5 Work-From-Home Habits Strangling Your Biz


Last week I completed an early-morning workout, had breakfast, checked out my local paper and headed into Outspoken Media’s downtown office to start the day at 8am. When I got here, I realized something that made me smile: I had finally broken all my nasty work-from-home habits.  Because I tweeted it, I received a few responses from folks wondering what I meant by that and what nasty things I had, in fact, stopped doing.

Well, I’ll tell you.

Eight months ago Outspoken Media moved into office space located in the heart of Troy, NY (I know, we still owe you photos). Prior, Rhea and I had both been working out of our individual home offices. While cost-effective, it wasn’t conducive to growth. We also noticed that our work-from-home lifestyle was packing on some unintended negative side effects.

Like, I don’t know, this weight gain. Or the fact that I was becoming a hermit. And that I was never wearing pants.

I wish I could say the bad habits ended the moment we moved into the office, but they didn’t. They had become actual bad habits. So, in 2011, I resolved that I would break them and take back my healthier lifestyle.  Below is what I stopped doing over the past few months and why you really need to stop doing them, as well. These five work-from-home habits are killing your business and your body.

Sleeping In

I’m a morning person and have been my entire life. But working from home changed that and, to some degree, changed me. Suddenly I was sleeping til 9:30am, instead of getting up at 6am like I was accustomed to. I was rolling out of bed and groggy-eyed walking straight to my office. There was no time to wake up, no time to eat breakfast, no time to get a work out in. It sucked.

Today’s alarm is set for 6am. Yeah, it’s not always fun, but it’s important. This one step has been the basis for many of the other things also on this list. It’s also helped keep me healthy while hustlin’ a startup. Just because you can sleep til 10am doesn’t mean you should or that it’s a healthy habit. Wake up earlier. It’ll change your whole day.

Eating When You’re Bored

Where do you head when you’re working from home and you’re in need of a distraction, a break, or relief from the monotony of what you’re doing? If you’re anything like me, you head to the kitchen and get something to eat. Not because you’re hungry but because you’re bored or you need to kill a few minutes. This little trick helped me to gain 15lbs in the year and a half I was working from home. Hot, right? I know. In 2011, I changed the habit.

Obviously, moving into the office has helped me curb my boredom snacking, but I’ve also made a better effort to stock up on snacks that won’t add to my waistline. It sounds cheesy, but it’s kind of a big deal. Mostly because I don’t want to be a big deal, if you know what I’m sayin. Snack less; snack smarter.

Not Having Set Work Hours

One of the perks of working from home is not having set work hours. But that means you also don’t have set hours when you’re NOT working. So you get up at 10am and you work until 8pm because there’s no one there to tell you to go home. Then, if you’re lucky, you’ll remember to grab dinner (this doesn’t always happen), only to go back to work til 2am. When you’re getting up later, it’s fine if you work later. Fourteen hour days are what working from home and the entrepreneurial spirit is all about right?

No. It’s not. And you’re killing yourself.

Business Week recently highlighted a new study that found people who regularly work 11 hour days or longer are 67 percent more likely to develop heart disease than those who regularly work 7-8 hour days. Get yourself into a schedule and make sure it’s you can you, ahem, live with. For me, designating my “at work” hours, even if I’m just working from a coffee shop, is what’s allowed me to get more done in less time and NOT live my life in front of a computer. It also hopefully means I won’t die of a heart attack by my 35th birthday. A schedule that doesn’t let you rest, recharge and eat isn’t something to be proud of. It’s something that needs to change.

Not Working Out

If you get up at 10:00am and work for 12 hours, when exactly is your fat ass hitting the gym or taking the time you need to take care of yourself? You’re not going to find it. And then you’re going to become depressed, not only because you’re putting on the pounds but because you’re not moving. I watched my father live a sedentary lifestyle when he was put on bed rest for a year. At some point last year I realized my own lifestyle wasn’t that different. He was sitting in a bed; I was sitting in front a computer. I wasn’t okay with that.

Being up by 6:00-6:30am means I have time to squeeze in a work out before getting to the office by 8:30am. Not working until 9pm means I have time to hit a kickboxing class (and a 110lb bag) before I call it a night. Getting myself on a strict schedule means I can commit to a 6 week boxing boot camp to get my body going again. It also means I have far less aggression when I come into the office, which I hear Rhea, Sabre and the other ladies are also happy about. ;)

Becoming A Hermit

When you work all the time, you don’t leave your house. You stop seeing people and communicate only through avatars. This is not healthy. As freelancers and consultants who work from home it’s too easy to become a recluse who never leaves or acknowledges a holiday. Do not become this person. This person is angry and is the one making all the weird comments when they finally ARE dragged back into society because they’ve completely forgotten how to act. Leave your house. Take a vacation. Hell, take today off. Pretend you’re sick. I won’t tell anyone. [Dear Rhea, I actually was sick on Friday. I swear.]

Those 14 hour days you’re pulling don’t mean anything if the work you’re producing sucks. And if you haven’t left your house in two weeks or played hooky lately, it’s likely your work sucks. Because you’re exhausted and your mind needs a break. So give it one.

Those are the five work-from-habits that I believe are strangling freelancers right now. You’ll notice that the action needed to change the habit isn’t anything extraordinary. It’s a combination of little changes that, in sum, will keep you healthier so you can produce better work and enjoy your life.
It’s a new week and it’s finally starting to feel like Spring. Let’s start fresh.

[The above post comes, in part, as part of my involvement in Nike Women’s Make Yourself Movement. This month we were asked to discuss our New Year’s resolutions and whether we’ve stuck to them. I’ve kept my resolution to take back my health. The above is how I’ve done it.]

Your Comments

  • Jami Broom

    Ugh. I know.

    Any tips on how to kick yourself in the ass to BREAK these habits?

    • Lisa Barone

      Depends on the habit. For me, it really was just having enough and not liking the way I was feeling. It made me want to go out and do something about it and change each of the habits individually.

      Which are getting you?

    • Pashmina

      Jami, here’s some that worked for me.

      1) Tell everyone your intention of breaking a bad habit. Share this goal with everyone around you and close to you. If you put it out there publicly, you’re more likely to not shirk on actually doing something about it, because now it’s also about your word. It’s not just you playing a mental game with yourself.

      2) In the same vein, step it up by having someone else hold you truly accountable. They have to be ready to really not allow you to break on your commitments. And when you do it feels like you’ve cheated.

      3) Good habits will break bad habits. It takes 27 days to make or break a habit. The first 4 weeks of change absolutely suck. It’s hard. Whether it’s working out, consciously eating healthier, or setting structured hours, that change is going to suck big time in the first 27 days. Your body/mind is saying woahhh, I want to go back to my existing routine! Knowing this, be crazy vigilant in the first 4 weeks, and then shazam! You’ve now created a new routine for yourself and it becomes FAR more easier to maintain.

  • netmeg

    I worked from home for a year. There were pluses and minuses, but overall I didn’t like it. I found myself talking only to my cats. The only human voices I heard were the TV. The neighbors started looking at me funny. I experienced a lot of the same things you did. Eventually I went and got an office again.

    However, if you’re *gonna* work from home, the single best piece of advice I can give you is that every morning you GET DRESSED. Seriously. It makes a huge difference. Lolling around in a bathrobe might be comforting while you’re sick, but it really does affect (and reflect) your attitude about the day. Even if nobody is going to see you today but the cats, put your pants on.

    • Lisa Barone

      Definitely agree. There were far too many days working from home (or even when I work on a weekend) where it was 5pm and I still hadn’t showered yet. Not only does it kill your day, but it throws off your productivity. You’re not thinking the same in your pajamas as you will be if you take the time to shower and get dressed. Working from your PJs is often seen as some sort of medal of owner for the work-from-home set but it can be really damaging.

      I also wasn’t a fan of working from home. I really do prefer the office. Preferably when no one’s in it. :p

      • netmeg

        Me too, isn’t that weird? I like the solitude of home, but in a different environment.

        • Lisa Barone

          Yeah, it weird. I came into the office yesterday to get some work done and got SO MUCH done in an empty office. That’s another reason I like getting here around 8am when I know no one else will be here for at least an hour (and that’s only one person, everyone else comes closer to 10).

          • Unmana

            Glad to know I’m in good company!

            If I can get up on time, I’ll get dressed in a hurry and go in to office, because I know few people will be around then. Then I’ll head home around lunchtime, eat a healthy home-cooked lunch and work the rest of the day in the privacy of my kitchen.

            I really, really need this, Lisa. Thank you.

    • Christina Gleason @ Phenomenal Content

      Totally. I’ve been working at home for years now, and it only took a few months of scrambling to change out of my pajamas before my husband came home before I made a commitment to get dressed first thing in the morning each day.

      Plus, when you already have clothes on, you can put the cabash on the hermit thing. When someone asks if you’d like to grab your laptop and working together at the coffee shop, you won’t defeat yourself by thinking, “But then I have to go all the way upstairs and get dressed first…” You’re already ready to go, and you can get work AND social time taken care of. (I’ve been working a lot out of Mocha Lisa’s lately.)

      • Lisa Barone

        Heh, that’s a good point about being ready to go out when someone asks. For awhile, IM conversations between me and Rhea were going something like this:

        Me: Hey, you wanna go grab lunch?
        Rhea: Eh…then I’ve to get dressed.
        Me: Yeah…I haven’t showered. Never mind.

        It wasn’t pretty. :)

  • Dana DiTomaso

    Great post! I have been working from home for 6 years, with a break in the middle for 4 years when I had office space. I don’t have these bad habits now, but they took me years to break. I’m also hoping to get office space again this year – I really miss the mental break between home and office.

    • Lisa Barone

      It’s a little scary how EASY it is to pick up the bad habit and how HARD it is to then break it! I really thought being in an office would magically cure me of my bad work-from-home ways. Not so much. :)

      • Dana DiTomaso

        I thought the same too when I moved from home into the office. The set work hours really helped with the “eating while bored” – no time to be bored if you have 10 hours of work to do in 8!

  • Michael Dorausch

    I talk to people about this in the office every day, primarily because those 12+ hour work days with no exercise are landing them on my adjusting tables with complaints. Creating the kind of balance you have when going to the office is tough to do at home, but it is doable, yet I prefer getting up and getting out as opposed to the work-at-home routine. For at home workers, I’ve tried to schedule a non-home task first thing in the day (even just getting coffee) in order to create some momentum.

    • Lisa Barone

      Good point, Michael. The problem with making your morning activity “getting coffee” though is you saddle yourself with a few hundred calories you may not need. Typically when we go “out” for coffee we’re not making the best choices. Or at least that’s how I was. Wasn’t great for my waistline. ;)

    • Rhea Drysdale

      Lisa – great list! And Michael – really like that idea of momentum early in the day. This may shock some (sarcasm), but unlike Lisa, I’m NOT a morning person. No one in my family is, so I’ve got some pretty ugly habits… mainly my ugly mug in the morning if you try to talk to me. I’ve found that when I have a reason to get moving I always feel better, but it’s just too damn difficult to motivate myself. I need an external *thing* to get me moving. I’ll sometimes schedule calls earlier knowing it will force me to get in early. Not a consistent thing, but it helps.

  • Todd Mintz

    I work at home…I’m usually at my computer by 4:30 AM (because I’m wired that way), and I’m at the gym for a minimum of a hour each day. I’ve found that all the negatives you attribute to working at home applied to the time where I actually worked in an office (which thankfully ended almost 5 years ago).

    Truthfully, if you have the discipline to do good quality work away from an office environment, you should also have the discipline to not fall into the other “work from home” traps that you alluded to.

    • Lisa Barone

      Truthfully, if you have the discipline to do good quality work away from an office environment, you should also have the discipline to not fall into the other “work from home” traps that you alluded to.

      I’m not sure about that. I think it’s a different type of discipline because of who you’re working for. I will beat my butt into shape to get a great piece of content out to a client, but sacrificing time to do something for *myself* (like going to the gym)? That’s usually a little different. Or at least that’s been my experience.

  • Jami Broom

    Sitting here in my pajamas, thinking you’re right, I should’ve gotten dressed by 1:00 in the afternoon, but seriously, it takes me too long to pick out something to wear!!! And this is a BIG perk of working from home, no?

    But seriously, I think the “not having set work hours” is the one that literally is killing me, if your heart disease statistics are for real. But I like to work. And then that leads to problem number five — being a hermit.

    I have tried setting work hours, but it never works. I concentrate better at night. If I’m frustrated, it’s best for me to go for a walk and then work on it later. So none of this ever sticks.

    And one of the reasons I’m an independent consultant is because I seriously hate being told what to do, even by myself. The more I harp on myself about a bad habit, the more I am likely to continue that bad habit and stick my tongue out at myself.

    So, I guess my question is, are there any mind tricks you play on yourself to make sure you stick to the work hours you set for yourself?

    • Lisa Barone

      As CK notes down below, it’s really self-discipline and wanting things to be different. Sometimes rewarding yourself helps, but that tends to be a temporary fix. You just have to want it badly enough. I wanted my life back.

  • CK Chung

    It all comes down to self-discipline. Once you have that down, it’s not very difficult to see that the benefits of working from home far outweigh the benefits of going into an office, of which I see only one: direct interaction with co-workers.

    • Lisa Barone

      I totally agree it’s all self discipline. My habits changed not because I was in an office but because I finally got tired of LIVING like that. That direct interaction with coworkers is pretty important, though. I was going crazy there for awhile. :) We also share our office space with another tech company, so it’s doubly added to everyone’s social interaction.

  • Kristin Offiler

    You’re so right about the things on this list. Especially during the winter, it was all too easy for me to write, take a break to raid the fridge, and never actually set foot outside. Plus being under layers of clothes and wearing yoga pants daily kept me oblivious to the fact that I wasn’t in any kind of respectable shape. Now I get out with my dog at least once or twice a day for a long walk and fit in yoga or a Jillian Michaels dvd when I can in the morning. Also, when I sleep past 8am, I automatically feel less productive all day long. It’s not easy working from home because so many habits can impede productivity and your general health, but it’s worth it if you take the time to organize your time and priorities. Thanks for this post, Lisa!

    • Lisa Barone

      Ha, ahh, the security of Yoga pants and a big sweatshirt to help you hide what you’re trying not to admit. I have no idea what you’re talking about. ;)

      It’s definitely harder to stay fit in the winter. I know it’s a lot harder to WAKE UP and go to the gym when its so cold and dark outside. Hopefully the Spring and longer days will give people an added boost to get started.

  • Lisa Kanarek

    These are all great points. Out of all of them, having set work hours is the most important strategy. The good news is that you don’t have to have traditional hours. If you’re a night owl, work during your productive hours. Several of my clients work from 11pm-8am most days. That’s when their mind works best. When they’ve finished working all night, they sleep for a few hours, relax, meet with clients and friends and then go back to work. The point is to set a starting and stopping time. Otherwise, working out, eating dinner at a descent time and even networking with others never happens.

    • Lisa Barone

      A great point. Just because you have “set” hours, doesn’t mean they have to be the same hours as everyone else. If you want to get up early and hit the gym and do some errands and not start til 11am, that’s fine. But set your day up so you can accomplish EVERYTHING you want to get done, not just the work stuff.

  • Mike Ramsey

    This is such an inspired post as I have to admit that I have experienced every level of it from working at home. I run two businesses. A small town newspaper called The Voice and Nifty Marketing and we had an extremely crappy office until just recently, so I found myself doing as much as I could at home.

    The main thing that seemed to suck was just overall quality of life. I worked hours upon hours and put off time with the family because we really didn’t have plans and I would just keep that macbook heating my lap like a toasty blanket. Mentally, it definitely did something to me even though I had no problem staying on task and pumping out hours at the computer. Just recently, I decided to try and get out of the habits that had been forming over the past year at home.

    But, I wanted to ask you? When you moved out of the house what did it do for your business? How was growth, employee satisfaction, innovation, effected during the time that you were home? I would be extremely interested to get your feedback.

    We have now moved into a new super duper office complete with things that look pretty and make employees happy (candy jars, new furntiure, heat) and while i still spend sometime working at home I am finding that going in to the office automatically has been improving quality of life and the company’s quality of work in both areas.

    Now, you said that you still had some of the bad habits when you started going back to the office. Was it the “not wearing pants” thing. I still struggle with that when I go in. Everybody tells me I have to kick that habit but i just can’t. ;-)

    • Lisa Barone

      But, I wanted to ask you? When you moved out of the house what did it do for your business? How was growth, employee satisfaction, innovation, effected during the time that you were home? I would be extremely interested to get your feedback.

      Things were very different when Rhea and I worked from home because we had more of a remote set up. None of our employees, at the time, were local ones. So that obviously has its challenges. Today, with the exception of one employee (Michelle), everyone is with us in the Troy, NY office. That’s definitely improved quality of life for everyone, morale, and team building. We’re much happier here.

  • netmeg

    So then I guess you have to cordon off some area of your living environment as your office, and make that spot sacrosanct. (I took an apartment with an extra bedroom, but if you can’t do that, then just find a way to “mark” your office territory with some plants or shelves or duct tape) You do not cross the line without pants. YOU DO NOT CROSS THE LINE WITHOUT PANTS. You do not cross the line between 11pm and 8am. Take your apple and your grapes in with you when you start working, and don’t cross the line to the refrigerator until lunch time. Whatever. Don’t try it do all of them once, baby steps. Master your habits one at at time.

  • Jessica Nunemaker

    I love working from home! I’ve had a few of these habits, though some are seasonally induced. Hey, Winter in Indiana is COLD! You have to pack on a few pounds to survive so boredom induced snacking then? I’m so for it. ;)

    Joking aside, I do wake up at the crack of dawn. My brain does the best writing then. I always take a shower, get dressed, finish up with whatever else needs done and fit in a bike ride at some point, weather permitting.

    Every single one of these points is so true. It’s a big adjustment to work from home but when I have the sniffles or it’s 80* for the first time in four months? Then it’s also the most awesome place in the world to be.

    • Lisa Barone

      Every single one of these points is so true. It’s a big adjustment to work from home but when I have the sniffles or it’s 80* for the first time in four months? Then it’s also the most awesome place in the world to be.

      As it was 76 DEGREES yesterday FOR THE FIRST TIME IN OMG FOREVER, I totally understand where you’re coming from. :)

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    Most importantly, the changes you made help people set a new “forma mentis”, a way of thinking that’s not just healthier but a lot more efficient in terms of getting things done.
    Call it mental discipline if you will, if you don’t have it, you can train your body as much as you want but you’ll always slack behind.

  • Nancy Davis

    I am struggling with two of these really badly. I hate working from home. The isolation is driving me insane. I now look forward to totally random conversations but I need others to bounce ideas off. Being on the phone all day constantly and working fourteen hour days is taking a toll on my health as well.

    I did put on some weight, and I blame it on not walking across town to the bus stop every day. Now that the weather is nicer, I just have to start getting out and walking. I can keep out of the kitchen, my problem is sometimes remembering to eat, not overeating.

    • Lisa Barone

      The isolation can be really difficult. I remember the days where I honestly didn’t speak to a single person all day. Or week. And that sucked. That’s when you start to get SUPER chatty with the people at the grocery store or the nice lady at the post office. ;) If you’re working from home, it may be a good idea to find a coworking group in your area (or start one!) so you’re around other people or to schedule lunch meetings or coffee dates with industry people during the week. You need that constant contact. Otherwise you go a little bonkers. :)

  • Rosemary ONeill

    Whoah, thanks for the virtual kick in the pants. I can just go down the checklist and say “yup…yup…yup.” And I’ve found that these bad habits rub off on any little people around you as well. We’ve now got a rule that if anyone asks for a snack, I ask “are you hungry or bored?” That little trick has helped me and my posse to stop mindlessly munching. Now if I can only eliminate the Bugles from our company honor bar…

    • Lisa Barone

      Ha, that’s awesome. Someone should set up a voice box to ask you that every time you open your fridge or cabinet. More times than not, it’s probably that I’m bored. :)

  • Stever

    Tied directly to becoming a hermit, not getting dressed, and sleeping in is the decline in personal hygene. Not taking showers as often as you should makes for a stinky freelancer :)

    I worked from home for a couple years. The TV and fridge became huge distractions. And the 14 hour days eventually wore me down.

    My office now is literally a block and a half from home, so I walk to work. Walk home for lunch too and hang with the dogs for a bit. Makes for nice mid day breaks.

  • Daniel Dessinger

    My goal in life is to work three days a week at home, 1-2 days a week at an office or in face to face meetings. I love the interaction of meetings, consulting, training, and problem solving with other people. But I also love retreating to the batcave.

  • Jun Baranggan

    Did the same things for more than 2 years Lisa, freelancing, then went back to a full-time office job, bud still did a regular consultancy job for another year. The monetary value was fun, but I seldom get to see my daughter, who practically told me it’s OK for her if we don’t have much money as long as she sees me all the time. So I re-aligned my working habits and am now spending more time with the family. And finally got to walk 30 minutes every day once again.

  • Mal Milligan

    When my daughter decided to be a figure skater and my son wanted to be a hockey player I was fortunate to be able to work from home to support their schedules. That’s 7 days a week. Now I never want to have a regular schedule again. Except Lisa your image of the couch potato is reminding me I really have to get up and get out and go to our beautiful local gym. I’ve been hiding out for almost 2 weeks… All potatoes out of the house !! lol

  • hyderalis

    Thanks Lisa for this wonderful post. Working from home also distract you from your work if someone arrives like your friends or relatives while in office we don’t think of all that. Also, at home we may hook up with our friends on fb, twitter or skype but in office we only chat with our office peers & not others which also a habit one should avoid while working from home.

    Looking forward for some more good post like this :)

  • Terry

    Great post!

    Working from a home office is very hard if you do not start out from day one with work hours, including break times and a real lunch hour. This is very important.

    I am fortunate enough to live in a small town, so short walks are a simple and refreshing thing on my set breaks. I always break for lunch, most of the time staying at home unless it has been a trying day – then I get the heck out and dine at a restaurant.

    Again, appreciate the post. Nice to get input from others.


  • Jami Broom

    I just thought of another problem of working at home — because people (friends and family) know you’re at home, they think this means you’re also accessible. to them. for personal things. Unless you make it clear to people you ARE working, they are going to expect you to be available to them. And even sometimes if they KNOW you’re working…they’ll still call you in the middle of the day or expect you to be able to have a 2 hour lunch with them.

    And, all this, as you know…just requires you to have to work late. :-(

  • Lalit Burma

    I simply follow my strict routine and with that I set up small office in my home where my staff came at scheduled time … so I am enjoying all the benefits of working from home … without having many drawbacks …

    But yeah second point “Eating When You’re Bored” is killing me as well :)

  • Dan

    Different strokes. I love working from home. I love being able to spend time with my family as a break from work every couple of hours. I love being able to go out and about when I feel the need to. If I had to pay for an extra office I’d just end up stressing more about my workload. Of course all the things you mention are habits you have to avoid when working from home but it’s definitely doable. Out of the house activities, waking up on time, exercising, social networking, friends, and non work events are crucial to a healthy life no matter where you work from.

  • Laurie Holman

    Great post! I’ve never worked from home, except a day or two here and there when I had to wait for the cable guy or something. Daily social interaction’s really important to me, so if I worked from home consistently I’d probably end up like Catherine Deneuve in the film “Repulsion” (she was home alone for 10 days, and started to see arms coming out of the walls and grabbing her).

    I would think the most important habit you’d need to break when starting work in an office is putting on the pants. I don’t think you’d get too far without those.

  • Amber Evans

    Wow – been there. I would also say that in addition to doing all these things, it’s important to clean your house and workspace every night before you go to bed. I would sit at my desk in the morning and then say, “oh look! better dust that window sill/ceiling fan/ceramic animal,” then “maybe I should be mowing the lawn.” I eventually learned that in order to focus on just work, and for the sake of my ever-increasing ADD, I needed to clean the night before. Wake up in the morning (feeling like P. Diddy) to a clean house and workspace!

  • Cresilda @ Virtual Assistant, Inc.

    Which is healthier: working from home or working in an office? There are lots of pros and cons for each. I’m not against home-based business (in fact, i want it). But speaking of health, while making your way to the office you can walk, use a staircase, wake up early and become personally social. On the other hand, you can work while on bed on your pajamas at home which definitely makes your life sedentary. Whether you work from home or in an office, it’s up to you if you want to maintain your active lifestyle. There is always time for that if you are really into it.