Working from home is absolutely awesome. You not only cut out all your travel times, but are able to work flexi hours which is great if you have kids or enjoy watching cricket, lol. Working from home is also fraught with pitfalls and distractions that can keep you from getting your work done. It is easy to walk into the kitchen and start making an elaborate meal. It is easy to switch on the TV or to play a Netflix movie "in the background". Suddenly washing dishes and vacuuming the house seems like more fun than getting the job done. The problem though is that when you don't get the work done, you don't make any money. I've been working from home now for almost 30 years. During this time I've learnt a few fundamental ground rules which you need to follow in order to successfully work from home. If you're just starting out with a work from home business, if you're struggling to work from home successfully then these ground rules or keep you on track and on task.
1) Get up
The temptation to lie in is strong when you don't have to be at work at a specific time. Yes, you are saving a lot of time because you don't have to commute to work anymore. You are therefore only allowed to lie in for as long as a typical commute would have taken you. For example, if your commute to work was 30 minutes, then by all means set your alarm to go off 30 minutes later than previous when working from home. No later!
2) Get dressed
Technically you can work in your PJs when working from home. The problem with this though is that your brain equates pyjamas with relaxation. You're simply not fully ready to get a days work done when you are still in your pyjamas. Obviously you don't normally need to get dressed up - I am sitting here writing this article in a jeans and t-shirt. What you do want to do is dress comfortably for the days work ahead. You should however look respectable enough to be able to open the door if I customer or courier arrives.
3) Start working
Give yourself a set time every day to start working. Ideally just start working at the same time as when you worked for a boss. You are used to starting work at that time anyway so don't break the habit. You will find that if you don't do that, then you tend to start working later and later and later. Eventually there is hardly any of your day left to get any work done.
4) Work flexi time, but full time
By all means work flexi time. If it is better to go to the gym in the morning, then go in the morning. If you have spent an hour at the gym then you need to make up that hour by working later. Another advantage of working flexing time from home is that you can work later than working at a premises. What I will often do is work in the morning, watch the kids doing sport in the afternoon, then after dinner I will head back into the office to complete my work for the day. I also enjoy watching cricket so if there's some match starting at 2 p.m. I will wake up earlier that morning to get an hour or two extra work in before normal working hours. I will then do the same the next day as well. Between these two early starts I have caught up the lost working hours.
5) Eat breakfast
If you are an early bird then eating breakfast probably comes naturally. If however, like me, you are a night owl you are probably happy skipping breakfast. I have never been able to eat breakfast early in the morning, so for years I simply skipped it. Recently though I have tried something different. I make myself a smoothie in the morning. That way I am getting this important meal in without having to eat. I know it sounds weird, but it works great. So if you also battle to eat breakfast, maybe you can also give smoothies a try. What I can tell you though is that I now not only have more energy during the day, but my mind is also a lot clearer too. This means I now get even more done during the day than I did before without having to work extra hours. I now I wonder how much productivity I have lost over the years by not having breakfast.
6) Set goals
Setting yourself goals is critical to your work from home success because it keeps you on track. I wont go too deeply into how to set goals in this article but you need four goals: long term, mid term, short term and immediate goals. Long term - these you set every year and explains where you want to be in 5 years from now. Mid term - these are set every 4 to 6 months and explain what you need to do over the next 12 months in order to reach your long term goal. Short term - these are set once per month at the beginning of the month and lay out what you need to do this month in order to reach your mid term goals. Immediate goals - please you set weekly and daily and tell you what you need to get done this week in order to meet your short term goals. As you can see your goals keep you headed in the right direction.
7) Set tasks
Break your goals down into tasks. Your mid term goals for have a few large tasks what you need to accomplish. Your short term goals will have more, but smaller tasks you need to accomplish. Your immediate goals will be broken down to even more, and even smaller tasks until you get to a point where they become daily and even hourly tasks. No you have a roadmap plotting out your way to success.
8) Set deadlines
Each of your goals and tasks must have a deadline date or time attached to it. If you don't then your goals and tasks are actually just wishes. We all know that wishes are pie in the sky and achieving them is as elusive as Bigfoot. Deadlines tell you when something needs to be completed. If you miss a small deadline here and there you can still recover and stay on track. If you however start to constantly miss your deadlines then reaching your goal will take longer. As a result it is very important that you do your best to set realistic deadlines for yourself. If you don't you will lose motivation and quit. On the other hand if you're constantly achieving your goals then you will constantly be moving from one success to the next. This is how you build a successful business - by moving from one success to the next.
9) Have a set work area
As an artist you need two work areas. One where you can create your artworks and another where you go to do your book work and marketing. The reason why you want distinct work areas are: a) you don't have to pack everything out before you start working or back up again at the end of the day. This allows you to be more productive. I know that space may be at a premium, but you have to do your best to create these areas in your house. A great way of doing this is to convert your garage into a work area, with a little creativity you will be able to pull the car out and get straight to work. The garage will have a studio area and an office area. At the end of the night you will be able to pull the car in without having to pack up your whole life. b) you have a separation between work and play. This allows you to minimise distractions while working, and switch off while relaxing.
10) Stay organised
Just ties in nicely with having a set work area. If you have a set work area it becomes a lot easier to stay organised. By staying organised I mean having a place for everything and everything in its place. When you are organised and you need something you pick it up and use it. When you are disorganised have to keep looking for stuff. You will be amazed at how much time you wasted looking for things that should be right under your nose. Staying organised also goes beyond everything in its place. It also means when you work, you must work methodically. If possible even set up systems you can use while working to help you get the job done quicker and better. Checklists and processes like this not only get the job done quicker but and sure that you don't forget anything important. You might even be able to use this systems later to outsource some of your work, saving you even more time. Remember : the job is not done until you have put everything back in its place.
11) Eliminated distractions
Let's say you need to create an artwork and have set yourself four hours to complete the task. Are you going to get the job done if the TV is on, your phone keeps beeping with messages and your email program keeps dinging on the computer? Of course not. When you have a task to do, you need to give it your full attention. Close your emails, close Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and all your other social media accounts. Put your phone on silent and leave it in another room. Forget about the washing, kids and everything else. My favourite way of staying focused used to work with headphones on. I put on a good Spotify playlist which has enough energy in the music to keep me working quickly. I keep the volume low enough to ensure I can hear if the doorbell rings, but high enough so it can block out general noises. Another way to avoid distractions it's important that we will make it to ground rule of its own.
12) Friends and family must call before they visit
When you first start working from home your friends and family think it's ok to just pop in for a coffee. Initially it's fun when they do but you soon realise that you aren't getting the work done that you are supposed to. Tell your friends and family but they must either call or text you before coming over to ensure that you are able to spare the time. Also educate them that you are now on a no work no pay "salary schedule". The longer they stay, the less money you will have to feed the kids and pay your bills. My friends and family will occasionally still pop in for a visit but they know to call before they come to ensure it's OK. They will then also only stay for a short while - coffee and a quick chat, no more. In the beginning I don't need to be firm with some friends and family. You may need to be as well. If you don't you will be the only one to lose out.
13) Set lunch and the break times
When working for yourself it is easy to work non-stop without any breaks. I bet you didn't do that when you work for a boss. You make sure you took all your breaks otherwise you lost them. When working from home you will find that it is not so easy to take your breaks at the "normal" times, simply because you are working flexi time as it is. What you do then is work for set lengths of time before taking a break. I tend to stop every now and again to look around. That stops me from getting eye strain. I don't take set tea breaks, but I will head to the kitchen every so often to make a coffee which acts as a break. I do I ever drink the coffee while working. For me lunch time is a half an hour break during which I will have something to eat and check my emails. I always ensure that they are quick healthy snack type lunches available in the refrigerator so I don't have to stand around and making food. In other words I don't think it's important when you take your breaks. It is very important that you do take breaks. If you don't you will burn out and lose your passion, neither of which is going to help you make a success of your business.
More often than not as creative tend to be single owner businesses. This means you have to do everything yourself. No matter how good your goal and task sitting is, no matter how organised you are and no matter how hard you work, you only have so many hours in the day. This means there are only so many things you can get done during the day. There is however a very simple trick that you can use to dramatically increased the amount of tasks you can complete during the day. The trick is to multitask. How do you multitask when you only have one pair of hands? You fill the gaps and you delegate. Let's use an example: You need to create a painting today, buy more art supplies and pay the telephone bill. The painting process of natural pauses when you have to wait for the paint to dry. You use the first natural pause to order your painting supplies online. You now do not need to ride to the shops to buy the supplies yourself. You have now filled the gap and a delegated at the same time which has saved you at least an hour. At the next pause in the painting process do you have your lunch break. During the next pause you pay your telephone bill online and even have enough time to sketch out the canvas for your next painting. Now you are ahead on your work schedule and have an extra hour to do something else - like contacting a new gallery or add your new painting to the website.
Outsourcing is different to delegating. Delegating it is when you get somebody to do the job at the same time as you are doing your work, like we saw when ordering your art supplies online. By placing your order online you delegated the process of picking, packing and delivering your art supplies. It however didn't cost you anything extra to delegate those tasks. Outsourcing on the other hand as where you pay somebody to do some of your work for you. An example of this would be to pay somebody to do your social media management for you. That way you can get more artworks completed without you having to spend the time marketing them on social media. The person you are outsourcing the work to is essentially your employee, albeit a temporary one. People are scared of outsourcing because of the extra expense, but you need to think of it like this: What is your hourly rate? How much would it cost for you to do the job? As the business owner your time is the most valuable and the most expensive. If you can pay somebody to do the work cheaper, then do that. This not only saves your money, but also frees up more of your time to concentrate on the important jobs.
16) Do the important tasks first
There is a principle in business which says that 20% of the work is going to take up 80% of the time. By the same token 20% of the work is going to give you 80% of the result. You need to identify this 20% and get it done as quickly and as best you can. An example of this would be creating and marketing your artworks. Without these two tasks completed you have no business. They do I ever take up most of your time. All the other tasks, like paying the telephone bill, are not going to give you a big return on the time spent. Do the marketing and create the artworks first, then worry about paying the telephone bill.
17) No drinks before 5pm
Sadly I have seen too many business owners break this rule over the years. Not a single one of them was / is successful in the business. In fact the majority of them are not even alive anymore. That is how serious the consequence of breaking this rule is. If you want to ruin your business, family, and your life, drink before 5pm.
18) Catch up
Distractions happen, that is part of life. When they do, catch up. Remember the more you miss your deadline, the more you are building up a habit of failure. You don't want to fail or make failure a habit because if you do failure becomes the norm. Success breeds success. Success starts with a small commitment to not miss your deadlines.
19) Have an accountability partner
When you're the boss it is easy to say "What the heck, it's good enough" or "I'll do it later", etc., because you don't have anybody that is going to hold you accountable. Without accountability all urgency to complete the task is removed. Get a friend, family member, or even better a fellow business owner who you trust, to become your accountability partner. You now "answer" to this person. You tell them your goals, tasks and deadlines. You also report back to them on your progress. If you are late they hold you accountable by chasing you up. You sleep this is enough to keep you on track, but if you still battle with motivation then add penalties into the mix. A penalty could be something like donating an artwork to charity, or doing some community work.
20) Reward yourself
As business owners we tend to work harder than most people. Not always because we have to, but because we are passionate about and love what we do. As we tend to have our head down all the time, we often forget to come up for air. If you keep working without any reaward at the end of it, how long are you going to remain motivated? Not long at all I assure you. Work rewards into your goals and deadlines. If needed work your rewards into your pricing as well. Obviously your rewards must match the goal. A small success must equal a small reward and vice versa. For example, complete all your tasks for the week then you earn take out for the family on Friday. Complete all your tasks for the month and earn a neck massage at the massage parlor. Complete all your goals for the year and earn a two week holiday for the family.
21) Maintain a work / life balance
This is usually the first thing that goes out of the window when you start your business. You simply have too many things to do and are under extreme pressure to bring in enough money to pay the bills. Even in the beginning it is important to spend time away from the business and with your family. I know it feels wrong because your business seems like a child on life support to you, but taking the time away actually helps your business. How on earth could that be you ask? When you're constantly working and in the thick of things, you tend to miss the important bigger picture because you are so engrossed in the details. But taking time out your essentially stepping back from the business. Your subconscious mind starts working to sort out problems for you without you even realising it. You on the other hand are relaxing, enjoying yourself and spending precious moments with your family. This makes you healthier and prevent burnout. Tip - always have a pen and notebook with you on your off days. Your subconscious mind never rests it even though you are relaxing it will spit out answers and ideas at any time. Your note book allows you to write these answers and ideas down. When you get back to work you can open your book to go through these answers and ideas and evaluate them with a fresh, sharp mind.
22) Enjoy yourself
Life is way too short to stress. You work for yourself and make sure that what you do is fun. If it isn't funny anymore sell the business and start a new one. I hope these ground rules help you in your business. They have certainly helped me over the years. If you have any ground rules that you live by that I haven't added here, feel free to leave them in the comments below.