On paper, having a home-based office might seem ideal. After all, what could be better than working from the comfort of your house? Or having the flexibility to set your own schedule while steering clear of office politics? There’s also the bonus advantage of not commuting and incurring additional expenses.
But these pleasant circumstances won’t be conducive to fostering an oasis of calm if your personal phone is ringing nonstop and your kids are interrupting you every minute. How then can you take a situation that could be ideal for a small business owner who’s also a working parent or a caregiver to an ailing relative and turn it into a thriving home office environment free from domestic distractions?
Find an area in your home and dedicate it to work
This could be any room in your home. If you live with your family, make sure they all know that area is off-limits during your work hours. Use and treat it as your sanctum from which you are running your business. Make it as comfortable as you can. If this means decorating it with posters and plants that will help you focus on your tasks at hand, so be it.
Jennifer Martin, owner of the San Francisco-based Zest Business Consulting, a one-person shop that helps small business owners grow their operations, adheres strongly to this best practice.
“If you hate your desk, the lighting, or the way your file cabinet always seems to stick out when you try opening it, you won't feel like your work space is very helpful for you—if not consciously—then on a sub-conscious level,” says Martin who launched her home-based business last March, feeling it would afford her the professional challenges and latitude that her previous jobs lacked. “Do yourself a really big favor and create an environment that supports your success rather than drains your attention away from getting things done.”
And, if you have a TV in your home office, try not to turn it on or have it on in the background when you’re working. Or limit your TV-watching to when you’re taking a short break.
Don’t make your office room a free-for-all during work hours. If you have to put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign outside your door in order to drive home the point to family members that you need to work in peace to be productive, then do so. Treat your business with the same gravity of purpose and single-minded attention as you would in a brick and mortar location.
Phillip Christenson, co- owner of Phillip James Consulting, a Plymouth, Minnesota-based financial planning and investment management company, agrees. Three months ago, he and his business partner moved to a retail location after running their business at their respective home offices for two-and-a-half years. “Make sure to let your family members know that the home office space is only for work,” he advises. “Add a lockable door handle if you need to. You don't want your kids deleting precious company files while trying to ‘play’ on your computer. Try explaining that to a client.”
It can be tempting to slack off and get sidetracked by personal matters when you’re in the comfort of your home. But the inherent problem with doing so is that it can set a precedent for a habit difficult to break in the long run. Plus, if your family sees that you’re not taking your work-from-home routine seriously, then why should they?
Sticking to a routine has been an effective best practice for Dan Cumberland while running a home-based business with his wife. As co-owner of the three-year-old Sparkfly Photography, a lifestyle and wedding photography business in Seattle, Cumberland has made adhering to a schedule both a key underpinning of his business and a great safeguard against external intrusions.
“Having a routine helps you stay focused,” notes Cumberland. “Only schedule non-work or non-essential meetings before work, over lunch, or after work. If you don't create a schedule and routine for yourself it can be easy to get distracted and be unfocused.”
To illustrate his point, Cumberland, who adds that he and his wife run a home-based business because “it makes the most sense for us financially,” offers this anecdote:
“I had a friend call me the other day to ask if I could play a round of golf with him,” recounts Cumberland “He had a spot in a tournament because his partner had to drop out. The problem was that it was a Monday afternoon! I could choose to take the afternoon off and go play because I work for home and don't have a timecard to keep me accountable. But I chose to pass it up because it didn't fit my routine and schedule. I know that one afternoon off and a free round of golf wouldn't hurt in the long run, but the small decisions and distractions add up. My routine puts guard rails around my time and work while keeping my business and income moving forward.”
Establishing a set routine and making sure that others respect it is critical to creating a home office free of extraneous interruptions. At the same time, it’s also important that you know when you should finish up for the day. If launching a home-based business was to improve your work-life balance, then this is a great way to honor that commitment.
Martin, the small business consultant, concurs. “When you are done for the day, be done for the day,” she stresses. “If your office is in the same room that also doubles for your bedroom, living room, etc., turn off your work for the day by placing a table cloth or blanket over your work station so that it doesn't draw your attention. Not doing so will make it easier to just check your e-mail one more time.”
To anyone who’s a working parent, a caregiver, or simply tired of spending too many hours and too much money on the road commuting, having a home-based office can be an ideal situation. But if you want to prevent yourself from being distracted by family or personal matters, it’s imperative to set guidelines that separate your personal and professional roles.