Running a business requires serious time commitment, just like working a regular, 40 hour a week job does. The difference usually is that, as the owner of a business, you have at least some choice as to how to structure your working time. You can work a few hours early, then take an hour to do personal business, then get in some administrative time “after hours” when things are quiet, if you need to.
Even people who run traditional, bricks and mortar businesses usually have at least a little flexibility when it comes to hours. Those of us who operate from home have much more flexibility when it comes to hours. Maybe even too much.
At my house, it has become painfully obvious that family stuff is creeping into work time. Everyone seems to think that since I work at home I have tons of extra time. Really, if I put in the “normal” 40 hours, the only extra time I have now, compared to when I worked for someone else, is the driving time that I’m saving.
Being able to run to the bank during business hours is awesome, but it seems to get progressively more difficult to remember to “make up” the time. When I first started Smiling Tree Writing, I worked all day somewhere else, then came home and worked three or four hours on client projects.
Now, it often feels like a challenge to get in just three or four hours of client work a day.
It’s easy to blame the lack of work being accomplished on Twitter or Facebook, but I don’t think that’s all of the problem. Running errands, cooking, housekeeping, puppy chasing, helping with homework, and other “little” tasks take up a ridiculous amount of my time. My oldest daughter, who is endlessly wise and helpful, advised “Mom, you should only be doing those things after 5!”
Right at the moment, I have several projects going on that require utmost productivity, so I am closely evaluating when my peak work hours are and how those hours are spent. As I evaluate I am taking note of what helps and what hurts. Here are the few things I’ve found helpful so far:
1. Do laundry while working. I know this is a strange one, but if I do laundry while I am writing, I am forced to take breaks at fairly regular intervals. It keeps my butt and my brain from getting numb. Maybe setting a timer would work just as well, but this way as the added benefit of clean socks.
2. Develop a getting started routine – then tweak the hell out of it. Changing your getting started routine helps keep you aware of how you spend the first few minutes of work time which sets the tone for the rest of your day.
3. Figure out when you need to stop for a while.Maybe you hit a wall at the same time everyday. If you can find a way to do something else, then come back to work, you will be able to squeeze a little more productivity out of your day. The key, of course, is establishing the internal expectation of returning to work.
4. Track your time. When I know I’m going to have to type “11:45-1:00 mah jong” on a spreadsheet I am far more likely to NOT play mah jong. It’s a lot like tracking food intake. I don’t want to see the bad things I do in black and white.
5. Start letting people know you are working. If you politely say, “I’m in the middle of a project right now, do you mind if I call you back later on?” it’s unlikely anyone will be offended. Family members, friends and even clients are usually respectful if they know you are busy. As an added bonus, busy service providers are often more attractive to prospective clients. Being busy can give you a little social proof.
6. Get your pets in the routine. We have three dogs and two birds and they do not care in the least that I have work to do. They want to play, go in or outside, eat, whistle and shriek all day. The birds are pretty easy if I don’t mind their noise (I actually like it), but the dogs are taking a little more work. I think they are finally getting on something of a schedule that matches mine.
7. Remember to exercise. For me, a good workout can be the best way to solve a problem. Taking the focus off of whatever thorny issue is swirling around in your head and putting it on making your body work hard can let your brain have the space it needs to solve the problem. Sounds weird, I know, but it works.
There are plenty of productivity tools available as well, but really the biggest thing for me is being aware that there is a problem. Like many people who enjoy self-directed work, I’m naturally pretty focused but even still, the rest of the world gets in the way sometimes.
What unusual things have you found that help you stay productive?