There really is nothing like a nice, clean, brightly lit office. It's difficult to explain the value of a good office, but there's just something about having a dedicated space, outside of your day-to-day life, that allows you to hunker down, collaborate and get things done. Unfortunately, when you're just getting started in business, having a brick and mortar location is not always a realistic scenario. When you're in startup mode, you'll often be working out of your house or apartment to keep costs low. In fact, regardless of the stage of your business, there's a strong chance that you'll be working from home occasionally. Even as your business matures and you find a brick and mortar space, you may find yourself working from your kitchen table from time to time.
Whether it's a more permanent arrangement or a once-in-a-while occasion, working from home is something that very few people do effectively. It's astounding how easily your life can distract your work when you're in a place that's dedicated to living, not working. Below, I've outlined a few tactics that may be able to help you work more effectively from home.
- Find an isolated spot. In order to work effectively from home, try to find somewhere that's separate from the rest of the house. You want to look for something partitioned off, like a bedroom. On the other hand, the living room couch might not be a good idea. You want to separate your living space from your working space as much as possible. I also like to pick one designated spot as a work space and then to stick with it. If you keep moving around, going from the bedroom to the couch to the toilet, you're going to sacrifice the sense of continuity and purpose that comes with staying in a single, dedicated place.
- Designate "working hours" and stick to them. When you're working from home, try to set a strict working schedule with a firm stop and start time. While most entrepreneurs are very invested in their work and highly motivated, we're also human. We can fall into bad habits just like anybody else, and there's very little accountability when you're not working from an office. Holding yourself to strict working hours can help add that sense of accountability. There's also a more subtle benefit to this. The truth is that working from home is highly demoralizing. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely occupation regardless, but when you're working out of your house, it's really just you. There's no peer group; no structure put in place. You have to counteract that open-endedness with some type of organization, and adding structure to your hours is an easy way to do this.
- Break up the day with a quick jog. Within those working hours that I set, I personally like to set aside a small portion of time to exercise. Again, working from home is demoralizing, and it can often sap the energy from you. You need to find a few ways to inject some energy and motivation into your day, and exercise can be a great way to do that. I always feel rejuvenated after a quick jog around the neighborhood.
- Make a list and check it twice. The mailman is coming to the door; a neighbor swings by; a relative calls your home line. Working from home leads to a ton of distractions, and it can be very difficult to get into a rhythm. Make a to-do list, and don't allow yourself to let the day pass without crossing those items off. Creating a list may seem like "working efficiently 101," but that's only one part of the process. The more subtle aspect is how you hold yourself accountable to that list. At the end of your working hours, do a review of the to-do list. If you weren't able to accomplish what you had set out to accomplish, try to do a post-mortem. What happened today that restricted you from crossing everything off of the list? Be honest and tough on yourself. Otherwise, you'll run into the same issues tomorrow.
- Beware of the dirty dishes. It can be tough to work effectively when that pile of dirty laundry in the corner is staring at you. Still, I think entrepreneurs should be wary of letting housework and chores bleed into the workday. This can really go either way, and it depends on your personality and ability to multitask. For me personally, I have a lot of nervous energy, and I'm always moving. If I'm on a conference call, I might walk through the house and do laundry simultaneously. However, even with my tendency to move around while working, it's still taken me a while to develop a rhythm where I can multitask like this effectively. You might find that it makes sense to hold on the chores until later in the evening.
As a final note, I'd like to reiterate my personal belief that working from home is something to be avoided if at all possible. The strategies outlined above are aimed at helping people optimize on the occasions when they have no choice but to work from home; these tactics do not solve the problem entirely. Even for entrepreneurs who are trying to bootstrap and cut costs, it's worth looking into the cost of an incubator. With an incubator, you can avoid many of the issues addressed above, and, perhaps more importantly, you also have a sense of community and a peer group. It can make a tremendous difference.