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Put Some Clothes On and Get To Work: Tips For Working at Home

The key to a successful career out of your house is very, very sharp lines between on the job and on the couch.
Put Some Clothes On and Get To Work: Tips For Working at Home
Image credit: Shutterstock

I am a consultant in a large global firm and my official office is a good four-hour drive away. Whenever people hear that I work from home, they wistfully sigh and say, “you’re lucky, I wish I could do that?” I smile politely as they prattle on about how cool it would be to work in their pajamas, forgo showers and personal hygiene, and not have to worry about the mouth breathers at the office. There are others who shake their heads with furrowed brows and say, “I could never do that; I just wouldn’t get anything done.”

I’ve found that while it’s true that for many hygiene is the first casualty of the home-office employees, productivity doesn’t have to be; with a little discipline and by establishing clear and distinct boundaries between your work life and your home life here’s how you can make the most of your stay at home work experience:

Dress for success.

I have had friends meet me for lunch and look at me shocked because I am wearing business casual (if not a suit). “Why are you so dressed up?” they ask incredulously, “I thought you worked from home.”

By dressing no differently (or these days perhaps a little better) than you do at the office it puts you in a work mindset; it also has the added advantage of allowing you to go on a last minute sales call. I remember once when I was working from home, resplendent in my suit and tie when I got a call from my boss with his boss on the speaker phone, “how soon can you be in Toronto?” they asked. I said I could leave immediately and either fly and be there in about an hour or drive and be there in four.

They were amazed until I explained that I keep a bag packed for last minute business travel and I work at home dressed in a suit (at which point there amazement turned into a morbid curiosity). I hung up the phone, grabbed my bag and headed to Toronto. Being more prepared to spring into action than Batman gives you confidence which comes through in everything from conference calls to answering the door and telling the cable guy who is going door to door conning people into switching cable providers that he is interrupting your work. It’s a lot tougher to be convincing with disheveled hair, three day’s growth of beard, and crusty and wrinkled Transformers pajamas. Dressing the part also provides the additional benefit of providing you an appropriate boundary between work-time and leisure time. The first thing I do when I am finished with work is change into my “play” clothes.

Have a distinct work area.

I actually constructed a cubical in my living room that is my work area (yes, yes, I know it is amazing that I have stayed single so long, why hasn’t a woman just snatched me right up) I set up a desk, with a small bookshelf next to the window, a large book In front of my desk and a Japanese-style room divider in front of my computer; It’s not exactly going to make the cover of House and Garden but it is functional and makes me feel like I am working in an office. My two black labs serve as coworkers. One’s “office” is under my desk atop my feet, and the other’s is a dog bed at in front of the register to my immediate right). Both are good company, stare at me while I eat my lunch, and lay around doing nothing most of the day, which is to say, they are like most of the coworkers I’ve had throughout my career.

When you aren’t working stay out of your work area. It should not be a utility area where you pay bills, surf the web, etc.

Keep regular hours.

I am an early riser and tend to be at my desk and on the job at 6:00 a.m. There’s an element of practicality here. Being in a global firm means I have more time with my European colleagues and customers, but mainly I like to be finished by 3:00 to beat traffic up to my bedroom. Regular hours make you seem more stable (even if you are a raving nutcase). Since you have no commute it’s easy to be on the job before your boss, which always looks good. Here again, regular hours form a nice and neat boundary between work life and home life. If it’s 6:30 a.m. it’s time to be at work. If it’s 4:10 p.m. it’s time to watch Judge Judy.

Take regular breaks.

It’s said, not by me but by someone, that sitting is the new cheese burger. In other words, it is just as unhealthy to sit for long periods as it is to eat cheese burgers. I don’t have any data to substantiate that, but I suspect it’s hog wash. It’s not like people are standing on an elliptical machine while eating cheese burgers, it’s far more likely that people are seated whilst eating cheese burgers and therefore how could sitting for long periods of time be worse for you than sitting eating cheese burgers?

But yet again I digress. Sitting for long periods is reputedly bad for your physical health, but in a home office it can become stressful to sit at a computer for hours at a time. Regular stretching and water breaks breaks-up the monotony, keeps you somewhat physically healthy and allows you to go get a cheese burger if you want to. It’s important to remember "regular." I have taken to putting my breaks on my calendar and will (weather permitting) take my coworkers for a short walk. I allow myself a 20-minute break in the morning around 9:00 a.m. (note I am giving precise times to make it easier for a deranged fan to kill me, or process servers to serve me papers; in both cases it takes all the fun out of it for them) and am back at the computer at 9:20. I take a 20-minute lunch at 11:00 a.m. and another 10-minute break in the afternoon, usually around 12:30, and I wrap up work at 2:00 p.m.

Even though I frequently work longer than this schedule, having it as a routine helps me to avoid distractions and to stay productive.