Working in your pajamas. Skipping traffic. Knowing your lunch is safe from poachers. It’s the blissful reality of working from home. But as anyone who has done it can tell you, the reality is a lot less dreamy.
There are no annoying co-workers snapping gum in your ear, but then again, there are no co-workers at all, which can lead to loneliness and isolation. And when there’s no one around to catch you Facebooking or Candy Crushing, it can be hard to stop doing those things and actually work.
Procrastination leads to guilt, anxiety and further procrastination, an insidious, self-defeating cycle. A Gallup poll of workplace well-being found that self-employed or freelance workers are the least likely to report themselves as thriving when compared to people who work full time, in-office for an employer; work part time; or are even unemployed.
How can you take advantage of the telecommuting perks while staying sane, productive and happy? Here’s how:
1. Set a routine.
Without one, you’re forced to motivate yourself every day—possibly every hour, says Christopher Willard, Psy.D., a Boston-area psychotherapist and author of Growing Up Mindful. Set specific hours for your work-from-home day, including time for lunch and breaks. A schedule also ensures you quit working at a certain point, because telecommuting can sometimes feel like you’re never off.
2. Reward yourself.
Your schedule should include a series of goals and rewards, Willard says. The popular Pomodoro Technique encourages people to work in 25-minute chunks with five-minute breaks in between. Or allow yourself a treat—even if it’s doing a load of laundry—only after you’ve completed a work-related task. Checking items off of your to-do list provides a sense of accomplishment that leads to more productivity.
3. Go to the gym.
Working out has been shown to keep your brain fit, too, fending off anxiety and depression, sharpening concentration and boosting creativity. Since it’s tempting to roll out of bed and head straight to the computer, making time for exercise is especially vital for telecommuters. Doing it out of the house is just as important. Working from home limits one of the main opportunities for social interaction in the modern world: the office. Join an exercise class, or run regularly with a friend.
4. Plug in at your local coffee shop.
One major study from the University of British Columbia found that even interactions with those on the periphery of our social networks can have a positive effect on our emotional well-being. Ordering a cappuccino or asking another patron to share his outlet counts as socializing! Find different places where you can work, whether it’s a café, the library or a co-working space.
5. Play hooky!
If you have checked enough items off of your to-do list and it’s only 1 p.m., why not visit a museum or go for a bike ride? Flexibility and quality of life are probably why you chose to telecommute in the first place, so don’t deny yourself the ability to do fun things when you can.