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5 Tips for a Productive Work Day in Your Home Office

More Americans are working from home than ever before. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24% of Americans did at least some of their work from home in 2015. Advances in technology have made it possible to hold meetings, collaborate with co-workers, and finish tasks without ever setting foot into a physical workplace.

That flexibility is great news for workers, but how about productivity? With a roaming supervisor replaced by a friendly refrigerator, it can be hard to stay on task. How can workers ensure that they actually work from home?

Here are five tips for home office productivity that we’ve found to be useful.

Get Dressed In the Morning

Near the beginning of his career, Pulitzer- and National Book Award-winning writer John Cheever had an intriguing writing ritual: Each day he would get up, shower, dress in a suit, and leave his apartment with a briefcase in his hand. He’d take the elevator with the rest of the building’s businessmen, and when they got off on the first floor, he’d continue down to the basement. There, he’d remove his suit, hang it on the back of his chair, and write until 5pm — at which point he’d put the suit back on and ride the elevator to his apartment.

For Cheever, writing fiction was a job, and it deserved to be treated like one. And though you don’t have to go full suit and tie for your home office, getting dressed can help you concentrate and accord your work the respect it deserves. Taking a shower, combing your hair, brushing your teeth, and wearing an outfit at least one level up from pajamas can make a huge difference in how you view your work. Plus, if you have any video calls, you don’t have to disable your camera.

Close the Door

One of the biggest enemies of productivity when you’re working from home is distraction. But it doesn’t always take the form you might think: a droning television, or a close-at-hand video game console. Often, working from home falls victim to multitasking. It’s tempting to try to do everything at once — to write that report while you wash your clothes and cook a delicious meal in your crockpot, so you’ll just have to pop into the store for a couple ingredients, and wait, have you paid your electricity bill yet?

Proximity to all your domestic tasks can make it hard to focus on the work at hand. That’s why it’s important to have a space dedicated only to the work they pay you for. A home office, or at least a corner of the room where you won’t be tempted to try your hand at baking a pie, can help separate your home life from your work life. If you have an office, close the door. If you don’t, find some way to physically separate from your immediate surroundings. Noise-canceling headphones work wonders.

Sit at a Real Desk… Or At Least a Table

Your couch will call to you. Your easy chair will call to you. Your bed will call to you. Do not listen to them.

Sitting up improves focus, circulation, and — according to a 2009 study — meta-cognition, or “thought-confidence”: the belief that what you’re thinking is sophisticated and sound. Sitting at a desk is a subtle reminder to your wandering eye that you are, in fact, working, even though you’re at home. And the more vertical you are, the less likely you are to accidentally sleep through your 4:30 pm RingCentral meeting.

Treat Yourself

Sitting at the desk is all well and good, but what if you can’t stay there? The siren call of the snack cabinet can break even the most stalwart worker. And in the comfort of your own home, there are no judging co-workers to dissuade you from filling bowl after bowl with Cheez-Its.

That’s why it’s a good idea to keep a few treats in your home office. Like jellybeans? Keep a small bowl of them on your desk. Really into Goldfish crackers? Stash a few single-serving bags in your top drawer. Use these treats as rewards for finishing tasks. You’ll be more motivated to stay at your desk, and you won’t lose time trekking in and out of the kitchen (where, chances are, you’ll find something else to do).

Set a Timer

In an office, the rhythms of a workday are set by outside forces. You get to work at the agreed-upon hour, you have meetings at set times, you leave when it’s time to clock out. It’s easy to plan your tasks around these regular occurrences.

But things are a little looser when you work from home. Time can seem limitless, expanding to the horizon of your day. It’s easy to think that you’ll have plenty of time to do everything you need to do… later. And when 5 o’clock hits, you realize you haven’t finished anything.

That’s why a timer or an alarm clock is a good idea. You can break your day into discrete parts, and budget your time accordingly. Maybe you only want to spend 15 minutes on e-mail, but you need a longer chunk to brainstorm strategy for a team project. Setting alarms will make you proactive about reaching small, attainable goals — and the constant threat of the ding (or buzz) of the alarm is also a spur to productivity.