It’s the New Year, but you’re probably back to your same old work from the home schedule—taking calls from your couch, working late hours, and even checking emails on the weekends. In the midst of this ongoing pandemic, our work life has substantially merged with our personal life so that there’s little separation between the two. “Many employers are piling greater responsibilities on their staff and promoting a culture of open communication outside of traditional work hours. And due to fear of losing their jobs, many individuals working from home feel obliged to meet these demands,” says Jeffrey Ditzell, D.O., a psychiatrist based in New York City. When work and life are under the same roof, it can be difficult to keep them balanced.

As hard as it may be in these times, maintaining a healthy balance between your work and your personal life is essential for your mental and physical health, according to Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Life Will Get Better. “People who have blurred, or nonresistant, boundaries between their work and personal lives tend to have higher levels of stress and feel more distressed over time—eventually developing all of the health issues that come along with it,” she says. But, the good news is you can prevent this imbalance and all of the negative implications of it by drawing a fine line between your personal and professional life.

“Setting firm boundaries is crucial for a strong work-life balance,” says Regine Muradian, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist based in Los Angeles. Learning how to establish boundaries will set you on the route to keep your work-related activities in control and prioritize more time for yourself, even when the pandemic is over. Here are five expert-approved practices that will help you build great WFH habits for a happier and healthier work-life balance.

Establish set schedules for work

Designate when you will start and end the workday. When you set these times in stone (as best as you can), avoid checking your work email or accounts outside of your allotted work hours. “Use technology to your advantage by using the various apps and digital reminders that make it more difficult for you to break your own rules and access things outside of work time,” says Dr. Beurkens. “Although technology can feel like it’s taking over our lives and infringing on our work-life balance, we can actually use it to our benefit in helping us stick to the boundaries we know are healthy for us.” This can mean setting time limits, turning off your active status, or even activating an auto-reply to let others know you’re not available outside your work hours.

Schedule time for mindfulness and movement

An imbalance between your work and personal life can be emotionally draining and cause burnout. Ensure you’re getting enough time each day to decompress and rest, which is necessary for your health and well-being. “Make a habit to incorporate at least 10 minutes of mindfulness or yoga in your day. Prioritizing this time will help you check in with yourself in regards to how you’re feeling,” says Dr. Muradian. To boost your mood and start the day with an energy boost, incorporate physical activity in your routine, recommends Dr. Ditzell. “Pick any workout you enjoy and perform it regularly. This will enhance your mood and improve your experience of your day,” he says. Whether it is the first thing in the morning, during lunchtime, or before bed, creating time and space for consistent exercise and mindfulness will help you feel relaxed and rejuvenated.

Spend more time with your loved ones

Set aside time regularly to do the things you love with those you love. Plan special dates that you’ll look forward to and don’t overlap with your work hours. “This may include attending an online workout class, having a Zoom happy hour with friends, taking a walk with your partner, or anything else you want to make sure you fit into your day or week,” says Dr. Beurkens. You can also invest in more family time by checking in with your loved ones virtually and attending events, like birthdays and anniversaries. If you have any family events that may occur on a consistent basis, build your work schedule around those events instead of building those events around your work schedule, if possible.

Develop a new hobby to fuel your personal interests

The COVID-19 pandemic is the perfect time to reflect on your interests and adopt a new hobby that you love. If you’re WFH, you’re probably saving a lot of time and money on commuting, so why not put it toward a new activity or skill? Maybe it’s joining that 8 a.m. running club in your neighborhood, or growing flowers in your home garden, or perhaps learning a new language. “Think about something that feels good to you and will help you decompress. This may be a good time to avoid the news, social media and just do something for yourself,” adds Dr. Muradian. Finding purpose in a hobby will not only spark your inner creativity but also uplift and motivate you.

Use your vacation days

While there may not be much to do on a vacation during a pandemic, you still need that time off for your mental health and well-being. Do something that comforts you—maybe it’s taking a staycation and doing a movie marathon or spending a week in your favorite city. During your vacation, make sure to mute all work-related emails and accounts, if possible, and just focus on having fun. Additionally, throughout the year, don’t be too hard on yourself—take breaks every so often for that much-needed “me time.” “Reflect and evaluate when you need time off from work, which will shift you closer to the type of balance you are striving for. It is a process for most people, so reviewing and tweaking your schedule, habits, and boundaries regularly is important,” says Dr. Beurkens.

The pandemic killed the 9-to-5 workday for many.

 So much of our society — from after-school child care programs to the most coveted time slots for television shows — is structured around working from 9 to 5. But our countrywide experiment in remote work has demonstrated that the hours we are logged on don't matter as long as the work gets done.

 Dismantling the 9-to-5 workday adds a great deal of flexibility that could benefit working parents, caretakers, part-time students, and more.

  • "It becomes increasingly clear in a remote setting, especially with colleagues traveling or relocating to varying time zones, that trying to retain a rigid work schedule makes little sense for many jobs," says Darren Murph, head of remote work at GitLab, the world's largest all-remote company.
  • "One of the key perks of remote work done well is flexibility. This includes the flexibility of the schedule."

And it's not just white-collar office jobs that are becoming more untethered.

  • With the rise of gig work, millions of Americans are making money based on how many rides they complete or groceries they deliver instead of how many hours they work.
  • Yes, but: That model adds to the precariousness of the gig economy and is a big driver behind the movement to give gig workers full-employee status.

Setting hours independently gives workers the ability to tailor each workday to their specific preferences, Murph says. Companies that embrace work-whenever should also learn to communicate with emails and documents rather than scheduled meetings to allow employees to truly plan their own days, he says.

  • Parents can take a break in the middle of the day to play with their kids and then catch up on work after dinner.
  • Trips to the gym can be scheduled for the afternoon, between meetings, instead of at the crack of dawn.
  • If you're more productive in the mornings, you can begin the day before your colleagues. And the same goes for night owls.

Despite its perks, work-whenever — which means there is no clear time to log on or log off — has the potential to fray work-life balance.

Most companies are still used to the 9-to-5 workday and communicating through meetings, which require employees to be logged on at roughly the same hours.

  • Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom has been surveying remote workers throughout the pandemic, and the majority say their pandemic hours and pre-pandemic hours still have about 80% overlap.
  • So there's a chance work-whenever is "mostly a short-run pandemic phenomenon," Bloom says.

Whether it's allowing employees to telecommute or letting them set their own hours, companies will ultimately decide how much workplace flexibility they'll bring into the post-pandemic world.

  • And employees will likely make decisions on where they want to work based on company policies.