Bottom Line/Personal: If you work from home, have you ever gotten to the end of the day where you said, “I got nothing done today?” How can you be sure that you make your work from home job the best that it can be?

I’m Sarah Hiner, President of Bottom Line Publications, and this is our Conversation with the Experts, where we get the answers to your tough questions from our leading experts.

Today I’m talking to Nancy Collamer, a leading career coach, speaker, and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit from Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. Welcome, Nancy.

Nancy Collamer: Thanks, Sarah.

Bottom Line: Work from home sounds luxurious, but the truth of the matter is, a lot of people fall into this trap of working from home, doing the laundry, juggle, juggle, juggle, juggle all sorts of things, and at the end of the day, they really are saying, “I got nothing done.”

Collamer: Yeah, guilty as charged.

Bottom Line: Aha! Gotcha. Well, me too, because I spend plenty of time working from home, as did my husband, as do many people.

Collamer: Yeah. Many, many people do work from home these days. But it is a challenge, and I think in order to work from home effectively, there are a number of different things that you need to do.

First and foremost is you have to recognize that it’s a real job, and you need to treat it the same way that you would a regular job and establish boundaries. In other words, when you get up in the morning, if you would normally report to an office at 8:30 in the morning, get to your desk by 8:30 in the morning.

Bottom Line: In clothing?

Collamer: In clothing.

Bottom Line: Dressed, hair done.

Collamer: And isn’t it amazing how much of a difference that makes in the way that you feel?

Bottom Line: Totally.

Collamer: Yeah. I’m not saying you need to wear a suit, but for goodness’ sake, take a shower, put on some decent clothes, and maybe stick some blush on.

Bottom Line: No fuzzy slippers, right.

Collamer: Right, right. Because you will, you’ll feel a whole lot more professional as the day goes on.

Bottom Line: And also, in terms of boundaries, you need to set boundaries with the family as well, right? No, Mommy really is at work, so you can’t play a puzzle at whatever time of day.

Collamer: That’s right. I started working at home when my children were very, very small, and we came up with a whole signal system. If I was on the phone, they knew I would flip the sign up on the door. They knew when they came home not to yell up the stairs because I could be on the phone.

And that takes a little bit of trial and error with the family, particularly if the kids are small. And if the kids are really small, you need to take them to daycare or bring somebody into the house. But recognize that it’s a serious job, and you need to have that covered – because quite frankly, it’s not fair to them. You certainly don’t want to leave them being ignored.

Bottom Line: Not attended to, right.

Collamer: Yeah. So absolutely, you need to set boundaries, not just with family but with friends as well. I would sometimes have friends who would call me and say, “Hey, you want to go out for lunch?” And some of that’s okay, and I will meet friends sometimes for a walk at the end of the day, but I’ll do it at 4:00, when I know I could use the fresh air and the exercise at that point in the day; to get out and do that type of thing. It’s okay to blend a little bit of work and leisure, but do it in a way that helps you be more productive.

Bottom Line: Excellent. Okay, so now they’ve got their boundaries. Now what else do they need to do? What are the other mistakes that they make?

Collamer: I think another thing that you need to do is you really need to calendar your activities. On a Friday afternoon or on a Monday morning, sit down, take half an hour and think about, “Okay, what are the tasks and the things that I need to handle this week?” Write it down. It’s amazing how when you schedule it – you do it. I happen to do a lot of writing, and I will put down that between 9 and 11:30, I am working on my posts for this week. And once it’s down in writing, then it becomes sacred to me. Just doing that will really boost your productivity.

Bottom Line: And that also, again, goes back to your original statement, which is treating it like a real job.

Collamer: Yeah.

Bottom Line: It really is.

Collamer: Yep, absolutely. And another thing too is you have to invest in things like having a separate business line. It just sounds so unprofessional if the call comes in your home line and your child picks it up. So you need to have a dedicated workspace and a dedicated phone line. Invest in the equipment that you need so that you can be productive during the day.

Bottom Line: How about the personality of the person? Are there some people who just shouldn’t be working at home?

Collamer: Yeah. It’s isolating. I get to work with clients; I speak with the media; I get to do things that get me out and talking with people – even still, I’m sort of a people person, and so I find it isolating a lot of times working from home.

For someone who really needs that social interaction, it can be a challenge. You can overcome that challenge by joining some entrepreneurial support groups. Or these days, they also have incubators where you can go and work and be among other entrepreneurs. Maybe just do that for a few hours a week; a lot of these places, you can rent the space on an hourly basis. That might be enough to make a difference.

But working at home isn’t great for people like that, and it can also be a challenge for people that are really unfocused and people that are not super well-organized, it can be a challenge.

Bottom Line: That’s great. Thank you so much, Nancy Collamer. The bottom line? If you’re going to work from home, it is work from home. It’s not “be at home and do a little bit of work.” Treat it like a business. Schedule yourself. Show up at your desk dressed with hair done. Not fancy, but at least that you’re on with your day; you’re not in your jammies and your fuzzy slippers.

And then also, make sure that your family and friends know that you really are working from home. That means they’re not calling you for lunch every day, and that the kids aren’t running in every time that you’re on a phone call. This is your work space. Set it up like an office: have a desk, have a dedicated phone line. Treat yourself with respect when you’re in this environment.

On the flip side, you might not be right for working at home if you really need to interact with people on a regular basis, or frankly, if you’re not very well-organized or self-motivated to structure your day on your own. This is Sarah Hiner with Bottom Line.