When you first set out as a work-at-home entrepreneur, it’s hard to prepare for all the distractions looming on the horizon. Your daughter needs help with her math homework. The dog would love another walk in the park. The dirty dishes stacked up in the sink aren’t going to wash themselves.
So how do you prevent your home-based small business from foundering on the rocks of domestic life? Here are some tips:
Create a dedicated workspace. If your “office” is the kitchen table, it’s no wonder you find it hard to focus. Use a room in your house as a dedicated workspace. This is where you have your desk, laptop, file cabinets and other work-related accessories. It’s where you concentrate on your business, not where you make a shopping list.
Establish boundaries. Your spouse or children may not get the whole work-at-home thing at first. If you don’t specify otherwise, they won’t think twice about knocking on the door (if you’re lucky) or simply barging in when you’re closing a deal with a new client. Tell your loved ones, politely but firmly, that the area where you work, and the time you put in there, is “off-limits” for family fun. While you’re at it, keep the Xbox 360 in another part of the house. “Boundaries” apply to your own self-generated distractions, too.
There’s something about hanging around in your pajamas that doesn’t help to get things done. Veteran home-based entrepreneurs advise getting dressed to “go to work.” Putting on fresh clothes helps you make the mental transition from breakfast with the newspaper to preparing for the 10:00 a.m. conference call.
Make a schedule and stick to it. There’s a lot to do in a home-based small business, from marketing and client communications to research and administrative chores. Things can easily get lost in the shuffle and before you know it, the day is gone and what do you have to show for it? Successful entrepreneurs swear by the value of keeping a schedule to track what must get done today, this week and even the following week. Put together a list of essential and secondary tasks. Print it out and post it where you can review it on a regular basis.
A truly efficient schedule may also include your domestic chores. If you stick to the schedule, you can incorporate short breaks throughout the day where you can attend to those chores or simply step outside for some fresh air. Knowing what’s next on your to-do list helps keep you focused on your business.
Avoid isolation. Owning and operating a home-based business frees you from having pesky cubicle neighbors or a micro-managing boss. On the other hand, it also means hours if not days of isolation. To counter this, create social opportunities on a schedule that’s most comfortable for you. Set a time for lunch or breakfast with a friend or colleague. Join a local networking or trade group.
Beware the seduction of social media. One obvious way to stay connected is by spending time with your social network. But that option is a “distraction minefield.”
Imagine you have a 2:00 p.m. deadline on a big project. Around noon, you decide to check out your Facebook page and Twitter account. The next thing you know—after watching videos of a friend’s cat playing piano or following an online debate on the value of organic farming—the deadline has passed and you’re nowhere near done. You can (a) be very disciplined about when to log on and when to stay off or (b) take drastic action. Disconnect your router or use a separate laptop with no internet access. Your social network will still be there when you’ve completed the day’s work.
Every day you dedicate to your small business should see tangible results. By setting goals on a daily or weekly basis, you can keep priorities clear in your head and avoid most of the inevitable distractions of “real life.”