On the Apple TV+ series “Severance,” a corporate employee (played by Adam Scott) undergoes a radical form of brain surgery: A microchip implant cuts off all memories of his personal life while he’s at work, and vice-versa.
It’s a thought experiment that speaks to a central issue of the COVID era: the eroding boundary between work and home life. With work-from-home situations on the rise, and with digital technology keeping us tethered to our work 24/7, life can begin to feel like a disorienting mashup of these two worlds. It’s especially worrisome considering the negative impact that working from home can have on physical and mental health: People sleep worse, exercise less and work more outside of work hours.
In response to this problem, several countries have gotten on board with the “right to disconnect” movement, which champions workers’ collective right to keep their home lives separate from their jobs. Belgium and Portugal are a couple of the latest European countries to pass laws ensuring that employees are not pressured to respond to work-related phone calls, text messages or emails during non-working hours.
Without any such formal rules in the U.S., it falls on remote workers to set some boundaries between their occupations and the rest of their lives. In the absence of real-life Severance-style surgery, here are some of the best ways to do just that:
Keep a morning routine that has nothing to do with work. Go for a jog, meditate, do some reading or simply stand in the sunlight. Wait to sit down at the computer and/or check emails until work hours begin.
Podcast host/writer Morra Aarons-Mele recommends creating a ritual to get yourself into work mode. “As much as we hated our commutes, they were a ritual that created a boundary between work and home,” she says in this TED Talk. As a replacement, she suggests establishing a breathing or stretching routine, using special music or lighting, taking a walk around the block, or having a pep talk with a friend.
- Use different logins for your work and personal accounts on your devices. Better yet, use separate phones and/or laptops for work and for life outside of work.
Professionals such as Vice Software CEO Ryan Vice have recommended that remote workers create a dedicated workstation for themselves. Even a makeshift curtain separating your workspace from the rest of your house will help keep potential distractions out of sight and out of mind. It also sends an unspoken message to people who might be tempted to thwart your work mission. A “do not disturb” sign goes even further in that regard. Setting these kinds of boundaries doesn’t just help with productivity—it might just prevent you from going viral for something that happens during a Zoom call.
- Let your employer know what your hours of availability are. In the politest way you can find, make it clear that you’re not dealing with work-related stuff outside of those hours.
Forbes’ Bryan Robinson advises getting some noise-canceling headphones. Don’t let any invasive sounds inside or outside the house break your flow while you’re working.
- During work hours, resist the temptation to browse the internet, engage with social media, watch TV and so on. If you must indulge in these distractions, do so purposefully, using them as breaks from work. Set a time limit and honor it.
- At the end of the day and on days off, shut off your work notifications, and stop checking your inbox. If it’s too tempting to check these over the weekend, delete your work email and messaging apps from your phone until it’s time to pick it back up again on Monday morning.
Damon Orion is a writer, musician, artist and teacher based in Santa Cruz, CA. Read more of his work at damonorion.com.
Header image by Erin Larson via Unsplash.
Read more: The Case for the Four-Day Workweek
Read more: Work from Anywhere (But Here)