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On working from home (and 5 tips to increase productivity)

As part of a trial program at my office, I recently started working from home on Mondays and Wednesdays. My initial reaction--like most people who sit in an office cube all day with minimal access to sunlight--was to squeal with joy. Family and friends who I told about this new development in my life were jealous and told me that my median daily happiness level would skyrocket.

But I knew the higher-ups at my company were not allowing me to work from home for the sheer pleasure of it. As my first work-from-home day approached, my nerves took over a bit as I tried to plan out exactly how it would go without me turning into a hermit: wake-up, make my bed, put on real clothes, perhaps take a walk around the block so that I still get my morning vitamin D dose, work at my desk, make a healthy lunch, etc. And for the most part, that’s how it went. Except I did not count on how much my productivity would increase.

I started to scrutinize my daily and weekly tasks and discover which I conquer best at a formal desk (yes, in my cube) with a real keyboard and mouse and which I need to complete in the sheer silence of my home on my laptop. It has taken slightly more planning, but I know now to schedule most of my interviews for days I’m at home and will not be distracted by the crowds that congregate near my cube and the nearby coffee machine. I have also learned that editing is best done when I can walk over to the writer’s desk and ask them questions face-to-face. In doing so, I’m finding that I have more time to be active on Twitter and to manage more special projects.

Almost 2 months later, I still make my bed every day (when you live in a studio apartment and have to stare at it all the time, it looks much nicer), but I don’t always go outside in the mornings. It is often too easy to dive right into work when my phone charges on my nightstand and my computer is plugged in mere feet away. It helps that I have giant windows that allow lots of light inside my workspace, and as the weather has started getting nicer, I leave them open all day and use the zephyr as my soundtrack (along with a little acoustic mix from Spotify given that I do not have to use headphones at home).

The biggest challenge so far has been twofold. On a personal note, I am the kind of person who always has a list of chores to do around the house, but I can usually put them out of my head when I leave for the office. However when my “office” is at home, I am much more tempted to wash the dishes in the sink, throwaway last month’s magazines, or clean out the dust bunnies from under the bed. Additionally, if I don’t conduct an interview, I can go the whole day without speaking to another human being. If it gets to 4pm and my voice has yet to be used for the day, that’s a problem for me more on the loneliness scale than anything.

So given my abbreviated (albeit valid) experience, here are my top 5 methods for managing a productive work-from-home lifestyle:

1) Make your bed and change out of your pajamas: Doing so will get your mind in the habit of starting a new day and transitioning out of sleep. Not doing so will likely increase your desire to get back in said bed and take a nap (a big no-no if you want to be productive).

2) Go outside: Taking a walk, even just around the block, is healthy for everyone, whether you are at home or work in a formal office. Your eyes will thank you for giving them a rest from the computer and your legs will thank you for giving them a stretch. But going outside is especially important for people who work from home to avoid the feeling of being “trapped” inside your house. Think of it as your commute.

3) Take a lunch break: Many people who work from home feel the need to count all of their time as opportunity for productivity. However, if you worked in an office, you would still take a lunch break, so you should do so at home. I’m a big fan of using this time to actually cook a meal--something I never get to do in the office--and have found that it saves me a ton of money. Plus, cooking is a great way to refresh your mind and your body, and eating a warm meal will jump-start your afternoon.

4) Watch out for temptations: My temptations are nagging household chores and turning on the TV, but that doesn’t mean everyone loses productivity while simultaneously listening to the news. Allow yourself breaks, but monitor how long your breaks really are and if you are being honest with yourself. Can you really write an article about cardiomyopathy while watching House of Cards?

5) Enjoy: Congrats! You are one of the lucky few who get to enjoy their homes all day, every day. Take this opportunity to decorate your space in ways that make you happy--there’s no HR manager to tell you what you can or can’t hang on your walls--and stock your kitchen with healthy, delicious snacks and your favorite tea or coffee. You will get much more work done if your body and soul are happy at the same time.

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