You hit the snooze button for the second time and finally decide to get vertical. It’s now 8:53 AM. You stretch in the warm light of the sun beaming through your bedroom window, as dust motes play in the air. You put on your slippers, pass through the kitchen to put on some coffee, and amble to your living room. Plopping yourself down on the couch you fire up your laptop. At 8:59 AM, still in your pajamas and with the smell of French roast in the air, you begin sorting through your email. In the back of your mind, you think you might take the dog for a walk during lunch and pick up a sandwich at your favorite gourmet deli. It’s going to be a wonderful day.

Ah, telecommuting! To those that commute to work for long hours and who have to rush home to get errands done, telecommuting can seem like an alluring dream. And, as we’ve written about before, many workers that telecommute from home are happier, less stressed, and more efficient.

But let’s get real here. Work is work and for many, working remotely can prove distracting. An office facilitates communication amongst employees, provides a structure to the workday, and nicely delineates work from personal time. For the telecommuter, however, you can’t pop into a colleague’s office, it is up to you to structure your day, and no one is there to monitor you if you put on a baseball game on that new 50-inch, flat-screen TV.

So how do you gain the benefits of working from home while actually getting work done and getting those paychecks that keep the lights on? Here are some tips:

  1. Set your working hours. Having well-defined working hours where you commit yourself to your work as you would in an office will help you stay on track. Working from home also allows you to decide when you work, and many remote employees take advantage by personalizing their hours of operation to when they’re most awake and productive. If you hate waking up early, you can allow yourself to sleep in and instead work later into the night. If you are a morning person, you can accommodate your most productive hours by starting work at 6:00 o’clock in the morning and being done by the afternoon. Optimizing your schedule, however, means actually getting the work done. Track your time and earn your breaks.
  2. Act like you are going to work. Most of us relax and unwind when we are at home, which is great for our comfort and well-being but not so great for getting work done. Instead of sleeping late, rolling out of bed, and starting work while still in your pajamas, treat your at-home pre-job routine as you would if you were actually traveling into the office. Get up and give yourself enough time to actually wake up; make coffee, take a shower, and change into some different clothes to kick-start your body and brain into work mode.
  3. Prepare your work environment. Having an organized space in your home where you work, whether it’s an office or a desk in your living room, can help avoid procrastination by indicating to your brain that this is a workspace. By setting boundaries between your relaxing home space and your dedicated working space, you decrease your chances of getting sidetracked. Be prepared by making sure your environment has everything you need to get the job done including good lighting, a comfortable chair, pens, printer ink, coffee, and anything else you might anticipate needing so you don’t have to run out to the store during working hours.
  4. Minimize distractions. Make it clear to those around you that you are working so friends and family can resist the urge to distract you. If you enjoy listening to music while you work, don’t spend hours creating the perfect playlist. Instead, pick a radio station or album and leave it alone for at least two hours; or use Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music, Songza, or Radio Paradise to select your music.If older children will be in the house during your designated work hours, talk to them about the importance of your quiet focused time. If you have small children, it’s best to make arrangements for childcare, play dates, or other entertainment for them. With pets, an occasional scratch behind the ear never hurts while they sit quietly at your feet, but having your cat crawl onto your keyboard or a dog jump in your lap can seriously impede your productivity. Many remote employees keep their pets out of the rooms they are working in.
  5. Stay connected and communicate efficiently. Staying in touch with coworkers, clients, and employers is critical to effective remote work. Because you can’t just pop by your colleague’s desk to ask them a quick question or bump into a client to remind them of a due date, it is important that you stay on top of effectively communicating with key people. Email is best used for formal check-ins and sharing or requesting resources, data-heavy information, or documents. Instant messaging is great for informal check-ins and updates, as well as when you need quick answers to simple questions or concerns. Conference calls are ideal for discussing ideas or participating in meetings when you cannot physically be there. Video calls using Skype, Google Hangouts, and similar software are great for when you want to connect using the additional personalization of being able to see someone face-to-face.
  6. Take well-defined breaks. Taking a break from work might seem counterproductive, but according to studies, the most prolific workers tend to focus for 52 minutes then disengage for 17 minutes.Periods of rest allow people to return to their duties refreshed and better prepared. During these breaks, you can use your free time to check Facebook, make lunch, play with your pets, or step outside and stretch your legs, just be sure to return to work when your break time is over.

The State of Telecommuting 2014 found employees who telecommute improved their stress levels, morale, productivity, and absenteeism. While working from home has its challenges, the benefits are clear and can outweigh any obstacles if you know how to stay disciplined.