The year is 2008 and I've just lost a beloved relative. It's my first Shiva. As I enter the host person's bedroom to stow my purse, in the corner of my eye I spot a large, square mirror covered in heavy black cloth. This concealment is a Jewish Shiva tradition: mirrors invoke vanity, distracting one from the purity of mourning and communion time with God.
What struck me most about that large, dark shape is that I barely noticed it. It was almost completely camouflaged by the wall and its surroundings. Later on, as I hovered amongst other mourners, a totally shallow, but brutally honest thought flashed in my mind: I wish I could hide my workspace just like that mirror.
You see, even with all the benefits of working at home, one distinctly powerful negative lingers. If you have electronics or work surfaces out in the open, you'll connect them with your work life. Your desk will be a reminder. Your phone will be a reminder. Your computer will be a reminder.
Thankfully, there are simple ways to create a psychological barrier between your work life and home life. Here are four big ones:
1. Get a Google Voice number just for friends and family
If you're unfamiliar with Google Voice, it's a service that gives you your own phone number to receive and make free local calls. The features are only part of the genius. There's a Google Voice app for iPhones, iPod Touches and Android phones, making the service both ultra-portable and spry.
When you receive a call on your mobile phone from work, you'll see the number of origin. When someone calls your Google Voice number your mobile will ring, but your Google Voice number pops up as the number of origin. So, give your Google Voice number only to select friends and family members and set up a different ring tone just for that number. Then you can pick up the phone when your loved ones call and let your work calls go to voice mail.
2. Shut down your electronics and hide them - including cables
If you use a laptop, tablet or other small device, shutting your electronics down at the end of the day is a must. If you can simply hit the “on” button and dive back into work, however, you'll need to up your game. Start by putting your laptop in an out-of-reach place, like the shelf in your closet. Take your power cables and put them in another annoying, hard-to-get-to spot. The point of this exercise is simple: the more annoyance you'll suffer to start working, the smaller the chance you'll ditch your down-time and fall back into work mode.
3. List all your tasks on an old-school notepad
For many people, this girl included, a lot of work-from-home anxiety stems from mental disorganization. It's all about the answers. What are you supposed to do today? What are you supposed to do now? What are you supposed to do tomorrow?
Not having a clear task list means an ambient, back-of-your-mind worry will permeate your daily hike with your dog, that barbecue with your family or your Orange is the New Black binge-athon. If the anxiety is truly bad, you'll lie awake at night like an angst-y Pirate ghost, stuck in a state of limbo, unable to sleep … yet not cogent enough to deliver quality work.
Save yourself this frustration by listing out tasks and times on a paper notepad. Use all caps. Put the notepad away if you have no immediate tasks. Writing out a schedule by hand is like doing a data dump. You'll leave your anxieties on that piece of paper and immediately compartmentalize your work time and play time.
4. Set your Skype status to “Do Not Disturb” instead of “Away”
During the Robert Zimmerman trial, Scott Pleasants was set to testify by video using Skype. This caused two problems. One, real-time viewers could plainly see Pleasants' Skype name. Two, pranksters bombarded Pleasants with Skype calls and messages during testimony.
Every time Pleasants started talking, he was drowned out by pings. Even worse, a stacking cascade of incoming call messages hid Pleasants' face, completely ruining his testimony. The exasperated judge grew so annoyed, she ended the call within minutes.
This scenario is admittedly over the top, but setting yourself to “do not disturb” Skype status means you'll get notifications of calls and messages, but you won't hear a thing. This can make a huge difference in your time off. Especially if you're using your computer for online shopping, ordering takeout or stealing relics from World of Warcraft n00bs.
If you work from home, compartmentalizing your down, and up time, is not just important … it's essential to your quality of life. Be vigilant about setting boundaries, as well as maintaining them, and you'll not just enjoy your treasured time off ... you'll be a happier, more organized, and more productive worker.