"Working from home - Home office"Working from home is not the dream-come-true that lifelong cube-dwellers might imagine it to be; it is not a life of sloth, debauchery, and dawn-til-dusk pants-less luxury. The sad reality is that working from home is–first and foremost–working. And while the decreased need for personal hygiene may appeal to some, the increased need for discipline can be tough for those who are used to working the rhythm of a bustling office.

If you are about to join the ranks of home office workers–or even if you’ve been doing the zero-carbon commute for years–you need to have a set of laws. You will obey these laws at all hours of the work day, under punishment of decreased productivity and (gasp!) outsourcing.

1. Maketh Space for Thine Work. It is easy to fall into traps at home. With the lure of the TV, the XBox, and a fridge full of cold fried chicken, you will need to get your head into the proper mindset to be a productive member of the workforce. This means no data entry in bed and no report drafting in the vibrating massage lounger. If you have a spare room in your dwelling, turn it into your dedicated office space. Keep that space clean, organized, and as separate as possible from the temptations of that filthy dump that is the rest of the house. If you don’t have a separate room, arrange a space for your desk, then put up dividers, a curtain, strings of psychedelic beads–something that physically designates that this space is holy and claimed in the name of productivity. Wherever possible, separate your work stuff from your home stuff as well: Use your desktop computer for work and your laptop for home use; use your smartphone for personal use and get a cheap model to use as a business phone; keep office supplies for work in your work space. At the end of the day, it is important that you don’t bring your work home with you, but since your work is in your home, set things up so that you can at least leave work in a part of your home that you won’t deal with when you’re not working.

2. Thou Shalt Abide by a Set Schedule. If you are one of those people who could get away with showing up at the office at noon every day, those days are over. You are too good an office manager to allow yourself such counterproductive perks. Set your alarm. Get up on time. Start work early and at the same time every day. Schedule breaks. Above all, set daily goals, and don’t end your work day without accomplishing them. Not only will these habits help you get things done better, faster, and with less stress, should you decide to return to a traditional office setting someday, you will bring good work habits with you.

3. Gird Thy Loins Against the Powers of the Internet. Working online is rife with temptations for workers of all appetites. Facebook, chat, online gaming, YouTube, those irresistible dancing hamsters–all of it threatening to breach the walls of professionalism and discipline that you have built. How can the home office warrior combat this evil hoard? Thankfully, the girding of the loins is not only an outdated concept–it is illegal in most states. Instead, arm yourself with technical wizardry. If possible, block all tempting sites on your work computer; uninstall all games, chat clients, and social networks; get into the system configuration option by option and do what you must to eliminate anything that could distract you from your work. Install childproofing software if you must. “If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.” –Jedi Master Yoda.

4. Thou Shalt Wear Pants. That stereotype of the home office worker as someone who lies about in their skivvies all day? Don’t feed into that one. Put on some pants–or a skirt, sari, or culottes. Just put on some clothes. You don’t necessarily have to wear a suit to work in your own home, but you will find that when you feel professional, you will be professional. While you’re at it, make it a habit to bathe often and brush your teeth at least twice daily. Before you begin your work day, ask yourself this question: If I were working at an office today, would anyone there have grounds to complain about my outfit, odor, or general appearance? If the honest answer is “Yes. Yes, they would,” then clean up thy act.

5. Thou Shalt Reward Thy Good Works. Your clothing is office-appropriate, you’ve put in solid hours in your dedicated office, and you have met your daily goal. Through it all, your bodily odors have remained within culturally acceptable limits. You may now reward yourself from the bounty of your abode. Fire up the XBox, raid the fridge, dance to Bob Seger in your undies (unless you have home officemates, then for pity’s sake, keep those culottes on and maybe pick a more contemporary and/or danceable selection than ’70s 8-track rock), or just kick back on the futon and rewind. You might even want to change into some filthy jeans and a Slayer shirt and take a walk to the local bodega for a refreshing beverage or two. It may be more difficult to maintain discipline in the home office than in an office-office, but once the work is done, take advantage of the freedom that this lifestyle offers.

Al Natanagara is a writer, journalist, and blogger whose career includes stints with ZDNet, CNet, CBS, LexisNexis, and law enforcement. He currently works from home, in pants.

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