I travel and work full time with my boyfriend, a dream that started many years ago and which we finally realized last year. Our lives fit in two bags most recently weighing 94.6 pounds in total; it's not a life for everyone, but it's the one we cherish and protect. Being on the road comes with many challenges, including the need for boundaries – space between us to work, relax, or just be alone. When you're together almost every minute of every day, those lines should be sacred to keep both your job and your sanity.
COVID-19 has brought some of our unique lifestyle challenges to America's doorstep. With many couples and families confined to working, eating and playing entirely at home, boundaries are key both to create the space you need to stay productive but also the space you need to recharge your batteries.
In the small apartments we normally rent from town to town, space isn't something we have a lot of, which means we're forced to get creative with our solutions for 'me time'. Here are some of our best.
1. Communicate with your roommates.
It's a natural starting point for anyone working from home with a roommate, spouse, child, or needy cat. If you've ever seen a half-dressed spouse participate in a video meeting with a client, you'll understand why this advice is at the top of the list. Those you share a space with aren't mind readers, and you can't expect them to just know what's going on in your day-to-day work life. Of course, a room with a closed door helps, but it's not feasible for everyone.
No matter the size of your house or the number of your roommates, communication is always beneficial. For me, I send a little text in the morning with a list of meetings for that day. Then, usually over breakfast, I share what kinds of tasks I'm working on and whether they require absolute focus (don't bother me) or if they're more mundane (fine, bother me, but hurry). Find a communication strategy that works for you and be consistent.
2. Designate an office space, but be flexible with how you define it.
When I started freelancing, I was working from the couch, my bed, the dining room table, the kitchen counter while eating leftover pizza – nowhere was I out of reach for me and my greasy MacBook. My apartment became my office, which was highlighted by the trail of pens, sticky notes and coffee mugs on any visible horizontal surface. When everywhere says "work", nowhere says "rest". Reclaim the sacred space of home by designating an official workspace.
No, that doesn't mean you have to drop several hundred dollars on an ergonomic desk and chair; a workspace can be as simple as a beanbag chair in the corner. Of course, if you decide to work outside for a few hours, that's fine. But by designating an official work zone, you're allowing the rest of your home to be a place to rest and recharge, which is crucial to avoiding overwork and burnout. Bonus:It also helps you avoid explaining 10 orphan coffee cups in one morning.
3. Learn and capitalize on your best working hours.
It took me several years of freelance work to find a schedule that suited me. At first, I was working from the time I woke up until my eyes hurt staring at the screen – around 5 to 6 p.m. I equated working more with working better. It wasn't durable and it certainly wasn't pleasant. I wasn't a good partner or friend during this time because work got the better of me, and there wasn't much at the end of the day.
It took me a few years, but I have a work schedule that totals between four and six hours spread over the day. But what works for me doesn't work for someone else. I am a morning person currently living with two night owls. Between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., I have the quiet space to do my toughest and toughest work while my brain is fresh. Find out what works for you, communicate that with those you share space with, and see how your productivity evolves.
4. Plan for downtime and protect it.
I need time alone. I don't often realize that I'm not going for days without it, which results in inexplicable irritability and bad temper. My solution:Schedule your most valuable personal time as you would a deadline or an important meeting. I block out an hour every day just to do what I want. Most of the time I read in a hammock or take a walk, but that little bit of private time does wonders for how I feel and interact with others for the rest of the day.
For those with children, getting away for an hour may seem impossible. Start small. Ask your spouse to take over for 15 uninterrupted minutes each day. If you can, do it at the same time so that it becomes habitual. After a week, think about your mood, your stress level, and even your physical condition. This was a game changer for me.
5. Reclaim your space.
Understand that sharing the same space with someone (or several people) does not mean that you give up your right to be alone. I'm talking about time outside of sleeping hours, working hours, and the special "me" you have on the calendar. Being together all the time doesn't mean you have to be together all the time. If you want to watch TV for yourself, talk. If you want to play some music, have a glass of wine, and work on an impossible-to-solve puzzle without making real progress, say so. These are activities that I could normally do with my partner, but that does not mean that I am giving up the right to do them alone.
It sounds simple in concept but more difficult in practice, as it also works in reverse. Be prepared to explain to your partner that even if you normally make popcorn and watch apocalypse movies on Thursday night, he'd rather do it solo this week. Navigating shared spaces is never easy, but when multiple parties are working from home, these issues can become more prominent. Find resolution by communicating your needs and understanding your limitations. It's a work in progress, and often best solved by working together.
Cecilia Meis is a full-time writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas. Besides Medium I/O, his work has appeared in Time Out Dallas, Rewire, Healthline and others. Outside of work, she plays beach volleyball, tries to cook at home, and works hard to make her cat, Nola, Insta-famous.
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