How many of you work from home? If you do, you may agree with me that it can sometimes be a love/hate relationship that errs on the side of love. If you are someone that is highly distracted, then working from home can be a challenge in many ways. You can either be distracted by your work or other life tasks that need attention. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on your work when you have dishes that have been hanging out in your sink for a few days. It’s also hard to stop working when you have endless hours at your disposal. After working in an environment where I walked into an office, sat at your desk, and left when the day was done, I had to re-adjust my mindset. I like to call myself a creative analytic, meaning that I create the best when I have structure. So, what do you do when you work from home and have to create your own structure? Here are 5 things that help me maintain balance.
1. Pick a starting time. Whether you like to begin your workday at 8 a.m. or 1 p.m., it’s important to pick a starting time. Since I work for a creative studio, I have the flexibility to start and end my day at a time that works best for me. When you have this flexibility, it’s important to set your mind at the beginning of each work week with a starting point. The hours between your starting time and ending time can be flexible. Even if you are the type of person who can work sporadically throughout the day, you need to have this structure. When you have a starting point, you know that you will always have an ending point: a finish line. I like to start my day early because my mind marinates on ideas over night. I sleep on them, then wake with anticipation to implement my ideas and take on the world. Depending on when you exert your energy and creative juices, you may start your work day at a different time.
2. Write down your projects and tasks and have a weekly review. When you don’t walk into an office with sticky notes lining your desk or have team members or bosses around the corner, you need to have an organization system and weekly meetings. When you and your teammates each have different tasks and responsibilities it’s important to make sure that everyone is on task in order to make business run smoothly. Your bosses want to know that you aren’t sitting at home watching Friday Night Lights when there is a project deadline. This is self explanatory, but it’s always good to have a reminder that accountability is key. We like to use Podio, Evernote, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Sunrise Calendar to keep track of our daily to-do list. When Wild Measure is on the go, we use Google Hangouts or Fuze to have weekly business meetings. With a creative brain it’s easy to veer off task when you have a million ideas swirling around in your head.
3. Find a place that is comfortable with little distraction. No, I don’t mean your bed although it’s tempting and comfortable. When working from home or a home studio, you want to find a place that will be comfortable for you to concentrate for 5 hours or more. I typically sit at my kitchen table. I open the blinds to allow the natural light to filter through the windows, and I turn on music that fits my mood for the day. I know myself well enough to know that I can become easily distracted, so if I feel distractions creeping upon me I will move to a coffee shop after lunch. It helps to break up my 5 hour work sprint. I think I speak for most people that when I am more comfortable, I am more productive.
4. Take time for breaks and vacation. Working with two entrepreneurs, I know that breaks and vacations are few and far between. When you own a small business, your work does not end. There is never an 8-9 hour work day at Wild Measure. We work around the clock. We all love what we do, and we inspire each other to do our best work. One thing we have to tell ourselves is that it’s ok to take breaks or a mini vacation. When I spent time working in Northern Michigan for two weeks, we worked as soon as the sun came up and found ourselves working when the sun went down. We would have to remind ourselves to take breaks to walk to the sandwich shop or run on the dunes. Mike and Megan wanted to show me as much as possible, but we had to work before we played. People may think that when you work from home you get more vacation time, which can happen, but often times it’s quite the opposite. You face the danger of allowing work to consume your life 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Remember to breathe and enjoy the few minutes you have between projects.
5. Don’t forget to socialize. I am a social person and get energized when people are around me. However, when I am immersed in work I tend to crawl into a little shell and forget my need to be social. This summer I worked remotely and had to make sure I had coffee, lunch, and dinner dates everyday. If you are introverted then working alone isn’t a problem, and is likely exactly what you need. I still believe, even if you are an introvert, you need to push yourself to socialize, because we draw inspiration from human interaction. For me, it is the best inspiration to grab coffee with a friend then snap back into work mode. After having a good conversation or volunteering, I feel more energized to finish my day’s work with fresh ideas.
These are just some tips that have helped me manage and balance my time, work, and social life since I work from home. If you are an entrepreneur who works from home, what are some tips that have helped you manage your time? How have you created a structured yet creative atmosphere?