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While many people imagine that working from home is always a relaxing or care-free experience, it comes with its own challenges. True, you don’t have to commute to work, dress a certain way, or punch a time clock. But you’ll be dealing with some unexpected factors when you do your job from a home office.

Whether you’re new to working from home or just want to improve your productivity, setting yourself up for success is essential. Here are the top five lessons I’ve learned over my years as a freelancer.


1. Set Your Work Hours

Although you have a lot of freedom in choosing when you’ll work, sticking to a schedule is still a good idea. Without this structure, you might find yourself working too few hours or having a hard time stopping for the day.

Decide when you’ll start work and what time you’ll be done by. Of course, unexpected tasks can pop up, but keeping to a schedule most days will improve your workflow considerably.

If you’re not already an early riser, try to break the habit of sleeping in. Not everyone will like this, and maybe you’re even wondering what the point is of working from home if you can’t skip the early mornings. But waking up early can set you up for success and productivity.

Research suggests that getting a full six to nine hours of sleep per night can help you better handle negativity. Getting out of bed earlier can make the day feel longer, help you get more done, and leave you more free time in the afternoons.

Don’t forget to take breaks regularly and often. If you work from home, you’re likely sitting in front of a computer all day. Stand up at least once an hour to stretch, walk around, or drink some water.

Remembering to get up and move around throughout the day can help you stay alert and prevent tension in your shoulders. To take this to the next level, you can try switching to a standing desk in your home office.


2. Pick a Specific Spot for Your Workspace

When you have an ordinary job, you get the benefit of physically leaving your work location when the day ends. While you might still think of work once you get home, you’re not as likely to focus on it as someone doing their job remotely.

If you want to stay focused on your tasks throughout the day, you’ll need to choose a specific spot in your home to set up your workspace. Not only can this help with getting into the work mindset when you need to, but it can help you leave it behind when you’re done for the day.

The spot you choose should be designed for optimum productivity and focus. Get it set up with the essentials, like an ergonomic office chair and high-quality printer.

Try to have your desk near a window where you can see some greenery outside, or at least put some plants on your desk. Trying to get into the right mindset for work in the same area that you relax or watch movies can be a struggle, to say the least. Don’t underestimate the impact of your surroundings on your mind when it comes to working from home.


3. It’s Important to Get Out of the House

While it’s necessary to set a designated workspace to stay on task, it’s also important to mix it up on a regular basis. Try to set up meetings in public when possible, instead of defaulting to the phone or Skype. Go to coffee shops in your area to break up your routine.

A change in environment can help stimulate creativity, inspire new ideas, and keep your schedule from going stale. You can switch back and forth between your home office and your favorite coffee shop, to keep things interesting.

Though it seems as though the ambient noise in this type of location could be distracting, getting away from your distraction-filled house can actually increase productivity.

If you find it hard to focus with coffee shop sounds around you, bring earplugs or noise-canceling earbuds. And for an extra productivity boost, try leaving your charger at home when you bring your laptop to a coffee shop. While it sounds counter-intuitive, knowing you have a limited amount of charge on your computer can help you stay on task and waste less time.


4. Regular Networking is a Must

As a remote worker, it’s easy to get lost in your own world, especially if you live alone. You may have to force yourself to get out there, especially if you (like me) choose to work from home because you’re an introvert.

But networking will keep you on your toes, increase professional opportunities, and save you from isolation. Connecting to other freelancers can inspire you and give you exciting new ideas you never would’ve thought of in solo brainstorm sessions.

Commit some time each day or week to creating or improving your professional network. Building your network can mean anything from sending an email to someone you admire and seeking to learn from them to offer your services to potential clients.

But don’t forget to prioritize face-to-face time with other people in your field. Look for conferences and local networking events to attend and push yourself to get out there.


5. Set a Plan for Avoiding Distractions

Every remote worker knows the struggle of intending to avoid distractions and falling prey to them anyway. If you want to effectively stay focused on your work, you’ll need more than just an intention to do so.

For starters, don’t take care of personal business during your designated work hours. Although social media can help you grow your business when used correctly, it’s easy to get stuck in the endless Facebook newsfeed scroll and waste your time.

When you work from home, your friends and family will often assume you’re free in the middle of the day and pop in unexpectedly or invite you out. Be firm about your hours and let people know you aren’t available when you’re working.

You can take this a step further by keeping your phone in the other room when you start your workday.  For more tips, read our guide on combating common problems that arise when working from home.

Being productive when you work from home may be challenging in some ways, but following these essential guidelines will save you a lot of hassle. Implement these lessons one at a time and you may completely transform your career and work experience.