Remember the commercial of the woman in a business suit top, pajama bottoms and bunny slippers while on a conference call? Way back when, I used to think that symbolized home office life. Ahhh, the joy of it.
Once I started running my business from home, however, reality set in very quickly!
* The days of commuting to and from a workplace with a defined work schedule are gone.
* The days of being accountable to a “boss” are gone.
* The days of doing “home” stuff while at home and “work” stuff while at work are definitely gone!
In the early days of my business, I would actually feel guilty if the house was not spotless and I was spending too much time in the office (justified by “billable hours”). Or I would feel guilty if the house was clean and the laundry was done, but I wasn’t making enough money.
It’s enough to drive an entrepreneur insane!
So how do you handle it? Here are some tips that have helped insure my sanity over the years:
1. Create a separate workspace that works for, not against, you.
Whether you’ve taken over a spare bedroom, a corner of the basement or the dining room table, be sure that you have a space that is yours just for working (even if it is just for work between certain hours and for eating at other times).
In deciding where you want to work, you need to first determine HOW you work.
Do you prefer a lot of space? Do you work with piles or does everything need its own file folder? Do you prefer a clear workspace with nothing except your current project or do you like to have all ongoing projects in sight?
Regardless of your work style, you need an area that works for you and that is just for work.
2. Beware of shiny objects.
In setting up your office, don’t run out and buy every gadget known to man. It’s tempting to get the best of everything right off the bat – resist the urge!
Get the basics and add things when there is a need. For my purposes, the basics are: a good laptop, a multi-line telephone with speakerphone and mute, a color laser printer, a scanner and a separate hard fax machine (in addition to my electronic fax account). What you need will depend on how you work with your clients.
3. Limit the chatting.
Once they hear you are working from home, many friends and family (especially those who are home during the day) will think nothing of calling or IMing you throughout the workday and, while you may love to chat or IM with your friends and family, be sure they know when you are working. It is too easy to fall into the habit of chatting with someone and then realizing you’ve spent an hour or more of your workday and haven’t finished the project or made your calls.
Save the visiting for after your workday is complete or when you are taking a break.
4. Know when to say “when”.
Starting and growing a new business is invigorating! I love what I do and draw a lot of energy from it. That said, be sure you set limits on how long you spend working each day so as not to drain yourself.
My workday typically starts around 8am and I go until lunch when I take a break, grab the dogs and go for a walk. Once back, I work for a few more hours and then do a final check of everything in the evening. This schedule works well for me. You need to find one that works for you – if you have children, your prime workday may be while they are at school or after they’ve gone to bed.
5. Do what you do best.
Working from home can lead to a sense of isolation and the feeling that you need to do everything yourself. You don’t.
Focus on those things that you do best – the reasons why you chose to go into business for yourself – and outsource the rest. A virtual assistant can help you with all those tasks that you shouldn’t be spending time on. It is better for your business to hire someone, say to do the books, than it is for you to spend X hours trying to figure it out when you could be marketing your business or working directly with your clients.
6. Automate, automate, automate.
When possible, set up your systems such that regular tasks are as automated as possible. Do you have an evergreen (i.e., never changing, same for everyone) welcome email that you send all your new clients? If so, set up an autoresponder.
Need to keep track of projects and have updates automatically sent to clients? Use an Intranet solution such as WebOffice. Need to explain something “in person” to a potential client? Use a webinar. You get the idea.
To the extent possible, you want to be working in your home office, not running around during the work day. As an entrepreneur, commuting and waiting cost you money. Use technology to your advantage.
7. Get out and visit.
As you work on your marketing plan, get new clients and generally build your business, it’s easy to forget the outside world exists.
Be sure you get out of your home office (and your pjs) at least once a week. Go anywhere there are people: the gym, a favorite coffee shop, networking events, out with friends, etc. It’s not healthy to become a recluse and you’ll get far more ideas by mixing with people.
With a little planning, you can create a home office environment that suits both you and your business.