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5 things not to do when working from home

Since selling my business earlier this year, I've been working on my consulting, writing and speaking projects from my home office. I've always kept a separate, fully equipped office in my house, but as is the case with most business owners, it had mainly been my early-morning/late-evening command center.

Now it's my full-time setup (at least for the time being), and it has been quite an adjustment and learning experience.

I never thought I'd enjoy working from home full-time or felt it was a fit for my style and proclivities. It's still too soon to tell, but so far I like it more than I thought I would. However, it has its challenges, and it requires an entirely different type of discipline. Here are five basic "don'ts" of home office life:

Don't work where you live, even though you're home: In other words, avoid working in living areas, and vice-versa. Have a dedicated place for work (what this looks like depends on the space you have, and whether you live alone or with others). You want to have something as close to a separate and permanent office as possible, for both practical and psychological reasons.

Although it's called "working from home," when it comes to the work environment, you should change the word home to house, and understand the semantic distinction.

Don't let your housemates act as if you're there: If you live with others, during working hours they should understand that you're "not home." Distractions are inescapable, whether you work in a traditional office or out of your house, but working at home can require a little more discipline in this department. Yes, lifestyle and freedom are some of the great benefits, but you need to set up boundaries ("no, I can't come fix your bicycle right now") and stick to them.

And no matter what, never let your kids, pets, TV or other home background noise be heard or seen by anyone in your business world. That's just bad.

Don't divulge your location: Using your home address, phone and personal/free email are amateur hour, and it's wise to separate your personal life from your business no matter what. Get a PO box (preferably one that allows you to use a "suite" address, rather than a box number), and use a dedicated landline or mobile number. Make sure you answer calls professionally, and have a businesslike outgoing voice-mail message.

Although gmail has become widely accepted in business, getting your own domain name and corresponding email address is inexpensive and much better.

Don't skimp on technology: The right equipment and services can make all the difference in your efficiency, effectiveness and image. At a minimum, use a high-performance computer with current operating system and applications, a large monitor, the fastest Internet service available and a high-quality printer. If possible, add a high-speed scanner, second monitor and a really good webcam. Video meetings are a fantastic tool for many home workers -- just make sure no kitchen cabinets or stuffed animals are in the background.

Don't imprison yourself: If you're really disciplined and have all of the above nailed down, it's possible to get much more done at home than in a traditional workplace. After all, you have no commute, no start-up and wind-down time, and no water cooler chatter.

But the flipside is that you miss out on the socialization and sometimes-healthy distractions that come with working with and around other people. You also have nothing by which to measure time (on my first day home, I ran out to go to the bank thinking it was mid-afternoon, when it was 7 p.m. and my family was waiting for me at the dinner table).

So, give yourself breaks, and get out in the light. Take a walk, go to the gym, meet up with another human for lunch. Don't let your home office become your cloister.

Plus: One more issue unique to working at home is the "bunny slipper" principle. When you don't have to leave your house, you may have no real reason to get out of your PJs, shave, shower or stick to any traditional routine (please always brush your teeth, though). After all, you're just going to the other room for the day and no one's going to see you, so what's the point of creating extra laundry, right?

I used to believe it was an important part of the home/work dividing line to maintain such rituals -- clean up, get dressed, grab your coffee and go to work, albeit without leaving the house. I swore that I'd stick to that if I ever worked from home.

I'll admit I haven't been quite as disciplined about it as I thought I'd be, and I'm OK with that. However, on balance I still think it's worth going through the motions, even if that's all they are. Plus, if you do a lot of video meetings, as I do, you don't want to get a surprise Skype request with bed head and your favorite well-worn concert T-shirt on.

One way or the other, remember that work is work. Create an environment and routine that reflect and respect that. Your entire mind and body need to be in professional mode, even if your pants may not be.

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