Guest post by Gary Lim, founder of Action Pronto, an advisory and coaching firm based in Manlius, N.Y.
If you’re freelancing, you’re likely working out of an office in your home. That’s the beauty and the curse of being a freelancer.
The home-based office represents the biggest opportunity to get distracted. Your spouse might see you sitting at your desk, and out of habit ask you if there’s any leftover chicken in the fridge (“Can’t you look?”). Or one of your children might ask you if you can play.
Even if you live alone, you might decide that now’s a good time to do the laundry because no one else is using the community laundry room. Or you might figure that the middle of the morning is a good time to go to the gym because it’s not as crowded.
All of these things, and more, have happened to me. I’ve been either self-employed or a business owner for a long time, so I’ve had the benefit of training myself over the years to maintain my focus when I work out of a home office. Still, I’m susceptible once in a while to getting distracted – it’s only human.
So I’m going to offer you some quick advice for staying focused while working from a home-based office. There are 2 main conditions that you’ll need to create:
* A dedicated work space for your freelance business activities, and
* A style-of-work agreement with the other members of your home life, whether they’re family members or roommates.
Regarding the dedicated work space, do just that: Dedicate a space in your home where you work on your freelancing business. Whether it’s a spare room with a door that you consider your office, or just a desk in a corner of the living room, designate it and dedicate it to your business. You must have an area you can call your work area, or you will have difficulty being able to work productively. Here’s why:
Let’s say, for example, your workspace is part of the dining table in your dining room that’s hardly used. You spread your stuff out and use the table like it’s your desk. Add a laptop with a wireless LAN connection, and you’re all set, right?
Wrong. There’s going to be traffic passing the dining room. “Hi Dad”, “Hi Mom”, or “What’re you working on?” will be heard often. Or maybe, “Honey, can you run to the store? We’re out of milk.” How about, “Would you mind helping me with the leaves out front?” Even if someone just walks by your dining room, you’ll look up to see who it is.
When the holidays roll around, the dining room will be needed to serve those delicious holiday meals for visiting family and friends. And you’ll have to remove everything from the dining table and under it, so you can use the room for its original purpose. Where will you work during that time?
Pick a work area that ideally has the following characteristics:
* It’s not in the middle of a flow of foot traffic.
* It’s not in a room where you’ll have to move your stuff during certain times of the year.
* It’s an area where the physical boundaries of your space are reasonably understandable.
Once you get your dedicated work space figured out, it’s time for the second important component of having an effective home office: a style-of-work agreement. In short, this is an agreement where you and your family members (or whoever else lives in your home) agree on general guidelines for when you’re working. Some of the things you might discuss and agree upon include:
*What happens when you make or receive a business phone call? (For example, does everyone need to be quiet, do you close the door, or do you go somewhere else in the house to take the call?)
* Guidelines for when you’re just working at your desk or on your computer, reading or writing something (Is it okay for folks to watch TV nearby if it’s not too loud, or do you need total quiet?)
* Guidelines about errands during the business day (like no spur-of-the-moment grocery store runs for more butter or ice cream)
* Understanding how to handle the needs of any children in the house (Who handles after-school snack requests, homework checks, naptime, or playtime?)
This last item is a key discussion point. There is no single right answer; you have to figure out what works best for your situation if you have kids. In my household, my wife (who also runs her business from a home office) decided that during the school year, she would consider her work day as ending at the time our daughter arrives home from school. At that time, she would tend to the things like after-school snacks and getting her started on any homework. This allowed me to still schedule time for consulting conference calls, coaching calls, and handling customer calls to my wife’s company.
During the times when my wife needs to finish development of a new product, we would agree on how to be sure she has the dedicated time and concentrated period to do so. Sometimes she’d say that she needs to work through the weekend to finish the project. So that weekend I would be the main “entertainer” for our daughter, allowing my wife to work productively without distraction.
A style-of-work agreement is simply a discussion you have with the others who live with you, about the things you need when you’re working on your business. You and your spouse or significant other, and even any children, should be clear about the types of activities that you might have in your business, and what conditions you’d ideally prefer. When those activities take place, they need to respect that you are working and are not available.
It’s challenging to work from home, to avoid being repeatedly distracted, and to be productive enough to meet your goals. But if you can make it work by having a dedicated work space and a good style-of-work agreement, it can be rewarding – from both financial and family perspectives.
Gary Lim blogs at http://myActionPronto.com.