In theory, working from home is a splendid idea. It isn’t until you actually commit to making your personal space double as your workspace that the fantasy quickly fades. Why? Because there is nothing more distracting than sitting in your house all day. You validate doing one more load of laundry, sprucing up the living room for your evening guests, putting that beef casserole in the oven and checking to make sure it doesn’t burn like last time, and running a quick errand or two for last minute fixings.
By the time you stop to look at the clock, it’s 5 p.m. and you haven’t completed a single task for your business.
Don’t be discouraged if this sounds like you. There are ways to stay productive and focused on work while operating your business at home. To find the best tips, I enlisted the help of three home-working small business owners. Here’s what they had to say.
Tip No. 1: Track your time by hand
David B. Wright is obsessed with detail. As founder of W3 Group, a marketing strategy company in Atlanta, he starts each day printing up a spreadsheet showing time in 15-minute increments, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Every 15 minutes throughout the day, he writes down a word or two detailing what he did during that time, and at day’s end he’s able to identify when he slacked and when he was most productive.
“When you physically write something down, you always want to write something good, even if you don’t show it to anyone,” he says. “It’s worked really well for me and now I have a better idea of what I’m doing.”
*Note: if you’d rather not track time by hand, check out Web-based tracking systems such as Toggl, Tick, RescueTime and Harvest.
Tip No. 2: Pair up with an accountability partner
If tracking time doesn’t do the trick, try checking in with another person who works from home. Wright suggests checking in over the phone or in person, not over e-mail.
“You are more likely to be honest if you are talking to them; you can easily lie over e-mail,” he says.
What if you don’t know anyone who works from home? Wright recommends looking online for networking groups and singling out one person to touch base with from time to time.
Tip No. 3: Work with someone else in your home
Talking with an accountability partner over the phone is one thing; having someone work with you in your home (on their own, separate business) is a whole different story. Desiree M. Frieson, president and CEO of Mahogany Communications, a marketing firm in Brooklyn, New York, suggests inviting someone into your home and working in the same space.
“Sometimes when it is too quiet, you end up doing other things; having a peer or group of colleagues around you can help you focus,” she says.
Tip No. 4: Leave
When the laundry seems just too tempting, it may be time to gather up your things and head out to the nearest coffee shop or library.
“Just make sure to choose a place that is quiet or you will end up even more distracted,” notes Wright.
Tip No. 5: Dress for work
Claude Delgado, founder of D Graphic Solutions, a print brokerage in Los Angeles, starts every morning dressing as if he was going into a formal office, tie and all.
“It is important because it sets the mindset that I’m in a place of business and I am a professional,” he says.
Tip No. 6: Reduce Web clutter
Web browsers allow users to keep dozens of tabs open at once, and while that is nice if you are doing research on a work project, it can be distracting if one of your tabs is always on Facebook or ESPN.
“Get rid of your HootSuite tab or your Facebook tab; only keep the tabs open that you really need for your business,” suggests Frieson.
Tip No. 7: Psychologically reinforce self-discipline
Every time Wright wants to get up for a drink or a snack, he makes himself finish a business task first.
“The snack then becomes the reward for finishing,” he says. “I’ve reinforced that habit and trained myself; it has helped reduce my procrastination.”
Tip No. 8: Answer phone calls and e-mails in batches
There are few things more distracting than answering your phone in the middle of the project. After hanging up, your concentration is shot and you have to start all over again. To combat this, Wright recommends letting calls go to voicemail until you are ready to return them all in one session. The same goes for e-mail.
Tip No. 9: Reduce physical clutter
The unused treadmill in your office and that doubles as a laundry clothesline: get rid of it.