Whether you’re running your own business or working remotely for an employer, working from home can be liberating. You have control over your environment, freedom in allocating your time, and the opportunity to get chores done during break times. What could be better? This is what I thought early last year, when I left my 8 to 5 job downtown to start my own business.
After the first couple of months kept me busy with startup activities, things started to slow down. I still had plenty of work to do, but the most urgent tasks – creating my business entity, opening bank accounts, selecting a logo, etc. – had been done. I entered a new phase, in which about 15% of my time was committed to scheduled appointments and events, and 85% of my time was open for activities like marketing, writing articles, making proposals, and creating presentations. Although these types of tasks are extremely important for my business, most have no hard deadlines, and didn’t feel urgent.
I started to realize that working from home wasn’t the state of nirvana I’d expected. My work and personal activities started to blur together, and I found it hard to focus on one or the other at a given time. I resisted the idea of structuring my day too much, preferring instead to move between activities based on what I felt like doing at the time.
Needless to say, there were lots of non-urgent but important tasks that didn’t get done. I also kept irregular hours and some days, didn’t shower until 3 p.m. Although it’s fun not to have to dress up, the extreme casualness with which I approached my work was not optimal for my productivity. I didn’t feel the sense of accomplishment at the end of each day that I used to feel when I worked in an office. Several months in, I realized I needed help. I consulted friends with businesses, fellow coaches, and read articles for ideas to get me on track in managing my time.
I gathered the following tips, at least a few of which I hope you’ll find helpful.
1. Keep regular work days and hours.
In some home-run businesses, you’re committed to being open for certain hours, but if not, set the hours you will work each day and the days of the week on which you’ll work. Even if it’s not a full eight hours, having a starting and ending point will help you detach at the end of the day and feel like you have completed a good day’s work. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t work during oﬀ-hours sometimes, or run errands occasionally, but for the most part, sticking to a schedule will help your brain and body transition from home/leisure time to work time with better focus.
2. Dress for work.
It can be tempting to stay in your sweats or pajamas, but getting dressed as you would if you were going to an oﬃce can put you in a more work-focused frame of mind and improve your productivity.
3. Professionalize your work space.
Create a space in your home that is dedicated to work, preferably with a door you can close, and confine your work to that area if possible. Your brain will start to associate being in that space with getting work done, so you’ll be more focused and productive. Block out distractions as much as possible, and treat the space as you would an employer’s oﬃce.
4. Schedule breaks during the day.
It can be easy to forget to take breaks when no one else is around. Schedule morning, lunch, and afternoon breaks into your schedule. During your breaks, leave your work area and take a walk, exercise, read a book, or do some other activity that detaches you from work for a while.
5. Schedule your main tasks.
While in an oﬃce, maybe it worked great to rely only on a to-do list, but you may need more structure when working from home. Experts recommend taking your two or three highest priority items and putting them on your calendar for a scheduled time period, in order to get them done.
6. Be efficient with errands and meetings.
Multiple trips out of the house during the day can chew up a lot of time and interrupt work flow. Whenever possible, combine appointments, coﬀees, lunches, and errands into blocks, preferably within the same area of town.
7. Track your time.
Although this can be tedious, it will give you an honest record of how you are spending your work time, and you can use that information to plan your weeks so that time is allocated more eﬀectively to particular tasks or types of activities.
8. Reward yourself.
Allocate time at the end of your work week to reward yourself, whether it’s getting ice cream, a pedicure, a walk in the park, or some other activity you enjoy. When you’re working from home, every day can feel the same. Find a rewarding activity to schedule on Friday afternoons that will remind you to celebrate another productive work week.
I’ll admit, I haven’t fully mastered all of these practices yet, but I’m definitely making progress. By adding some extra planning and structure to my schedule and treating it more like the professional position it is, running your business from home can become more productive and satisfying.