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Tips for working from home, from someone who works from home

The coronavirus is prompting some businesses to have employees work remotely from home. Here are a few things I've learned doing just that.

American companies and schools are taking a closer look at letting their employees and students do their work from home temporarily to blunt the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. If you are planning to work from home, there are some things to keep in mind to make sure you remain productive.

Thousands of people across the U.S. already work from home. I should know. I am one of them. And while it sounds appealing to many who have never tried it, it does take mental discipline as well as some logistics.

I've been working out of a spare bedroom for nearly two years now. Here are some things I have learned that may help you.

Make a dedicated space for your office

Sure, you could plop down on your couch, recliner or stay in bed with your laptop, but that can lead to distractions or even some laziness. Generally, you want to be comfortable but not too comfortable.

If you have a room that is not being used, try to clear out space for yourself there. You can also set yourself up at a kitchen or dining room table. Have good lighting. Make sure you have a comfortable chair you can sit in for several hours. If you don't have one, see if you can bring your office chair home for a few days.

If you normally use a computer with a monitor at work, you may find it difficult to spend eight or more hours staring down at a laptop screen. Most laptops can connect to a regular TV via an HDMI cable, so use that as your monitor if it helps you stay comfortable and reduces strain on your eyes.

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Eliminate distractions

Do you have a TV on at the office? If the answer is no, then don't turn it on at home while you are working.

Some people swear that having music on helps productivity. If that's you, great. If not, don't change now.

Also, stay off social media unless that's part of your job. 

Keep to your regular routine

If you get up, eat breakfast, take a shower and get dressed before going to work, do the same at home. Don't just roll out of bed and fire up the computer while in your pajamas. Dress for work. You should be comfortable, but you don't need to get into your regular office attire if you don't want to.

Don't knock off early

If you have certain tasks to do in an eight-hour day, do those tasks during that same eight hours. Don't use working from home as an excuse to knock off a couple of hours early and then sneak in the work later in the day.

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Take a break

When you are comfortable in your home, it can get very easy to just keep working and not get up from your chair or desk. This can make you less productive as the day drags on. Get up at least once an hour and walk around a little. It can be as simple as quick stroll around the block.

Do not skip your lunch break. If you take lunch to work, prepare your meal ahead of time so that it's ready to go and you aren't grabbing the worst thing in your fridge or pantry out of convenience.

You are your own IT team

If you will be working online, make sure you have a backup plan in case your technology fails you.

While I have my own internet and Wi-Fi, there are occasional outages. When this happens, I can use my work-issued phone as a mobile hotspot to get back online.

Know your (data) limits

Many residential internet plans have monthly data limits. Check to see what yours is and the penalties for going over.

If you are close to hitting it, call your provider to see about temporarily extending it if you will be doing a lot of online work, particularly with streaming video or uploading and downloading large files.

If there is a fee for going over, check with your employer about having them pay it. You may need to show them previous bills to prove that you don't already regularly go over the limit.

Don't forget to have some human interaction

If you regularly interact with others at work, use video chat software to stay in touch during your work day. If not, and you are working in isolation with nobody else around, be sure to reach out and talk to people after work, even if it's just by phone. You need that human interaction to avoid going stir crazy.

Avoid family and friends during work time

If your kids have to be at home with you during this time, this may be tough. But this is your time at the office and they would not normally be around you if you were at work. So, make sure they are set up with plenty to keep them busy. And don't invite family or friends over to hang out while you are working.

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