I’ve been working out of my home office for a few months now, and it’s everything I dreamed it would be. I wake up when I want, work when I want, and seldom have one pair of fuzzy slippers been so often worn. That being said, it’s everything I feared it would be as well. When I’m busy, I realized that it is very easy to spend up to a week at a time without talking to anyone face-to-face (other than my wife, of course), and the soft call of the xbox in the other room invades times of the day that just aren’t reasonable. It becomes difficult to use the new-found isolation option to see what happens if you grow a funny mustache or shave half of your hair off and make a pseudocombover (I’ve done this, sad to say). It seems some of the annoying things about working in an office are just impossible to replace, and without them, you could very easily lose the ability to interact with others on the level that’s taken so long to develop. Here is some of what I’ve learned.
Get up and get dressed, no matter what.
Like many people who work on computers, my morning looks like this: get up; walk sleepy-eyed to the computer; respond to anything critical; get ready and go about the day. When the office is the place this ritual occurs, it is all too easy to just stay there and start working, or respond to those emails you’d normally have put off for a better time. Before you know it, it’s 2pm and you’re still in your bathrobe.
The way out of this is simple, but requires some imagination. Make a rule to get dressed, eat breakfast, and whatever else you’d normally do as if you were going to an office. I’ve found that doing so is an incredible help to how productive I am throughout the day, having a defined start and finish to when work begins and ends.
Get outside every day, no matter what, even if it’s for no reason at all.
There’s leaves to rake (well, not in Arizona), cars to wash, and dogs to walk. Make sure you find some reason to put your shoes on and get out every day, especially on the days you have no reason to whatsoever. You may find, as I did, that too much time staring at a computer locks up your creativity and it can be difficult to shake it loose. When I used to commute, I had 2 hours each day to listen to music, see the sun, and sort ideas out. Now that I’m often in a place where ideas can be tried out in real-time, keeping focus can become difficult, if not impossible, without some variation of scenery. Next time you run out of milk, volunteer to get some more. Both your wife and your projects will love you for it.
Put your Business Plan in writing.
Some businesses don’t really benefit from writing a business plan. Most of the time this is for investors or to define operations between groups of people … things that a one-person company seldom has use for. For this reason, I let mine slide for a long time. When I did finally type it out not too long ago, it came easy, and I learned a lot.
First, putting the things I do from day to day on paper showed immediate areas where improvement to my productivity could happen. Of course there’s a time to work on organizing my fonts, but not on Monday morning when there are leads to work and proposals to write. Writing your business plan into something solid helps keep you working on what you should be working on, not just what needs to be done at the time.
Secondly, writing and prioritizing daily tasks defines when the day ends. It is all too easy for the eager home office worker to work until 10pm … it can be hard to pull away from something that needs to get done, and one may feel as if the more time spent at the workstation means getting ahead. Of course this can’t be true, as there is a never-ending supply of tasks awaiting the usual business owner, and the feeling that working longer to get a jump on the next day is an illusion that’s hard to break away from. By having an objective list to refer to, your day ends when specific goals are achieved. You may get these done at 4pm and get off a little early, or maybe you went to lunch a little longer than you should have and 7pm is the cutoff. Regardless of how the day is structured, there is great benefit to defining flags on the clock.
Sort Tasks by Location
I’m typing up this post in a local coffee shop I’ve never been to before. I’m a graphic designer, and my laptop can’t handle almost every design task that I actually make my living performing, but that doesn’t mean I’m not at work right now. My daily goals are not only sorted by order of importance, but by where I can do them from. I knock out two birds with one stone by combining all the things I can do from my old laptop with no more than a keyboard and a phone. This includes a good portion of correspondence, Twittering, any social media tasks, planning and writing proposals, many SEO and PPC activities, following up with clients, researching … the list goes on. There’s no reason why I should be at home on my $6,000+ graphic design monster going through my daily RSS feeds when it can just as easily be done surrounded by other people at the local library/coffeeshop/park/wherever. Even better, I can’t get distracted here by the urge to crack open Photoshop and explore every thought that floats my way.
Is there anything I’m missing? Let me know about it. Any good tips for keeping my cat out from under my desk would be much appreciated. Good luck, and stay sane.