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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.

More people are working from home, according to the US Census Bureau, which means 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.

In 2010, around 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 around 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.

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.

Do you work from home? What are your rules? Comment below.

Lance Howland (Editor) October 09, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Wait a sec. That's my cat sitting the way he likes to do on my laptop. But whose couch is that? Did someone kidnap Toby? -- LDH
Chris J Kapsalis October 09, 2012 at 08:15 PM
I've worked from home quite a bit in my life and was called a bum more than once by some people who didn't know any better..
Pat Keeble October 10, 2012 at 04:17 AM
When I quit my day job and started working at home, I read all the articles and a couple of books on how to do it right. Some of what you listed I did do and some I didn't. ("Clean and tidy" has never been part of my routine.) One of the more common aspects cited was the caveat to train your family to respect your office space and time and leave you alone when you were working. I thought, that doesn't affect me, I don't have a family living with me. No one told the dogs. They thought if I was home, I was available to pet them, throw a ball, pet them, go for a walk, pet them, feed them, etc. After all, all I was doing was sitting there. I had to put a doggie gate at the door of my office room. Luckily, they learned quickly learned that when the gate was up, I was unavailable. Seeing the cat sitting on the laptop reminded me that that's one thing that's seldom mentioned.
Emily Henry (Editor) October 10, 2012 at 05:45 AM
I agree, Pat. Fortunately, I can close a door on my cat... unless I want to work out in the living room. Then she thinks it's play time. She especially likes to rub her face on the edges of my computer screen, often closing it, or sit on my hands so I can't type. Not particularly helpful.
Cecelia Jernegan October 10, 2012 at 12:02 PM
This is a great article and well written. Also check out on Amazon: "Working from a Home Office Successfully" Best practice tips! www.outskirtspress.com/homeofficeguru
Donna Lynn Rhodes October 10, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Fun article and yes; I agree with Pat Keeble. My dog never got the memo and seriously thought that since mommy was home all day, mommy could play with her all day. It took a lot of time to re-train her but once we it sorted it out working from home was perfect. Mind you, working from home is not right for everyone -- especially if you are not disciplined or crave group activities. It has its ups and downs but far more ups. I have a framed copy of one of my favorite cartoons on my desk....It has a woman at her computer and the talk bubble says "How lucky I am to work at home and not have to deal with office politics." A few frames down while she's typing away on her computer the next talk bubble says, "...she said to no one in particular."
Lance Howland (Editor) October 10, 2012 at 04:41 PM
DL How's everything in your neck of the desert? How's it shakin in your collarbone of the woods? Great description of a cartoon to help visualize it. Maybe our therapist-bloggers can help with this but I believe it's true -- working alone encourages talking to yourself. -- Lance
Clive October 10, 2012 at 04:49 PM
I try to work from home – but I have to find a coffee shop if I need to focus. The best ones I’ve found so far are: La Scala for its great space, cool music and nice food – although the coffee is not great and sometimes people are extremely loud; the Library now that Peets has opened there – and you can rip CDs while you work; Pacific Coffee because they have individual filter coffee; but my favorite is Panama Red in Concord because of their fantastic coffee and comfy sofas. Peets and Starbucks are just too busy and distracting for me. I’d love to learn about any other good spots to work...
Donna Lynn Rhodes October 10, 2012 at 05:05 PM
@ Clive. I live in Scottsdale now but when I was living in Walnut Creek and had to write several weekly columns for Patch I would often go to coffee shop to work. My favorite was the Starbuck's next to Lundardi's. I'd settle in to the big purple chair, don my ear plugs and write away.
Emily Henry (Editor) October 10, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Clive, Panama is my favorite too! The staff are great, the atmosphere is wonderful, and there is lots of space, with the option of sitting outside in the sun too. The only problem sometimes is the Internet connection, which seems to be weak. Also... those comfy chairs. Once you're in one... you can't get out!
TMoraga October 10, 2012 at 06:08 PM
I was moved to the home office by our VP. He was looking at his budgets and decided some of the old worker bees could be just as productive at home. He then moved our group to a smaller space and helped his margins. That was way back in 07. I tend to work 24/7 either way productivity is measured by never hearing any complaints and occasionally he ends up in meetings and finds out I've been working with a team for some time already on a new project. Which case when I do see him he gives me the thumbs up and comments that there are just some things and people he never needs to talk with or worry about. HA HA It takes years in the job to have the full picture of what needs to be handled and how - and being based remotely you can't be shy about reaching out to people to get things done or the information you need to get your part done. As for staying focused the only person who had that issue was my wife who thought stay at home means laundry gets done along with other house stuff.
Victor Mataraso October 11, 2012 at 05:38 PM
The fundamentals in the article are great guidelines. If you really need a place to focus and work, there is a great new option in downtown Walnut Creek called Laptop Lounge. We also offer professional support services such as business address, mail and telephone reception. Learn more at LaptopLounge.biz.
Night Watch November 05, 2012 at 02:52 AM
LOL Lance!
Night Watch November 05, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Well, they're idiots!

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