Those of us who chose to work remotely most likely did so for better work-life balance. We like to imagine that since we’re working from home (or in my case, the office at my day job), it’ll be much easier to pop in on our kids’ playroom for short cuddles or tickle fights between tasks, whip up a healthy meal from a well-stocked fridge (courtesy of a flexible schedule that allows you to hit the grocery on a weekday morning), and perhaps even squeeze in a workout or two while you wait for your boss to approve your latest proposal.
Of course, anyone who’s actually telecommuted for a long time knows that the reality is far more complicated. Sure, a remote working gig gives you a lot more control over your schedule, but there are also days when it feels like your life is out of control.
So, how can you tell if you’re just having a bad day, or if your work-life balance is already off-kilter? Here are the signs, and what you can do once you’ve pinpointed where the problem lies:
1. You feel constantly guilty.
The thing about serving two masters is that you’ll never really be able to give either of them your 100%, and most often, that can really take a toll on you.
Most likely, you’re probably doing just fine on both the professional and personal front, but if you want to know for sure, ask yourself some key questions:
a.) If you have a family, are you able to have dinner with them at least twice a week?
b.) Are you able to submit your requirements on time?
c.) Do you have a general idea of what’s going on in your kids’ lives, if you have children?
d.) Are you confident that you can more or less manage your everyday workload?
e.) If you’re single, are you able to carve out time for yourself and work out/take a walk/see friends at least once a week?
f.) Is your boss or client mostly satisfied with your output?
If the answer to most of the questions above is “yes,” then you’ve got nothing to worry about. Bear in mind that it’s perfectly normal to have days when work might take precedence (e.g., when you have to work late and have fast food delivered rather than cooking a nutritious meal yourself) as well as vice versa (e.g., when you play hooky from work to attend your son or daughter’s awarding ceremony at school).
Once you accept that a good work-life balance can fluctuate between the two, you won’t feel nearly as guilty.
2. You have difficulty focusing.
Have you ever experienced sitting in on an important meeting, only to have your mind fixating on whether your plumber at home is doing a proper job or not? Or if you’ve ever sat in at a friend or a child’s football game, only to be preoccupied with the unanswered emails in your inbox?
Achieving adequate work-life balance doesn’t just mean allotting sufficient time for either, but also being present AND mindful during such as well. Simply put, work when it’s time to work (e.g., resist the urge to check your personal FB notifications, stop checking the fridge every five mins., etc.), and play when it’s time to play (e.g., quit opening your inbox when you’re at the movies with friends or family, don’t reply to work messages while you’re getting a check-up, etc).
3. You’ve gained a considerable amount of weight.
A sedentary lifestyle can make anyone pile on the pounds, but you may be facing some potentially serious health problems if you’ve been overweight for a while and have difficulty making it a flight of stairs without wheezing.
Think about when your weight started to increase, and see if it’s somehow related to your work routine. Do you find yourself mindlessly binging on chips after a long day at work? Do you often eat lunch or dinner in front of the computer and rarely recall what you ate?
In either case, you can either talk to your boss about possibly delegating some of your less crucial tasks to other people so that you aren’t as stressed out, or you can also find another outlet for stress that doesn’t involve food, such as yoga or my personal favorite, boxing.
4. Your home office is a mess.
Right now, my work desk isn’t the tidiest of places. I have a a few sheets of paper I should sort through,as well as a few sundry items such as a tin of liniment and some paracetamol in the drawers. Yes, I’m pretty much eager to believe this claim that brilliant people have cluttered desks (humor me).
Seriously, though, it can be quite hard to work effectively if you can barely see the surface of your work table and if you no longer know where your pens or laptop/phone chargers are, so make it a point to spend the last few minutes of your workday tidying up. You don’t have to clean up all of your drawers, but do throw out trash and sort out your papers so that the clutter doesn’t pile up.
This way, you won’t feel quite as frazzled by the pile on your desk the next morning.
5. You’ve become increasingly forgetful.
Think carefully, were you able to pick up your son/daughter from school today? (If you haven’t, best stop reading and get to it, friend.) Conversely, did you reply to your boss’ urgent email from this morning? (If you haven’t, best stop – you get the picture.)
It can be all too easy to forget things when you’ve got a bajillion items on your mental to-do list. It’s fine if you forget to do minor things such as wrap your friend’s birthday present or water your cactus, but if you black out on more important tasks or chores like the ones mentioned in the past paragraph, it probably means you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.
The only solution to do that is to cut back on your daily tasks. List down the things that need to be done TODAY, and relegate everything else to a weekly or even monthly list for you to attend to once you have the time and the wherewithal for them. You’ll feel a whole lot better with a pared-down but fully checked-off list, and you’ll be much more productive too since you’ll be able to focus on each task more.
Telecommuting is still very much a blessing to those of us who like to work at our own pace, and in an environment we feel most productive in. The key thing to remember is that your work-life balance won’t be perfectly level most of the time, and that’s okay. Recognizing the need to let go of all that pressure is the first step towards being a more effective remote worker and most importantly, being kinder to yourself.