work at homeContrary to what some may think, working from home often results in longer hours, skipping breaks, short lunches and a variety of unhealthy, stress-inducing, unproductive habits. A simple way to solve this problem is by adopting the hours and practices of your colleagues back at the office.

Head to the “conference room” for a no-distraction project – Most remote workers are connected to headquarters via Skype, Yammer or some other communications application. These apps are always on and pinging someone is like stopping by a colleague’s desk in the office. Sometimes it’s scheduled, but often it’s a spur of the moment decision. It can be a quick question or an involved discussion. Remote workers need this type of interaction, but when you need heads-down focus time on a project, the constant pinging becomes a distraction. Remove the distraction by switching your notification setting to “do not disturb.” Let someone know that you’re working on a project and will be available in an hour or two. This is similar to grabbing an empty conference room in the office. I’ve found that heading out to the local library results in a very productive, no-interruption, two hours.

Go out for lunch every day – Never compromise on this, especially if you live in an apartment. The walls can quickly close in. I rarely keep anything edible in my apartment during the week to force myself to go out to grab lunch or even a snack. These forced breaks do wonders for productivity and creativity during working hours. Make sure you set notification setting on “lunch” or “away.”

Take “water cooler” breaks – This is necessary but tricky to navigate at home. At the office, someone will know that you went to the water cooler or bathroom and can relay that to anyone looking for you. At home, unless you keep turning the “away” notification on and off and on and off, no one will know. Remote workers never want headquarters to think they’re slacking off and immediately respond to every alert or message. Both you and folks back at the office need to come to an understanding that this is not always possible. They’re usually OK with a slightly delayed response, it’s you that need to unclench. It’s a process. If you must respond immediately, download the communications app to your phone so you can respond when away from the computer.

Leave the “office” with your colleagues – When five or six o’clock rolls around, sign off and leave your house or apartment, even if for a walk around the block or a trip to the store. If you plan on working late as we all do on occasion, take a break for an hour or so, run errands or grab coffee with a friend and then start back up. If possible, spend overtime hours at another location, like a coffee shop, or else your work space will intrude even further into your personal space.

The weekend is yours. Claim it – When I left an all-consuming entrepreneurial venture after three years of unhealthy working habits, I would send and reply to emails at all hours of the day and night during weekends at my new job. After a few weekends, the powers that be were like, dude, chill out on the weekends, we need you fresh and productive during the week. Grateful for the lesson, I took it to heart and only cheat a little every Sunday night with an hour or so to prepare for the week ahead. Look, I enjoy going into the office on an occasional Saturday to knock a project off with no interruptions, but I now make that the exception, and when when I do, I make sure that any weekend “office” time is away from home.

Working at home can be both a privilege and burden. It can be more of the former if you take steps to mimic the practices of your colleagues back at the office.

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