Featured Article

The 5 Rules of Working From Home
based on an article by David Prince in Real Simple Magazine

How to structure your time, avoid distractions,
and keep yourself, your boss and your family happy.

1. Figure Out if It’s Right for You
If you thrive on the camaraderie of water cooler chitchat or are tempted to rush off to a sale at the mall without a watchful eye to tether you down, you probably aren’t the best candidate for working alone at home. Notes Tory Johnson in her book Fired to Hired ($14, Berkley Trade, add our AMAZON link here): “Many of us would opt to work from home. We think we'll save on childcare expenses and commuting time, but it isn’t for everyone.”

If you want to try telecommuting which is certainly gaining in acceptance, put your request in writing, address your communication strategy (e.g., your planned email and phone check-ins at specific times of day) and suggest that you and your company arrange a trial period. You may decide to telecommute just one day a week to start, or one week each month.

If you are a sole practitioner, learn about the legal aspects of self-employment at www.nolo.com, a website for small businesses. (To find out about health-care options by state, go to ehealthinsurance.com).

2. Set Up a Real Office
The most crucial factor in successful home-based work arrangements is creating a work-friendly environment. You need a dedicated, conducive, ergonomic, streamlined space. Don't imagine you can hunker down comfortably at your children's Play-Doh table, or the diningroom table.

When you sit at your desk, facing your computer or desk top workspace, be sure to follow these rules:

• Angle your pelvis so that it’s slightly open, to avoid back and hip pain.
• Keep your torso relaxed but erect.
• Rest your hands comfortably on the desktop with elbows at 90 degrees
• Keep your feet flat on the floor.

3. Schedule Your Time
Create a structured routine to help your mind and body adapt to a new working environment. According to Alan Hedge, Ph.D, director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory at Cornell University, high level concentration can dissipate in as little as 20 minutes of doing an intense task (or a lot less if you're distractible by nature!). He recommends implementing the "20-20-20 Rule."

• Work for 20 minutes
• Break for 20 seconds; stand up and stretch you shoulder, neck and back.
• While breaking, look 20 feet away to reset your focus and attention span.
(Looking out a window onto a natural setting is ideal.)
• Get a drink, walk around or use the restroom during one break per hour.

If you tend to stay up late or sleep in, you can help synchronize your body clock so you’re more alert during prime working hours by getting outdoors for 15 minutes each day. According to experts, sunlight helps stimulate the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.

4. Avoid Time Wasters
Monitor how much time you spend not working in a day and how you spend those down hours. Ed Hallowell, author of CrazyBusy ($15,
amazon.com), found that people working alone in home offices waste enormous amounts of time — on the phone and the Internet, as you'd expect. And according to a study by the Nielsen Company in June 2010, an average visitor on Facebook spent four hours and 33 minutes on the site each day. To counter this tendency, set up just one or two "check in" times per day to review email, and avoid Facebook altogether while in work mode. If you make and receive many business calls, try to limit them during at least one 2-3 hour span so that you can focus fully on other tasks.

The standard advice — to avoid checking email first thing in the day — is only suitable for so-called Larks: people whose prime work time is early in the day. For Night Owls, checking email first thing in the morning may actually help ease them into higher levels of work without the jolt of having to function fully before the caffeine kicks in!

5. Stay Connected
One deterrent to high productivity in home office environments is the loneliness and sense of isolation they can induce. To banish "prisoner of Zenda" feelings, you need to be pro-active. Every four hours or so, put yourself face-to-face with a human being, whether it’s a neighbor, spouse or a barista at the Starbucks on the corner. Alternatively, for those who are truly house-bound or in remote areas, psychologists suggest “virtual watercooler chitchat”―e.g., e-mailing pals during scheduled breaks or logging onto biznik.com, a networking site for independent workers. For appraisers, The Appraisers Watercooler on Appraisal Scoop is an ideal meeting place.

Take Time to Assess

At least once a month, on a regular basis, set aside 2 hours to assess how productive — and happy! — you've been in your home office. If you find that many tasks go undone, that you feel besieged and overwhelmed, or that you are often depressed being alone, consider finding a congenial office you can join away from home!