Dirty dishes in the sink. Friends and family calling or stopping over all hours of the day. A barking dog. Running a home-based business has its obvious benefits, but it also usually comes with major distractions. It can be hard to stay focused when you have all the temptations and interruptions of home constantly knocking on your office door.
With a little discipline, however, you can make it work and keep the distractions at bay. Here are six tips for staying focused when you're running a business from home:
1. Determine your most productive, distraction-free hours--and maximize them.
When are you at your most productive and have the least potential disruptions? It is an important question. For some home-based entrepreneurs, it may be early in the morning, but for others, it may be much later in the day. Every household and person is different. That's the one good reason to own your own business: you can set your hours around your schedule and energy levels.
Identify which hours of the day are your best hours for concentrating on important work that needs to get done, and then don't let those hours go to waste. Perhaps you can't use that time to call clients--especially if your most productive, disruption-free hour is 5 a.m. But you can use it to write that important report, answer emails, or crunch numbers--the tasks that require a quiet environment.
"The benefits of forcing yourself to focus and creating a distraction-free work environment are underestimated," says Michael Merzenich in Inc.com, a neuroscientist at the University of California in San Francisco. The more often you let distractions win, the harder it can be to shut them out. "If you're constantly on alert rather than buckling down and shutting out disruptions, you can weaken the physiological processes that keep distraction under control," Merzenich told Inc. "Simply, you can program your body to produce less noradrenaline if you never force yourself to focus." In other words, the less you focus, the less you produce the neurochemical that helps you focus.
2. Set boundaries during the workday.
Once you know your most productive time for work, stick to it. Let your family, friends, and neighbors know your regular work hours and ask them to refrain from contacting you during those hours unless there's an urgent need or an emergency. You may have to be firm in some cases, because it's easy for people to assume that if you're home, you're free to talk with them.
One simple way to set boundaries when working from home is to have a designated office (and business phone line). You might even put a "do not disturb" sign on the door during key working hours. "Having a schedule with set office hours will let your family know when you're working and when you're available for them," writes Lynn Truong, managing editor of Wisebread.com.
3. Take breaks.
More and more research demonstrates that forcing yourself to take breaks can actually improve concentration throughout the workday. In a 2014 study, DeskTime, a productivity app, claimed to have found the perfect schedule: Work hard for 52 minutes and then take a 17-minute break.
However, that break shouldn't be used to check your Facebook account or read emails--all of which have the real potential to distract you for too much time and don't relax your brain. Rather, you should get up from your desk to exercise, or perhaps grab a healthy snack.
"Concentration is like a muscle: It needs to rest to be able to function, and it shouldn't be overworked," writes Julia Gifford of Draugium Group, parent of DeskTime. "Otherwise it'll simply burn out and take longer to get back into the swing of things."
The key, however, is to limit your breaks and force yourself back to work once they're done. Don't get immersed in an activity--such as doing the dishes or having a long conversation with a friend--that will likely sap way too much time.
4. Stay networked.
Building a network of other home-based business owners or people in your industry can help motivate you during your workday. Consider setting up occasional coffee or lunch meetings with people in your industry or joining a professional-networking group.
Sometimes it also helps to simply get out of the house and work from a local coffee shop. A recent study covered by Jory Mackay in Inc. found that coffee shops have the right type of noise and decibel level to help foster productivity.
5. Buy headphones to drown out background noises.
Have a barking dog or continually listen to your kids running around after school? The best investment you might make is a set of quality headphones. Inc. contributing editor John Brandon is a big believer in blocking out all distractions with music to get something done: "Turn up the volume on those expensive headphones and zone out completely or go find a corner somewhere in the building and work by yourself. Take the extra steps to disable service on your phone for a bit and close out of Gmail," Brandon writes.
Figure out the right music to give you the productivity boost you need.
6. Consider hiring an assistant.
Are non-profit-generating tasks, such as reading through emails, updating social media, or updating contact lists, slowing you down? Spending a little money on a virtual assistant may be worth it. There are plenty to be had on freelancer sites, such as Upwork.
Upwork notes that a virtual assistant for data entry and clerical work may cost roughly $12.00 to $20.00 per hour. Consider what tasks you can realistically outsource that frequently prevent you from getting real work done. Hire an assistant--even if just for an hour per day--to perform those tasks so you can stay focused on the important, money-making ones.
Running a business successfully from home takes extra discipline. But with some self-awareness and planning you can limit the distractions and significantly bolster your productivity.
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