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By Inc.
November 4, 2014

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

Working from home is becoming an increasingly popular option, with employees from secretaries to CEOs utilizing the advantages of a home office at least part of the time. While there are still some lingering critics who insist that working from home leads to stunted professional relationships and lower productivity, the majority of employers in the United States are becoming more lenient with the alternative work environment.

Regardless of whether you work at home once a month or every day, there are a handful of crucial habits you’ll need to adopt if you want to work effectively. Working from home is a luxury, but you have to work hard and work smart if you want to make the most of it. Integrate these habits into your at-home work life:

1. Establish a designated working area.

It’s called a “home office” for a reason. Working from your bed may not be a great idea because you’ll be tempted to sleep or relax. Working in your living room in front of your TV may not be a great idea because you’ll be tempted to watch it. Instead, create a designated working space; it doesn’t have to be a whole room, but it does have to be a distraction-free setting that isn’t used for any other purpose. Arriving at your designated “home office” will set a tone of diligence and focus on work for the rest of the day.

2. Dress for the job.

The prospect of working in pajamas is appealing to just about everybody, but there is a real psychological benefit to dressing for your job even when you’re at home. You don’t have to wear a full suit and tie every day, but it pays to take the time to get dressed professionally. It will help get your mind into “work mode” and avoid the temptation of staying in sloppy “pajama mode.” Plus, it looks a lot better when it comes time to use Skype or a similar video-chatting platform. Speaking of which…

3. Learn different mediums of communication.

Phone calls, emails, text messages, instant messages, and face chats are all available means of communication for telecommuters. Deep down, you probably have a strong preference for one of those methods–we all have biases. However, in order to function efficiently as a telecommuter, you need to learn several of these mediums and how to use them practically. For example, there are times when a phone call would be a waste but an email would work perfectly. There are also times when instant messages have no advantage over a video chat. Use each medium wisely and be open to different forms of communication for different coworkers.

4. Set hours and stick to them.

Be strict with yourself. Set the start of your day and end of your day at very specific times, and adhere to those times. It’s not just about making sure you work a certain number of hours–it’s about maximizing the time you do have. Starting at 8 a.m. sharp will give you a specific initiation point, rather than a fuzzy period of procrastination and distraction. But ending at say, 5 p.m. sharp, is also beneficial. Working from home can cause your personal life and work life to bleed into each other, so it’s important to draw firm lines between them for your mental health.

5. Specify tasks for each day.

Creating a task list for each day you work from home can help you stay focused and give you a measurable indication of how well you’re performing in a work-from-home environment. It’s a good idea in general to create task lists, but using them for your independent work is especially critical. Organize your tasks by priority, specifying which tasks must be done by the end of the day. Then, at the end of your day, look back at your list and review all the items you were able to complete. This will give you an opportunity to evaluate your performance and set new tasks for subsequent days.

6. Take breaks.

Just as it’s important to wear clothes like you would in an office, it’s vital to take breaks like you would in an office. It’s another advantage to having a designated work area in your home; when it’s time for a break, you can leave and relax in the kitchen or in the living room for a while. Taking a break clears your mind and gives you a refreshed perspective, so instead of allowing your day to bleed in with your personal time, make a clear distinction between “work time” and “break time.”

7. Avoid interactions with family or friends.

This habit is a bit misleading–you shouldn’t ignore your family members if they need you, obviously, but don’t make working from home a group activity. Close yourself off, if necessary, and tell your family and friends to treat you as if you are in a real office. Conversing with friends or family regularly throughout the day can lull you into a casual state of mind and distract you from your focus on work.

8. Don’t sacrifice face-to-face interaction.

That being said, face-to-face interaction is still important. If you’re working from home all day, every day, for an extended period of time, it’s important to meet with your co-workers and clients in person. Get out and go to an office lunch to commune with your teammates, or try going back to the office one day a week, if possible. The physical interaction is important for your psychological health, and just video chatting isn’t enough to fulfill that need. It’s easy to get lost in the digital world, but try not to let yourself.

9. Create mini-routines.

Routines can be annoying or tedious, but they provide an easy structure to your day. Create specific routines in your work-from-home days that help you get into the flow of work. For example, in the morning you could read your emails while eating breakfast and spend 15 minutes outlining a task list for the day. If you do this every morning, it will become easier and easier to fall into that habit and seamlessly transition into your work schedule. The same type of routine can be applied to your breaks and midday habits as well.

10. Reward yourself.

When you do a good job, you deserve a reward. Don’t hesitate to make yourself a fresh pot of coffee after overcoming a major hurdle, or to take a long break after finishing that burdensome task. Rewarding yourself appropriately throughout the day gives you positive feedback for your accomplishments and keeps things from getting stale. Your home environment has many more opportunities for relaxation and enjoyment than your office, so use them to your advantage by pursuing them after you’ve done something worthy of reward.

Keep these habits strong in your work routine, and you’ll enjoy all the benefits of working from home without sacrificing your productivity or your satisfaction. If you’re just getting started working from home, keep in mind that everybody works differently, and it will take some time to find a structure that works best for you. Stay committed to your goals, and eventually you’ll create a near-perfect system.

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