How to set boundaries when you're working from home

Alice Olins
Photo credit: Unsplash

From Red Online

Feeling overwhelmed by working from home? Busier than ever? Red's career columnist Alice Olins says protect your time by creating some new rules...

There’s nothing like a pandemic to make us look at life afresh. Having said that, many of us were already overwhelmed by the pressures of work and life boiling over before the coronavirus struck.

Using busyness as a barometer for success had become the norm, which meant that time away from work somehow equated with apathy. A ridiculous notion to which many of us unconsciously subscribed. Today, we also need to process the aftermath of lockdown. If there was a more pertinent occasion to protect our time, I can’t bring it to mind. But how do we set parameters around something as fleeting as time?



First, by adopting a healthy dose of flexibility. Perfect boundaries are an urban myth, so let’s just collectively step away from that notion now. That said, boundaries enhance our lives because they give us a greater sense of control over how we exist (I’m a big fan, if you couldn’t already tell).

While maintaining them is an ongoing challenge, like a good post-work gin and tonic, they are worth the effort. Not least because we need to stop comparing our boundaries with those of other people. Remember, this is a deeply personal odyssey – so look inward, not outward.

Now that I’ve covered the basics, here are my top five tips for setting boundaries at work:

  1. Learn to say no. We’re conditioned to think that saying no is somehow rude, but remember this: youhave the right to refuse. When you do say no, you’re declining an offer, not a person. And remember that a deferred no is not really a no at all.
  2. Create a schedule. Draw up a timetable that represents your usual week and then carve out blocks of time for family, work, exercise and anything else that’s important to you. I diarise my blocks of time. For example, if I have a meditation session to fit in, I put it in my diary as a meeting. Bingo! No one disturbs me.
  3. Communicate clearly. It’s inevitable that your new boundaries will have an impact on those close to you, so tell them what’s happening. If you need to leave your desk every Friday at 4pm, let your team know – and stick to your plans. You set your own precedence.
  4. Switch off. Our smart devices give us freedom, but eat up our time. If you’re struggling to put yours down, replace each one with another activity. Swap your phone for a book between 8pm and 9pm, or your laptop for a magazine for half an hour after lunch. It doesn’t sound like much, but creating new habits without your digital devices goes a long way to freeing up chunks of time.
  5. Change your environment. We make associations between where we are and what we’re doing. So, if you find yourself always working after dinner on the sofa, for example, break the cycle and choose somewhere else to relax. Keep work in your work-only spaces and enjoy your free time elsewhere in the home.

Like so many other career development behaviours, setting boundaries sounds complex, but they are easy to apply to both work and home life. When we know we have time away from work – or, most currently, coronavirus news – it makes us more productive. So never feel bad or guilty about protecting your non-work time, because everyone wins in the end.

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