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5 Habits of the Successful Home Office

Avoid common home office traps with these 5 simple tips.

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Your office-bound colleagues may not appreciate it, but working from a home office can be a serious challenge. Here are five tips to help you avoid common home office traps and ensure that you stay healthy and productive.

Neat Freak: Entropy is the enemy of productivity. Visual clutter and piles of paper impair movement, distract attention and create low level stress that can sap you of motivation. And in a home office, where you likely don't have foot traffic bringing frequent visitors to your door, the temptation to just let your workspace go can be surprisingly strong.

Avoid getting caught in the clutter trap and set aside 10 minutes each day to bus up your workspace. Shuttle your coffee mugs and water bottles to the kitchen. File, scan or discard that molehill of papers threatening to turn into a mountain. And properly organize and stow office supplies, devices and cables and wires. You'll be surprised how much better you feel, and how much better you work, in a well maintained space.

Dress for Success: The years-old meme says that home office workers spend their days working in their pajamas, or in a t-shirt and sweatpants. What the meme doesn't mention is that doing this is a big mistake. Clothes may not make the man, but they certainly help make up the man's (and woman's) mindset.

For most people, the act of getting ready to go to work -- showering, shaving and getting dressed in appropriate attire -- is a ritual that prepares us mentally for the day ahead. If you shuffle to your home office in slippers and a bathrobe, you aren't making yourself ready for work. And your work will reflect that. No, you don't need to dress to the nines -- saving on wardrobe costs is one of the many perks of working from home -- but you should at least dress to the sixes or sevens. Something as simple as wearing a collared shirt sends yourself a message that you are a professional.

Create a Commute: Ironically, one of the toughest issues facing home workers is that they don't have a commute. People who travel daily to their workplace have anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours (or more!) to transition into "work mode." But for home office owners, that transition phase can be five seconds. It's not enough.

So why not create a commute? Make a trip to the gym part of your early morning routine, or step out daily to a local coffee shop before coming back home. The consistent change of venue -- however brief -- will serve as a mental waypoint in your day, and help you shift focus to your work.

The Joys of Movement: Numerous studies have shown that long hours sitting at a desk can put you at risk for an early demise. And home office workers, lacking commutes and meetings in the conference room, often have little to draw them away from their desks. In short, they can be at higher risk than just about anyone.

Make exercise part of your daily routine. Work out for at least 30 minutes each day, and be sure to include regular cardio activity in that number. Just as important, commit to taking breaks during the day. Leave the desk and walk around for five or ten minutes every couple hours. Take the dog for a quick walk or go to the mailbox or run an errand. Also give yourself frequent desk breaks. Stand and stretch frequently, pace around during long phone calls, and make frequent trips to the kitchen for water.

Stay Social: The harder you work, the easier it is to become socially isolated. As a home office worker, you probably don't have access to company softball teams or Friday evening get-togethers after work. In fact, your biggest challenge may be maintaining a community of colleagues and acquaintances to help keep you sane.

There are lots of ways to stay connected with the community. Get involved in community activities like youth sports or seasonal events management, volunteer at the local library, or join a local organization like the Rotary Club. If you own your own business, join the local chamber of commerce. And don't just join these organizations, become active in them. Not only will these activities help keep you grounded in the community, they will help generate valuable leads for your business.

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