Copyright 2005 Kathy Paauw
“It pays to plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.”
If you are among the increasing number of individuals who work from home, you know that it has some wonderful benefits – no traffic and parking hassles, no office politics to drag you down, nobody looking over your shoulder, you can wear your house slippers to work, and you can set flexible work hours. But these same great benefits come with drawbacks – a sense of isolation, no external pressure to keep you motivated and on task, and no limit to your work hours. In essence, if you are not careful you can easily find yourself “at work” all the time.
With some good planning, it is possible to reap the benefits and reduce the drawbacks of working from a home office. Here are 10 tips to help:
1. Begin with the big picture in mind. Clarify what needs to happen in the next three years in order for you to feel like your life has progressed in the way that you want it to.
2. Plan and organize your week so you are focused on your priorities – both professional AND personal ones. Do you find yourself putting things off that are important to you because you have so many urgent tasks that need your attention? Do you look back at the end of the day with regret and wish that you had spent your time focusing on more important things … such as time with your family, time for self-care, or time to work on an important project that has no deadline? Being technically proficient in your business or profession will only get you so far … especially if your life gets out of balance in the process.
We are all accustomed to making appointments with other people, but not necessarily with ourselves. Because most of us tend to focus on that which is urgent, we tend to put off activities that are important but have no deadline. Schedule “protected time” — time during the day when you let calls go into voice mail and you don’t check email — so you can concentrate on activities that are important but not urgent.
W. Clement Stone once said, “No matter how carefully you plan your goals, they will never be more than pipe dreams unless you pursue them with gusto.” If interruptions in your home office make it difficult to concentrate, consider going somewhere else to work on important projects requiring concentration.
Be clear about how you choose to structure your week.
* How much free time do you choose to spend away from work?
* How much time do you choose to spend delivering the primary product or service you provide? Are you available evenings and weekends?
* How much time do you choose to spend doing the support activities important to your work?
All of these activities affect each other. If you neglect support activities (returning phone calls, responding to email, follow-up, filing, etc.), things will start slipping through the cracks. Then it becomes difficult to take free time to relax and rejuvenate. Without free time, the quality of what you deliver will suffer. It becomes a viscious cycle!
3. Limit the number of places you post reminders of activities requiring your attention. I recommend that you check these three places daily:
* Your tickler file — visit http://www.orgcoach.net/products/ticklerpic.html for more information about how to set this up.
* Your contact management program (such as ACT or Outlook) – This can contain your scheduled appointments with others, as well as your scheduled appointments with yourself and reminders for follow-up with others.
* E-mail – Flag the items you need to come back to and do something with.
4. Create a Perhaps List . Most people have stashes of lists in multiple places – several legal pads containing to-do lists, sticky notes plastered on the computer monitor, the wall, the desktop, etc. Instead of writing these ideas down in multiple places, collect all of them in one place. Visit: http://www.orgcoach.net/perhaps.html to see a sample Perhaps List.
5. Schedule 10-15 minutes at the end of each workday to organize your work space and review your plans for tomorrow. Psychologists have found that we enjoy our non-work hours much more when we leave the office with an organized desk and a plan for the following day. This is also a good time to check your tickler file for the next day so you can begin mentally preparing for what needs your attention tomorrow.
6. Schedule time with other people. Working from a home office can be isolating. If you need more human contact, build in opportunities that will help you feel more connected to others. Join a service club or networking group, or treat yourself to having lunch or playing a sport once a week with a friend, colleague, or client…whatever it takes to feel more connected.
7. Schedule weekly “admin” time to tend to routine activities that you know need to be done regularly – filing, checking email, returning phone calls, invoicing, paying bills, etc. Although these activities are important, they are generally not urgent…but if they get neglected long enough they will become urgent when you cannot find something you need or a bill does not get paid by the due date.
NOTE: Not all hours are created equal. Pay attention to your own body rhythms. Schedule your “high brain” activities (things requiring creativity, for example) during your best time of day, and schedule the “low brain” activities (the auto pilot stuff) during your low energy time of the day.
8. Say NO to activities that are not important to you. If you need a reminder of what to say YES to, consider using a daily checklist and a PageUp Copy Holder that can hold your checklist upright (see photo at http://www.orgcoach.net/products/tickle.html#pageup) so it does not get buried on your desk.
9. Trim the F.A.T. – File, Act, Toss. When you open the mail, immediately make a decision to either FILE away for future reference, ACT on it, or TOSS it. Visit: http://www.orgcoach.net/trimthefat.html to learn more about this process, or participate in our fr*ee Buried in Paper teleclasses held monthly.
10. Create a filing system which will enable you to find things quickly, no matter where you filed it. The number one reason people pile instead of file is a fear of never finding it again. You’re invited to participate in a fr*ee monthly Find Anything in 5 Seconds teleclass where we’ll show you how you can file your papers so you’ll find them in 5 seconds or less.
For more information on our Teleclasses visit: http://www.orgcoach.net/teleclasses.html