Do you run your business from home? These days, more and more small businesses are going virtual, and some of the most successful small businesses are run entirely from home. With online conferencing and project management tools, websites where you can outsource to workers all over the world, and most clients now recognizing that working from home doesn’t mean you’re small potatoes, there’s no reason not to be home-based.
But while working from home may no longer have the stigma it used to back in the 1980s or ‘90s, it brings with it its own set of challenges, as any home-based small business owner knows. After three years of working from home, my partners and I have learned a lot about staying energetic and motivated.
Here’s what works for us:
I struggled with working from home for a long time because I’m a social animal. I really missed rubbing shoulders with colleagues in the office like I used to as an employee, and I felt “stuck” and unmotivated. So I make it a point to schedule meetings with people pretty much every day, whether it’s a potential client, a possible partner or just someone who wants to pick my brain (or will let me pick theirs). It gets me out of the office, and also drives new business.
Get Out of the House
One of my business partners is a hermit type who seemed made to work from home, but after a while even she started to hate facing her computer in the mornings. So she makes it a point to just get out of the house—not necessarily to meet with people, but just to run quick errands or meet a friend for lunch. We all need a change of scenery from time to time to inspire and energize us.
Group Similar Tasks
Going from email to writing a proposal to brainstorming with your partners and back again can scatter your energy, since your brain has to switch focus each time you change tasks. Instead, try grouping similar tasks. For instance, set aside one morning a week for a virtual team meeting; spend an hour returning phone calls and emails; block out a few hours to write a proposal. You’ll get into the groove of each task you’re doing and be more effective.
Automate Your Breaks
I was surprised how much more intense working at home can feel than working in an office. In an office, you’ve got natural breaks with employees interrupting you or simply walking down the hall to get coffee. At home, you can hunch over your computer for what seems like days on end. There are plenty of reminder tools online (Stretchclock is one I like) that you can set to remind yourself to get up and stretch every so often. There are also plenty of studies that spending time on Facebook or checking out cat videos online can actually improve your work performance (just be sure you limit it to 10 or 15 minutes so you don’t get sucked in).
Get a Dog
It’s easy to ignore those popup stretch reminders on your computer, isn’t it? One home-based business owner I know admits he used to spend 12 hours at a stretch at his desk. Then he got a dog that needs to be walked twice a day and won’t let him forget it. He can’t believe how much more productive he is since he started taking those two quick breaks a day.
I’m not an exercise junkie myself (I hate doing it actually) but my two partners swear getting in a daily workout makes them more effective. One loves to get it out of the way first thing in the morning before the emails start pouring in; the other loves using it as a quick midday break to clear her head. Figure out what works for you.
Do Home Stuff
For home-based women business owners in particular, a looming business deadline can sometimes make household chores like cleaning out the refrigerator look tempting by comparison. If a list of chores is weighing on (and distracting) you, jot them down and then take a quick (10 minute) break to put in a load of laundry, run the vacuum or wash the dishes. You’ll get a break and kill two birds with one stone.
Recognize Your Work Style
One of the best benefits of working from home—and one reason so many entrepreneurs embrace it–is you don’t have to force yourself into a 9-to-5 lifestyle if that’s not your “bag.” Figure out when and how you work best, whether that’s getting up at 4:30 a.m. to answer client emails, taking 3 hours for dinner and kid time and then working late into the night, meditating once a day or working balanced on an exercise ball.
My partners and I have found our home-based work styles by trial and error. Trust your gut, and do the same.
Walking Dog Photo via Shutterstock
Lisa Barone has mentioned that she has an egg timer on her desk and she’ll set it to help her focus for a set amount of time on a task. I personally make to-do lists that are only 3 items long and focus my entire efforts on those items.
If you have a thriving business, you’ll have no need to worry about spending too much time at home. You’ll treasure the office time. The key is to keep busy.
I think the mingle point is great, I really need that myself. I joined a small business association only last month in order to meet people. It helps my business feel more ‘real’, sometimes its easy to treat it as a hobby.
I’m not sure about the dog point though, my dog just claws at my arm when im working and puts me off!
As a home-office guy, I can relate to everything you pointed out.
So, we’re getting a puppy 🙂
The Franchise King®
Cute dog. And he’s so social-media aware.
You’re right about the little dude being “Social Media aware.”
He’s on YouTube. The one with the blue collar will be in The Franchise Kingdom be the end of December.
Great post, Lisa. You’ve mentioned some great tips and I can def use several of them. I think the dog idea is a great one. I’ll def have to begin my dog hunt 🙂
Try getting married, your spouse would make sure you spend most time on computer, tested and safe to apply 🙂
This was an incredible post with many good nuggets that most people will miss. Thanks for the great post. I have been in a Home Based Business opportunity for the past 4 1/2 years and I hate to see so many people make a brash judgment on a business that they have never even investigated fully. Do your due diligence and research any opportunity fully before you make the mistake of writing anything off.
By doing so, you may find an opportunity of a lifetime!
May All your Ventures Be Met With Success,
Very good article. Working out during the middle of the day is a great way to get some energy, and I frequently have creative ideas pop up during the workout because my mind is not as engaged.
@Robert Brady…that is a good one.
Paul Robert Edwards
Rieva, your advice resonates with our experience working from home for most of our careers. The mingling point is particularly good.
The primary joy for me of working from home with my my wife and partner is that we are spending our lives together.
I also appreciate the comments of the folks who have made points about focusing their work.
I like a lot of your tips, but found this unecessary and sexist:
“For home-based women business owners in particular, a looming business deadline can sometimes make household chores like cleaning out the refrigerator look tempting by comparison…”
Not sure if that is how you intended it, but it is how I took it.
Really? People can’t pull themselves from the computer? I must be a horrible worker. What about a tip for people who are only too happy to be interrupted? I have tons of things to do around the house, and they always beckon me.
Also, why not have a child? They will really distract you! Totally kidding, but honestly, I’m not sure getting a dog is the best advice for workaholics. Dogs need a lot more attention than two walks a day, as Tom Wilkonson (in the above comments) points out.
Getting a dog was the winning advice. 🙂 Working at home can be exhausting and can often lead you to lack of interest. But with the right motivation to keep you in place, everything is within rich. A great advice.
I have my own variation of your idea of grouping tasks — it has to do with grouping errands. I used to find that I’d go to the post office one afternoon, and to the office supply store another morning, and maybe out to a coffee meeting with a client another day. Early on I realized that if I ran one errand per day it was deadly because once I was out, I meandered… so the one small errand would be a whole morning… Then I’d feel very guilty when I got back to work. So now if I’ve got a number of small errands in a given week, I decide what morning (or afternoon) works — and I allow myself that afternoon off — for the errands and whatever else I might poke about doing… Better to intentionally give myself a half day, than end up spending many half days and feel guilty.
Thanks all for the great input and insight.
I’ve been doing this for 3 years now, couldn’t ever imagine having to go back into an office again.