You are very excited and full of enthusiasm. It’s your first day working from home after resigning from your day job.
You decided to start your own work-at-home business so that you could finally be your own boss: do work whenever you like, how much you like – without anyone telling you what to do and without anyone watching over your shoulder.
Fast forward to three weeks after starting working from home: even though you are still happy that you started to work on your own, there is something bothering you: your productivity is not as good as you wished. In fact, when you worked at the office on your day job, you got more stuff done.
As time moves forward, you begin to feel stressed due to your ever-growing task list.
Since your family is also at home while you work, occasionally it seems to be impossible to get work done because of the distractions and constant interruptions.
You know that you have to make quick changes to your working methods. Otherwise your home business is not going to succeed and you will have to find a day job again.
Did you underestimate the new environment?
When comparing the home office environment to your former work office one, there are some notable differences.
First, there is no-one watching over your shoulder in your home office. You are your own boss and you are accountable towards yourself. It’s your responsibility that things finally get done.
Second, since you are most likely working by yourself, there are no co-workers to ask help from or delegate your tasks to. It also means that the social aspect in your business is missing. Or at least it’s very different from what it used to be.
Third, you are the person who defines the rules. In fact, this is perhaps the biggest thing to remember: the structure at your home office is different from at your day job.
By structure I mean the “whole setup.”
When you go to work, there are lots of systems already in place which keep the company’s wheels rolling:human resources, ERP-systems, organization structures.
This same structure is missing when you start out as your own and it continues to be like that until you create it.
So is it any wonder that you feel overwhelmed, when you finally jump to work on your own and you have to create everything from scratch?
The missing elements of productivity
Achieving good productivity is very challenging when some crucial productivity elements are missing.
These elements define the structure of your home office.
However, when the structure is missing, you waste your time on unessential things. In the worst case scenario, you may even burn yourself out, if your working methods are very ineffective.
So, if you have failed to set these elements, you should do it as soon as possible. The longer you delay setting them, the more certain your performance is going to slow down. Eventually it will reflect to your business too.
It’s time to plan your home office
No, I’m not talking which kind of chair you should have nor should you own a PC or Mac. I’m talking something far more important which will define your home office success.
When it comes to structure, there are two important elements involved: systems and boundaries. They can be further broken down to physical and non-physical ones.
- Your physical home office space
- E-mail processes
- Setting your optimum working hours
- Boundaries with your family
- Daily/weekly planning
The physical aspect means your office space: do you have just a corner reserved for your home office in your living room or is it a separate room which emulates a true office space?
Then, there is the non-physical part. These are the rules you play by on a daily basis. It consists of setting up systems you work by and boundaries, so that everyone in your family respects your working times (without interruptions).
First, you set an effective e-mail process, so that you are not spending all your day by reading or replying to messages.
Next, you should set your optimal working hours. You know exactly when to work, how much to work and so does your family.
Although you already defined some boundaries in the previous step, you still need to have a good communication with your family about what you do and when you work so that unnecessary distractions can be prevented.
Finally there is the weekly and daily planning part. With this important activity, you are setting yourself goals for the coming week. The daily tasks should reflect these goals and ensure that you can achieve the goals by the end of the week.
Now, which one of the previous steps have you already defined and which ones do you have yet to define or fine-tune?
Creating your true home office
Let’s define your home office elements in more detail:
1. Your physical home office space
When you set your physical office space, you generally have these options at your disposal:
- Working in a dedicated spot in your apartment (if you don’t have a working room)
- In a dedicated room which you have turned into home office space
- Finding a co-working space in your home town/city
- Renting a dedicated office space
- Working outside in the nature, in a coffee shop or in a library
Each one of these has their pros and cons depending on the situation in your business.
For example, you might have to start out by having a dedicated corner in your living room (separated by folding screen), but later when your business grows, you can rent a dedicated office space.
If your home is a bigger one, you might have the luxury of working in a dedicated room. The good side with this setup is also, that there are no additional costs of finding a physical space – it’s already provided by your home.
Then there is the co-working space option. You are pretty much sharing the working space with other workers/entrepreneurs in your area. This provides good possibilities for collaboration, communication or networking.
Finally, if you are on a budget but you’d really like to work in “isolation,” you should go outside your home: work in a nature, in a coffee shop or in a public library. Although you are most likely dealing with other people in these environments, they are not necessarily distracting you and you can truly focus on your work.
2. E-mail processes
Here’s how I handle email:
- I check my mail two-three times per day
- When I check my mail, I batch process the messages at once.
- I unsubscribe from e-mail lists which don’t bring any value to me (you can use services like UnRoll.me for unsubscribing from many lists at once)
- I create labels and filters (in Gmail). This way I can organize and even hide certain messages that I don’t need to see, thus helping me to keep my inbox clean. At the same time, important messages are easier to find.
- Finally, when I batch process my e-mails, I extract the possible tasks/assignments in those messages to my task list or set and notification about them to my calendar. After this I archive my mail.
I suggest that you define your own processes too, since it systemizes your e-mail handling and frees up your time to other essential things in your business.
3. Setting your optimum working hours
Have you defined your working hours? If you haven’t, now is the time to do so.
Setting the optimum working hours may require some testing and being aware of your energy levels throughout the day, but it’s definitely worth it.
For instance, I like to work in the morning before going to work and that’s when I’m very productive. When I wake up early (05.00 – 05.30 AM), I’m not “stealing” the mutual time with my family.
This setup works for me, but you might have to do some testing to see which part of the day you are most productive and what is the optimum amount of hours of work you can do on a daily basis.
4. Boundaries with your family
I already touched on this topic a bit when I explained about setting the optimum working hours.
On the other hand, there are also other kinds of boundaries that you have to set. For instance, you need to communicate clearly what you are working on your computer and why you shouldn’t be interrupted when you work.
When you set the expectations right, no-one shouldn’t have difficulties of respecting your working times, since it’s possibly bringing money into your household.
To make things even more transparent, have a family calendar, where you mark for example your travelling days. This is an easy, yet simple way to keep everyone posted on what is going on and when you are away from home.
5. Daily/Weekly planning
I’m planning my coming week on Sundays. I sit down and think a bit what the next week might bring on its way. I then create my weekly goals list which is then extracted to daily tasks lists.
This way I’m working on important things on a daily basis and this helps me to achieve my weekly goals.
To keep track on my daily tasks, I use an application called Nozbe, which is based on Getting Things Done ideology (GTD). Naturally, there are many other task list applications like this (OmniFocus, Wunderlist, Remember the Milk, IQTell …), but you have to find out your personal favorite by testing and seeing what works the best for you.
As you can see, you have to create a structure for your home office so that it supports your productivity.
Sure, planning and setting things up takes some time, but it’s definitely worth it.
Over to you: What elements make your home office productive? Please share your comments, tips and experiences in the comment area.