You hate leaving for the office every morning. How great it would be to work from home, you think. There would be no ornery hovering boss, no backbiting coworkers, and no oppressive, dehumanizing working conditions. Banished!
Not so fast. Work from home, great as it sounds, isn’t for everyone. When you strike out on your own, you must know how to keep body and soul together. Here’s a basic list of requirements.
Socrates’ adage could have been aimed at the self-employed home-based businessperson. As a lone ranger, you are in charge and fully responsible for bringing in the bucks. Before taking the leap, make a fearless personal inventory. Does this description fit you? You are
- highly disciplined
- task oriented
- a self-starter
- happy working alone
- highly organized
If you are to prosper and grow, you must also be able to delegate responsibilities to a virtual or flesh-and-blood assistant. If you can’t, you will in time become a slave to your business rather than its master.
Set and Protect Boundaries
When you have an office job, someone else is calling the shots. If you work for yourself at home, things are different. You determine your productivity, and you must defend your space against intruders.
- Have a dedicated room as your office. Ideally the door closes and locks. Even if you never use the lock, it will help safeguard your privacy.
- Establish working hours, and keep them separate from down time. If you don’t, you will exhaust yourself mentally or physically, and the hours you snatch from the job won’t feel like the R&R you need to stay productive.
- Don’t let other people poach on your work time. Okay, you’re at home, but you are not free to mind the baby, take the dog to the vet, deal with the landscaper, or oversee home repairs. You are just as unavailable as you would be if your office were somewhere else.
- Develop the habit of insisting on what you need for yourself. Your teenager’s heavy metal at high volumes is not acceptable when you are working. Equally unacceptable are interruptions to ask permission to go to a friend’s house or a spouse’s invitation to smooch since the kids are still at school.
Create Structure in Your Workday
To ward off anxiety (sometimes masked by boredom and irritability) you need routines. Decide to start with one particular task, then shift to that one, then to the next thing. Arrange your workday. You can always fine-tune.
Set up your space for maximum productivity. Everything you need should be within easy reach. Some people use both a standing desk and a sitting desk. I like to have two desks, one with my computer station and one where I can write longhand and spread out files. My desk chair swivels between them.
Do not include in your work space things that are potentially distracting and counterproductive, such as a bed or a television set (unless you need it for your work).
Do you get more done dressing as you would for an office? Or do you perform best in your pajamas? Does background music help? Is daylight with windows looking out at nature inspiring, or is it better to keep the outdoors from distracting you? Coffee, tea, or bottled water?
Find stopping points when you can look back and give yourself credit for work done. At the end of the day, you want to feel good about the way you have spent your time. Take pride in your achievements.
Congratulate yourself at every opportunity. If you don’t, who will? The boss must be kind, appreciative, and nurturing, or the worker won’t deliver a good job.
If you are new to working from home, you will be astonished at how many fewer calories you burn each day than you would if you hopped in the car, drove to wherever, and participated in company life.
Plan to get into the habit of regular exercise. Arrange for serious workouts (aerobic and strength based), ideally four or five days a week for at least forty-five minutes each day. Build them into your schedule as you would a consultation with a client.
Do not stay in a chair for more than one hour. Each hour, stand up, get a glass of water, walk around, and stretch. You might take a spin on an exercise bike, run up and down stairs, jump rope, or even hula hoop for a few minutes.
Our caveman bodies were not made to sit. They expect and need constant exercise. Without it, they will give you problems. Prolonged sitting promotes anxiety and depression. It also interferes with your ability to concentrate.
Use the best times of the day (when your energy level is highest) to do the most challenging work. Build in breaks every couple of hours or as needed.
Don’t expect yourself to grind out results on a mechanical schedule. Vary your activities. Give yourself a rose or a latte or a lovely song. Go out to lunch. Plan vacations and the occasional day off.
Avoid bribing yourself with junk food or other noxious substances so that you do things you don’t want to do. Notice what your body needs and when it is best able to perform whatever tasks you need it to do.
Have healthy ways to cope with anxiety. Meditate every day. Try some of the other new mind/body techniques, such as tapping (Emotional Freedom Techniques, or EFT).
All parts of you can and will adapt to any priorities and agenda you set. If you help your body, it will cooperate. It is your most important ally throughout your lifetime.
Arrange Social Opportunities
Some office workers depend for their psychological well-being on water cooler conversations or deskside chats. If you are planning to work alone, I hope you are not one of these people.
We humans are hardwired to be social. We do not thrive when we feel disconnected. If you spend the day alone, you must, for your own health, find social opportunities outside work.
Your spouse and family can clearly help in this area. If you live alone, look for groups or communities to join. Isolation, professional or otherwise, will imperil your health.
Get Out of the House
If you work in a company, at the end of the day you go out to the parking lot, hop into your car, and drive away. If you toil at home, you will need to get out of the house. You may also need to put on different clothes or transition in some other way from work to play.
Kids provide opportunities for you to participate in their activities in the wider community. But if your kids are gone and your partner is elsewhere, you must still give yourself a change of scenery to keep from feeling cooped up.
Take a walk. Ride your bike. Go dancing. Play pickup basketball or baseball. Join a book group. Enroll in a continuing education class or other course.
Solopreneurs often find themselves before long working in rather than for their businesses. As a result they burn out. Take steps to keep yourself on track.
- Have financial and other goals for the year ahead and for the next two or three years.
- Create a vision for your business: where do you want it to go? how should it look down the road?
- Use an Excel spreadsheet (or not). What’s the timetable for reaching your goals?
- Each week, carve out some time to work on your goals.
- Each month, assess your progress on your goals.
- If possible, join a group of businesspeople who support each other while offering relevant resources and suggestions.
Plan for your prosperity, your fulfillment, and your freedom.
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