Work At Home

By Chandra Orr

April 29, 2011 5 min read

There are a lot of perks to working from home -- no commuting, conference calls in your pajamas and setting your own hours -- but when you live and work in the same space, it's easy to let workaholic tendencies take hold.

You stop to check email or field a phone call after dinner, and before you know it, it's 10 p.m. and you're knee-deep in that big project. When the lines blur between business and home and a 24/7 work mentality sets in, even the most motivated freelancer can burn out.

"There's nothing wrong with enjoying your business, but too much of a good thing can be harmful and ultimately lead to burnout," says Lisa Kanarek, author of "Working Naked: A Guide to the Bare Essentials of Home Office Life" and founder of WorkingNaked.com.

Maintaining a healthy balance of career obligations, family and fun starts with a regular routine, set days off and a separate work space.

"Scheduling a fair balance of time for work and life allows the body and mind to regenerate and recharge so that you can stay productive and successful for decades rather than burn out after a few months or years," says Robert Moskowitz, president of the American Telecommuting Association and author of "How to Organize Your Work and Your Life." "The more you allow your work and your life to blend together the easier it will be for family and home-life distractions to interfere with your working effectiveness and productivity -- and vice versa."

Set a consistent office schedule with a well-defined quitting time, and remember that longer work hours don't always equate to better productivity.

"The big advantage of working at home is not that you can work longer hours, but the hours you do work are mostly yours to select, so do that," Moskowitz says. "Don't let the desire to finish up that last bit of work interfere with your overall plan to maintain a fair balance between your work and your life."

Be sure to schedule some personal time throughout the day, as well. It may seem counterintuitive, even indulgent -- after all, you work from home, which is a luxury in itself -- but a few short breaks will leave you refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to tackle the next project.

"It's important to take breaks throughout the day to recharge and refocus on what's important," Kanarek says. "Working harder doesn't mean you'll be more efficient. Instead, you may burn out very quickly."

Take a quick walk; have a snack; hit the gym; or grab a cup of coffee with friends. That's one of the perks to setting your own hours. Just be sure to schedule the time on your calendar.

"Treat the appointment the same way you would an appointment with a client, and keep it," Kanarek says. "When you wait for the opportune time to do something for yourself, it rarely happens. You have to schedule it."

Set a schedule for family and fun, too. Everyone needs a day off, so don't feel guilty for adding vacations, holidays and weekends off to your calendar.

"Although working at home presents the unparalleled opportunity to work during every waking moment, this is not a good idea," Moskowitz says. "The human animal tires and wears out, gets bored, loses focus and regularly needs a change of pace."

Even if you don't leave home, shut the door to the office, and set a vacation response on your email. Let the machine take your calls.

"Whether you plan a four-day getaway or agree to a two-day staycation, turn off your business and tune in to your family," Kanarek says. "After your getaway, don't be surprised if you feel recharged and your family feels they've reconnected with you."

Look to your home office to reinforce the line between personal and productive time. Shut the door during work hours; ask the kids to limit their interruptions; ignore the home phone; and designate your desk as a family-free zone -- no bills, no grocery lists, no personal reading materials.

"You need to mentally and physically separate yourself from your living space," Kanarek explains. "You need to treat your home office as a professional space you commute to, even if the commute is only 10 seconds away."

The goal is to form a mental separation between your living space and your work space.

"As you get in the habit of entering your work room to work and leaving your work room to rejoin your family and home life, your mind will automatically adapt," Moskowitz says. "You will find yourself focusing on your work while in your work room and focusing on your family when you are outside of it."

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