Small apartment living also ranked high in the survey results, and so I thought that I’d write about maintaining work-life balance in a tiny apartment. Like many of us, I have worked from home exclusively for the better part of a year. I have a simple trick that I do each day to make sure that work doesn’t take over my entire apartment. Or my entire life.

A post in the Small Spaces series.

My home is not an office

If you walked into my tiny apartment today (in an imaginary world where no Covid exists), you would never guess that I work here full-time and have for months. I have a second monitor, a keyboard/mouse setup, and even a standing desk, but unless you arrived during working hours, you’d have to look for them.

My best work-life balance hack in our strange era? Put work away, literally, at the end of the day, every day.

Photo of a portable standing desk on a kitchen table.
My handy portable standing desk, from a Kickstarter project I backed last spring. Somerville, Massachusetts, USA

Working without a dedicated space, but with everything I need

How many articles have you read about the importance of having a dedicated workspace?  I wonder how many of these people have exactly one small bedroom, a postage-stamp living area, and a galley kitchen? Maybe I should create a dedicated space in the tub?

While I do have a desk, it’s my thinking space, not my day-job space. Plus, it’s in my bedroom, so no thanks for the Zooms. Even when I had a bigger place and worked from home frequently, I reserved my reading room for my own thoughts.

So many articles extoll the virtues of a dedicated workspace for keeping you productive. Some mean well, as they argue that making a space for work means that the rest of the space is yours for living. I have a counterpoint: Don’t do that. I don’t have a dedicated workspace. I have a dedicated home, where I happen to work. If anything, I have spaces dedicated to non-work.

Now, it’s true that I live alone, so I do not have a partner, roommates, or children to negotiate with when it comes to space for work. I still think that we lose something when we turn our homes into offices. 

Home-work space with two monitors
My two-monitor setup. Please forgive the bad blurring, but enjoy the Ollie screensaver. Somerville, Massachusetts, USA

A typical workday in my home

I dedicate zero space exclusively to work, and yet I have everything I need do my challenging job. On Friday, for example, after a quick check of emails and dashing off an agenda for a meeting I lead, I attended an online presentation. I did these things standing up, using a truly portable standing desk from MOFT that I had backed on Kickstarter last spring. I set it up on my kitchen table.

Next, I needed to do some focused work which required two monitors, so I set up my second monitor also at the kitchen table, along with my keyboard and mouse and sat down (yes, on a kitchen chair. I have a special cushion for when my back gets sore, but I’ve found that I have fewer aches and pains working from here, even without a proper office chair). My standing desk folds up in seconds. An hour after that, I needed to lead two meetings, which I also did from my kitchen table. My meetings are internal, and we’ve been pretty forgiving about settings, so I just made sure that my camera pointed away from the breakfast dishes!

Moving the keyboard, I made room to eat lunch at the table before playing fetch with Ollie (it was SO cold that he didn’t want to go for a walk, and neither did I, but we would usually take one after lunch).

In the afternoon I took a couple of calls from the sofa, with Ollie at my side. I finished the day there, catching up on emails and getting a few things done ahead of the weekend.

Living room with my work laptop

Put it away

Once the computer shut down, I got up, put my computer, charger, work phone, and headset in my backpack, the same one I used to use to tote stuff to and from the office, and I hung my backpack up in my closet. I put away the monitor and keyboard/mouse, and stashed the standing desk. All traces of work disappeared in less than five minutes. I sat back down on the couch, Ollie hopped on my lap, and the weekend began. It ended when I pulled my backpack out of my closet on Monday morning.

Kitchen table without work setup
Kitchen table, back to rights. Somerville, Massachusetts, USA

Putting work away helps me stick with regular hours and maintain work-life balance

While sometimes I work all day from the kitchen, and others exclusively from the sofa, no matter what, I put away my work setup the instant I turn off my laptop. If I left it out, I’d be tempted to check an email from my phone. One email would turn into ten, and then I’d have to go just check one thing on my laptop, and, before you know it, I’d have worked the entire evening.

Now, like most of us, I do indeed work some overtime. This past autumn in particular I had a long stretch endless Zooms and preparation for said Zooms, and I worked a lot of hours. But I work less overtime than I used to, and I go back to my regular routine much easier, in no small part, because I make sure that my physical space bears no traces of work when I am not working. This is my home. I happen to work here, but this isn’t an office. This is my dedicated home.

What about you? If you’re working from home these days, what do you do to help maintain work-life balance when it comes to your physical space? Let me know in the comments below!

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