Setting boundaries as a remote worker

person leaving office

February 19, 2021 by Jason Yavorska, photo by Andrew Neel

Async and remote work can be wonderful, but one of the most difficult things to do for people new to working in this way is to set clear boundaries between work and home life. It’s easy to slowly let work take over more and more of your time and attention, but with a few simple things kept in mind, you can stop this from happening.

I’ve organized things here from the start of your day to the end, with different ideas about how you can structure or ritualize your day in order to establish working boundaries. I hope they are helpful, and I’d love to hear about your tips and tricks that work for you. Here’s to a better balanced life going forward!

Starting your day

A healthy work/life balance starts with how you begin your day, and I like to jokingly refer to my rule here as to “always put on pants.” The point isn’t the pants wearing, so to speak, but to have a moment where your morning trasitions from home life to work life. When working in the office you have the actual commute which serves as a ritual to transition you between the different states of mind, but at home it’s not automatic.

There are different ways you can do this, for some people the shower and dressing routine are sufficient, but for others you need a bit more. Perhaps closing the office door behind you is one idea. Going for a walk prior to starting work is both healthy and brings back in an actual physical transition. Spending a few moments drinking a coffee and reading the news can be enough. Tidying your work area each morning can be a nice way to ensure a clear work area and a clear mind.

In the end, the point isn’t any one particular activity, but to have a routine that marks the transition for you. From that moment you’re working and no longer at home.

Making the most of your time

Once you’re settled in, one of the most important things you can do is to spend your time intentionally. This is the key to getting the most out of the day, and feeling satisfied that you’ve put in a good day’s work, and don’t need to feel guilty about disconnecting.

I don’t do it every day, but now and then I like to take stock of how I’m spending my time and monitor for every hour what I spent my time on. Was it a good use of time? Was I efficient and able to make the progress that I wanted? If not, it’s a clue how you can make some adjustments that will ensure you’re getting the most out of the time you’re spending working. For me, meetings and chat can be a real time waster. For meetings in particular there’s a nice technique where you use a ROTI score, or Return on Time Invested, to double check that the time you spent was worthwhile. There can be a lot of time to win back by declining meetings.

Another way you can manage your workday, uniquely when working remotely or async, is to split up your day. Perhaps you are an early riser and sign on after waking up, but then you also have meetings with folks in a different time zone in your evening. It’s really easy to accidentally let the early morning roll right into the late evening, so what I ended up doing was to schedule a split in the middle of my day. It was good sized - two or three hours depending on what I had going on - but my day still added up to the normal eight hours.

A good communication plan

In order for all of this to really work well, it’s important to have a good communication plan written down somewhere so everyone can roughly expect when you’ll be available, and who they can reach out to when you’re not. 99% of the time no coverage is really needed, they just want to know when you’re back so they can reach out then, but it is handy to have someone who can help if there’s something semi-urgent.

Something that I’ve found after working this way for some time is that I didn’t need notifications turned on in any of my work apps on my phone any more. If I’m working I’m working, and I’m at my computer and engaged anyway, and if I’m not, then I’m not. There’s a communication plan in place, and I leave my WhatsApp notifications on for anything truly urgent. In reality, nobody really ever needs to use it since they know who to reach when I’m not available.

Wrapping up

You’ve reached the end of a productive day, and it’s time to sign off. Just as you’ve completed a ritual for starting your day, you should end it with one. Some of the best ones here are ones where you can undo what you’ve done at the start of your next day. For example, you could close your laptop at the end of the workday, and then start your next day by reopening it and logging in. This creates a separation and a moment where work ends and regular life resumes.

Similarly to the morning, taking a walk can be a great healthy choice here too. Whatever you do, you should turn off notifications except perhaps one (SMS?) where the team knows they can reach you in a real emergency. You don’t need to casually check Slack or email, trust in the communication plan you’ve built and you’ll find that if you


Person working remotely

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