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Separating Your Work Life From Your Home Life

The Information Age makes working from home a breeze. E-mail, intranets, phone calls and faxes improve productivity and help create flexible lifestyles -- but they also can make it difficult to separate your work and home lives.


This can be a problem whether you're a telecommuter or a regular commuter who brings extra work home with you.

"It's easy to allow work to take over when it's in your home," says June Langhoff, a Pacifica, Calif.-based consultant and author of "The Telecommuter's Advisor." "You have to be on the alert."

To keep work from consuming your home life, Ms. Langhoff suggests the following strategies:
  • Set expectations with family and friends. Your family, housemates, friends and neighbors need to know that when you're working at home, you're working -- and they should know when and how to interrupt you. If work constantly consumes your home life, remind yourself why you chose to work at home. "Maybe it's because you'd like to have some flexibility, more free time or more time with family," Ms. Langhoff says. At the same time, at-home workers must consider what's acceptable to their families.
  • Let the answering machine pick up. Early morning or evening phone calls from colleagues or clients can infringe on one's personal life. East Coast early birds have been known to call Ms. Langhoff's California office line as early as 4 a.m. her time, so she sometimes turns off her phone's ringer. If someone calls in the evening, she'll say, "I'm on my way out the door. I'll be glad to call you back tomorrow morning." Having a separate office line and caller ID helps her know which calls to answer.
  • Separate work and personal e-mails. File incoming work e-mails separately from personal ones, if possible, and deal with each at a designated time.
  • Clock in, clock out. There's no car or bus commute to put distance between you and your work worries when home is the official workplace. Setting your own transition rituals can help ease you out of work mode and back into a more relaxed, personal mind-set -- or vice versa. "Do whatever works for you. Some telecommuters I've talked with will go out to Starbucks and come back to their home offices with their coffee -- that's their morning ritual. Then, at the end of the day, they may take a walk around the block," she says. When you close up shop, push in your chair and shut the computer cabinet. "If I'm being really good, I'll tidy up my work area. So then, it looks too neat to start again," Ms. Langhoff says.
  • Set a regular non-work schedule. Plan a lunch with a friend, buy season tickets to the symphony or go to the gym. "Those kinds of regular activities get you out with people and remind you there's another life," says Ms. Langhoff.  "Then, say to yourself, 'How can I get back to that?' Ask for help from family and friends. Build in some time for you and your family -- whatever that might involve."  And when you need a break, such as a vacation, consider leaving your laptop at home. "Now, when I go on vacation, for the most part I don't take my technology with me," Ms. Langhoff says. "I even try to stay at a place that doesn't have a phone. If I don't do that, I never turn off my business side."