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Separating Home From Work When You Work At Home

The home-based worker is an entirely different animal than the typical employee. When your office is in your home, it's hard to keep your private life from intruding on your work, and your business from taking over your personal time. Let's examine the species “work-at-homer” in its natural habitat and watch the life-or-death struggle for balance

Contain Your Office

It's easy to track the work-at-homer — they generally leave a trail of papers and office supplies behind them as they move from room to room (I call it “office slime”). Start your organizational efforts by reclaiming your living space! Take a few minutes to gather up your loose work paraphernalia and return it to your office, making sure every pen and folder has a permanent place in which to live.

It's Okay Not To Share

Another telltale sign of the work-at-homer is the constant cry, “Where is my?” as they search for misplaced office supplies. This is especially true when their cubs have a tendency to “borrow” the tape or a Sharpie or a calculator. Now is the time to learn to be a little bit selfish. Let your family know that if it's in your office, it's off-limits (and that theft of company property carries a penalty of 16 lashes with a wet noodle). An easy solution is to keep two sets of supplies — one for your office (yes, you can put your name on them) and one for personal use.

When You Do Roam

The work-at-homer is known to move freely over a large territory. They aren't restricted to one desk in one office — and you may see seasonal migrations. It's great to be able to work on the deck in nice weather — however, your family life suffers when you can't eat at the dining room table because it's covered with your latest project. Create a company policy that you can park it wherever you want each day — but you will stop work 15 minutes early to put everything back where it belongs.

Your Work Day

Some work-at-homers are early risers, others are nocturnal but without structure, they may often find the whole day gone and nothing accomplished. Flexibility is key so absolutely start your day at 5 AM or end at midnight if that's what suits you. Bop back and forth between writing that proposal and doing the laundry, if you like. But when you break your day into focused blocks of work time and separate blocks for personal activities, you will find that you get more done with less distraction.

Draw The Line

Social interactions are often a challenge for the work-at-homer — phone calls from friends, a neighbor dropping in, and a child or spouse wanting attention can throw the entire day off track. The trick is to be firm about your company policies. Set regular “office hours” and really stick to them. Let people know that you are unavailable during the work day, but you would be happy to chat or get together after work. You can avoid interruptions in the first place by shutting your office door and letting calls go to voice mail. And when an interruption strikes, explain that you are in the middle of a big project and schedule a time to get back to them. People will only learn to respect your working hours when you do!

Ban Overtime

Work-at-homers face an odd contradiction they want more free time, but they can't seem to pull themselves away from their desks at the end of the day. The temptation to “get just a few more things done before bed” or “finish up those e-mails over the weekend” is tremendous! The problem is that there will always be more work to do than time. You have to be the one to draw the line — to turn off the light and lock the door at 5 PM. Make it easy on yourself — choose the 3 most important things you want to accomplish that day, and know that you can leave on time if you just get them (and nothing else) done. Put a permanent moratorium on overtime — decide what a reasonable work day looks like to you and make it company policy.

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Copyright 2009

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    Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and

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