About a year and a half ago, when my business was in it’s real infancy, I still saw clients at their office as well as worked from home. The balance at that time was about 40/60. I had a goal to work from home 98% of the time with my business by a certain time, and I achieved it right on schedule.
The goal to work from home wasn’t about me lounging around in jammies all day with coffee dribbling down my chin and pressing a few buttons on a keyboard. It was getting rid of my stupid commute into the city, wasting hours (yes, hours) every day that could be spent on client work, keeping my books in order, responding to emails, marketing my business, making a homemade meal, switching over the laundry, talking to my lonely dog, monitoring what my daughter gets into after school, making sure there are no parties here after school, having extra time to respond to emails/keep my sanity/save my gas money/save the environment etc. etc.
So for me, that was a good enough reason.
I also found I was WAY more productive at home. My stress level was super low. My road rage disappeared. The amount of work that would actually get completed in a day at home versus a day spent at a client office was substantial.
It wasn’t always that way though. Many years ago, in my early 20’s I worked from home for a short period of time. And it was a disaster. I was unfocused, and my work output sucked. Too many distractions at home would consume my days, and then I would feel disorganized and unproductive. I was lonely (a common problem), and therefore spent many working hours on social networks (before Facebook and Twitter). Luckily, it was short lived and got back into the office quickly and that solved the problem.
When I work from home now, I schedule time for socialization. It is important. It just gets scheduled in when I feel like it’s best suited and I can accommodate it easier. (More on this next week).
But with some discipline, and obviously gaining more experience (and probably some maturity) throughout the years, I have learned to make this an enjoyable experience both for my family and for my clients.
I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to work from home to do it! It makes sense in terms of cost, stress levels and family/personal time. Your commute turns into literally less than a minute, you can throw on a load of laundry during break times, turn on the Crockpot at lunch time. It improves your work/life balance tremendously. Not to mention is saves gas and the environmental foot print that goes along with running large offices and commuting.
So if you aren’t the most efficient person at home, but would like to be, here are some suggestions to get you there:
Make a schedule and stick to it! But also be flexible. Ok, huge oxymoron here, but seriously, managing your time wisely but flexibly is huge in working from home efficiency. Use an online calendar system or your iCal every week to schedule your week ahead. Try to create a routine and block out time for certain tasks to stay on schedule and build a routine which is important for efficiency. But also check in to this calendar every day to move things around if needed. Remember, you don’t have to be on a typical 9-5 schedule. Use your new flexibility to your advantage for maximum efficiency (both in life and work).
For example, I schedule blocks of time at the same time every week for things like marketing, blog writing, client work, etc. Sometimes my clients need something done ahead of schedule, and I might swap the times: a blog writing block for a client hour block. Don’t let this stress you out or control you. If I’ve had a particularly hectic beginning of the week, I may take an afternoon off to catch up on home stuff or just relax, and work on a Saturday morning instead.
Avoid procrastination. Procrastination is common in the workplace, and not surprisingly even more common when you work from home. After all, you are now “the boss” of your workspace. There’s no one watching over you, at least at home. In Dr. Neil Fiore’s book, “The Now Habit”, he suggests starting small with 30 minute blocks of time to start on a project. This doesn’t feel so overwhelming when facing a task you just don’t want to do. Committing to just 30 minutes is really nothing, but helps the ball get rolling with forward momentum. It also helps when you are looking at that pile of laundry that needs to be folded and a project on your desk. Commit to working on the project for 30 minutes, then take a small break to do something around the house that is bothering you, like laundry or prepping dinner. Gradually work up to an hour or more.
Be smart with social media.Working from home and by yourself can be a bit of a culture shock for some. It can get pretty lonely and isolating if we let it. So many people turn to social media to communicate throughout the day…which is fine…but we all know “just a second” on Facebook can turn into an hour or more. Schedule time throughout the day to pop into your social media profiles. (I do first thing in the AM, lunch time, and when I’m shutting down). Also limit the time to 20 minutes max.If social media is part of your business, I recommend pre-scheduling posts at the beginning of the week using a scheduler tool such as Hootsuite, then checking in at your scheduled intervals. Although social media is a fantastic way of staying connected, it can really rob us of efficient time if we let it.
Get out of the house! Because we live and happen to work at the same place, it can be easy to fall into a trap of not leaving the house for a few days (especially in the winter). This will eventually make you stir crazy. Plan errands/gym time/walks/coffee with friends/free time outside of the house at least a few times a week, if not daily. This will help to give you a fresh perspective on things and not feel like you have cabin fever.
Keep work separate. We’ve all heard the advice before that you need to keep a separate space for working. This is true and should be done always when possible. But also with technology being the way it is (and our phones now substituting as new limbs we have grown), we can technically always still be working if we are constantly on it. Commit to yourself that when you decide the work day is over…it’s over. Unplug, disengage and switch gears. Otherwise your whole home will become your office and you will never get out of work mode. I promise you nothing insane will ever happen that can’t be dealt with when you return to your “office”.
Track your time. If you feel you aren’t being as productive during the day as you should be, start tracking your time. I like to use Toggl for this as it’s quick and easy and you can sign in with your Google account. Before each task (yes, including checking Facebook), type in what you are doing. Try it for a week and monitor how many working hours you’ve actually used vs. getting sidetracked. It’s interesting to see how many productive hours there are in a week. Make appropriate changes when necessary.
Get clear with your loved ones. This has been the hardest one for me so far, and some days I want to scream “I’M FRICKIN WORKING!”. When you work from home, people don’t always get that you are actually working. I mean, you could be on an overseas call with a very important client and buried in paperwork and someone still walks in and yells “what’s for dinner?”. Grrr. Stand firm and stand your ground during your working hours. This is important. You might have to repeat yourself over and over. Set rules and times and make sure everyone in your household (and friends and family and in-laws that like to drop in), understand that work hours are work hours. End of story. This one doesn’t happen overnight, and you may ruffle feathers at first. But trust me, if the working from home thing is going to work, you need to be the boss of your own workspace.
You’re the boss. Regardless of if you report to someone at a bigger office, or you actually own your own business, when you work from home, you are the boss of your space. You are in charge of the output and productivity and results. Take it seriously and you will succeed. Keep things organized. Be on top of things. Forecast and plan. Gain some management skills. If you’re finding your time management stinks, work to change it. If you are unorganized and your office looks like a tornado hit it, commit to taking a day to clean it up, or have someone who is ultra organized help you. The only person who has this power now is you. For fantastic weekly management advice, check out Dave Ramsey’s Entreleadership podcast on iTunes.
Finally, understand that things will never be perfect. Working from home is awesome for me. I love it and would never give it up. But there are some days that are just “crazy days at the office” and I want to smack my head on my desk. Although it allows me to be able to do household things at scheduled times during the day, there are times that I just can’t because I’m so busy and dinner has to wait (or take out has to be ordered). Laundry might have to sit for days and I just have to bite the bullet and accept it because my clients have more important matters that need to be dealt with (or somehow enlist the Princess to take it on).
Or there are days when the cat has a strange emergency and it turns into the WHOLE DAY of dealing with it and your work day is shot. Life doesn’t turn into a fairy tale when you work from home, although things are much more balanced and stress free. There are some things you will never be able to control, and managing them the best you can is all you can do. Maximizing the flexibility that you now have, while respecting your work and personal time is key.
Next week we’ll discuss the loneliness factor when working from home.