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How to Work From Home & Save Your Sanity

Here are three pitfalls to avoid when working from your home office.

It’s a fact: A growing number of Americans are working from home offices. Indeed, whether they’re self-employed entrepreneurs running or simply telecommuters, the Telework Research Network estimates that more than 30 million U.S. workers work from home offices at least one day a week. And while research indicates that many of these workers are more productive (read: They don’t get caught up in water-cooler gossip or take long lunches with their colleagues), working at home has its own pitfalls. For instance, most workers report working while they’re sick or working even longer hours from home offices, according to surveys by the Network.

So, how do you stay productive in your home office while not burning yourself out? Here are three pitfalls to avoid, courtesy of Janine Belitz, an organizational consultant.

Pitfall 1—Working a continuous eight hours (or more) each day. Belitz says you should designate several blocks of time during the day as your work hours, and schedule in short, 20- or 30-minute breaks while you can have a snack or get some exercise. “Put your breaks into your Outlook Calendar so you don’t forget to take them,” she says. In addition, Belitz recommends setting a limit for how many hours per day (and days per week) you’re going to work. “Some times and days should simply be off limits,” she says. For example, Belitz consults with one woman, a promotional products distributor, who cuts off her work week on Saturdays at noon, and doesn’t resume work activities until Monday morning at nine a.m. “Set limits or you’ll go crazy,” she says. If you find you’re working more hours than you had planned to, start tracking your hours so you can better discipline yourself.

Pitfall 2—Not showering or getting dressed in the morning. Some home office pros joke that they like to work at home so they can stay in their PJs and slippers all day, but experts like Belitz say you need to better define your work time by “starting the day as you would as if you were going into an office.

“That means fixing yourself breakfast, making a pot of coffee and, yes, getting dressed,” she says. Not only do these preparations put you in the right frame of mind for working, Belitz says, but when it is time to put on your pajamas at the end of a long day, you’ll be less tempted to do work.

Pitfall 3—Mixing work and personal communications. Tempted to save on costs by having a single telephone—and email account—for both business and pleasure? Don’t do it, Belitz warns. “You should not be handling personal calls and emails during the day, nor should you be handling business calls on off-hours, so make it easy on yourself and don’t mix the two together.”

“Remember,” she says, “just because you’re home all of the time doesn’t mean you should be conducting business all of the time. Give yourself a break, or you’ll go crazy.”