When I first started working from home I can remember wondering if I would have the discipline needed to be productive and profitable. The challenges I faced managing my time were unpredictable. Until you actually do it, it can be hard to account for all the situations that will pop up. Some of us may have been accustomed to working in offices where work time was work time, break time was when you surfed the web and did personal things and quitting time was when you shut down your computer and left it all behind until the next work day. In some cases we were single and the evenings and weekends were all ours. Time management, who needs it?
If you are going through the transition to new business owner from office worker, here are a few tips to help you to manage your new workday, which you may find is a bit longer and not always well defined. If you are also juggling new mom responsibilities some of these tactics may have to wait until you get used to your new 24 hour schedule that you have almost no control over at first.
#1 – Set up hours of operation for your business. You may have started your business for the flexible work hours and ability to spend more time with your family. This can be achieved; the secret is in setting boundaries with your clients, your family and yourself. Whether you enjoy working 9 to 5, 11 to 7 or in chunks of time throughout the day, make sure you know when you are working each week. Encourage your clients to set appointments instead of calling on a whim, this will help you plan your time. Let older children and spouses know your schedule, and ask them to respect your work time, just like if you were in an office away from home. This may not be how you pictured flexibility, but the more structured you are with your time, the more flexible you actually are.
#2 – Take scheduled breaks. Since the nature of our work is computer based, it is VERY easy to find ourselves in internet Neverland. To avoid this common pitfall, have time scheduled into your day for personal internet activities. For instance, it may be easy to quickly go online and pay your credit card bill, but sometimes this seemingly innocuous activity leads us down an hour long bunny hole. By planning your breaks and even setting a timer on your phone or computer if needed, you accomplish that important personal task and get back to work in a timely manner. Its much more fulfilling than wondering why you didn’t get anything done on your to do list.
#3 – Limit phone meetings. Carefully consider each phone call on your calendar and decide which ones are necessary and which ones are not. Try scheduling reoccurring calls every other week if possible or shortening them to a ½ hours instead of a full hour. Reaching out to other work from home colleagues is very rewarding, perhaps you could schedule these catch up calls during off hours.
#4 – Tracking your time. Of course we all track our billable hours, unless we charge package pricing. The practice of taking an inventory of your time can be an eye opening experience. Sometimes things we think take a long time don’t and vice versa. If you are struggling with getting it all done, you may want to try this exercise for a week. Have a piece of paper out and when you start a new task, write it down along with the time you started, when you finish write that time also. Do this with everything, from customer projects, your social media posting and newsletters to putting in a load of laundry and folding the one you take out of the dryer. You will get a very good idea of how you are spending your day both the good and the bad uses. Quickly you will see how your time can be used more efficiently, just by realizing how long things REALLY take to complete.
Adopting good time management practices is a life long process. When we seem to have our schedule just right something changes, like summer vacation, and we have to shift our activities. Instead of setting out for instant perfection, try making weekly changes and then sticking to them. You will soon find it pays off with peace of mind and improved profitability.