In February 2011, I started working from home in a side business. In April 2012, I quit my day job and made working from home, for myself, a fulltime gig. Over that time I’ve learnt some hard lessons, made mistakes, and I’ve grown a lot. So I thought it was time I shared with you some of the key lessons I’ve learnt from my time as a sole trader who works from home.
Get the right support
In the beginning there were a lot of long hours working from home. My husband tried very hard to be supportive but having only briefly run his own business about 15 years earlier, he really didn’t understand the current environment. In the end, we both got very frustrated. It was then I felt incredibly alone and started to look for support.
You need the right support.
I honestly don’t mean business coaching, though this is what I did eventually need. What I really needed was someone who truly understood what it was like to work from home. Hubby has a regular office job. With regular office job distractions.
When you work from home, suddenly people think that you are available for a chat. Suddenly the housework seems more appealing than the “work” work. You can get sick of seeing the same four walls. The silence becomes deafening. And while I will go through some of the strategies I use to stay on track and get stuff done, nothing is quite like having someone who just ‘gets it’.
If you’re part of a remote team, there are a number of different tools you can use to stay in touch. Slack, Whats App, Facebook Messenger, and Zoom are all great ways to keep in touch.
Join a networking group, be it virtual or live, to make sure you get out and socialize. We humans are social beings. There are some great groups out there that are industry specific.
Having someone to call upon when things get too much, when you need to talk to someone, when you’re feeling alone. Reach out to someone you know and trust. Who gets what it’s like to work remotely, I did that for a while in my office job. Someone who will be there to just listen to you when it’s all a bit too much.
Time management when working from home
Remember that housework I mentioned earlier? Yeah, I’m a sucker for doing a load of laundry, the grocery shopping, or unpacking the dishwasher. Not! I am when there are other things I’m meant to be doing but don’t particularly want to do. Especially when the list is long, and getting longer. There’s nothing more disheartening when that list you’ve been working so hard on is getting longer.
I have to be honest, I did procrastinate a lot when I felt overwhelmed by a growing task list. It seemed like a useless folly to try and work my way through. Then I realized that something had to change. Two things did.
How you think about time
The first thing I changed was how I thought about time. When it comes to tackling a never ending to-do list and there never seems to be enough time, I had to work out how to get more time out of my day. First, I worked later and later. I just ended up burnt out with migraines and missing out on time with my family. Something had to change.
I remembered that there are instances where time seems to stand still and others it races by. I had to make it stand still more often. When I thought about it, when I believed that there wasn’t enough time – there wasn’t. When I believed I had all the time in the world – there was. And now, if I feel rushed or like I am going to be late, I remind myself that I have all the time in the world and I’m always on time and have enough time. You can read more here.
Organise your time
Having one long to do list and looking at it through the day made me anxious. It was overwhelming looking at this long laundry list of things I had to make happen. So I changed.
I tried having a number of notebooks for different tasks. I felt like I was juggling things and then tasks fell through the cracks and were missed. Not on!
I ended up setting up a bullet journal with my core business mission, strategies, client avatar and all the other items I need to steer my work. Then I have a set of calendar views; 12-month, monthly, and weekly. These allow me to have various levels of oversight into what I’m doing and when.
For those of you who have to produce social media content, I set up a 12-month content plan which ties monthly activities and promotions to content.
Then, I have my Google Calendar & my phone. These are the ones that are time-sensitive, like appointments. Sadly a hardbacked diary will only ensure that I’m on time if someone throws it at me at intervals and tells me when it’s due.
Getting structured with my time has meant that I can be flexible with how I spend it but also allows me to account for it. Just like my money!
When I’m working from home, I fall into the trap of getting in the zone and working continuously without taking a break. Don’t get me wrong, I just love it when it all flows but to be honest, it’s not always healthy.
I try to make sure that I at least eat my lunch outside, preferably in the sun. Stepping away from the desk is healthy for our minds and body and sunshine helps us stay healthy.
I also have a drink bottle which is under 1L. This is a cunning move to make sure I get up and walk to refill it. It’s all too easy to sit still for ages and drink, but I can find the motivation to get up and move harder. A smaller drink bottle helps.
Rewards when working from home
Congratulations, you met a milestone. How are you planning on celebrating it? Or did you not even consider that? Employees still need rewards and recognition for hard work, regardless if they are inhouse or remote. Targets are targets regardless of where staff are.
Self-employed? Well, I hope you set milestones and rewards already. You should! You’re just as deserving.
Have a think and a chat with your team to see how you can work it into the corporate structure.
I want to remind you that rewards don’t have to be big or costly. It can be grabbing a coffee for getting that difficult email written. It can be putting aside some of your pay for a massage.
It took me a long time to do this. I didn’t think that I could. Then I realized that the biggest thing I valued was time alone, ironic huh! My favourite reward isn’t a massage or pedicure, even though they are 2 of my rewards, it’s actually a day off. I value time alone where I don’t have to work. I enjoy the solitude. It needs to be a priority though. Don’t let your rewards slip.
Set reasonable expectations
There’s a saying that goes, “we overestimate what we can do in a year and underestimate what we can do in a decade”. Part of what had me working until all hours was unrealistic expectations. I had set them on myself and then allowed my clients to control them with the deadlines I said were reasonable. Sure there is no travel time and often fewer distractions, meaning that we can be more productive. But that doesn’t make the expectations realistic just because you’re at home. You still have conflicting priorities and urgent deadlines.
Go easy on yourself. Some people will think that being at home is easy and if you’re like me you won’t want to let them down and will work harder. Go easy on yourself. You don’t always have to prove that you can work better than someone inhouse just because you’re at home. If you, for some reasons, don’t meet the expectations. Realise that you too are allowed to get the amount of time it would have taken wrong as much as someone inhouse.
Also realise that those people who drop in, call, or chat are taking up your time and you also have to set boundaries and expectations for them around your time when you are working from home. Just because you’re home, doesn’t mean you are available.
Working from home has given me incredible flexibility. I first did it when I was studying my Masters, working fulltime, and set up my first business. Yes, I could do that load of washing. Yes, I could pick the kids up from school or attend their functions. Yes, I had to be more mindful of my time. Yes, I got more work done than I would have if I were in the office. I suppose what I want to let you know is that the ability to work from home is a privilege which comes with responsibilities but the rewards are amazing.
If you’d like a chat, then head over here and let’s grab a coffee.