When you’re starting up a new business, particularly if your “why” involves getting a better work life balance, the obvious move is to run your business from home – to begin with at least. But among the business women I know who work from home, I’ve found they are often polarised in their views about whether working from home is a good thing or a bad one. They seem to either love it or hate it.
There are few quibbles about the obvious advantages: On the plus side, working from home means no commute (equals no wasted time), a low cost base (no rent to pay for office space) and all the flexibility you could ever ask for, whatever you need or want that for. But there are also two big issues I hear women who run a business from home talk about on a regular basis:
“I just can’t get down to getting enough done: How do I stop myself becoming distracted all the time?!”
“I never seem to stop working – it’s there all the time and I feel guilty about all the things I still have to do if I stop and just watch telly”.
These are, in effect, two completely opposing issues, with two very different results for your business. But the solutions to both are remarkably similar –you need to find ways of creating good boundaries between your work and home lives. Because, let’s face it, when you run your own business there are always going to be more things you can do for your business than you have time for….and when you run it from home there will always be potential distractions (both good and bad!) to lure you away from your work.
As a business woman running my own business from home (and prior to that having worked regularly home for more than a decade when I was employed by someone else) I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to work effectively from home and create the kind of boundaries between work and the rest of your life that enable you to be productive while working, as well as able to switch off at the end of the day.
Here’s my step by step guide to help you run your business from home successfully:
When you have a specific place that you work from anchors you into your working day, it sends a message to your brain that this is work-time. Being able to work with your laptop on your knee whilst lounging on the sofa might sound idyllic but, apart from not being great for you physically, it gives you no separation between the serious job of running your business and the important relaxation space in your home.
The ideal way to run your business from home successfully is to have a room (inside or out) designated as your office. This allows you to shut the door once you’ve finished working, so you are physically separated from your work and don’t see the work sitting there waiting to be done as you walk by.
If you don’t have the luxury of a whole room, then making sure you have a designated working space somewhere is the next best thing: you won’t be able to shut the door on it, but at least you have to make a specific journey to sit down and work – and you’ll still get the benefit of anchoring yourself into work mode once you sit down at your desk. Just avoid creating this space in your bedroom, as it’s known that working in your bedroom can affect your sleep quality – and business owners already tend to struggle to get enough shut-eye!
If you’re really short of space, and need to work at your dining table (which I did for many years), you can still anchor yourself into work mode by having something specific you put out onto the table when (and only when) you’re working: A picture frame with a positive quote or favourite picture in it or a lamp, maybe. If you make sure to have a cupboard or shelf nearby where you can store your work things, putting everything away once you finish working and allowing your dining table to return to its day-to-day home use will help you to mark the boundary between work and home and reduce the liklihood that you’ll be tempted to sit down at the laptop every time you walk past to put the kettle on.
This may sound like the boring old 9-5, but it doesn’t have to be! The fact is, to run your business from home successfully you need to treat your work like a job…. albeit one that you are in control of and which has more flexibility than any employer will ever offer you.
Your core hours can be anything that suits you. Once you’ve worked out how many hours a week you need to work as a minimum to run, manage and achieve what you want from your business, you can arrange them for whatever days and times work for you – taking into account your clients/customers needs of course!
Your core hours don’t need to limit you: You can always choose to work beyond them when you really need to, or have some other times of the day or week that you’ll do specific things as and when they are needed, but they provide you with enough time to run your business successfully and allow you to create boundaries that will keep the stress and guilt at bay.
If you have young children, you’ll need to arrange your core hours around the time you need to look after them. The hard truth here is that it’s rarely viable to run a business successfully (from home or anywhere else!) if you are trying to work at the same time as looking after your children. Your work will take you much longer as you flip in and out of whatever you’re doing, and there’s every chance you’ll do neither job as well as you’d like. Besides, you deserve to enjoy time spent focussing on doing both!
Of course, you can always choose to flex your hours and do something else when an opportunity arises to have some fun, or if you need to arrange an appointment during what would normally be your core working hours. That’s the beauty of working for yourself, after all! But having core hours that you regularly work means every time you decide to do something other than work in that time, you are stopping and making a definite decision to do so, rather than unintentionally sabotaging your own time and success.
Do your family and friends constantly ask if they can come over/if you want to go for coffee/if you could help them with something at times that you really need to be working?
If you’ve never worked from home before (and many of our friends and family haven’t), it’s tempting not to think of it as being like proper work…particularly if they know the whole point of setting up your own business was to give you more flexibility or improve your work life balance.
My advice? Tell them what your regular working hours are and that you only make occasionally exceptions to it. Then once you’ve set those expectations with them, stick to it. If you keep saying yes to them when you really want or need to say no, you’re just giving them permission to keep on interrupting you!
If your problem is more the fear that you may miss out on an opportunity by not being available, or you are unable to switch off from work totally during the evenings, then the same advice extends to making sure your clients/customers know when they can contact you. Be clear about your “office hours” so you don’t feel the need to be available 24/7.
I learned this lesson beautifully one evening when a client rang at 7.30pm intending to leave me a message, and was surprised when I answered the phone. Her instruction to me was clear: “Switch your phone off and get on with putting your children to bed – I know that’s what’s most important at this time of day!”. She had a good point.
This one’s obvious but, I’ve discovered, so often overlooked, and not just by those that are running home-based businesses. For one thing, having a separate business phone number means you can keep your personal phone number out of the public domain. But, just as important, it means you can simply switch it off at the end of your working day, to give yourself a genuine boundary between work and your precious down time.
And of course, because you’ve told your clients/customers when you’ll be available (and therefore when you won’t) you’ve already given yourself permission not to be available at any hour, making the switch off really easy.
It may be too far for some, but if you want to extend that boundary even further, why not create separate social media profiles for your work persona too, so your personal social media feeds aren’t full of business-related contacts, interests and stories? This can be a real bonus if you want to leave work well and truly behind while you take a few days’ break. And, if there are apps or social media sites you only use for work, why not download them onto your work phone only, so you’re less tempted to dip in and out of work-related sites during your down-time.
Like having your own work space, dressing ready for work anchors you into your working day, and marks the boundary between work and relaxation
But there is another reason to avoid working in your tatty joggers: We tend to live up (or down) to the view we have of ourselves at any given moment, and there’s no doubting that what you wear can change how you feel.
For example, psychologists have proven that putting on some makeup gives your self-esteem a boost which in turn enhances performance. So getting dressed, into real clothes (it doesn’t have to be the full on corporate suit, just a set of clothes that make you feel you’re ready to do business) is likely to give your self-esteem and confidence a boost…just what you need for motivation to tackle the challenging or boring items on your do list.
So there you have it, a five step plan to create yourself some boundaries and help you run your business from home successfully. Happy boundary-creating!
If you’re running a business from home and would like to improve your work life balance or learn how to work smarter and more successfully, or deal with the stress or guilt that women running small businesses so often face, please get in touch for a chat about how I can help!