Having left a secure executive
position with IBM for the insecurity of starting my own business, I sometimes
struggled in a home office before expanding into ‘real’ commercial office space
to accommodate staff.
Now, like many others, I find
myself back working from home, so here are some tips, gleaned over many years,
to those experiencing this for the first time; thankfully with benefits of
technology that weren’t available 25 years ago.
Self-discipline is vital,
especially when you’re accountable to no one but yourself and your clients, or
less accountable to a remote boss.
Ironically, you go into your own business for the flexibility of working independently, but without the healthy discipline to show up and put the time in, you won’t last long.
Time is your main finite
currency and can’t be wasted on TV, social media or endlessly tidying
Flexibility is indeed a bonus of working from home, but for maximum productivity, you need some routine in place — not the one imposed by others, but the self-imposed schedule that you stick to most workdays.
It may not be 9-5, but set
that alarm for a regular start.
For example, my day starts
at 7am with a hot lemon drink and listening to the news as I skim emails from
overseas that arrive overnight. Urgent ones are answered and the rest prioritised,
before putting on laundry, and going for swim, followed by quick, healthy
breakfast. ‘Real’ work may not start until 10am when I sit down at PC to fully
Tell friends and family
you’re there for them in an emergency, but that you need to limit social chit
chat to certain times of the day, before or after your working hours (whatever
they may be).
When I started working from home, I had to remind friends that I was self-employed-not unemployed! And even if you are unemployed, it may be part of your daily ‘job’ to actively seek a job.
Devote the discipline, focus and time to do so. Endless hours on the phone complaining about things won’t help.
Focus and prioritise
If you need to concentrate
on a big project, put your phone on silent in another room with a recorded
message of when you’ll return calls. Obviously that won’t work for all
occupations, but most of us don’t really need to be in response mode
Visible goals, purpose and
To avoid being easily distracted,
have your important goals, outcomes and purpose clearly visible.
These will serve as a
constant reminder that all tasks should contribute to those ends, and that it’s
not necessary to reply to every email or read every article that comes across
your virtual desk.
Daily to-do list
As well as the big picture
plan, have a daily to-do list. Commit a certain number of hours per day
to your key big goal and other tasks that require completion.
Maybe three key things that must be done that day and five more you’d like to
Rather than chance it to
memory, you’ll not only achieve more but have a sense of satisfaction as you
tick things off.
As much as possible, focus
on your big goals and outsource more mundane tasks, those you don’t like doing or
ones that others can do better than you. Think cleaning, database, bookkeeper
accountant, IT specialist, virtual PA, et cetera.
Play to your strengths and
get help with your weaknesses.
Batch tedious tasks and
For greater productivity,
ask yourself: ‘What will be my best use of time today? Tomorrow? This week?
For example, I have a
‘finance Friday’ to handle all things financial, rather than deal with bills
and invoices as they arrive.
At business school, I
vividly remember reading The Peter Principle, in which, among
other things, author Laurence Peters postulates that most tasks expand to fill
the available time.
Nothing happens without a
deadline; or very little does. As a writer and professional speaker, nothing
focuses my mind and my work activity more sharply than a deadline from a
publisher or approaching conference, when the luxury of creative thinking
vanishes to give way to completion.
So, it’s necessary to set
self-imposed deadlines for important tasks.
And by the way, there is
never enough time for entrepreneurial thinking people to do all the things
they’d like to do.
Clear the clutter
It’s an old habit from my
IBM career, because the company insisted on a clean desk policy before
employees left the office. It’s served me well even when I’m the only person
who might ever see that messy desk.
Messy desk equals messy
mind, so my home workspace is clear at the end of each day (whenever the end of
that day may be) with my to-do list ready for the next day to start afresh with
a clean slate.
Maintain high standards
Don’t let standards slip.
OK, so there were times the laptop balanced on knees while I sat in my Qantas
pyjamas. But avoid this. It’s easy to slip into the groove of hanging around
the house like a total slob.
I know one person who walks
around the block and back into his home office at 8.30am every morning, and
another who still dons lipstick while home alone, even if they have no zoom
calls that day. Do whatever works to help you work in this new
Personally, I’m looking for
time delay lock on the fridge, but the best I can do is to physically shut the
door to the home office and set a timer that I won’t even think of leaving the
chair even a second before. Yes, more discipline.
Practice a healthy
People often ask me how I
find time to exercise. It has always been an essential activity for me. It is
not a waste of time and an integral part of my daily routine regardless of what
work pressures may loom.
We can’t take care of our
clients or family if we don’t take care of ourselves!
This may sound somewhat
obsessive, but I actually have it at the top of my daily to-do list, and the
mere fact of checking it off gives me a strange sense of achieving at least one
of my goals for the day.
I also have ‘stretch’ on my
daily list as a reminder to occasionally give those shoulders and neck a
At the end of each day,
have a 60-second review as you brush your teeth and honestly assess those last
We’re all prone to beat
ourselves up for what we haven’t achieved because of some frustration (often a
result of technology and/or bureaucracy glitches beyond our control).
Take the time to reflect,
and possibly journal, all the things you have achieved and
everything that you’re grateful for, even if it hasn’t been a perfect day.
While a focus on discipline
is essential, sometimes we do indeed need to be a little gentler with
When enough is enough?
Admittedly, that’s a lesson
I’m still working on, but most self-employed people and self-starters always
have a steady stream of new ideas, which means their to-do list is never
So do take some time to
smell the roses or appreciate that view.
Apart from the obvious financial rewards of working productively from home, set your own rewards when you reach certain goals. It may be an annual dream vacation (when travel resumes), a monthly manicure (when that resumes), a weekly TV binge or a daily treat.
This article was originally published on SmartCompany. Reproduced with permission from the author.