re not going to help you concentrate on the task at hand, which is why companies do scrum first thing in the morning, and only lunch breaks should be breaking your momentum. If there are no meetings, your eight hours should be devoted to work after your team has mapped out the tasks for the day.

Set some boundaries or better yet set a timetable for making or entertaining calls. You can schedule a Zoom meeting with clients or even have people set a talk time with you on Calendly, where they can see your schedule of availability.

How to combat loneliness or boredom

If it’s harder to focus because you’re lonely, then make sure to connect with people after a long hard day’s work, whether it be with family or friends. Clubhouse has replaced the usual meetups after work — and what’s good about it is that it’s an audio app where no one can see you and your participation as a speaker is not recorded. The best part about it is that you get to network and get to know like-minded people.

It’s a more active way of staving off boredom compared to TV channel surfing or internet surfing, especially on YouTube, the 21st century TV. 

Some people do TV or internet surfing so they won’t feel so alone when they’re working. But it doesn’t work, because they are more of a passive experience. They exist to give you an emotional hit, which is not proper on work hours. 

Refraining from watching TV or internet surfing while working can also help you enjoy your entertainment choices after work. It comes off as a deserving reward after a hard day’s work. 

Have an accountability partner

Learn how to work with someone online, in real time. One trick is to watch people studying or working for 8 hours straight on YouTube. You will feel less alone, knowing there’s someone who’s focused on what they do.

The best way to go about it is to have someone you actually know work with you online; if they’re your colleagues, even better.  If involved with a team, have everyone else online as well. It’s like simulating an office environment and if you can add screen filters that show a background of, say, your actual office online, that would help keep everyone get the office feel.

Set up a smart physical space

Having an office setup far removed from your bedroom is also ideal. You become more consciously aware when you are in work mode. 

Fortunately, some companies in Silicon Valley know how to set this up for their employees, even for those in furnished rentals or one of the designated corporate apartments in northern California. In most cases, landlords don’t mind if it just involves a worktable (a standing one would be ideal) and a good chair with headrest.

Remember to establish your own set of routines, so you can be honed-in on your goals. For example, take remote work as a challenge for you to be creative, which is said to happen when you’re alone with your thoughts and your mind is clear of any distractions. 

“We can have creative moments (when) no one is looking,” Seal said.