After having spent the last several years working from home, I’ve discovered some tough truths. The lines between work and home can blur, leaving you feeling that you’re either always at work, or always at home. Here are a couple of ways to combat that.

One of the primary advantages to (and challenges of) a home office is that you can react and respond to situations at any time, whether they are work and home situations. You should have more time available for work, since you can do so much without the usual prep – you don’t need to do anything but roll out of bed and perform. This can be a recipe for increased productivity or disaster, depending on how you structure your time and space. If you don’t create a structure of some kind, you’ll be Honey Do-ing and child caring on top of bread winning. You want to try and avoid that. Even *THE* Superman needs his Fortress of Solitude, and we mere mortals need that even more.

First of all, create a space that’s unique for work. Make it a separate geographical location in your house with its own door, easy access to bathroom, etc., off of the main traffic patterns of the family. If you can’t create a separate physical space, then try to distance your office as much as you can from the most utilized home space. This does a couple of things – 1) it minimizes distractions while you’re working, and 2) it creates a more effective work area.

Do not take work to bed with you regularly. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve worked on quite a few last-minute proposals or responses and customer issues until the wee hours from the comfort of my bedroom. But if you make a habit of this, it’s dangerous for both you and the other members of your family. When you don’t clearly delineate what is work and what is play, you can create a barrier between you and your family that may well become insurmountable. Your friends and family need to know that when you’re in your office and your door’s closed, you’re busy. When you make your home office area sacrosanct, it’s also easier for all to see that, as a general rule, you aren’t working when you’re not in your designated workspace.

This goes for you single folks as well. One way to really screw up your psyche and set yourself up for a burn out (and potentially costly therapy) is to have no separation between work and home. You too need to have the equivalent of I Am Available and I Am Busy modes, just like with your IM account.

Lastly, schedule and then take some time off. Working from home does NOT constitute a vacation. If your family thinks working from home is the same as you being on vacation, you haven’t followed the previous suggestions. Getting you and your family away from it all is one of the keys to personal and professional achievement. Take the weekends off (at least one contiguous 24 hour period a week without checking your email, your voicemail, or your fax machine), and take a vacation at least once a quarter. That means AT LEAST taking a day off and making a long weekend of it. And try to avoid “working vacations”. If it’s a vacation, you shouldn’t be working. If you’re managing your time properly, you should be all the more efficient for it. This is a harder thing to do when you work from home, so put the necessary effort in to insure that it happens.

Here’s what I’ve done recently as an example. A few months ago, I took a 3-day weekend and took my family camping to Yankee Springs. This park is 5,200 acres, with over 30 miles of hiking trails, 12 miles of moderate to challenging mountain bike trails, and much more. It’s about 150 miles west of Detroit (Mapquest directions here) and it’s well worth the drive.

If you can hack it, treat yourself to the rustic camping area at Deep Lake. Make your reservations by calling the National Parks Reservation Hotline at 1-800-44-PARKS or (800) 447-2757, and ask for campsites 110, 111, or 112. These are larger than average, within easy walking distance to the “facilities”, and sit on a bluff overlooking Deep Lake. Deep Lake has Brown Trout, Northern Pike, and Muskies, as well as a wide variety of panfish. It’s pretty shallow for the most part, so you can either fish off of the fishing pier, or bring a boat. Nearby Gun Lake is an all sports lake, and is quite sizeable. (It has modern facilities if you want to take real showers….)

Take some time off. You’ll be happier and more successful, both on the job and at home. Trust me.

P.S. Here are a couple of simple car camping recipes that you might enjoy. The first one is pretty healthy. The second one is a heart attack on a plate, but quite tasty.

  • Campfire Potatoes
    1 Roll of Aluminum Foil
    1 Potato (per person) quartered
    Fresh Mushrooms (sliced)
    Fresh Carrots
    Fresh Jalapenos (if you like it spicy)
    Spices that you like (I use paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic, seasoned salt and pepper.)
    Squeezy butter
    Your choice of meat – beef, chicken, etc., cubed (soy meat analogs or tofu works well for those of you that are not omnivores.)Combine all of the above into a pouch of tinfoil. Add squeezy butter. Double wrap it.

    Bake in good campfire coals for 45 minutes. If the potatoes are tender, then it’s done! Make sure your coals are good and hot, and that your meat is well cooked.

  • S’More Nachos, Yankee Springs style
    1 package of Graham Crackers
    1 package of mini marshmallows
    1 package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
    1 Package of chocolate M&MsPlace a layer of aluminum foil on the bottom of a cast iron pan. Layer the ingredients, and set the pan on the side of the fire, on a grill, or on a platform of slow burning logs… wait for the chocolate and marshmallows to melt, eat and enjoy.

    Caution: addictive and messy… Oh, and eat it while it’s hot!