Balancing professional life with my private life always had been a challenge of mine. Although the longer I have worked, the more that struggle shifted. At first it was making sure I could carve out enough time for me to be me and not professional me. Learning to call it a day; learning to recognize when a mountain of work couldn’t be solved with one late evening. In those early years I was fortunate to have a co-worker who readily reminded me that it was okay to call it a day and pick up once again in the morning.
As I grew professionally, my personal life also was busy evolving. I collected a spouse and some children along the way and as I did, my priorities for work-life balance shifted. I had new motivation to create boundaries for work and personal life. As someone who operates solely out of a home office, the struggle of balancing two worlds—work and family—has reversed roles.
I very rarely have to remind myself when it’s time to call it a day. Now I’m more often reminding the people in my home when I am not available to meet their needs, which I realize sounds more callous than it is. It’s more a reminder that wanting an itemized list of snacks in the pantry isn’t something that should interrupt work; it’s something they can either figure out on their own or something they can wait for the next time I get up to refill my coffee mug.
The biggest, most persistent challenge of finding balance when working primarily from home is two-fold. It’s finding the space to work. Whether from a corner of the couch or a spare room transformed into office space. The second is getting those who live with you to recognize when you are working and when you are not.
Thanks to COVID-19 my own home office also doubles as distance learning headquarters. In full disclosure, as I’m writing this, there are office squatters behind me discussing what body part a couple of cherries looks like. With that conversation happening behind my chair, I feel the thinness of my boundaries, even though I also feel they have been met because it’s not actually a conversation that involved me, only one I overheard. Additionally, it’s a reminder of why I wear earbuds while working – a useful tool to help me distance myself from home while writing.
Of all the work arrangements I’ve had, I find separating work and personal life to be the trickiest with a home office. Everything blurs together. Editing from the couch to sit next to a kid watching cartoons who threatened a coup if I didn’t sit right there, right then. The homework that happens right next to me as I research a topic.
As strange as it may sound, there’s a benefit to COVID-19 coming into our lives and making the home office a bit more commonplace. It was a renewed confirmation that we all struggle to define our roles when they exist in the same space. Admittedly, I still love my home office—blurred lines and all—and wouldn’t trade my set up for the world. But I am re-evaluating how I draw my boundaries.