The Rules of Working from Home

Almost 10 percent of the American labor force now works from home at least one day per week, according to the US Census Bureau. How do you stay productive amid domestic distractions? Here are 5 tips for working from home.

The journalists who run Patch sites do not get up in the morning and go to an office. They work wherever their laptop is situated at the time. That's why you might see me, the Mill Valley Patch editor pounding the keyboard at Depot Cafe, another local coffee shop, or the Mill Valley Public Library.

More people are working from home or wherever they can milk a free wifi connection as the need for centralized offices becomes less important in some occupations, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2010, about 4.3 percent of the American workforce spent the majority of the week at home, and 9.5 percent worked at home at least one day per week. That's about 13.4 million people — up from 9.5 million in 1999.

Nearly half of these home-based workers were self-employed, according to the 2010 American Community Survey. But more and more areas of the labor force are transitioning out of the office. Government saw the largest increase in home-based workers last year, jumping by 133 percent among state government workers and 88 percent among federal government workers. There was a 67 percent increase in home-based work for employees of private companies.

The survey revealed that the median household income was significantly higher for workers who spent time both at home and in the office, at $96,300, compared with $74,000 for home workers and $65,600 for onsite workers.

So, more of us are dealing with laptop-sitting cats, dangerously comfortable couches, and the banes of keeping a home-office free from laundry and dirty plates. With more Americans meshing work with domestic life — and perhaps struggling, at times, to find harmony — here are a few tips for the home-based worker, courtesy of PC Mag, Business Insider and personal experience:

1. Get showered and dressed before you start work. Although working in your pajamas is one of the perks of a home-based office, it won't help you feel productive.

2. Set your work hours — and stick to them. It can be easy to slip into overtime and forget to take breaks when working from home. Check the clock when you start, and determine break times and a finish time. Don't skimp on a lunch break (how many crumbs can you see on your keyboard right now?) and make sure to check out for 10 to 15 minutes every few hours. It's good for the brain and the body.

3. Keep your work space clean and tidy. Using your desk as a laundry-sorting station is not a great idea. And remember to keep those dirty plates and coffee-encrusted mugs out of there.

4. Avoid the television. If you have the willpower to watch just one episode of your favorite TV show during lunch ... so be it. But be warned: You might find yourself tucked under a blanket on the couch two hours later, wondering what happened.

5. Get out of the house. Go somewhere other than the kitchen for lunch. Take a quick bike ride. Set up a home-office-away-from-home at a local cafe. Changing your environment is important for mental productivity and physical stimulation.

6. Don't sit or stand too long. Podiastrists will tell you that more telecommuters are suffering from foot problems, specifically broken down arches, because they never get out of their slippers or flip-flops. Spine specialists will tell you that more people are suffering from back problems from the compressions of sitting too much. So remember to move around every few minutes. 

Do you work from home? What are your rules? Share your advice by adding a comment below.

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Rico January 02, 2013 at 05:14 PM
I work at home in an office and shop about 3 days per week, the rest is out in the field. I don't have any room on my large desk for dishes or laundry, but the problem I have is with all the paper mail and bills that need to be processed. I generally just throw most of the papers on the floor, and about 2 days per month is spent on filing, shredding and paying bills. I would rather not get junk paper mail , but I prefer it to getting junk e-mail. I have learned to be very careful when ordering or inquiring about products online, and never click on any kind of additional e-mails from vendors. I recently deleted old browsers and started fresh with new clean browsers that do not send cookies. Not sending cookies and disabling activeX really does wonders for keeping clean inboxes. I also got a few new e-mail accounts to start fresh for the new year. The best thing about working from home is there is not as much wasted travel time (that I do bill for) traveling to and from jobs. I do set my own hours which are normally 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, but I often work 7 days a week.
Uncle Fishbits January 03, 2013 at 08:17 PM
I work from home in Tiburon, & need to focus on not mindlessly gazing at the beautiful view. But the article reminds me of a BRILLIANT comedy skit from the UK http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=co_DNpTMKXk It is hilarious & quite appropriate. Hopefully it doesn't hit home too much. You covered my rules well... but along with TV comes radio - NPR can scatter my attention. I listen to a lot of classical music, as it obviously seems to increase my productivity. I don't have a problem with social media, but I know that is an issue for some people - there are helpful apps that are available; many are mentioned in this Quora thread from Startup CEO's w/ productivity / efficiency hacks: http://www.quora.com/Startups/As-a-startup-CEO-what-is-your-favorite-productivity-hack I personally like lists, A LOT... and they run my day. I use Google Calendar, and with that comes "tasks". I layer my tasks throughout the week based on meetings I need to attend (Physically or online)... and just take them down one by one. Anytime a new call comes in needing a new spreadsheet, or something finished, I add it to the task list where appropriate. Often I go offline with my tasklist too - write down the 3 or 4 major things needing to be done, and then keep that as a constant visual reminder so I don't get lost jumping between multiple tabs. Last thing: TURN EMAIL OFF ONCE INAWHILE. It's interruptive, scatters attention, & needs to go to the background at times. Now.. back to work! =)
Rico January 08, 2013 at 05:14 AM
Speaking of lists, I have started a new venture on how to stay off of lists. The list of procedures is long, but what I have developed is probably the most effective method to curtail junk mail, junk e-mail, get unlisted from spokeo.com, avoid solicitors at home, at work, avoid spam , trojans and viruses online, avoid hackers and insurance agents and on and on. If one wants peace, anonimity and freedom, it takes a lot of work. That work includes security measures at home, at the shop/office, online shopping, regular local retail shopping, government agencies, banks and other lending agencies, trips to Disneyland, use of pharmaceutical psycotropic drugs and public listings in the phone book. Here is one tip that I will share for free, never use your real full name online for anything, not even e-mail accounts, and of course, don't join any social networks !


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