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Working from home: A survival guide

Working from home has got to be the ultimate dream, hasn’t it? No sweaty public transport. Typing away every day in your pyjamas (while simultaneously keeping one eye on the TV). Unlimited fridge-raiding opportunities! The reality, however, can be very different.

Thanks to the support of my local council, I run my catering start-up The BritPop Bakery from my flat in south London. This has been great in terms of keeping costs low; however it has had such an impact on my life that it took some time to adjust.

I genuinely believe that the home worker works longer hours, because they are so desperate to prove they can work from home and still be productive. There’s the constant temptation to work – after dinner, in the middle of the night – and no easy way of getting away from it.

Over time I have developed a few techniques which have helped me keep my sanity – and my productivity.

1) Have a change of scenery

A common symptom of working from home is cabin fever. You wake up in your house, eat, work and sleep there. It can become horrifyingly easy to not leave for a few days at a time.

To combat this, work in a different location as often as you can – ideally at least a couple of afternoons a week. Even if it’s just trotting across the road to your local café.

That change of scenery is absolutely vital, and you will be amazed at the effect it will have on your mind-set and productivity.

2) Escape the computer

Once you have finished work for the day, switch off your computer. Don’t just close the lid of your laptop or put your PC into sleep mode; actually physically shut it down – and do not touch it again until the morning.

This serves three purposes. It helps to provide a clear cut-off point when work ends and your personal time begins. It also makes the compulsion to “just check your emails” mid-way through the evening a lot more difficult. Finally, it gives your computer – and your poor eyes – a break.

Do something else. Go and take a bath, cook supper – anything that doesn’t involve the computer. Your home is your sanctuary and you need to draw a clear line between work and home life in order to retain that balance.

3) Take a break

If you find your attention wandering, take a 10-minute break. One of the great things about working from home is that you can work at your own pace and in a style that suits you.

Rather than trying to fight the compulsion to check your Facebook or Twitter, if your attention is seriously floundering, a good trick is to give in. Get up, make a drink, have a look at the papers or social networks. Then, after 10 minutes, get back to work again.

This break can help enormously, but you do need a dollop of willpower. Don’t let your 10-minute break turn into two hours!

4) Create boundaries

One common problem with working for yourself – and particularly from home – is that you suddenly become permanently available in the eyes of your friends. People assume that you can pop over to them for lunch “because you don’t have to get back to the office.”

Similarly, if you leave your Skype, Yahoo, MSN or Facebook chat on during the day, friends will message you when they have a spare moment at work – assuming that you’re only watching TV in your pyjamas anyway!

You must be firm and set a precedent right from the start. Set your Skype to ‘invisible’ and explain politely, but firmly, to your friends that you still need to be ‘at work’ during the day, even if you are not in an office.

Take it from me, if you don’t do this, your productivity levels will plummet and you’ll end up working way into the night to catch up.

5) Stick to a routine

Finally – and I believe most importantly – set your alarm and get up at the same time every morning. Act as if you are leaving the house. Get dressed, make your bed, eat breakfast.

Preferably leave the house briefly. Grab a coffee or go for a brisk ten minute walk. Then, and only then, sit down and start work.

That way you’ll start the day with energy – and never end up spending 48 hours in your pyjamas.

Jessica Williams is a serial young entrepreneur. In November 2011 , she founded The BritPop Bakery - the first organic cake pop brand – which she runs from her flat in London Bridge. Follow Jessica on Twitter: @BritPopBakery

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