Working at home can mean your ultimate success or your worst nightmare.
You’ve kicked the 9-5 job to the curb and have joined the ranks of those blessed few who get to work at home. You crawl out of bed your first morning of freedom and are at your desk bright and early.
You may already have your time planned but it you don’t, it’s a good idea to put some schedules and systems into place. Trying to accomplish things with a loosy-goosey day plan (which is no plan) isn’t going to contribute to your success.
Without structure inherent in a job environment, it’s up to you to impose structure on your own time. The easiest way to do this is to write a daily schedule. Start by listing your main goals, and then break those out into a task list. By assigning “appointment” times, or duration times, to each task, you can stay on track without getting lost in the many choices you may have.
A great way to accomplish a lot in an efficient manner is to batch similar work together. For example, if you have appointments out of your home office, arrange for them all to be done on the same day, thereby saving travel time.
You can also look after social media posts of all kinds in one session, say from 9:00 until 10:00. This not only focuses your attention on the task at hand, but it eliminates some of the temptation to click over to Facebook or Twitter to check out what your friends are saying several times a day.
Keep work in the work space
Regardless of what type of work you do, whether sitting at a computer, or sanding cabinets in your shop, it helps to separate home life from work by keeping work in the space meant for it. Believe me, if your work gets spread all over the house and your kids are moving your papers or tools, you’re opening the door to lots of family conflict.
Don’t eat at your desk, and don’t sleep in your office or workshop. Stop trying to do more than one thing at a time.
Beyond that, it’s a good idea to make it clear in your own mind when you are “at work” and when you’re home. While people often believe that the temptation is to do too little work when you work at home, for entrepreneurs the opposite is generally the case. It’s far too easy to work all the time, especially when you love what you do.
In Part 3, we’ll discuss those pesky distractions and how to rise above the din.
You’ve achieved the dream, dumped the job, and are working at home. Now what?
Many people have the dream of getting out of the corporate rat race, leaving the stressful commute behind, and starting a business working from home. If you’ve managed to make that happen, Yay, you!
So now that your commute is down the hall instead of down the freeway, how do you structure your days so that you succeed? I’ve been working from home for over fifteen years and I’ve developed some essential strategies to make things work.
Okay, this sounds too simplistic. Of course, you’re going to get up. But let me tell you, the temptation to lie in bed late can be strong if you’re not naturally a morning person. But remember, you’re still getting up and going to work so lazing in bed in the morning isn’t an option.
If you’re like me and live on the west coast, those folks on the east coast who may be your clients have already been up and working for three hours before your eyes open.
One of the perks of working at home is that you can work in your pyjamas. Who’s to know, right?
However, there is a certain mindset that goes with being in your nightclothes and that is that you’re still on leisure hours. Besides, how you do one thing is how you do everything so sloppy is as sloppy does.
If you conduct business via Skype, or Zoom, where people will see you, it is doubly important that you look presentable and professional. Fix yourself up as though you’re going to the office, because you are.
While we’re on the subject of sprucing up, it’s also a good idea to make your work space presentable. One reason for this is because of visual calls online; the other reason is that a neat work space makes doing your job easier.
Besides being a writer, I’m a visual artist, and like most visual people, I’m happier when I can see what I need. But honestly, it gets away on me frequently. The “I’ll just put that here for now” method of dealing with incoming materials means it doesn’t take long until I’m overwhelmed with messes.
I’m not saying that you have to constantly be cleaning up, just regularly tidy up your space. The best way to stay on top of that is with systems, which we’ll look at in the next article in this three-part series.
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There is always time to do something you love.
I can almost hear the protests:
We all have busy lives, some busier than others. However, I believe that what usually stops us from doing things that we really love, is prioritizing.
For example, I’ve decided that I want to do a sketch every day. Nothing fancy, just a little sketch in my pocket sketchbook. Am I doing it faithfully? No.
The reason I haven’t done it yet is because I have to re-arrange my schedule to make room for a fifteen-minute sketch and I haven’t done that. I could spend that much less time watching Netflix in the evening, or I could get out my sketchbook and draw something while I eat breakfast.
While I want to do it, I haven’t made the decision to fit it in.
If you think about something that you’d like to do more of, ask yourself what has to happen before you can accomplish it. Can you get up a little earlier in the morning? Or, go to bed a little later at night?
Perhaps exchanging one activity for another would make the space for what you would like to do. It might require a little imagination, but really, we often do a lot of things in a day that aren’t strictly necessary. It’s like time clutter. Clear out the non-essential and there is more space.
Put simply, it comes down to this:
If you want more time, do less.
I once read a story about a woman who had survived several tragedies in a fairly short time. With no warning her husband left her, someone close to her died, her house burned, and she had lost her job. I’m not going to say that she didn’t suffer, because she did, and greatly, but she managed to pull herself together and move on.
She moved to a different city and started over. In the process she made the decision that she would say ‘yes’ to whatever opportunities came her way. As she made friends in her new location, she became known as the one who would always say yes to requests for new adventures. Taking this attitude completely changed the woman’s life.
I believe it will change your life, too, when you decide to say yes to life, to your dreams, or simply to a new experience.
It is time to say ‘yes’ to:
You will never have the time is you don’t say yes now. None of us really knows how much time we have, and the tomorrow that we are putting things off until may never come. We only have so many days here on this earth and when it’s over, well dear, it’s going to be too late to take your kids to see the ocean, or go on that romantic weekend with your sweetheart, or study French.
This was brought up close and personally to me when I nearly died one night from internal hemorrhaging. Coming face to face with my own mortality made me sit up and take notice of where I wanted my life to go. I realized that the ‘some day’ I had been putting things off for, had to happen now, not later.
We women are often guilty of saying yes to everyone else’s wants and needs instead of our own. Doesn’t that imply that the needs of others are more important than your own? If you think about that for a moment, you must agree that it just isn’t so.
Everyone’s needs are of equal value, it is just more important to the owner of those needs that you drop everything and attend to them rather than to your own. Get some perspective. Just because someone demands that you submit to his or her wishes, doesn’t mean you have to do it.
Think about what you need to say yes to. Your life is numbered by days, and they go by with shocking regularity and speed. Now is the time to start saying yes to what makes your life really worthwhile. Don’t wait. Don’t put it off. Say yes now.
Not sure what you want to say yes to? My program, The Wish Plan, can help you discover what you value, and make a plan to get it.
Celebrate often and laugh lots
Most of what we think is a big deal is really no big deal. Holidays and family events are obvious reasons to celebrate, but can sometimes also be exhausting if you are trying to live up to traditional standards or other people’s ideas about how a celebration should happen. Instead, why not pick your own reasons and ways to celebrate?
Celebrate a perfect hair day by taking yourself out for iced coffee. The fact that your bathroom got cleaned is cause for celebration, especially if someone else did it. How about celebrating a good night’s sleep? What about the first daffodil bloom in your garden or the first hummingbird at your feeder? Life is full of special and ordinary moments so why not just pick some and make them a celebration?
While you are at it, choose fun people with whom to celebrate. Choose to spend as much time as possible with people who make you laugh. It has been known for ages that laughter is good for you. The Bible says that a happy heart is as good as medicine. Plus it’s also a lot cheaper and far more fun than drugs and surgery!
Here are some ideas of how to celebrate and laugh:
Simply adding more laughter and fun to your life can not only improve your life, but prolong it as well. Laughter is a spirit lifter and the best antidote for depression. It is also known to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, elevate mood, boost immune system, improve brain functioning, protect the heart, connect you to others, foster instant relaxation, make you feel good. There are so many reasons to laugh, it is really important to find more laughter in your life.
I know that it is not always easy to avoid people who get you down, but you can do things to offset their effect on you. By finding more reasons to laugh, you counteract the dampening affect of the negative influences with which you come into contact. Your light-hearted approach to life may even turn those grumpy folks into happier people, too.
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A few years ago I was working a trade show and while taking a break I walked past a booth advertising a new resort project. When I made eye contact with the man behind the table, we both had a jolt of recognition and said at the same time, “I know you.” It took a few minutes to trace our past connection, but we remembered that he had been the realtor who sold our house several years before. We had also attended the same church for a while.
We agreed to have lunch together to talk about old times, and during our conversation over burgers and fries, he made a comment that I have never forgotten. “A hundred years from now there will be all new people on the earth.” I realized, that with only a few exceptions, the statement was true.
Since then I’ve given that concept a lot of thought. If I am one of the people here now, then there must be a reason for me to be here.
What if we are all here at this time because we are the exact complement to the people with whom we will come into contact?
What if we are each here to be the one to help someone or several others get through this journey we call life?
If that is the case, then what do I bring to the table to offer others as a means to aid them on their journey? What talents and abilities do I possess that will make someone else’s journey easier?
If I have a responsibility to the other people who are inhabiting this earth in my time, then I need to look at what my abilities are that I can offer you. If I am to offer you my very best, then I need to use the talents that God gave me to the best of my ability.
There is no point in me spending a lot of time and effort trying to be something I’m not, since my purpose will be thwarted. Assuming that we are given talents and natural abilities which we might develop for the purpose of using them to make the world a better place, then it doesn’t make any sense at all for me to not maximize those talents and abilities.
If I spent an inordinate amount of time on meaningless tasks, am I not wasting the time I have been given to develop my talents for the benefit of those around me? Am I not squandering my abilities, to not develop them?
Why am I here now?
Who am I here with and why them?
What do I have to offer ?
Am I maximizing my talents for the good of myself and the rest of the world?
Do you have notice that it gets harder to make decisions toward the end of the day? You’re too tried to figure out what to have for dinner or what to watch on TV. That’s because we all have a finite amount of decisions that we can make in any given day.
Knowing that helps us prioritize. We can cut out a lot of decision making by implementing habits and routines. That way we save them for the important stuff. It also frees brain space for more creative and productive thinking. Routines are a great tool that simplify our lives and cut out a lot of our daily stress.
Chances are you already have a morning routine. You get up, you get your coffee, read the paper or check email and fix some toast before heading into the shower. Let’s expand on that. If you create a “uniform” for yourself, you don’t even have to think about what to wear. You just grab a pair of pants and a shirt, or a skirt, tights and sweater and off you go.
Implement some routines into your workday wherever possible. Meal planning helps you figure out what meals to fix and eat. A cleaning schedule makes sure you stay on track with your household chores without you having to spend any valuable decision making skills in the process.
Building your creative work—writing time, or art—into your routine soon makes it a habit. When it’s already a habit, you don’t need to try to fit it into your day because it’s already part of your routine.
Wrap your day up with a bedtime routine that not only helps when you’re too tired to make smart choices, it also helps you fall asleep more easily.
Start by doing a few chores that make the next morning easier. Making sure the kitchen is clean and the kids’ school things are in order are great examples. Come up with a few calming things that help you slow down and get ready for sleep. Read a book, listen to some music, or wind down with a cup of herbal tea.
Sit down with a pen and piece of paper and think about what parts of your day and week you can turn into routines. Write the down and create daily to-do lists for yourself until you’ve established these new habits and routines.
Spending a little bit of time creating routines and habits will make your day run a lot smoother. You might just find yourself less stressed and get more done during your productive hours. And that’s a beautiful thing. It allows you to save plenty of decision making for the fun stuff like figuring out what park to go to, what family movie to watch or what board game to play.
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Creating new habits isn’t easy. Here are six simple tricks that will make it a little easier. Use them until you’ve internalized your new creative habit and don’t need them anymore.
Schedule It And Put It On The To-Do List
Sometimes we forget to do that new thing we were trying. Maybe we forget that we’re supposed to be writing first thing in the morning instead of reading the news, or that we need to get that daily walk in that charges up creative energy.
Schedule your new creative habits or make them part of your daily to-do list until they become something you do automatically.
Make It Public and Be Accountable
Let family and friends know what new creative habits you’re trying to establish. They will call you out if you don’t stick to your plan and get you back on track.
You may even go as far as sharing it publicly on Facebook or write a blog about your new journey. Knowing that others read it and know about it might be just enough to keep you going when you feel like throwing in the towel or slipping back into old routines.
Piggyback On A Habit You Already Have
Whenever possible, add the new habit to one you already have. For example, if you fix a cup of tea or coffee at 4:00 pm, and you want to get in the habit writing in your journal, make the new ritual to do your journalling while enjoy your tea.
It’s much easier to amend an existing habit or ritual than creating an entirely new one.
Make Slip-ups Costly
Here’s a fun idea. Put a jar on the kitchen counter and each time you slip back into your bad habit or forget to stick to the new one you have to put five dollars in the jar. It will quickly help you remember to skip wasting time surfing Facebook instead of working on your creative project. For extra motivation donate the money to charity at the end of the month or hand it over to your spouse to go spend.
Find A Partner and Help Each Other Along
Find someone with the same or similar creative goal. This could be a writing partner or fellow artist. Keep tabs on each other and encourage each other to keep going. It’s much harder to skip if you know someone else is depending on you.
Make It A Group Challenge
If one accountability partner is good, a whole group is even better. And they don’t even need to be local. Find a supportive group creative online and challenge each other to stick to your new habit for the next 30 days or so. Not wanting to be the first one to give up will keep all of you going until you establish that new habit.
Give these simple little tricks a try. Keep using the ones that you find helpful until you have made new creative habits you can stick with without the help of any tools or support.
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Recently, the writing world is all a-flutter with the sudden (How could it be sudden?) revelation that Huffington Post apparently requires its writers to work for free. While I have no opinion on HuffPo in particular, this scenario does bring up the unpleasant truth that creative people are asked to, and agree to, work for free far too often.
Sure, I know it happens in other occupations too, but it’s particularly rampant in the arts. The contention is that because you love what you do that should be compensation enough.
But you’ll get exposure
The carrot that’s dangled in front of our noses is, “but it will be great exposure.” As a visual artist as well as a writer, I fell for that stinker many years ago, until I wised up and realized that my work was being used and the benefit to me was zero.
People gush over talent but forget that the artist or writer is not building a career on a gift that dropped from the sky onto her head. Years of training, practice, and sacrifice have gone into developing her art. Giving it away is career madness.
For creatives, who admittedly tend to be right-brained people, demanding money for art can be difficult. Part of the reason is that we all know that while people love art they don’t want to pay for it. The same folks who ask an artist or writer to work for free wouldn’t dream of asking a dentist or car mechanic to do the same.
The other issue is that silence about money in artistic fields leaves us all at a disadvantage because we don’t know how to value our work. It takes work, time, and gumption to become intelligent in these areas and to learn how to market your own work.
Small pond, many fish
With the advent of print on demand and digital publishing, the market has been flooded with written materials that in days gone by wouldn’t have made it onto a shelf. I’m a huge fan of indie publishing but a result I’ve noticed from this influx is price competition between authors. It’s no secret that when you compete on price the winners are the buying public, not the people who produce the product and sell it. But if you keep giving the milk away, no one is going to want to pay for it.
Don’t worry; I don’t need to eat
When others consume the creative person’s work without paying, it directly affects the economy of a family. My kids aren’t going to be happy when I try to feed them “exposure” for dinner. My mortgage company won’t accept “I did it for free because I love it” in payment either.
Just stop it
So what’s a writer, artist, or musician to do? Here are some suggestions:
This isn’t just about Huffington Post exploiting writers, it’s about all creatives giving our work away for free so we can be more than the plain girl/guy at the prom “hoping someone will like me.” I learned years ago as a visual artist that benefitting someone else and hoping for “exposure” was worthless and always resulted in a net loss in time, energy, and money for me.
If all creatives stopped “giving the milk away” and stopped competing with each other on price, we would all benefit. So value your work, your skills, your talent, your hours. Charge more, demand more, and laugh when someone suggests that you do it for free.
Value is measured in money. Value yourself.
People ooh and aah over talent, but the artist, writer, or musician is not building a career on talent. Years of training, practice, and sacrifice have gone into developing their art. Giving it away is career suicide.
Do visions of the sleazy used car salesman in a gaudy plaid jacket and polyester pants leap to mind when you think of marketing?
Most creatives dream of quitting the day job and going full-time. Oh, and making boatloads of money. Rather than toil away in obscurity, clinging to fragments of that far-off dream, perhaps it’s time to:
Where I share creative ideas, uplifting thoughts, and spread sweetness to make life pretty.