Home based careers have a lot to offer those who want more freedom in their daily lives. This independence presents its own problems, but the challenges can be met by following a few simple guidelines for effective time management while working from home.
As I write this article, it’s one o’clock Saturday morning. The deadline for submission is hours away and now I’m wishing that I had a regular nine to five job in the city. I’d be in bed right now. I shouldn’t have to spend my weekends this way, but this is all my fault. I chose to work from home under my own schedule.
I take heart by the hope that if the weather is good on Monday morning, while everyone else is commuting, I can jump on the bike and ride to the beach. Later, I can enjoy a leisurely coffee at the bistro mulling over the direction of my next article. When and how I work is entirely up to me.
Today’s technology makes home-based work an attractive possibility for many. It is efficient, flexible, and fulfilling. But it also has its pitfalls, such as loneliness, tunnel vision, lack of accountability and domestic distractions. Perhaps the biggest challenge to working from home is time management, whether you tend to be lazy or are inclined to overwork. Here are some suggestions to make the most of your time in a home office.
Set Family Boundaries
Being close at hand to family members while at work means that you are making yourself available to them at a moment’s notice should they want your attention. It also makes them accessible to you for even the slightest reason (or excuse!). Presumably this is one reason why you chose to work at home, but it can become your worst time thief unless everyone has a clear understanding of what issues merit intentional interruption.
To guard against unintentional interruptions or distractions, the “open space concept” is not a good idea. Unless you live alone, you must have a separate work space that can be dedicated exclusively to the job while you are “on duty.” Make it clear that you are not being rude if the door is closed; you simply have left for work.
Log Your Time
For the workaholic, a home based career can be the fastest route to burnout. Extending your work hours is as easy as walking a few steps down the hall. Checking email before your morning shower, reading a report over lunch, making a phone call during a commercial break on TV, or scheduling tomorrow’s tasks before bed – all of these add up to overtime without the extra pay.
As an experiment, try keeping a work diary of every hour you spend working for a week. Make sure to log even the 15 minutes you stole right after supper. Chances are when you review your record you will have far exceeded a 40 hour work week. What is more, you will likely discover that you worked more than five days in seven.
Does the time spent in various activities reflect their importance? Are you spending more time on favorite parts of the job than on the onerous ones? What tasks regularly fall through the cracks or typically get deferred until the last possible moment? Are you being realistic as you forecast completion dates?
Design A Schedule
Once you have an idea of how you are spending your time, draft a schedule that is realistic and reflects the priorities of your profession. Because your workplace is also your home, your schedule needs to be fully integrated to strike a healthy balance for your mind, body and spirit. Everybody needs time out for rest and recreation. Be intentional about protecting your down time as much as your “billable hours.”
For many people, the main reason to work from the home is the flexibility it allows. So, to suggest clear boundaries and a comprehensive schedule may seem contradictory. However, the more you plan, the better you can adapt when unexpected circumstances arise. Because you are working from home, you potentially have twenty-four hours in every day to allocate instead of eight. This makes last minute changes much easier to accommodate.