Do you feel like you never leave your office? Your home office, that is.
I’ve been working from home since the late 90s when I was the first to telecommute for a mortgage title company. I thought this experience would be perfect for me as I started my home-based business several years later.
At first, it was going great because, like many business owners, I started as a side hustle to get my feet wet. But as time moved on and I was intent on growing a sustainable business, the boundaries began to blur from my home space and where I worked on the business.
While I had dedicated office space in all of my homes and even my RV, it didn’t affect my hours or the spaces where I worked. And people thought because I worked from home, I didn’t work.
It was costing me my sanity, health (mental and physical), and money. I was wasting a lot of time, and time is money.
In early 2012, I forced myself to write out procedures for my office and work environment and treated it like I would for any other process guidelines I’d created. As I honed these rules and stuck with them, I’ve found that I have more balance between home and work life.
Set Working Hours
Setting working hours for your day is essential so you have some rest and rejuvenation time. Generally speaking, my workday begins at 8:30 am and ends around 4:30 pm, with a few nights working from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm to accommodate different time zones.
But I don’t work after 9:00 pm because that is the time that I need to start my evening routine, which includes reading non-business books or watching some Netflix. I also try not to work any weekends since we are usually in the RV, and I want to enjoy my time with friends and camp family.
It’s okay to split your day too. On the days that I have late office hours, I usually stop working around 3 pm, knowing that I have a few more working hours left in the day. For our caregiving business owners, this might include knocking off a few hours to pick the kiddos up from school or taking mom to some doctor’s appointments.
Figure out what works for you, and then set your schedule based on that. It might vary day today, but that’s okay because it’s your schedule, and you need to make it work for you.
Get Out Into The World
I’ve found that working from home can be a lonely road if you never leave the space day after day. The beautiful thing is there are tons of spaces and places to go where you can still have a quiet workspace. Trust me; this is great for your mental health and productivity.
Cafes and coffee shops aren’t the only places to work through. I’ve found most local libraries have meeting rooms or smaller spaces that you can use to do some work. You can also check out if there are any Chambers of Commerce in the area because they usually have an extra empty desk or meeting room.
My favorite place to go in my small town is the local college. There are lots of common areas that have tables and couches and quiet. Lots of quiet. So think outside the box when you’re looking to get out.
Better yet – check out co-working spaces that are becoming popular in many areas. Most have a day or drop-in rates, so you can plan to go there a few days a month to work or collaborate with others who are one-person companies.
The whole idea of getting out of your home office is to combat the cabin fever you might feel but also to give yourself a reason to make yourself presentable. Before I started leaving the house a few times a week, I would get up and get started working, and before I knew it, it was 2 pm, and I hadn’t showered, let alone gotten out of my PJs.
Set Boundaries and Routines
When I started my business, boundaries were the most challenging thing I had to do. I was letting everyone else dictate my day and work style and found that I was a little bitter and defeated after a while. That’s when I realized I needed a robust set of dos and don’ts in my day.
I generally don’t pick up the phone when it rings unless it’s a scheduled call. Not that I don’t want to talk to people, but I’m usually in a creative space and don’t want to lose the mojo. So I changed the message on my office phone to reflect that. And I don’t take calls unless they are on the schedule or it’s from my family and friends.
And texts. They are reserved for real emergencies and are sparse at the—end of the story.
Email is a whole other animal. I took a tip from a friend and only checked emails twice per day. Once late morning and once before I end my day. My clients can get to me on Asana, my project management application. By curtailing distractions, I can better plan my day and factor in any last-minute changes that come up with scheduled client work.
And my scheduling app is the only way you get on my calendar for an appointment. Whether you’re a potential client, a new partnership, or a consulting client, if you don’t schedule some time, then I’m not available. This helps everyone respect my time, including me. I’ve set different appointments for different needs, but in the end, this is how I plan my day.
But boundaries aren’t limited to clients or appointments. They also include time spent on social media channels, purchases I make for my business, and events I schedule for the month. I pick what’s important to me and my well-being and create a set of guidelines to live by.
If I’m at an event, I make sure that I set aside a little alone time to take in everything I’ve learned, reflect on the people I’ve met, and allow myself some space to recharge. I consider myself an introverted extrovert, so I make the most of the room and the people, but then I need time to put myself and my mental well-being first.
And remember I just talked about the 2 pm shower? I have a morning routine too, and that includes getting up, exercising, reading, showering to make myself presentable, and eating breakfast before I even consider starting my workday.
Plan Your Week and Your Days
My weekly planning begins on Sunday evening because I find that’s what works for me, and I’ve found that having Sunday as a day of reflection helps me to stay on track. I also use both a paper and digital planning system.
Each Monday morning, I sit down with my calendar and map out a rough schedule for the week. I have several calendars, one for clients and one for personal appointments, that feed into my appointment-setting system. And then I also have an overview calendar, where I put my time blocks so all three of the Google calendars feed into each other so I get a huge Birdseye view of my day, week, month, etc.
And every day on paper, I write down three things I need to accomplish. It used to be the three most important things. I pick one five-minute, one 15-minute, and one 30-minute to accomplish for the day. And using this method, I found that having quick wins in longer wins is better for my productivity.
Each day, at the end of the day, I revisit what I’ve accomplished and start the next day’s plan. By treating each day as its own instead of by client or business projects, I’ve found that I get a better idea of where my distractions are and keep me from getting bogged down throughout my day.
Be Flexible When Working From Home
We started our businesses and worked from home so that we could have freedom in our day and lives. This freedom must allow you to be flexible when you need it to be. So that means if you want to take a day off, take the day off. Or if an emergency arises, like a power outage, deal with it without stress and anxiety.
One small thing can throw you off, like a sick day when you’re a company of one. So remember to build some flexibility time to your week or month so that you can take a few hours for a leisurely lunch with your best friend or spend an extra day exploring the new town I’m passing through.
Flexibility also means changing a routine or process to continue improving it.
Working from home doesn’t mean you have to be alone. And if you’re struggling or feeling overwhelmed by making things work, start with one change or pick one item from above and make it yours.
I’d love to hear any tips you have to help you keep sane and focused as we navigate the laptop lifestyle. Do you force yourself to get out of the house weekly or walk away from your computer? Do you plan non-work or self-care items into your day? Let me know what works for you.