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Today working from home has become the norm—from the occasional pinch-hit to those of us whose commute involves walking down the stairs. With our computers at our fingertips and our Wi-Fi blazing, we are connected 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to our co-workers, clients and databases. But is this “freedom” really making us more effective?

Our determination may certainly start out great! You ARE GOING TO KNOCK THAT PROJECT OUT BY 10 am, NO PROBLEM; you have been up since 6 am! But then you walk past the laundry room and see that stack of clothes that has been there since…well, who knows. It has dust already. So, why not stop - after you fill your water bottle, of course - and throw a load in the wash? Then, as you go to the kitchen to fill up your water bottle, you see the mess from breakfast. A quick glance and you spy the cookies that were put away with the cereal…and you pick up your tablet just to “check the news”. Somehow, you end up sitting ON the laundry, EATING the cookies, and WATCHING “just a few minutes” of your favorite show in your Pajamas! Before you know it, it is 11 am. Not that this has actually ever happened…at least, that is my story and I am sticking to it.

The following tips were hard learned, but have made me much more effective in providing a framework to; you know, get my job done (and ignore the Downton, at least until the weekend or evening).

TIP 1: SET A SCHEDULE. I know this sounds kind of boring and stuffy when you’ve got the “freedom” of a work-at-home schedule, but if you do not schedule your time (at least in hourly increments) while you are at home, believe me it will fly by without you knowing it. I write out a loose schedule on Monday morning for the week. It includes the household duties that I know I need to get done, as well as my top work goals for the week and when they will fit (and their due dates). I keep a written schedule on my desk and appointments in my electronic calendar.

TIP 2: HAVE AN OFFICE. You need to have a dedicated place where work takes place. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but it needs to be somewhere were you can keep your files and information, and where WORK takes place when your bum hits that chair. I’ve seen extremely effective offices that have been made out of closets. If you are pinched for space this can be a great option, look at Pinterest for ideas. But make a spot for work to happen (that isn’t at your kitchen island). It’s also important that you have a place to LEAVE work. If you work in your PJ’s in your bed, you may be comfortable, but you have just made your bed a place for productivity instead of relaxation. PRO-ADVICE: Get some noise-cancelling headphones. They will make a big difference in your concentration.

TIP 3: SCHEDULE IN TIME FOR OTHER PROFESSIONALS. Working from home can be isolating, both personally and professionally. When you don’t actually see any other adults in a professional capacity for weeks (or months) on end, you can start to feel very removed from the corporate world. Just like it’s important for our social life to have face-to-face time with other people, it is an imperative in our professional life. If you (like me) work for a company where your co-workers are spread all over the country, join a professional group or two where you can have networking and support time. Ask someone from one of these groups to grab a cup of coffee with you or offer to mentor some young professionals in your area; getting outside of your house in a professional capacity can have rejuvenating results for your own creativity in your job.

TIP 4: GET UP AND GET DRESSED IN YOUR UNIFORM. Not in your sweatpants or PJ’s. It is a real temptation when you don’t think you will see anyone except your kid’s teacher from the front seat of your car during car pool. But I promise you, you will be more effective at accomplishing your daily goals if you put on clothes that you don’t usually sleep or lounge in. It’s some kind of magical thinking science stuff, but it works. Deciding on a “uniform” also HELPS. For example, from May-October I wear soft knit dresses. Every day. I buy two pairs of shoes that I love, every spring. It’s boring, but studies show that taking that kind of decision off your plate actually frees your mind to work on the important stuff. Set these clothes aside in your closet as your “work stuff”. When you put them on, you are ready to work and you’re not sacrificing comfort to do it.

TIP 5: SAY NO. When people learn that you work from home they assume you are not “doing anything” and are available. Available to grocery shop, pick up, drop off, watch kids, play tennis, volunteer, run the bake sale, etc. I’m not saying you can’t do any of these things, but you need to protect your “work” time (see above for scheduling). Just because you work off site does not make your job any less important, and in many ways it makes it more difficult. Your work hours are just as vital and firm as the CEO in the corner office. Protect them that way, from your friends, family, and even YOURSELF.

As we move further into work-life integration, more and more of us will be working from wherever we are. This can create some real positives in our lives, but it requires more juggling and concentration. With these tips, you can keep focused and present on the task you are doing, making you even more effective professionally. Now, I have to get back to work…

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