Working from home is a dream come true for many Americans. But once the shine wears off, some self-employed home workers realize that avoiding the commute and proximity to home comforts has its drawbacks.
Lacking the company of colleagues, being in an environment synonymous with downtime and being able to switch on the TV when you want can make motivation and productivity a problem.
Here are six tips to help home-based entrepreneurs stay productive:
1. Define success for your day
Sure, it’s common sense, but in the thick of handling interruptions and putting out fires, it’s easy to overlook the merits of a to-do list.
Take a few minutes at the start of each day (or the end of the previous day, if that works better) to decide what you want to accomplish by the day’s end. Of course, unforeseen circumstances can mean missed targets through no fault of your own, but targets do boost productivity, as studies have shown, and provide a sense of achievement when reached.
Then you can go for that walk – itself positive for productivity, as we’ll come to later – without feeling guilty, if you know it still leaves plenty of time to meet your goals for the day.
2. Build out your goals
Once you’re used to setting goals daily, you can start determining which goals, tasks or projects are key to your success this week, month or year.
Obviously, the further you move from today, the less concrete your goals will be, so flexibility is important. And you can only make sense of – and not be overwhelmed by – a monthly or yearly objective by breaking it down into daily or weekly tasks – so it still comes down to what needs to be done today.
3. Use productivity tools
There are countless productivity apps – many free, others costing just a dollar or two – for recording and tracking your output and seeing how it tracks against your goals.
Writing in the Observer, Bit Literacy author Mark Hurst says the right productivity tool should help you “prioritize to-dos, categorize them, allow for editing, and separate what you have to work on today from the to-dos you can safely ignore until tomorrow.”
A good productivity app should also have an understandable hierarchy, be intuitive and flexible and, of course, be available on your chosen platforms.
According to Wired, the best productivity apps are Google Now, Photomath, Clear, 1Password and Gmail.
4. Establish systems and routines
Now that you have a system for establishing and tracking your short, medium and long-term goals, you can start focusing on achieving those objectives quickly and efficiently.
The best way to accomplish this is to create and use systems to handle repetitive or boring tasks and establish routines to get your mind and body in the groove of working productively.
The least thrilling tasks – like filing, bookkeeping or invoicing – are usually the most amenable to systems and processes that accelerate things and liberate you to spend more time on the interesting, creative and, most importantly, lucrative jobs.
A system can be as simple as a filing taxonomy – physical or virtual – that is orderly and easy to understand and remember.
5. Outsource and delegate as much as possible
While this isn’t easy advice to take when you’re trying to bootstrap a small business, it’s an important part of remaining profitably productive.
Freeing up your profit center – your delivery of a product or service, or your skills in sales and marketing, for instance – must be your top priority.
You may balk at paying a virtual assistant $20 an hour to spend 10 hours a week handling your mundane bookkeeping and correspondence. But it’s a false economy to do it yourself if it means less time spent servicing or securing customers that generate revenues far in excess of the costs of that virtual assistant.
Outsourcing can even encompass non-business tasks. Why not hire a lawncare service or a housekeeping service if the opportunity cost of mowing the lawn or cleaning your house yourself is less time spent making money?
Try to identify any and every business and non-business-related task that takes up your time but doesn’t directly bring in income. There are numerous sites, such as Upwork.com and Freelancer.com, where you can outsource low-skill jobs like transcription or proofreading for a modest outlay.
6. Recognize when enough is enough
It’s equally important to recognise the law of diminishing returns as your mind and body are burnt out and your output and work quality flag.
You may think you don’t have time to take a break for lunch, a walk, or to meet a friend for coffee – but it’s a false economy. Taking a break – especially involving exercise or human contact – actually boosts productivity and overall output – and it’s not like you have a boss to impress by skipping lunch!
Similarly, NASCAR vehicles stop for pit stops because ground lost in the short term trades off favourably against a better chance of success overall.
So for your health and, yes, your productivity, set limits and recognize when not working – whether spending more time with family or taking a week’s vacation – can still be a productive use of your time.