Working from home can be such a rewarding experience, but it can also be the biggest nightmare if you don’t establish boundaries and a plan. Keeping a work-life balance can actually be an even tougher battle when you are working in the home, as the lines between business and home life are blurred. Here are 5 tips to keep you on task so that your clients remain satisfied with the products/services you are providing while keeping your family happy with time dedicated to them:
1. Establish a regular schedule of “working” hours.
Sure, you are your own boss now, which means being able to set your own hours. However, as most of us are procrastinators, if you leave tasks open to “as I have time for them”, you will never have time for them. Even though you are working from home, continue to establish set hours on which you will focus on your work and your clients. The beauty of being your own boss, however, is that it doesn’t have to be traditional “8-5″ hours. A work-from-home mom, for example, can choose to work while the kids are at school – but maybe only Monday through Thursday, so that Fridays can be dedicated to shopping and errands. A business consultant may wish to work 9am-noon and 4pm-7pm in order to accommodate clients in different time zones. Maybe you are a writer who is a night owl, so you focus on writing after everyone goes to bed, something like 11pm-3am. If you are servicing clients, you will want to keep in mind that you need to include some regular hours that fall within your clients’ regular business hours so that they can reach you. But otherwise, the possibilities are endless and completely up to you.
2. Assign tasks/clients to specific days
If you just have one, long to-do list, you will become overwhelmed and may never complete half of it. Instead of staring at the impossible, neverending to-do list and wasting time contemplating how in the world to get it all done, schedule the tasks on specific days. By scheduling tasks on specific days, you can better map out the time required to complete each task to ensure that you are setting yourself up for success, not failure. I have created a weekly map that I use, which you can download here. Don’t forget to be mindful of deadlines and tend to those items first, filling in the gaps with other items that are not as timely.
3. Be specific when assigning tasks/clients
When mapping out your week, be as specific as possible in assigning how you will use your time. For example, if you are a consultant with, say, 5 regular clients that you help weekly, don’t just assign an hour here or there to such-and-such client. Instead, assign what tasks you will specifically work on for that client on that day. If you are someone who provides a service such as home repairs or plumbing, list what tasks that client needs you to accomplish, and schedule your time accordingly. You may find that you can knock out two or three clients in one day, or you may realize that you actually need two days to complete everything that one client has requested. If you are a writer, schedule what you hope to accomplish on each day; maybe today you strive to complete an outline of your blog article ideas for the next two weeks or month and write 1 article, but tomorrow you plan to complete 2 or 3 articles.
4. Remain flexible enough to accommodate the unexpected.
Things happen. You will inevitably run into issues with a project, take longer with something than planned, or have emergency situations pop up. As crazy as it sounds, you will actually be more prepared for those types of things if you stick to you plan than if you are “winging it”. Didn’t get to all that you had planned for today? That’s ok – just move what you didn’t get to complete or touch upon to a different day. But don’t just leave it hanging out there to get to “as you can work it in” – because you will never work it in. We are, by nature, procrastinators. So don’t freak out if you didn’t get to everything today – just reassign things that were missed. It may mean that something gets bumped to next week, and that’s ok too (provided it’s not a time-sensitive issue) – just go ahead and start mapping out the next week. Maybe you have so many things going on that you need to always have 4 weeks “on the board” so-to-speak, so you can see where/how to schedule in tasks and clients. While it sounds like more work, you will thank me later, as it will prevent you from overscheduling later down the road, or let you know if you even have room to accept new clients (a good problem to have).
5. Stick to your guns.
Once you have a regular schedule established for when you will focus on work, be careful not too stray too often from that schedule. Sure, things will come up from time to time that will cause you to work on a day off, or work longer one day than planned, but if things are “popping up” on a regular basis that are forcing you to deviate from the plan, then you need to re-evaluate the plan. Are you trying to squeeze too much into each day? Are you being effective and efficient with your work time, truly concentrating ONLY on work tasks during those work time? Have you taken on too many clients/tasks? Remember that, in most cases, the reason you wanted to be your own boss was to have freedom and flexibility to spend more time with your family – so why are you working 24/7? In order to enjoy freedom and flexibility, you need to have an underlying plan, and you need to stick to that plan. If you deviate from the plan, chaos ensues. It sounds contradictory, I know, but it is so true.
So many folks these days are running businesses from home. While it seems like a win-win of being able to set your own hours and be your own boss while being able to spend more time at home, most people are not organized enough to set boundaries and manage time effectively, resulting in very blurred lines between home life and business life. Take the time to plan your time effectively so that you – and your family – can enjoy the rewards of being your own boss.