Many of us have four weeks of remote work and distance learning under our belt. How is it going? Have you established work or study start and end rituals? I have heard from some that it is difficult establishing boundaries between work time and personal time while working remotely during a pandemic. Absent the physical change of locations, and with entire families spending days and nights together under one roof, the lines between work and personal time easily blur together. If you are struggling with these transitions, you are not alone. Perhaps it is time to establish rituals.

In her recent Harvard Business Review article, “How to Transition Between Work time and Personal Time”, Elizabeth Grace Saunders, time management coach and founder of Real Life E Time Coaching and Speaking, explains that Mr. Rogers knew how to do transitions right. Each morning as he started the show, he would sing “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”, change his sweater, and change his shoes. What might you do to signal its work time or personal time?

Starting Work Rituals

  • Tidy up the house
  • Get a cup of coffee or tea and settle in at your computer
  • Play a song of your choice to signal work
  • Do a workout (or walk or practice yoga), shower, brush your teeth, get dressed, have breakfast and then turn on your phone and/or computer
  • Use breathing techniques such as Heart Focused Breathing™
    • Focus your attention in the area of the heart
    • Imagine your breath is flowing in and out of your heart or chest area, breathing a little slower and deeper than usual (aim for 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out)

Ending Work Rituals

  • Play a different song to signal the end of work
  • Conduct a final email review before shutting down
  • Review your task list and schedule unfinished tasks
  • Tidy desk
  • Go for a walk
  • Get comfortable – change from your “work” clothes to your “play” clothes. Even if that means changing from your jeans and a sweater to leggings and a sweatshirt.
  • Do some yoga or stretch
  • Walk to the mailbox and check the mail
  • Engage in a non-work conversation with family, friends or colleagues
  • Create a visualization that shows you leaving work. Picture setting down baggage or imagine being washed like you’re in a shower 
  • Breathing techniques

If you and your supervisor have arranged a staggered workday to accommodate personal obligations, try identifying quick transitions – 30 seconds or less. Perhaps include longer rituals to signal the very beginning and very end of each day – kind of like bookends. In addition, if your staggered workday includes evening work hours, be sure to have a hard stop and allow yourself at least an hour to unwind before bed.  

For more tips on structuring your workday, check out my March 23, 2020 post Effective Ways to Maintain (and possibly improve) Productivity While Working at Home

By: Elizabeth Hill, Associate Director, University of Colorado Boulder Ombuds Office