Posted on February 23rd, 2009 at 9:46 am by Cristian Graziano
Running a home-based or virtual business can be difficult for many reasons. It's hard to focus, difficult to separate work and home, and harder to appear professional. Here are eight things you can do to make your at-home work more productive and enjoyable, as well as more professional, while still having a personal life.
Designate a Work-Only Workspace
If you are working from the same desk where you pay your personal bills and surf the Internet leisurely, it's going to be difficult to keep your work separate from your home life. Business and personal bills are placed in the same stack, files and papers get mixed up, and there is no mental separation between work and home life. You can boost your productivity by creating a workspace or office that is designated for work only. This will help you mentally separate work and home life – and as a bonus you can write-off a portion of your living expenses to reduce your business' tax liability (check with your accountant).
Create a Schedule
Creating a home office is a great first step, but it's also important that you create a schedule as if you were going into work. This will help you keep normal business hours with everyone who goes into an office, as well as end your day on time and have personal/family time. Running a home-based business means you are always finding things to do – if you set a schedule for work, it will help you prioritize and be more productive so you're not working all the time. If you need to start your day an hour or two later once-in-a-while, you have the flexibility to do so.
Spend a Little
Bootstrapping is common to entrepreneurs, freelancers, and business owners who work from home. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't spend money. If you are able to, head to Office Max and pick up the supplies you need. You need to be productive. Sure, having a really good laser printer may set you back $400-500, but you'll be able to print documents quickly and not have to email them to another computer (which sets you back 10 minutes). Here are some supplies every home-based business owner should have:
- A fast computer
Don't use your 3-year old computer with the broken 'r' key and the 200lb monitor. It's stressful enough dealing with work, but even worse when you are waiting around for your computer to keep up. You want to avoid being slowed down by the computer – and instead have a computer that can keep up with your pace.
- A fast, no-hassle printer.
I absolutely love my Dell 3110cn laser printer. Before I had it, I was not printing documents and notes, and emailing documents to myself to print elsewhere when something had to be printed. Sometimes it's nice to be able to print something up and make notes right on the paper.
- A spacious desk
You'll have pens, papers, bills, business cards, your computer, office supplies, photos, and whatever else on your desk. With all that stuff, you may not have room for signing checks, making notes, or day-to-day work tasks. Having limited "free space" to work leads to stress – give yourself plenty of space and ensure your desk is big enough for your needs.
- A Good Filing System
This could just be a filing box with some manilla folders. Some people like to scan in their receipts and "file-ables" and store them electronically (just make sure you backup frequently). This is a great way to get organized and be protected from receipt-facing. Look for a scanner with an auto-feed so you can put in a stack of papers and have them scanned and saved automatically.
- Ample, High Quality Office Supplies
You'll need the basics – pens, paper, stapler, paperclips, envelopes, postal stamps, office stamps (i.e. confidential, copy, posted) etc.
- Industry-Specific Supplies
If you're a graphic designer, you may want to have a large monitor or a pantone color book. If you're in finance, you'll want to have your HP-12C financial calculator nearby. You may just need some reference books on a nearby bookshelf. Whatever you do, ensure you have the necessary industry tools to make your job easier.
- Personalized Elements
Don't forget to add things that make the space "your" space. Anything that helps make the space personalized to you is good. This may include photos, plants, a poster, candles, or some decorative items.
Balance your Responsibilities
If you're a small business owner working from home, you are likely balancing various job functions. At some point you are the bookkeeper, receptionist, tech support, hr director, salesperson, marketer, etc. This requires balancing multiple responsibilities - you should create scheduled times for each whenever possible (i.e. Send out invoices every Tuesday or go to the bank on the 1st and 15th of each month).
Some people find it easier to get dressed up for work. Others are perfectly fine with a pair of sweats and t-shirt. Others are somewhere in between. The idea isn't to dress up for others to see, but to get yourself into an "I'm at work" mindset.
Ensure your Home-based Business Looks Professional
Working at home or in a virtual business environment doesn't mean you have to look like a small business or be any less professional. There are plenty of resources and services out there that help entrepreneurs and small business owners be competitive with larger businesses by appearing professional – all for a reasonable price. I'll cover these in my next post.
Create a Relaxed, Productive Environment
Besides supplies and a comfortable, spacious desk, you want to be in an environment that you can be relaxed and comfortable in. You probably won't get much work done if you choose the room that has a window overlooking the main road. I personally like to work near a window or glass door so that I have plenty of natural sunlight. I would rather have a park or greenbelt as my view than a parking lot – so I try to setup my office in a place that is comfortable for me.
Have a Life Outside of Work
I'm the first to admit it's easy to get caught up in work that you forget to take care of yourself and do the things you enjoy. But part of being productive is finding ways to do the same amount of work or more in a shortened period of time. The seven items above should help you save more time, but you should make sure that you have a life outside of work with your newfound time. If you enjoy a hobby, exercising, playing with the dog, or just taking afternoon walks – make sure you are doing those things between work days. Anything that is fun or relaxing will put you in a better mood and health to be more productive the next day.
Have any of these helped you become more productive at home? What else have you done to make yourself more productive (or just more relaxed) when working at home?