At my company, I'm always curious what is on everyone's desk--I have desk envy. There are always gorgeous instagrams or pinterest pins with fashion editors flower arrangements, candies, and the latest magazines splayed out like a dentist's office. On mine, currently, I'm staring at a Kind bar wrapper, a sweating Starbucks iced coffee cup, and health insurance claim forms.

More important than the desk, however, is that it exists outside of my home. Working from home is a double-edged sword--sure, you can sit in your jammies, and watch TV and consistently walk to the refrigerator in the hopes that all of a sudden something besides condiments has appeared (nope). However, your work is at home with you. In the middle of your living room. And that is dangerous.

When I started FinePoint three years ago, I worked from home, for lack of direction and also funds (that hasn't changed too much, but I do recognize the importance of office space). A secondary location is crucial. I would get up, have a four second commute, and be at the office. My personal became professional and my professional was next to my gym clothes. It made everything muddled (and the blurred lines between work and play are already so incredibly intertwined). It made me restless, anxious, and sad. A wise friend told me to come work with him, that it was very important to put on pants every day. It seems like a very simple piece of advice that I ignored, and paid the price.

Always put on pants.

Boundaries are very difficult to put into place. Structure, even harder. When you're working for yourself, imposing a structure can be a make or break decision to your wellbeing and productivity. Shortly after driving myself nuts at home, I moved to office space, and then another, and now an office building I love. Whether it's a co-working space, or space in another company (I chose the latter for a number of reasons, the primary one being I need a closed door and I do better around more formal business operations), it's important to know what works for you.

At Home:

If you're worried about working from home, be cautious first and foremost about your workspace. Be sure that the workspace is separate, clean, and if possible, free from all personal distractions. If you are working in a separate room--you can also technically work it in to your business expenses (if you're an entrepreneur) as office space. But this only works if it's a separate room.

For some of us, your home brings out your creative juices. Just ask Cindy Gallop, founder of MakeLoveNotPorn, whose famed Black Apartment is unlike anything I've ever seen (I remember sitting to the left of a Gucci chainsaw.) "I adore working from home," said Gallop, "My apartment was designed to be a creative, inspiring, and stimulating environment."

Emily Greener, co-founder of I Am That Girl, agrees with Gallop. "I think creating a space that inspires you and the balance you strive for is key." It's when you mix the rooms (or room) together, or aren't in a position to create a secondary space, that it can become cluttered literally and figuratively.

Feedback software company 15Five founder David Hassell sets important boundaries at home "of when it work time and when is home time". What else is important? Rituals around starting and finishing. "[I] have onboarding and off-boarding rituals to the work day so you can very clearly delineate your work from your home life and not have work take over anything."

Or, in the words of Eric Kessler, founder of Arabella Advisors, "put a padlock on the fridge and hide the remote".

A Secondary Space:

Co-working:
If you're able to find office space, you have a bunch of options. Co-working spaces have popped up everywhere, from WeWork to 1776 to Neuehouse. Be sure to ask lots of questions before engaging in a contract for an office--printer capabilities, phone lines, noise, doors, all important. Also if there is a shared fridge label your stuff ASAP. As I said above, I rent space from larger businesses.

Subleasing:
If you're going to do that--you can often barter your services for cuts in rent (just be sure to not get taken advantage of by being nearby by having firm hours in place). You can also go the broker route. Decide what's most important to you--space, amenities, or location, and that will dictate costs.

At the end of the day, figure out what works for you--and stick to it. It's when those boundaries and self-imposed structural moves start to crumble that it can lead to the pits. Or just seven days of the same sweatpants.

Published on: Oct 20, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.