Staying Home – How to Keep the Balance When You Work from Home

Most cliches don’t attain their status without containing at least a grain of truth.

So when Betsy Westhoff founded her consulting company out of her home office, the busy entrepreneur knew she’d need ground rules to stop work time from consuming her family time.

Because all work and no play makes Betsy Westhoff a very unhappy woman.

But Westhoff has long recognized the importance of work/life balance. As a director in corporate marketing, Westhoff learned to rely on a network of experts to help her keep things running smoothly in all areas of her life, including at home. For example, when she, her husband Mark and two sons, Jimmy and Will, moved in to their 5-bedroom, 4-bath Winnetka home in 1999, Westhoff refused to let decorating the home consume her time and energy.

So, she engaged the help of a Wilmette-based interior designer, which allowed the job to be completed more quickly with far less frustration.  While the family home is beautiful, working from home can be isolating during the day, but there are just as many challenges when people are underfoot in the evenings.

To maintain a balanced life, Westhoff developed a system to help her keep work and home separate.

For example, when the French doors separating Westhoff’s large office from the kitchen are closed, her sons know she’s working, and she says they don’t knock unless it’s important.  And when she’s home by herself during the day, Westhoff uses the entire home, something she advises all women to consider.

Westhoff even hosts business meetings in the dining room sometimes, and she says her colleagues often marvel at how relaxed she seems about them working so casually in a room many families don’t use much outside of holidays.

“I’m very comfortable inviting people into my home and using my home as my office,” Westhoff says.

But she wasn’t always so relaxed.

“When I had kids I realized that I’ll never have people over if I’m this buttoned up,” says Westhoff.  “ One of the things I’ve learned is that if you can treat things more casually, then nothing seems to be too much of a burden.”

By believing that things will work out in-the-end and by absolving herself of the need to make every decision, Westhoff’s freed herself to focus on what matters most: building her business, nurturing her friendships and most importantly, enjoying family time in her gorgeous Winnetka home.

Work from home tips

1. Set very specific hours of work and hours that you need to dedicate to yourself or your family. “For families with younger children, keeping those rigid rules is a really good idea,” Westhoff explains.  “With older children, you can develop a daily schedule depending on what you need to accomplish in your life.”

2. For those who are more likely to be distracted, maintaining a fairly rigid calendar can be a helpful way to stay focused.

3. Get a comfortable chair and a flat surface where you can spread out your things.

4. Don’t get cramped into a corner. “I think it really limits your creativity,” Westhoff says.

5. Move around to different spaces within your home. “Some days I’ll sit at the island in the kitchen, and some days I’ll sit in a different room and spread my work out in a different way,” Westhoff says. “Often that craziness gives you a fresh start.”

6. Make sure you have good task lighting. “Even with best intentions, you’re often up in the evening or early in the morning trying to get work done,” says Westhoff.  “You get much more fatigured much more quickly when working in a space with bad lighting.”

7. Make sure your family knows the rules and doesn’t break them. “If I really need to work and not be interrupted, I’ll close the office door,” says Westhoff. “My boys know that means I’m busy.”

8. Don’t put off family time. “When my husband comes home, he’s done for the most part,” says Westhoff. “You have to develop an internal barometer to ask yourself, “do I really need to do this now or can it wait until morning.”

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