Working from home—it’s the dream, right?
No sitting in traffic for hours, no burnt coffee, and no awkward conversations at the printer. Telecommuting is what everyone who has ever shared a cubicle with a loud chewer or a Bluetooth wearer has fantasized about since the invention of shared workspaces.
But don’t let the allure of the home office fool you. It’s not all lazy afternoon naps and secret no-pants Thursdays. Telecommuting is a life filled with temptation, distraction, and treachery. Lurking around every corner and underneath every pile of laundry lies a hundred ways to lose focus and motivation.
I don’t pretend to have the keys to telecommuting success. But as someone who has worked from home for the past half-decade without getting lost in a downward spiral of Netflix and chocolate doughnuts, I’ve learned a few tricks to keeping your head in the game while at home.
1. Rise & Shine.
Yes, your bed is significantly closer to the office than it used to be, and you don’t have to drive anywhere. But no matter how big the urge is to sleep until right before signing in, fight it with all your might!
If you don’t, you’re likely to be less prepared and less focused. I know it’s hard to ignore that sleepy voice telling you to keep snoozing. It will take discipline, and lots of coffee, but it’s worth the sacrifice.
You need time to prepare in the morning. This isn’t opinion, it’s science. When you wake up abruptly, your brain suffers from sleep inertia—that all–too-familiar groggy feeling. This grogginess not only affects your cognitive functions, but also your dexterity and fine motor functions.
In most cases, sleep inertia wears off in 20-30 minutes, but sometimes it can take several hours. It’s recommended that you get up 60-90 minutes before clocking in to start the day off right.
2. Get Dressed. It’s Still Work!
Your coworkers will joke at least once about you working in your tighty-whities. But all kidding aside, how you dress matters—even at home.
Even if your company doesn’t require business casual attire (or fancier), you should get dressed in the morning. This means that whatever you slept in shouldn’t be considered appropriate for the workday.
Here are some quick dos and don’ts to help speed up the dressing process:
Tie (if your company has a fancier-than-biz-casual policy)
Hat (if it’s a bad hair day)
Socks (except for summer Fridays and/or after an awesome new pedicure or toe ring)
Shoes (no one will see your feet anyway)
Dragon costume (because, why not?)
3. Stay in Contact.
Somewhere deep down in that robotic, telecommuting body still beats the heart of a living, breathing human. And while you’ve only appeared on screen or over the phone for months, you are real—and you may need to prove it to others.
Email and instant messaging are the basics of telecommuting. You should be actively communicating and updating on these. But there’s a fine line between friendly messages and constant comments that distract your coworkers. Know where that line is, and don’t cross it.
It’s also great to communicate verbally, so make sure you always have a working phone for when the need arises. And video chatting is a great way to get in some face-to-face communication. Basically, just be more than an IM punctuated with an emoji.
Lastly, a few times a year, you should probably actually show up in person. I won’t say it’s mandatory, but telecommuters who regularly visit the office are 65% less hated by fellow coworkers and 97.3% more likely to be awesome. These are the facts, folks.
4. Treat Lunch like Lunch.
Now that you’ve woken up early, gotten dressed and talked to almost everyone, it’s lunchtime. This is where you can really lose your hold on the day.
It’s tempting to just pick through the fridge and whip something up Top Chef style for lunch. But remember, the clock is ticking. Just like it’s a good policy to wake up early, it’s a good policy not to let your lunch break bleed into your workday.
And keep it simple. This is your kitchen, your food kingdom, but extensive preparations cut into eating time, and things will just snowball from there.
Treat lunch like lunch. Don’t take off your pants, hit the couch and take a nap. It makes it that much harder to re-focus on work. Also avoid eating at your desk. The kitchen and/or the dining room are your best options for optimal productivity post-food.
5. Stick to the Hours of Operation.
You should adhere to the hours set by your employer, as does everyone who works in the office. Since people can’t see you all the time, knowing when you are supposed to be available helps everyone in the long run.
Luckily, it’s not that hard to be honest with your time and how you spend it. You’re working remotely because someone trusts you, so odds are you’ve already proven that you’re not looking for a shortcut.
Also—and I really can’t stress this enough—don’t be afraid to put in a little overtime. I like my free time as much as anyone, but I also know that, on average, my coworkers spend two hours in the car every day. That’s two hours I get to myself that no one else does.
The point is, that time adds up, and so do the perks of working from home. It’s a privilege that few people get to experience. So, if the opportunity arises to give some of that time back, roll up your sleeves and do what needs to be done.
After all, no matter the time of day or night, you’re already at the office. And the after-hours attire rules are way more relaxed.