4 Tips for working from home without living in your office

I starting working remotely in 1998

It's crazy to think that this month marks the 17th year of me working remotely, out of my own home. While there have been stretches in the last seventeen years where I've had to drive into an office for a few weeks or months at a time, the majority of my time has been in my own home.

And it's not all been roses. There have been some hard lessons to learn. But they've all been worth it.

Four Tips for Working from Home

So without any further delay, here are four tips for working from home without letting work take over. Because when that does, it feels more like you're living in your office than working from home.

1. Don't put your desk in your bedroom

I don't even know how I came up with the idea that putting my desk and computer in our master bedroom would be a great idea, but it wasn't.

What happened is that I would work in my bedroom all day, then work there when my wife got in bed to watch some television, and then work there when she fell asleep.

When  you work during the day, during the evening, and then at night when everyone else is asleep, you lose the sense of any boundary between work and life. There is no alignment. Because there aren't different parts of  your life. There's just work.

So create a “work” space in your home.

Tip One: Find a space outside of your bedroom to set up your desk.

2. Don't let noise distract you

When I set up my first home office I lived alone. No one in the house to distract me. So I thought, “I don't need those headphones anymore.” Because unlike the office where others would talk, my house would be silent. Right?

Wrong. There were neighbors that came by, delivery folks that stopped by, phone calls from family or friends, and more. Lots of interruptions that made it easy to take an unplanned break.

And that unplanned break? It would translate to the need to work later to catch up. Ugh!

Tip Two: Get yourself a good pair of headphones (either in-ear, or active noise-cancelling) so that door bells, phones, friends, or neighbors don't create distractions that pull you out of your flow.

Think you need really expensive headphones? Wrong. These can do the trick for $6. 

3. Don't get too comfortable

It's easy to imagine that the perfect office is the one that has everything in it. That way you don't have to go anywhere for anything.

Have you tried it? I did.

I had a mini-refrigerator. I had a microwave. I had a bottled water dispenser. Music. Television. All of it. Even a couch.

And you know what happened? I sat too long. I never moved. And my back, several years ago, started really hurting.

You need to move. For your own health.

So leave the food in the kitchen. Leave your water there too. If you can, put your office far from your bathroom.

And toss the couch. Sleep in a bed like other people do.

Tip Three: Make sure you have to get up and walk out of your office several times a day (every hour if you can pull it off).

These days I get up at least once an hour to take a 2 minute movement break. You can get a 60-minute egg timer for $8 to help you. I had one for years.

4. Don't let yourself create extreme patterns

Now, I know this could get taken out of context. I'm not trying to say that you shouldn't work hard. You should.

I'm not trying to say there are no good reasons for some long days of work. There are.

The issue is that sometimes you develop patterns without realizing that you've done so. I started sleeping less and less in the startup years (1997-2006) and the problem is that it's taken the same amount of time to try to fix it.

So here's a little guide I follow these days:

  • I can work 18 hours on any given day. But not two days in a row. And not more than 2 in a week.
  • I can work 80 hours in a week. But never two weeks in a row. And not more than 2 in a month.
  • I can work 200 hours in a month. But never two months in a row. And not more than 1 a quarter.

The point is to get away from extremes. They will happen. But they can't turn into patterns.

Tip Four: Track your effort daily. Keep a calendar to watch for patterns.

You'd be impressed what a paper yearly wall calendar and a set of colored pens can highlight. (see what I did there?)

So those are my four tips. Do you have others? Let me know.