When the pandemic hit last spring, 4.7 million Canadians started to work from home. A year later, working from home has become a new norm for many. You may have noticed the physical toll of working from a makeshift home workstation: maybe your eyes are sore from constant screen use, or your lower body is feeling the effects of sitting all day.
But are you noticing the impacts of your new work situation on your mental health? Are you finding it more and more difficult to separate work from your home life? You’re not alone!
In the world of occupational therapy, the term “occupational balance” is often used to describe something that seems to be escaping us more and more these days: a state of harmony between time spent in work, play, rest, and sleep. There are many factors that influence the amount of time you are able to spend in any of these four categories, meaning that occupational balance looks a little bit different for everyone!
There is evidence to show that occupational balance leads to improved health and well-being, and that overabundance in one area (i.e., imbalance) can lead to illness, psychological distress, or boredom. We also know that working more than 55 hours per week can be considered a health hazard.
While it may not be possible to reach your ideal level of occupational balance, here are 5 tips to help you set your work apart from your personal life and make the most of your life outside of work:
1. Set your workspace apart
As much as possible, create a physical separation between your work and personal lives. If you have the space, set your office up in a different room or area of the house that can be closed off from the rest of your living space. Be sure to close the door to this area every evening when your workday is done. If you’re tight on space, try designating a specific storage place for your work equipment. At the end of your workday, store your equipment in its designated place, and leave it until the next morning. Out of sight, out of mind!
2. Consider an end-of-day ritual
To create a mental separation between work and play, consider adding an end-of-day ritual to your routine. This could be something as simple as taking a walk around the block, lighting a candle, or putting on your favourite song. This ritual might also include turning off work-related notifications for the night – using your phone’s preset “Do Not Disturb” setting can also help with this.
3. Create healthy routines
Achieving occupational balance can sometimes require planning. There are only so many hours in the day – make time for what is important for you by creating a schedule you’ll stick to. This means penciling in dedicated time for self-care and leisure activities and making sure to stay on schedule! It can also mean finding what works best for you by trying out different strategies: maybe you incorporate an hour of screen-free time in the mornings, or maybe you end the day with an evening meditation.
4. Start and end work at the same time every day
Consistency is key! Try to prioritize starting and ending work at the same time every day. Habits and routines allow for creativity and innovation, build your sense of self, and play a key role in improving your overall quality of life. Having consistent start and end times for your work can help you to maximize your working time and avoid longer work hours.
5. Develop hobbies and relationships outside of the workplace
If you’re currently in a state of imbalance and noticing that you are spending much of your time at work, it can be hard to think about prioritizing hobbies or making time for friends and family. Taking small steps to bring those elements back into your life can make a big difference. Start by calling a friend after work, or look into a new hobby you might like to try on your own.
This blog was written by Katherine Spicer, an occupational therapy student at Queen's University.