There’s an old joke I used to tell: “There is both good news and bad news when you work at home. The good news is that you see your kids a lot. The bad news is that you see your kids a lot.” Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore my kids. It’s just that sometimes it was just too darned easy for me to hang out with them when I should have been getting work done—or for them to hang out with me when they should have been getting homework done!
If you haven’t guessed by now, I started my first business from home. I loved doing so for many reasons, and found it challenging for many others.
Now, it is true that for many of us entrepreneurs, starting a home-based business is a dream come true. It’s a chance to work when and where you want, and to do so on things you find interesting while also paying the bills. It is indeed special. But, with that said, and as my joke indicated, working from home entails challenges that other small business people just don’t have.
What Types of Challenges, You Ask?
The main one is the ever-elusive “work-life balance.” Is there even such a thing? Especially today, with the advent of mobile technology and people communicating via email, phone, texting and more, figuring out where to strike that balance is tough.
That’s why creating a workday routine is so important. Your routine is a signal to both yourself and others that while you might be at home, you are still at work. Once everyone knows your routine (including you), it will be much easier to draw the line and get things done.
When and Where to Build Your Routine
Productivity experts suggest breaking your workday routine into three segments. This may seem counterintuitive, but I am going to start with the end of the day first. Don’t worry, you’ll see why in a moment.
1. Late Afternoon/Evening
At the end of your workday, I want you to consider creating an MIT. An MIT is a list of your “Most Important Tasks” for the next day. Your MIT should be no more than three tasks, those key work things you need to get done next. Then, when you start your work session the next day, you will pull up your MIT and get started on the first thing on it.
2. The Next Morning
I am sure this has happened to you: You promise yourself that you will get to the gym, and the next thing you know, it’s 4:00 p.m. That’s why it is often best to schedule your workout first thing in the morning, before you hit the home office. Working out in the morning has the additional benefit of stimulating your metabolism for the rest of the day, as opposed to working out later in the day when you only get the benefits for a few hours before sleep.
Once you get to your office, be it at home or otherwise, start your work routine by tending to emails. Give it no more than 20 minutes. Productivity expert Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, suggests limiting email to three times a day, 20 minutes at a time. Instead of checking it all day long, three concentrated 20 minute sessions will make you far more productive.
After that, pull out your MIT list and tackle the first and second projects. Most people have more energy in the morning, and that’s why tackling two of your three most important tasks should be done at that time, if possible.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and Jill a dull girl. It is imperative—especially when you work at home—that you schedule time out of the house for non-work related events, be it lunch with a friend or doing some shopping. Then, after you get back into the office, get to work on your other MIT project.
Is It Really That Simple?
This schedule—email three times a day, three important tasks, and life in the middle—works. But what about interruptions? What if your spouse or children need to see you during your workday?
In this case, it may also help you to even have a sign on your door for your “office hours,” that is, those times when it is okay to be interrupted. The key thing is, once you establish a routine and people get used to it, you will find it much easier to get things done. Even when those cute kids want to play, they will understand that work is work, and will respect the boundary set by you sticking to your new routine.