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Millennials are squashing the typical 9-to-5 office format in favor of more flexibility, variable hours, telecommuting and non-traditional work space. In fact, it’s estimated that 3 million Americans currently work from home and that number is expected to increase 63% over the next five years.

There are pros and cons of working from home. Some people find themselves able to complete more quality work from a quieter space, such as their home office. Everyone knows that traditional offices with an open floor plan can be hectic and distracting places. Others miss the social interaction and immediate feedback they get from co-workers sharing the same physical space.

Make a list and if you can find a balance between home and office, that’s great! Maybe you fall somewhere in between. If you do get an opportunity to work from home, here are 4 simple solutions for structuring your stay-at-home day, especially if you’re new at it:

Get dressed.

As tempting as it might be to stay in your pjs all day, it’s not the weekend. It’s work. Even with no one around to judge, you might feel a little lazier and less professional if you don’t take the time to take a shower, brush your teeth and get dressed.

If you look presentable and professional, you are telling your brain to feel those traits. A study involving subjects wearing white lab coats showed they performed better on cognitive tests than those who wore street clothes. From another test measuring subjects ability to focus on a series of images, those who were told the coat belonged to a doctor outperformed those who were told it was a painter’s coat. When we are wearing professional clothes, we are sending signals to the brain that it’s time to work.

Have you ever noticed this phenomenon after purchasing a pair of brand new running shoes? As soon as you hit the pavement in new sneaks, you just know that you are faster than you were in the old shoes because you feel faster.

Set a routine.

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If you’re accustomed to grabbing a Starbucks coffee on your morning commute, you still can even if you’re working from home. Make a run for that cup of coffee before sitting down at your computer. You may get some needed social interaction, as well.

The point is make sure to build in time for whatever it is you want to do throughout the day. Project management tools will definitely help keep you organized throughout the day.  Some to try (free or low fees) include Evernote, Trello and Asana. One of those tools or a combination could be a helpful way to organize your day and they don’t need to be complicated. Even a simple Google doc to use as a general outline will help keep you on task. A friend of mine says she sets at least one realistic goal to complete every day and makes sure to check it off her list by the end of the work day.

Humans are creatures of habit and we do like our routines, but your routine doesn’t need to be the same every single day. Mix it up if you need to.

Back to the brain for a moment. It’s not that some people don’t have the willpower to work from home while others have a special knack for it. It’s that some people are ready to change and others aren’t. In this article, the author says no inventions would be made and no entrepreneurs would take leaps of faith if it weren’t for the unknown being conquered. “The very anatomy of change is determined not by one’s surroundings, but by one’s inherent mindset.” Think about how this relates to your work-at-home experience.

Create good work space.

The friend I mentioned has her dining room table set up as a desk, which works for her. She doesn’t work from the couch or bed, though. Some people wouldn’t recommend working from the dining table, but work space productivity varies from person to person. She keeps her personal life separate from her work life. And did I mention she is a rockstar telecommuter who loves to work from home?

To prevent the winter blues, you might consider getting one of those Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) therapy lights just to ensure your work space is bright enough. Maybe you need photos in frames of happy people in happy places. Whatever is needed to create your own space, just be sure to set up boundaries within your work zone.

Take Planned Breaks.

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Plan to take a 15-minute break in the morning and another 15 in the afternoon. Time it if necessary. Go for a walk outside, play fetch with Fido, do some simple stretching – anything that takes you out of your physical workspace. If you need a real lunch break, meet a friend for a quick bite out somewhere. Social interaction is key for a lot of people. For some, it sure beats standing around the water cooler talking about last night’s episode of Game of Thrones with your co-workers.

Working from home is great because you have a lot more flexibility in how you spend your time. Many tips for being productive at home also directly correlate to office work productivity. Figuring out what works best for you may take a few rounds of trial and error. It can be hard at first, but it does get easier.

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Posted by Melissa Davidson

I am a writer & social media marketer based in beautiful Boise, Idaho. I have a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Montana and have written for several newspapers throughout the West. I write about health, wellness, social issues and other fun stuff! You can find me running and riding on mountain trails at any given time of year.

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