Back when “going home” was a thing we did after work, most teams had some sort of group norm for when was acceptable to shut down for the day. Maybe around 5 p.m., people started leaving, and the majority departed by 6 p.m., with a bump around the time the boss went out the door.
With millions of people working from home for the first time in the wake of Covid-19, though, those norms are now less clear. If people aren’t commuting, the workday theoretically never has to end, though, of course, it should. But there’s an approach beyond counting hours to determine when you’ve put in an honest day’s labor — and I think it’s ultimately more effective than watching the clock in any scenario.
When I first began working for myself and from home years ago, I immediately realized that I rarely felt fully “off.” There was nothing stopping me from watching TV all day, but the more common issue was that I would half work and half not work until it was time to sleep. There was always something I could be doing, so I felt guilty if I was in my apartment but I wasn’t doing it. This experience is common, according to a JDP survey of Americans who are newly working from home. And 66% of respondents said they are more likely to work nights and weekends than before.
The ‘Home Office’ Does Not Exist
Don’t try to replicate your workplace environment at home
Eventually, I learned how to effectively divide the workday into time on and time off: short, focused daily to-do lists. Some items were concrete tasks (“write draft of column for Medium”), some were more open-ended (come up with new article ideas, think about a new introduction for a book proposal), and some were administrative (“email triage” was a frequent one), but whenever something went on the list, it was a guarantee to myself that I would do it before quitting time.
Once I had my list for the day, I figured out when, roughly, I would tackle each item, based around what productivity guru David Allen calls the “hard landscape” of the day…