Checking your emails while watching Netflix? Spending an hour on Facebook instead of finishing that proposal? Welcome to the wonderful, yet challenging world of working from home!
I've been working from home since 1999. Through trial and error, I found a system that works for me. A set of protocols that keep me sane, focused and able to enjoy the flexibility that escaping the cubicle offers. At first, it felt like I was ‘living the life' – on vacation but working. It took me a little while to get into the swing of things. Then I started getting the calls from family and friends asking if I could run this errand or that. People thought that because I worked from home, I didn’t really work. This was back in the early days of “telecommuting” and home-offices – so I guess I understand. But it started sending me down the wrong path. I had no boundaries and no “blueprint” for working from home.
It was costing me time and money.
It was easy not to work when I should have been working, or on the flip side, to work when I shouldn't have been working. I'd walk past the home office on a Saturday and do a quick check of the emails (before smartphones, remember?), next thing you know, 5 hours had gone. Likewise, getting up to stretch after working hard for 2 hours often turned into doing a load of laundry and the dishes. (Ha – that never really happened – but it’s my blog post, I can pretend).
In early 2001, I forced myself to comply with a few guidelines – mostly because my wife was due to have a baby and I knew the summer would be wacky. I’ve pretty much stuck to these rules since then, and they have helped keep me focused and balanced. As a seasoned home-worker running a profitable business, I hope these tips can now help you.
1. Designated Office Space
Have a space in your house that is used solely for work, and ensure that you work only there. Sure, it’s ok to pay the bills and balance the checkbook from your designated workspace, but this shouldn’t be where you surf the web on the weekends.
And by the way, your bedroom is the WORST PLACE to set up a home office. Bedrooms are for sleep (and “sleep”). Don’t mix the two spaces.
2. Set Working Hours
Have set hours that you work, and set hours that you play and rest. Generally speaking, I work from about 7:30 am until about 5:00 pm. Sure – I run over sometimes, but I also start late. What I don’t do is work after 9:00 pm. There’s nothing wrong with working at 9:00 pm if that time suits your body clock, but it doesn't work for me, so I don’t do it.
Figure out what time slot works for you and then stick to that. It may vary from day to day, but once you've found your rhythm, try to stick with it.
And whatever you do, don’t work seven days a week.
Don’t even work six. We’re not meant to do that. For me, that means I never work on the weekends. Never. It may mean Monday’s and Thursday’s off for you – find what suits you best, but make sure you take the time you need to recharge.
We work from home because we love the freedom and flexibility it affords. Don't be so hard on yourself that you never get a chance to enjoy that flexibility. Everything I mentioned in point #2 is a GUIDELINE. Allow yourself to be flexible when you need to be, but try to stick to a maximum number of hours per day and week. But remember that those hours should be something relatively normal (30-50?).
So go ahead and take a Wednesday off because you want to – don’t make up the time and don't feel guilty about it. Give it a try. It won’t hurt. I promise!
4. Plan Your Week and Your Day
Each Monday, the first thing I do is sit down and plan the week. I use the Stephen Covey method of scheduling my “big rocks” first – one per “role” that I play in my life (Husband/Father, Business Owner, Son/Sibling, Friend, Community Member). I try to have one thing in each category that I want to get done that week. I schedule those first, and then I schedule the slightly smaller (less important) things from those categories around it, and so on. This is also a good time to delegate tasks, so then I jump into Asana and assign the busy work to my team.
Each day, I revisit the previous day and the day ahead, and I plan that day by adding in tasks around those bigger “rocks”.
Doing things this way allows me to keep my focus on the important things – and not get bogged down with unnecessary jobs or distractions.
5. Get Out!
I have found that spending a couple of hours every few days in a local coffee shop helps a great deal. If you work from home and never leave the building, you will get cabin fever pretty quickly. Find a relatively quiet cafe, bring the laptop, and set up shop for a couple of hours. This might be a good way to work ON your business instead of IN it. Use this time to write blog posts, think about and execute marketing, set goals, take a webinar or an online class (like one of the many WP Elevation classes or recorded webinars!) or connect with your remote team. The list goes on. Get out, get some fresh air and perspective. You may even find that it lends itself to some easy impromptu networking. Human interaction is good. Usually.
Better yet – if there’s a co-working space near you, take advantage of it on a casual basis. Most have drop-in rates or plans for a couple days a month. As the WordPress community has taught us, everyone is a potential collaborator or advisor, and no one is really a competitor.
6. Boundaries for Clients
Everyone’s different, but for me, one of the first things I did was set a few boundaries for clients. I generally avoid answering the phone too often. I expect people to leave a message and I will call them back at a time that works for me. Email is the same way – I’ll get to it all at once and quickly eliminate the ones I don’t need to answer. And texts? Forget it. I refuse to answer text messages from clients. Once they start texting you, they will believe that it’s ok to text you at any time of the day or night, including weekends, and they will expect an answer relatively quickly. No Sir! Not for me.
No Sir! Not for me.
Setting Client BoundariesEstablish communication guidelines with new clients by way of a Welcome Email
Outline your regular working hours and let them know that you answer emails and return phone calls all at once, at a time that works best for you that day.
Any phone message that can be easily answered by email – do so. Set the precedent that trivial phone calls are not needed. It's good to have the “paper” trail of email anyway as it helps with miscommunication. So unless something desperately needs to be talked through, reply with a courteous, professional email: “Hey Jim, I got your voicemail……”.
The same applies for texts – I answer via email. Always.
And finally, unless you know that it will be a 2-minute call, have the client schedule a time to chat with you with you using an online scheduler (such as Calendly, ScheduleOnce or the one built into AgileCRM). This helps clients respect your time and boundaries, which allows you to stick to them.
I’m not preaching to you. I know not everyone can make this work, and certainly not overnight. But if you’re struggling with this kind of thing and feeling overwhelmed, maybe pick one or two of the above to start with and try to stick to it. “Season to taste” of course. And then go elevate!
I'd love to hear from you about any tips that help you stay focused and productive when you work from home. Do you need strict parameters to keep on task, or do you have to force yourself to walk away from the computer? Let me know what works for you.