- Create a work-friendly environment with an ergonomic and streamlined space
- Schedule your day with a structured routine to help adapt to a new working environment
- Maximize your time by monitoring how you actually spend your time
Figure out if it's right for you
"Many of us would opt to work from home to save on child-care and commuting expenses, but it isn't for everyone," says Tory Johnson, author of "Fired to Hired" ($14, Berkley Trade, amazon.com). If you thrive on the camaraderie of watercooler chitchat or are tempted to rush off to a sale at the mall without a watchful eye to tether you down, you probably aren't the best candidate.
If you do think it's for you and you currently work in an office, find out if there is any established protocol, like having a certain title to warrant tele-commuting. Then put your request to your boss in writing; address your communication strategy and recommend a trial period for the arrangement. If you're going the freelance route, make sure you have enough business lined up before you leave your current job. To learn about the legal aspects of self-employment, visit nolo.com, a website for small businesses and consumers. To find out about health-care options by state, go to ehealthinsurance.com.
Set up an ideal office layout
The most crucial factor in creating a work-friendly environment is an ergonomic and streamlined space. When you sit down at your desk facing your computer, you should:
-Angle your pelvis so that it's slightly open, at 100 to 110 degrees.
-Bend your elbows at 90 to 110 degrees, so that your hands rest comfortably on the desktop and your upper arms are in line with your torso.
-Place your feet flat on the floor.
-Position your head above your hips and look straight ahead, without craning or straining your neck.
-Have no more than a fist's space between the back of your knees and the seat of your chair.
-Keep your wrists straight when using the keyboard or the mouse.
Schedule your day
Create a structured routine, "which will help your mind and body adapt to a new working environment," says Alan Hedge, Ph.D, director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory at Cornell University. Concentration can falter in as little as 20 minutes, so Hedge recommends what he calls the 20-20-20 rule: Work for 20 minutes, break for 20 seconds, then while breaking, look 20 feet away to reset your focus and attention span. If you tend to stay up late or sleep in, you can help synchronize your body clock so you're alert during working hours by stepping outside for 15 to 20 minutes each day. According to experts, sunlight helps stimulate the pineal gland, which produces melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
Minimize "Time Sucks"
Monitor how much time you spend not working in a day and how you spend those hours. Edward Hallowell, author of "CrazyBusy" ($15, Ballantine, amazon.com), has found that people working alone in offices waste enormous amounts of time on the phone and the Internet.
To wit: According to a study done by the Nielsen Company in June, an average visitor on Facebook actively spent -- get this -- a total of four hours and 33 minutes on the site each day. To counter this tendency, never check personal e-mail at the start of the day (it can sidetrack you), and respond to calls and work-related e-mails only during scheduled times. Otherwise, send calls to voice mail and consider quitting your browser for at least a few hours daily. Also be wary of scheduling household duties and even lunch dates, which always take longer than you think and can leach hours from your day. Keep out-of--home-office socializing to a minimum, and try to relegate chores to one morning or afternoon a week.
This all said, becoming more disciplined and productive doesn't mean you have to be a shut-in. "You can't achieve peak performance if you feel isolated, and e-mail has no emotion connected to it," says Hallowell. Every four hours or so, put yourself face-to-face with a person, whether it's a neighbor or a barista. If you're housebound, Michelle Goodman, author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" ($16, Seal Press, amazon.com), recommends "virtual watercooler chitchat" -- e-mailing pals during scheduled breaks or logging onto biznik.com, a networking site for independent workers who often spend their days solo.