So, you work from home. Good for you! No boss looking over your shoulder, no wasting time commuting to and from the office, no-one setting your hours for you or telling you what to do. No one to care if you’re wearing your rattiest clothes or don’t take a shower before 10:00 am. And how about no life and no time for yourself while we’re on the subject of what you don’t have any more? Sound familiar? If so, read on.
Escaping the regimented structure imposed upon you by the corporate world may have been one of the driving forces that prompted you to seek a way to work from home in the first place. One of the often-overlooked advantages of such a structure, though, is that it *is* a structure. It has limits, it places you at a certain place at a certain time, and it dictates what you will spend your time on.
In other words, it establishes boundaries in your life. The boundary between work and home, work and play, on duty and off duty, company time and your time. You could leave work at the end of the day and your time was your own.
Sure, you may have had other obligations but at least your work was confined within the boundaries of a workplace and a workday. Working from home, for all its advantages, can sometimes have the disadvantage of removing the boundaries between work and home, work and play, work time and your time. For some, the problem may manifest itself as a tendency to procrastinate when it comes to work activities or a lack of personal self-discipline may become unavoidably obvious. For such people, the formalized structure of a workplace separate from the home may suit them better than the independence and autonomy of a home business.
This article, though, is concerned with those at the other end of the spectrum. Those who have absolutely no difficulty at all in motivating and disciplining themselves to work from home. So much so that their home business literally takes over their entire lives.
In my time online, I’ve heard many people say that they sit at their computers for 18 hours a day working on their businesses. Oftentimes, they will still be working at 3:00 am and then go to bed for four hours or so before getting back in the saddle. They say this as if it is something to be proud of. I don’t know about you, but working from home, when and if I am finally able to achieve it on a full-time basis, will be first and foremost a lifestyle choice.
By that I mean I expect my decision to work from home will result in an enhancement of my lifestyle in that I won’t have to commute the best part of an hour to get to and from work each day, if I want to start at 5:00 am and finish for the day at noon I can do that. If I want to work all weekend and take two days off during the week I can do that too. I can choose the projects I want to work on, I can retain the rewards of my own efforts and I am answerable to no-one but myself. Although I understand that I will work as hard or harder at home than I do at the office, I certainly have no intention of merely exchanging one form of prison for another.
So, it perplexes me that some people seem to think it is a Good Thing to shackle themselves to a desk for 18 hours straight and break only to snatch a few hours sleep before starting all over again. But, if that’s how they want to live their lives, that’s entirely their business.
But what of those who want more balance in their lives but find they simply can’t ‘flip the switch’ on their home business so that home becomes a retreat again once the workday is over? If this is you, here are six suggestions to help you turn off your business and turn on your life.
1. Confine business activities to an exclusively “work” room
If possible, confine your business activities to a certain area of the house, preferably a room that is exclusively used by you as your place of work. The advantage of a room as opposed to an unused corner of the living room is that when work is done for the day you can literally and symbolically shut the door on it. Out of sight, out of mind. If you don’t cordon off your work area in this way, you will be reminded of work whenever you enter the living room. Even though you may not be physically engaged in work, you will still be mentally engaged and that’s the same thing.
2. Separate communications systems
Have separate communications systems for home and work. That is, you have one telephone for home and one for work. The same for fax machines, cell phones and email accounts. When you’re working, you should have your home answering machine on. When you’re home, you should have your work answering machine on.
3. Establish a routine and structure similar to the workplace
As stated earlier, the structure and routine of an external workplace has the advantage of allowing you to leave work behind at the end of the day. By establishing a routine and structure similar to a place of work, you can still benefit from this advantage. Now obviously you don’t have to be as regimented as you would be if you worked in a corporate office.
You don’t have to start at 9:00 am, work till noon, take a one hour lunch break and then work through until 5:00 pm. You can set whatever routine and structure you like. The important thing is to be disciplined in sticking to your routine, whatever you decide it is. If you prefer to work from 5:00 am through 10:00 am and then from 2:00 pm through 4:00 pm that’s fine.
This structure allows you to enjoy the hours from 10:00 am through 2:00 and after 4:00 pm as your own. There is room for flexibility here. Work however is most productive for you but stop once you get to the end of your allotted work time. If you haven’t finished what you started, pick it up again in work time. Don’t allow ‘your’ time to be encroached on by work.
4. Minimize distractions and interruptions
By implementing suggestions 1., 2. and 3., you will also be establishing an environment where distractions and interruptions are minimized and discouraged. For example, if you have school-age children, by scheduling your work time to coincide with their school time, you will minimize the distractions and interruptions you will inevitably face if you try and work while they’re at home.
By having separate communications systems, you won’t be interrupted with calls on your home phone while working (your answering machine should be getting these calls so you can return them on “your” time).
By having an exclusively “work” area in your home, and making sure that other members of your household respect this space for what it is, you can help others remember that when you’re in your room you’re working and are not to be interrupted for things that can wait until you’re “home” again.
Rituals can play a useful role in flipping the switch at the end of the workday. For example, you may already have a routine that sees you working until 6:00 pm, the time your partner returns home from work. Perhaps you share a glass of wine together at that time. Why not think of your shared glass of wine as an “end of workday” ritual. By making a habit of doing this, your mind will soon learn to associate that glass of wine with the end of the workday and flip the switch on work in automatic response.
Another idea is to wear a certain item of clothing while working so that, when you take it off at the end of the work day, your mind makes the connection between its removal and the end of work time. A baseball cap, a particular pair of shoes, whatever it is doesn’t matter.
6. Plan to take days off and vacations
Finally, when establishing your routine and work schedule, don’t forget to schedule days off and vacations. And make sure you take them. You may decide to take Saturdays and Sundays off, or your “weekends” might be Tuesdays and Wednesdays or Mondays and Fridays. Whatever works in best with your lifestyle, do it.
The same goes for vacations. Don’t underestimate the rejuvenating effect of taking a week off entirely. Not only is it good for your overall health and mental wellbeing, you will probably find that you are that much more productive when it comes to getting back to work for having taken a true time out.
Hopefully you can see that working from home does not have to mean turning your home into a place of work. Working from home as a lifestyle choice should mean that the quality of your life is enhanced as a result of your decision, not diminished. By practicing these simple disciplines day-in and day-out you can be sure that even though you are taking care of business, you are also taking care of something even more important. Life.
Elena Fawkner is editor of A Home-Based Business Online . . . practical business ideas, opportunities and solutions for the work-from-home entrepreneur.