R-E-S-P-E-C-T: The Organizing Secret for Working At Home
As recently as a decade ago, if you said you worked from SoHo, you’d be telling people your office was in lower Manhattan in New York City, South of Houston Street. Now, SoHo is an even more fashionable address — six steps away from the coffee maker and five steps from the front door. The SoHo of the Small Office/Home Office movement means that more and more people, whether entrepreneurial in their own businesses or teleworking for companies owned by others, are cutting their commutes (and their overhead) to work where they live.
If you’ve spent much of your career in traditional workplaces, you know how precarious the balance of interpersonal respect can be. You’ve observed the disrespect shown in shared spaces: the guy who heats up his tuna casserole in the break room, scorches the popcorn, and never makes a fresh pot of a coffee; the gal who pops her gum or taps her pen incessantly; the dude who wears headphones but hums along to his personal soundtrack; and all the people who hover in your doorway to converse as if there were an invisible water cooler drawing them near.
The appeal of a home office can seem revelatory by comparison, but it’s much harder to draw boundaries (for yourself and others) in a home office than a traditional work setting. Free of a taskmaster, it’s easy to sabotage yourself and disrespect the value of your work time. It’s vital to respect your own professionalism by setting firm boundaries, and make certain others respect them as well. Rather than stifling you, these boundaries free you to pursue your entrepreneurial dreams.
If you follow the words of the Queen of Soul and demand a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T (from yourself and others), you’ll be better able to achieve your goals.
Start with the right headspace. Try to awaken and get started at the same time each day. If your day begins by getting others out the door, you can still aim to get yourself “to the office” at a set time. Shower, groom yourself, and get dressed – you may not be on a video call, but you will see yourself in the mirror. Reflect an outward professional attitude and you’ll feel it inwardly.
Delineate the start and end of the workday. Create rituals to make the distinction. Leave the house via the front door and re-enter through a side “office” entrance. Drive to a coffee house, even when there’s perfectly good (and free) coffee in the house, and return with hot java and fresh mojo.
Be just as firm about stopping work and returning to your life and family. End the workday with a closing ritual, whether it’s a field trip to the bank or a call with your accountability buddy to set the next day’s goals.
Differentiate your schedule. Improve workflow by scheduling creative time during high-energy, uninterruptible periods, and plan low-intensity tasks during transition/buffer periods.
Remember to block time for each type of activity. Then, if your schedule goes awry (a flat tire on the way to the bank, a school nurse’s call about a sick child), a lower-priority block on any given day can be bumped or rescheduled to make room for the higher-priority category.
Control how and when you interact with others. Unexpected inbound calls can be a huge distraction. Avoid temptation by letting voicemail screen your calls during your work hours. Return personal calls during personal time. (Yes, you can have personal time during your workday, but if you plan those breaks, you run less of a risk of letting a personal conversation obliterate time you need to be spending on projects.)
Scheduling phone conversations may seem inflexible, but it can help you focus and avoid the tendency to be overly casual about your time. If you can plan for specific conversations, you’ll feel better prepared when talking with prospective clients, strategic partners, vendors, and members of the media. You will boost your self-confidence and your ability to put yourself forward as an expert.
Let technology be your gatekeeper. Social networking and web surfing offer the water cooler chat and novelty that’s missing from a home office, but it’s easy for five minutes of reward time to turn into an all-afternoon distraction. Curtail excess web surfing and block specific time-wasting sites from your browser with programs and extensions like:
If you’re not really sure where or how your online time disappears, Rescue Time can give you a handle on your digital habits.
Know your stimuli style. Some professionals find that “social” white noise aids in focus. If your work is portable, and the atmosphere of a public place isn’t overstimulating, work “off-site” as long as you’re productive. If the visual and olfactory stimulation of a coffee house or park is too intense, stay home and use a white noise app to create more soothing sensory inputs over which you have greater control. Check out some of the options at 11 Ways To Organized Your Focus With Ambient Noise.
Banish clutter. Many of the posts at Paper Doll talk about paper clutter, but organizing your work-related materials is only part of the process of respecting yourself and your space.
Children’s toys and your own hobby paraphernalia are distractions, even if you don’t consciously recognize them as such. Your office needs to put you in a serious, work-oriented mode. That doesn’t mean your surroundings can’t be colorful, decorative and cheery, but your space has to support your work ethic. Consider how you might scale back decorations if you shared your office with a work partner to help you identify where you might pare down the knick-knacks.
Track your successes. Solo work can be isolating. It’s easy to ruminate on shortcomings and give short shrift to small victories. Keep copies of emails of praise, bookmark congratulatory tweets, and save letters of gratitude from clients. Take a bow, and then save it all for the days when you’re feeling low to remind yourself of when you faced a challenge but pushed through!
TEACH OTHERS TO RESPECT YOU
Respecting yourself is the first step to professional success in the home office, but it’s not always easy to convince others to show you the respect you deserve.
Identify “allowed” interrupters. If your kids are at home when you’re working, assign “key personnel,” and make it a rule that only the babysitter, your spouse, or your eldest child can come to you with “issues.” (Obviously, if the absolute only time you’re able to work is during your toddler’s nap-time or you’re the only grownup home with tiny humans 24/7, all bets are off. Paper Doll salutes you.)
Schedule office hours – If your kids are old enough to not require active supervision, or your spouse or babysitter is present, schedule breaks between work sessions to address concerns and questions. But barring real emergencies (involving blood, smoke, or overflowing washing machines), limit breaks to brief designated periods, like the last ten minutes of each hour.
Think your family can’t handle this because it feels too artificial? Teachers are less prone to allow wheedled exceptions than parents, and children abide by schoolhouse rules every day. Be firm, and teach them how to recognize when things are truly urgent and/or important. Of course, this lesson is easier to impart when the tiny humans are not so tiny (or if your spouse is generally adept at impersonating an adult).
Train family members to be solution-oriented. Just as you’d do with staffers in the office, when your peeps come to you during office hours with problems, expect them to offer alternative solutions. This is quite possibly the best training you can give your kids for succeeding in the professional world.
Make your workspace less inviting. Make a clear demarcation between office and home space, just as you separate the time in your schedule. Your office is adult space; deter your kids from playing on your computer by any means necessary. If your children aren’t old enough to entertain themselves, avoid scheduling your work hours during their active playtime, and supervise them in their play areas, not your workspace. Write, email, and return phone calls during their sleep/nap times, but when they need your attention, give it completely and save work for when you can focus. Multitasking is always detrimental, and kids know when you’re not prioritizing them.
Of course, if it’s your significant other who has trouble being left unattended, dissuade hovering by giving loving a embrace and a specific promise of what you will do together (eat dinner, chat about the insurance bill, snuggle) and when. Then be sure to follow through.
Deal with Gladys Kravitz. If in-person interruptions come from lonely neighbors or chatty pals, you’ll need to do more than strictly employing Caller ID and staying away from the windows. Role-play common interruptions with your accountability buddy until you can react with aplomb.
Organize your defenses with body language. Answer the doorbell with the phone in your hand, as if you’re on a call; if you’re a stickler for honesty, consider your task list and recognize that you might be about to place a call. Right? Of course.
Stand firmly in the doorway, hold your phone and perhaps a file folder, smile apologetically, and explain that you’re in the middle of a work project and are on deadline. Suggest they can call after dinner. Do NOT let the person in unless it’s an emergency. (Gossip isn’t an emergency unless it’s celebrity gossip and you’re a gossip columnist.)
Speak like a professional. Let friends and neighbors know that your office being comfortably situated doesn’t limit how seriously you take your career. Help them see that you are serious. If someone implies your work is a hobby, or that you have more flexibility because you don’t have a “real” job, smile if you must, but speak pointedly about tax deductions, returns-on-investment, and how office space rental pricing would cut into profits. Bore them, if necessary. Worried their feelings will be hurt? Ask yourself if they’d be willing to pay your bills if you didn’t make your revenue target this quarter.
Stick to your guns. Know how to respond when others have stepped on your toes. Whether it’s your mother or your neighbor or your kids, their unwillingness to recognize your business as “real” is merely an excuse for not getting things done. You have to train others to respect your boundaries. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
If you take your business, your priorities, your time, and your space seriously, and lead by example, your family, friends, colleagues, and clients will do so as well.
Portions of this post were taking from my book, 57 Secrets for Organizing Your Small Business.