Working from Home

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It’s simple. I love working from the comfort of my home. Yes I know. It is very difficult to build a brand out of your home, but it is the entrepreneur’s greatest resource. We all have grand dreams of building a business that will be housed in plush offices with a team to go with, yet most of us tend to forget that this single desire by most to work out of an office could very well be the entrepreneurs largest cost input for most small business startups.

It’s not just as straightforward as pulling out a laptop in the living room, though. Working from home has a number of difficulties and challenges. I presently work primarily from home and it’s not my first try. I will share my experiences with you and we will touch on the most important factors for working from home.

Discipline

The main problem you’ll encounter when working from home is… well, you. People need order and structure to sometimes function properly. The idea of a work ethic goes out the window for most people when no-one is looking over your shoulder. Some people can just work diligently, regardless of whether anyone is checking up on them. That’s fantastic. Most of us, however, need some help.

Slacking off (regularly) when working from home is always self-defeating. If you are the boss, you’ll suffer everything from shame to the collapse of your business if you are not, you will get fired. The secret to working from home is to work, and the secret to working is to have enforced structure.

The most important thing about working from home, is you need to really like what you do, else you are just going to sit around and enjoy your house under the illusion of working. Well, no matter how much you love what you do, there are going to be times when you need that bit of extra motivation to get going. And that’s when structure comes to play. You should have a schedule. It shouldn’t vary, except for exceptional circumstances. Here’s mine:

o             Be at my desk by 09:00.

o             Admin (email, organisation) until 09:30.

o             Work till 11:00.

o             Calls & Tele meetings until 13:00

o             Lunch at 13:00, until 13:30.

o             Work until 18:00.

 

This is my schedule, but then I am usually at my desk at 7:00am and sometimes I work late into the wee hours of dawn. The schedule if for those days when I really don’t feel motivated to work. It helps me stay on track.

Your schedule will look different, but the important thing is to have one – and to stick to it. You need to be up and dressed. Don’t go near the couch. Don’t switch on the TV. Don’t play videogames. Yes, of course you can make exceptions, but generally, that should be your plan. Lunch (and indeed breakfast) probably shouldn’t be taking more than 30 to 60 minutes either.

Building in breaks and leisure time is important, as long as it’s scheduled. I quite often have an afternoon walk, for example. The important distinction is between a regular break, and a quick cheeky fifteen minutes of the xbox. The former is healthy; the latter is a slippery slope if you don’t have the willpower to walk away afterwards.

Eliminating distractions

Distractions come at us from all angles by the minute. Lately mine have quadrupled as I raise a young son in the same environment. I must say I get a lot of support from my partner. I make a conscious effort to stay away from social media, even though it is my primary source of news and trends. I also like to close my email application until necessary. It is impossible to remove all distractions but, as I said, self control is the most important factor in working from home.

Be a professional

When we’re around others, we’re governed (or at least moderated) by peer pressure. Expectations and judgments tend to keep our behavior in line with social norms, and that’s never more important than when you are at work and your livelihood depends on remaining employed.

It’s different at home, because you can do essentially anything you like in the short term. That’s a recipe for disaster. It’s very important to cultivate an attitude of professionalism – or let’s say pride. That doesn’t mean you have to wear a tie; it’s about being in a frame of mind that’s conducive to getting the job done.

My earlier point about getting dressed in the morning is the bare minimum. Pyjamas are comfortable, yes, but when you’re working they erode your self-respect a bit. Wear whatever you’re comfortable in, but they should be day clothes. Get up, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, and tackle the day like you’re in a place of work – because you are.

Diligence

If you’re working at home, your home is your office. That means you treat it as such. Some small businesses are easy to build up at home as those are setup that way, others are a lot more difficult. A few suggestions to help you be more effective:

  1. The right equipment. Yes it’s your home, but it’s your office so put the right things in place. Get a proper office seat immediately you can afford it and a desk to match. Build the equipment you use properly and you will look forward to working from home if you can get your setup right.
  2. It’s your office; discourage people coming by for just a chat. As it is, you will not do that if you worked out of home, so then what makes it ok to do so from home.

Separating work from home life

So far, this has all sounded pretty strict – and rightly so. I’ve been talking about ensuring you spend enough time focusing and working. I know many people who work from home, and in my experience, anyone who does so full-time tends to spend too much time working rather than too little. That’s not a great thing, either.

It’s important to have a boundary between your work and home life, psychologically and physically. For anything but the most casual, occasional periods, you need a dedicated working environment.

Don’t sit on the couch with your laptop. If at all possible, don’t just have a computer nook in the living room – that’s not going to work out. You’ll be distracted by the environment and by your family members, and it’ll be frustrating for everyone as well as unproductive for you.

Your best bet is to set aside a room (or box room, or closet, or landing half way up the stairs, or part of the garage, or a shed in the garden), and work there only. Decorate it as you like, and make it very clear that it’s not part of the house: it’s where you work. When you walk in, you’re in work mode. Again, this will pay huge dividends. If you can manage to set aside somewhere like that, you’ll be a happier and more productive person by far.

Preserving sanity

Working from home can be a lonely experience. You do need some human contact, or you’re going to go a bit odd. I spend almost 50% of my waking life alone, working. Some would argue I am going soft in the head, but that’s another matter.

I have three pieces of advice:

  1. Make sure there’s some noise I like the radio running in the background. Gives me a sense of connection to what’s going on. Occasionally I turn on the TV and turn up the volume on it so I can hear it from where I sit.
  2. I can’t do it all. I keep a resource group on whatsapp to help me get things that I need going. It’s mostly quite on there, as we all tend to get pretty engrossed in what we do, but then an occasional chat to keep us all sane.
  3. I outsource some of my administrative tasks to increase human interaction and a feeling of team effort. As I mentioned earlier, you need to have human interaction, else it won’t be long before you go soft in the head.

I’ll also mention those afternoon walks again. They can be very therapeutic, regardless of the weather.

Enjoy the flexibility

Of course, my final piece of advice serves to moderate what’s gone before. Being successful and productive is great, but there comes a point where you’re not taking advantage of the fact that you’re at home – and you absolutely should.

Make the time to enjoy your ability to work in your own time. Spend time with the family, go watch a movie, or have just take a rest. Working successfully from home is the ultimate dream, and so work at it diligently, but be sure to enjoy it.

I’m confident that working from home is something that you can make work for yourself. Be realistic, plan your week, and make a change if something isn’t sticking. You know yourself best.

Just don’t forget to enjoy it.

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