Feeling overwhelmed and stressed by your home-based business? If you are new to having a business office at home, it’s vital to understand that the productivity practices you may have followed in the corporate or retail world with your former job just don’t cut it when you’re at home all day, with family and business demands around-the-clock. Here’s how to get things going in a healthy, low-stress way, culled from my over thirty years’ of owning and operating businesses based at home.
- Set up a separate office area for your new business or venture. Even if the only thing you do is create a screen by stapling fabric to stretcher bars from the arts and crafts store, hide that desk from view once you are on family or personal time. Otherwise, the mental separation between business and home life can be difficult to establish. At first it will probably seem harmless to have your business sprawl all over your living space, but you’ll soon feel like you just can’t get away from office work the way you could when you got up from a desk or closed your locker at work and waved goodbye to everyone, heading home for some down-time. Even if you occasionally have projects that require you to work longer hours, make sure to keep that dividing line between office and home, particularly if you have set up your work area in the bedroom. When you are wishing to relax at the end of the day, the worst thing to have in front of you is a pile of work that seems to scream at you and criticize you for not working hard enough.
- Schedule your day. Get an agenda or appointment book that is big enough to write activities for both your home and business. It can be tempting to have separate books, one for personal appointments and one for the business, but in my experience, at least, it can become easy to overlook a conflict in your schedule or to inadvertently miss an important meeting. If you use a smart phone or tablet, you may wish to use an online calendar that will keep all your devices up to date. But otherwise, the old-fashioned way of writing in a daily/monthly appointment book will work great. Block out time for working on projects at your desk or in the field, depending on what type of business you have. Avoid the common mistake of thinking that you’ll “find time for what’s important”—time has a mysterious way of vanishing and the hours quickly fill up with minor tasks so that more important work gets shoved off to another day. Post a wall calendar each month that contains daily squares that are large enough for all family members to jot their major activities, so you don’t inadvertently overlook something crucial when you’re making your business appointments. This might seem like an obvious tip, but when you start feeling pulled by the demands of living in your office and having an office in your living space, you’ll find detailed schedules will help keep you sane.
- Get in the habit of separating the chores related to business from the tasks of housekeeping. It takes discipline to do this, but it can be done, and you’ll find more harmony in all areas of your life when you create this kind of balance. Decide each weekend what the most important projects in the coming workdays will be, both for your business success and your happy family. Being super-organized about what your commitments are to both home and business will serve you well in the long-run. It can be very tempting to go from your office area to the kitchen to do a few chores or whisk up a batch of brownies, then rush back to your desk to dash off some emails or make a few calls, but scattered focus will not serve you well. You’ll feel exhausted and resentful, as if your day has no end. Learn how to close your office area down in the evening and whatever hours on the weekend you have decided are for personal activities. A home-based business can become an octopus with its tentacles creeping into every minute of your day if you allow it. Remind yourself that when you were away at a job outside the home, you didn’t interrupt your focus on a project to go do laundry, or see what’s happening on your favorite soap opera. Continue a business-like attitude toward your new home-based operations, and you’ll feel more professional.
- If your business is brand new, decide in advance how many hours you want to devote to the business itself, and keep that commitment, changing it only as you want to, and not because the whole thing has gotten out of hand and demands more of your time than you planned to give it. Keep track of your work hours, so that you can see if you are interrupting business time with snacks, chores, TV, and inadvertently making your business day seem inflated.
- If you have a business partner, such as a roommate or spouse, discuss these productivity tips together, and make decisions as a team about how many hours each of you will devote daily to the projects and tasks each of you are handling. An imbalance in workload breeds resentments and strife. In addition, if one person feels that business calls and needs trump personal life every time, it’s better to find that out up front, and decide on a plan of action. Without a plan in place, it’s all too easy for you to become a slave to a growing business’s incessant demands for 24/7 attention. You may need to compromise on issues such as when do you stop answering the business line in the evening, and start again in the morning. What do you do when clients call at dinner time. These and similar issues sound like they will not be a problem, when they haven’t happened yet, but when clients habitually phone after regular office hours because now they are home from their own office job, you need a plan in place of whether you ignore calls, screen them via voice mail and only return the most important, or whether you take the calls no matter what time of day or day of the week it is.
- As soon as your budget allows, have a separate phone for your business. You might want to have a smart phone so that as your business grows, you can communicate easily via text messages, and manage your email communications while out of the office. It will give you freedom to be able to pick up the kids from school, go to the bank and post office, take care of personal and business errands, while remaining in contact with clients, customers and any business partners you may have. With a separate business phone, you can put that in the charger on silent mode during your downtime so you aren’t leaping to respond every time it rings.
A home-based business offers many advantages, including being home for children and pets, and enjoying your home environment without the added expense of a separate office location. Become the master of your business, no matter where it is located, and it will serve you well.
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