Business 101: Working From Home -- Keeping It Under Control
Last updated: 8/17/2002; 7:22:29 AM
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Business 101: Working From Home -- Keeping It Under Control

My last day of "full time" work was something like September 19, 2000. That's when I lost my temper, left my dot com and re-entered the land of "Work at Home" people.  As you can tell from the quantity of output I produce here and other places, I'm probably the last person you'd think would be writing about keeping their work life under control.  Arguably my work life is not under control – it fills my very being.  True.  But you should bear in mind that just because someone doesn't do something, that doesn't mean they don't know how to do it – but, perhaps, they choose not to.  That's my situation.  I know how to work from home and maintain a balance between work and home.  I'm choosing not to, for now, at least that's what I tell myself.  Anyway … 

12 Tips for Working from Home But Keeping it Under Control
  1. Dress For Success. I know, I know.  If you work from home, you can work in your pajamas.  Sure.  But you'd be surprised at how good just putting on a clean, pressed shirt makes you feel.  Even if you are wearing cut off jeans.  It still feels good.  Bear in mind that this builds a psychological demarcation between "work" and "home" – even though they are one and the same for you.  (And, yes, I am wearing a pressed shirt right now.  I usually look at least ok when I work from home although the current heat wave often pushes me towards less and less clothing; quasi naked coder comes to mind…).

  2. A Regular Schedule.  Even though you can work any hours you want, this often isn't good.  People do need to be able to reach you and a regular schedule makes that easier and also lets you know that it's ok to be not working (a common anxiety for people that work from home).  Here's an example.  Let's say you generally rise by 8, can be at the computer by 8:30 and really, really like the TV show "Trading Spaces" on at 4 pm EST.  Guess what!  That's your schedule – 8:30 to 4pm. 

  3. Take a Real Lunch Break.  Even if it's only 20 minutes, take a real lunch break.  That means GET AWAY FROM THE PC!!!  Sit at a table, read a paper, etc.  It's very, very refreshing.

  4. Avoid Email During Off Hours.  Yup.  That's right.  Avoid the demon email.  Things generally don't need to be responded to 24/7.

  5. Avoid IM During Off Hours. Yup.  That's right.  Avoid the devil that is IM.  If you are going to be offline for a while and you feel that people might need you then change your IM status indicator to something custom like "Not Available.  If you need me, please call; You know the #".  If it's a real emergency people will get in touch with you by voice.

  6. Keep the PC in a Separate Room.  You do not want to do what I do which is keeping your entire computer setup in your living room (Yes Virginia, it is tasteful; it's not a typical bachelor setup).  If you can always see it then you're always tempted to do work.  If you don't have a separate room then cover it up if possible.  Stick it in a corner that you don't regularly use. 

  7. Keep the Room Closed.  And, even if you have it in another room, SHUT THE DOOR!!!  Seriously, keeping it out of sight is a big home / work separator if you can do it.

  8. Make a List of Daily Goals.  One of the best things you can do is make a list of daily goals and then follow through on them.  And bear in mind that there's a big difference between "Tasks" and "Goals".  We all make lists of tasks (well lots of us do).  But then our task lists get just plain too long.  A set of daily goals is just that – the things that really need to get done that day and that day only.  (And, yes, I'm implementing this as a FuzzyOffice feature since it's a huge, huge, huge help).

  9. Then Go "Home" When You're Done.  If you're done early with your daily goals then bear in mind that it's ok to "leave" early also.  Think about it – that's what you would do in a real company.  Why should you treat yourself all that differently just because you work at home.

  10. Make Exceptions Wisely.  Sure if you have a big deadline, you're going to alter this and go all out to get it done.  If that's the case then I strongly recommend that you advance to #12.  That's what you'd do if you weren't working from home.

  11. Take a Day Off from Time to Time.  Yes that's right!  Even if you work for yourself and work from home, you can take a day off.  I strongly recommend that you do what an HR department does – make a policy like "I get 5 days off per year" and then keep track of it.  At the end of the year if you haven't taken all your days off, roll them into the next year.  This is a really good way to remind yourself that you have this kind of option.

  12. Take Your Holidays.  When you work from home, you tend not to take your holidays.  You often don't even notice them!  I know that we celebrate Columbus Day in this country but I'm not certain of the month anymore.  I haven't taken a Columbus day off since 1998.  That's bad.  Go into Outlook, put in the holidays (and why, why, why aren't they in there by default?) and actually schedule an event for those days.  Don't even be at home or you'll just work.  Take it from an expert.

So there you have it: 12 tips for separating work and home when you work from home.  It remains to be seen, however, if I will ever take my own advice….

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