WORK-LIFE BALANCE

8 Ways to Be Happy and Productive in Your Home Office

A surprising number of people find working from home to be lonely and stressful. Adopt these habits and it will no longer have to be that way.
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Working from home is everyone's dream, right? If that's true, then why did 60 percent of the employees who participated in a Stanford University work-from-home experiment opt to go back to corporate HQ?

The 2013 study offered a sampling of employees in the air travel and hotel booking industry an opportunity to work from home for nine months. Surprisingly, many of them had a very lonely experience. After only a few months, 50 percent of the volunteers and 10 percent of the nonvolunteer group asked to return to their cubicles.

Loneliness and lack of social interaction were cited as the No. 1 reason for abandoning home offices, but these aren't the only drawbacks. How can you have your cake and eat it, too? Because I've successfully worked from home for nearly 16 years, I consider myself an expert on the topic.

Here are a few of my success secrets.

1. If you must work in your pajamas, at least brush your hair and teeth.

One of the occupational hazards of the home-based worker is a loss of presentability. Sure, you'll catch me in my bunny slippers from time to time, but I always shower and dress in something respectable first thing in the morning. Yes, I even apply makeup.

If you appear pulled together, you'll feel and act more professionally and take yourself more seriously. Don't get lazy about how you look, even if the postman is your only visitor.

2. Get out!

Corporate workers resent being isolated in a cubicle, but they feel they have no choice. You do! Ironically, entrepreneurs typically don't like getting stuck in a routine, yet they can easily remain at home for days at a time.

Believe it or not, there are days that I still long for that hour-and-a-half commute. Why? Because being on the train gave me time to read, write, and contemplate life. It also provided a social opportunity. So the first thing I do after dressing in the morning is leave the house.

Take time for yourself. Go to a local coffeehouse, work out, or enjoy a nice, long walk before beginning your workday.

3. Celebrate your freedom from the cubicle.

It's important to have a designated workspace in your home, especially from the IRS's point of view. But that doesn't mean you have to stay there all day long.

I have different spaces for different work-related activities. I simply cannot write in my office; no creative juices seem to flow there. For this activity, I love the ambient noise of a coffeehouse. When I'm working on a new product, the beauty and sounds of my backyard pond inspire my most creative thinking. And every entrepreneur must learn and grow: When I take part in a webinar or do online research, the kitchen table is just right.

4. Find a water cooler.

A good dose of story-sharing and laughter is good for you. A few years back, Bank of America did an employee study that showed the most productive workers belonged to close-knit teams and spoke frequently with colleagues.

Go ahead, take a few minutes to IM your friends, connect in social media, or call mom. Better yet, schedule a luncheon or meet peers and friends for coffee at least once a week.

5. Take yourself seriously.

I've worked with clients who actually feel less important and successful because they work from home. I'll tell you what: If you don't take yourself seriously, no one else will. Working from home can give you the advantage if you're happy and focused. It certainly does not indicate that you are less professional, capable, or experienced.

When you have an important call or meeting, put on your best professional front. Don't limit your wardrobe to sweats; break out the office attire, put your swagger on, and embrace the genius within you.

6. Step away from the junk.

Unhealthy eating habits are the enemy of success. Wealth guru Tom Corley composed a definitive list of the 10 habits that rich people have. After interviewing hundreds of wealthy and poor people alike, Corley's No. 1 find was that rich people eat a healthy diet. According to his study, 70 percent of rich people eat less than 300 junk food calories each day. Meanwhile, he discovered, 97 percent of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day.

Hey, you. Yes, you! Put away the Twinkies!

7. Stay focused.

There's a difference between creating variety and inviting distraction. Master the balance between freedom and flexibility, discipline and focus, and your odds of success and happiness will rise exponentially.

Create daily goals, turn off the Internet when you're not working on it, schedule times to check email and close out of it in between times, screen your calls (friends and family will simply have to understand), and fight the urge to do household chores during work hours.

8. Put Fido to work.

Inc.'s editorial intern Jordan Smith recently did a little research on the benefits of having dogs in the workplace. The findings? Your pooch will reduce stress and increase productivity.

I have two large dogs and a parrot who are my daily companions. It's amazing what a furry hug will do when you're under stress. And Lucy, the parrot, has impeccable timing with her comical comments.

Of course, it's not advisable to buy a puppy for these reasons alone, but animal lovers will benefit from inviting their furry friends to nap under the desk.

What are your home office success secrets? What's your biggest challenge? I invite you to share them with us here on Inc.com!

IMAGE: coffeegeek/Flickr
Last updated: Aug 4, 2014

MARLA TABAKA

Marla Tabaka is a small-business advisor who helps entrepreneurs around the globe grow their businesses well into the millions. She has over 25 years of experience in corporate and start-up ventures and speaks widely on combining strategic and creative thinking for optimum success and happiness.




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