10 executives on how they’ve set work life balance boundaries during COVID-19

The lines between our personal life and professional persona have always been blurred. But with everything happening underneath the same roof for many leaders, stepping away from the computer is even harder. In fact, many executives share they are working longer hours during the pandemic than before since regular ‘breaks’ like commuting or grabbing lunch have been erased.

As we approach 100 days (or more) working from home, it’s essential to reassess your boundaries and determining what changes can be made for your mental health and productivity. Here, 10 professionals share what’s been effective for them during this crazy time:

“I kept my routine status-quo.”

“While Japan never went into a full-on lockdown-mode, I took it upon myself to do my part and decided to go beyond what the local government advised. Once the internal decision was made that we would all be working from home, I made sure that I kept to my regular timing and schedule, as if we were in the office. That meant waking up at the usual time and having meals, breaks, and after-work activities such as exercising, just like I would any other time. I was also very conscientious about my diet because of the sudden decrease in the overall activity level. By keeping my daily routine and schedule and adapting food intake, I believe I was able to maintain productivity and keep in shape physically and mentally. Now that restrictions have eased, and am going back to the office a few days a week; the transition back has been very smooth.” —Shinji Yamasaki, CEO, RE:ERTH

“I close my door.”

“I have three girls (ages 10, 7, and 3), and now I have a home office with a door that works (usually)! During working hours, when the door is shut, daddy is not to be disturbed except for emergencies. Emergencies have included wetting undies, someone getting partially run over by a mini segway (she is ok), and a frog getting loose in the house. Setting boundaries with kids appears to be a moving target.” —John Cascarano, president, Beast Brands, Inc.

“I stay connected to our team.”

Our team is distributed between the east and west coasts. While we’re accustomed to the structure required to operate remotely, we don’t have the same controls over our environment. Kids are at home, life partners have become office mates, and we’re all working around one another. For me, it’s been more about breaking old habits to create boundaries for our new normal. An invested team builds a healthy business. I keep it professional, but I am more mindful to check-in and ask, ‘how’s the family?’ These calls replace the water cooler talks and provide a break for them and me. I take lunch breaks, sometimes they are working lunches, just like pre-COVID, but this is a way to remind myself I’m halfway through my day.” —Terri Bryant, founder, GUIDE BEAUTY 

“I take time to exercise and be unavailable.” 

“Every evening I switch off my phone at about 9 pm and do not take it to my bedroom. Receiving emails late at night really disrupts my sleep, so keeping it out of the bedroom removes that temptation. Also, regular exercise is essential to me, and I was originally worried about missing the gym. However, I set up a mirror and bought some weights, and now I love my digital workout classes.” —Tania Boler, founder, and CEO, Elvie

“I create symbolic reminders to signal the end of work.”

” To set myself a physical and mental boundary, I have all of my ‘work’ electronics plugged into one power strip near my desk. When work is over for the night, the power strip is switched off as a symbolic reminder that I am done for the day. It’s also a great way to save energy and an excellent way to make sure I sit at my desk, which is the most ergonomic work location in my home. I also set daily mental intentions to challenge myself while working remotely. As my coffee brews in the morning, I set my plans for the day. Among the list, I always commit to a new sustainable action for the day. Since I’m at home, these are usually simple tasks: reduce shower time by one minute, adjust my thermostat one degree outside of the comfort zone or cook something without creating food waste.” —Kristen Fulmer, CEO, and founder, Recipric.

“I ensure I’m still learning daily.”

“While I’ve been work-from-home for a decade, my home office wasn’t my principal place of business. I was on-the-road more than 33 weeks a year, so it was airports, hotels, and coffee shops. The COVID shutdown initially looked like an opportunity to re-engage the techniques and disciplines WFH effectiveness. But any potential upside to my productivity was rapidly balanced out by needing also to learn how to teach-from-home. Like for many families, my sons’ schools were unprepared for distance learning and digital delivery. And my work calendar didn’t get less busy even though I was on fewer planes. The most important new boundary I needed to create was to dedicate time to their learning days. I’m devoted to my work and our organization’s mission, but my workday needed to start later, take a break for lunch, and be willing to be kid-driven for a change. I am privileged that I could be grateful to my colleagues for their understanding and glad I did.” —John Chrastka, executive director, Every Library

“I keep set working hours.”

“One thing that I have always found important even before the COVID-19 pandemic is setting strict work hours. My business partner and I are working remotely and keep our normal 9 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday work schedule. I find that it’s really easy never to stop working in this new normal without the boundaries of an actual office to signal work is officially over. I also make sure at the end of the workday to get outside. To go for a walk, do a little gardening, anything that doesn’t require looking at a screen and being indoors.” —David J. Krause, chief creative officer, and co-founder, Alder New York


“I make sure to go outside every day.”

“I’m naturally a bit of a workaholic, so having less structure and blending my home/work life is potentially terrible for balance. That said, I also have three kids, and that forces me to pause in a good way. Watching how much they’ve grown during quarantine alone is a constant reminder that I need to enjoy these moments. I make sure to go outside every day on a walk – usually trying to keep up with the kids on bikes and scooters. And we’re all foodies, so I make sure to cook yummy, healthy foods. Plus, I remind myself ‘progress over perfection’!” —Amy Liu, CEO, and founder, Tower 28 Beauty

“I limit news consumption.”

As a parent and leader of my company, I need to stay informed, but I try to limit the amount of media I consume, so it doesn’t become overwhelming and unhelpful. I also try to focus on being grateful for what we have and what we get to do, instead of what we’re missing out on. 

While we can’t travel as planned, we can still enjoy family time, walks to the beach, and a less cluttered schedule— it helps keep everything in perspective. Every night, I spend the time between dinner and bedtime with my family – I don’t even let myself look at my phone. I also try not to work from the end of the day on Friday until Sunday morning, so I have a mental break from work for an entire day.” —Deeanne Akerson, co-founder, and designer, Kindred Bravely

“I still go to therapy.”

“Investing in your mind could not be a better use of time, energy, and money. You’re stuck with it forever, so you may as well be reflective, understanding of your past, and encouraged to take the leaps and bounds necessary for the future. My recommendation? Find someone who is both a licensed psychotherapist and certified life coach. Past and present blend beautifully this way.” —Jordan Scott, CEO and founder, Cobble