I’ve been working from home for nearly 20 years. Frankly, it’s awesome. I love it. I can set my own hours, work hard when I’m inspired, or take time off when I need it. I can easily get to my kids’ school plays, and work in my pajamas if I’m in the mood. I absolutely love the freedom and flexibility of working from home. I would be hard pressed to want to return to an office, a cubicle, or some 9-5 situation where I lost my freedom.
However, working from home takes even greater motivation, discipline, and dedication than clocking in at an office. When you work from home, it’s easy to get lazy, procrastinate, or be distracted. If you look back at your week and realize that all you’ve accomplished is a thorough grocery shop, 5 completed loads of laundry, and you’ve seen every episode of Battlestar Galactica on Netflix, you’re not going to succeed. No frakkin’ way.
To help you succeed where so many fail, I’m going to share my top 5 ways to be more effective working from home.
Tip 1: Set Work Hours
Your work isn’t going to get done on its own. When you work from home, you have to actually work. You can’t sit in front of the television or surf facebook for hours, look at the clock at 5pm and say, “Welp, jolly good. Great day. Can’t wait to do this again tomorrow.” You’re running a business, so run it.
Set some hours. Whether you want to work 20, 40, or 80 hours a week, decide and delineate what those hours are going to be, then put in the time. If you decide that you’re working 9am to 3pm then make sure you actually work during that time. Don’t chat for 30 minutes with your mother, take a 2 hour lunch, or a 3 hour nap. It might feel like you have that freedom and flexibility, but your business won’t succeed if you do that too much. There are plenty of other hours in the day for you to surf the internet or give Fluffy a bath. If you like having the house to yourself, then do some fun stuff during the day but make up the hours in the evening or on weekends.
Tip 2: Don’t Be the Maid
“Honey, since you work from home all day, would you mind putting in a few loads of laundry, mopping up that spill from breakfast, and picking up the dry cleaning?” If your partner is saying this to you while they hop in their car on their way to their office, you’ve got a problem. You need to put your foot down immediately. The proper response is, “Gosh honey, I’ve got a busy load at work today. I’ll be happy to help out with housework when I’m done working for the day.” If you don’t, you’re going to spend all day handling the house instead of getting your work done. By the end of the week, if all you’ve got to show for it is clean floors, clean clothes, and a stocked refrigerator, you’re not running a business. Set boundaries.
If you absolutely have to get those household errands done, do them outside of work hours, or plan to make up your work later when the family is home. If you’ve set your hours at 40 per week, make sure you’re actually working 40 hours per week, not just spending 40 hours a week thinking you’re working. It won’t work.
Tip 3: Show Some Dedication and Initiative
Don’t let yourself get distracted. When you work from home you don’t have a boss standing over you whipping you when you slack off. You have to whip yourself. Keep yourself on task. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been doing this for decades, you need to always be working while you’re working. If you can’t think of something to do, you’re in trouble. If you’ve done all the tasks you can think of here are some things you could do to improve your chances of success:
- Read a book related to your field
- Make a list of new contacts you can hit up for new business
- Clean up your file cabinets
- Declutter your workspace
- Update your To Do list
- Make some long term plans
- Replenish your supplies
- Think of new products or services you can offer
- Find a conference or seminar
- Improve your skills (typing, writing, sales, etc.)
- See what your competitors are doing
- Have a staff meeting
- Investigate new technology that can help you with your business
- Redesign your website
- Improve your website
- Analyze your traffic
- Catch up on your business accounting
- Market yourself
- Find new customers
- Reconnect with your old customers
- Do a free session for someone to try out a new skill
If you’re sitting at your desk twiddling your thumbs because you think there’s nothing you can do right now, think again. Take the initiative. Improve your chances of success. Stay ahead of the game and skate where the puck is going. There is always some way you could be working.
Tip 4: Keep a To Do List
One way to make sure you always have something productive to do is to keep a To Do list. You can have a long term To Do list, a daily To Do list, or go by the project. A To Do list is like a map. If you keep following it, you’ll get to your destination. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably never get there.
There are several ways to keep a strong and sturdy To Do list. One way is to sort items by urgency. Put your most urgent items at the top, or even list exactly what you need to do in the order it needs to get done. That way you can just go down the list and you don’t have to think about what to work on.
Another way to sort a To Do list is by categories. For example, my To Do list has categories for Marketing, Sales, Web Design, Writing, Readings, Events, Product Development, and Accounting. Under each category are the most important and urgent items so I know to do those first. Depending on my mood, I might pick an item from Marketing and 3 from Product Development. The next day it might be all Writing.
A To Do list can really help keep you on track, plus it feels productive to cross items off your list each day.
Tip 5: Leave the Office
I can’t stress this one enough. Sometimes people who work from home end up working a lot more hours than they would if they went to an office. The belief is, “I COULD be working so I SHOULD be working.” The dedication is admirable, but all work and no play will burn you out.
When it’s time to leave the office, leave your office. Whether that means shutting down your computer, or turning off your business phone, or locking your office door, do it. Your family needs you, and you need the downtime. You don’t want to become so obsessed with work that you don’t get time for yourself. Go out for a walk, meet up with friends, snuggle your wife, play with your kids, or take a long hot bath. Stop thinking about work. It will be there in the morning.
Respect your time, respect your business. And get to work!