Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Home-Office
Productivity and Motivation
By: Aaron Kirk, co-founder of GoMatador.com
Working from home, especially as an entrepreneur, can be one of the most rewarding choices you will ever make. But sometimes you may find it to be one of the most frustrating as well. Whether it’s the kids being home from school early, the dog barking at the UPS guy or that distracting refrigerator calling to you from the kitchen, a home office can sometimes be as unproductive as it is gratifying.
It is important that your home office stays as productive as any traditional work environment, and even more so if you are self employed. Get distracted and lose motivation while working for someone else and you risk a reprimand, but a dip in productivity as a home based entrepreneur can mean disaster for your entire business. Here are some tips on how to improve your productivity and motivation and end up happier, less stressed and find your business in a better position;
1) Analyze and redesign your schedule.
Focus is the key to maintaining your productivity. Take an evening and review your daily schedule. Go through your daily routine hour by hour and fine tune your day. Pay special attention to items on your schedule that are relevant to a specific time. For instance, do you communicate via telephone with different time zones? Map these times out so that you are contacting clients around their lunch schedules and before they are gone for the day. Give some thought to your most unproductive times. Do the kids get home at three o’clock? If so, schedule your telephone time before they are home, and take a break at three to get them settled in before returning to work. When implementing your new schedule, make a time line of your day by writing down what you are doing throughout the day. This will be very telling and will help you to figure out when you are unproductive and when you are motivated. Tailor your most difficult tasks to fit your most productive times.
2) Redesign your work space.
A lack of organized work space can lead to a non productive work environment. Do you have the things that you need on a daily basis readily accessible? Are you surrounded by clutter? A messy work area is stressful and intimidating. It is easy to feel overwhelmed when you have piles of papers and unfinished projects looming over you while you are trying to be professional and organized. Spend an hour before your normal work time to get things put in their place. You will feel better, and if you feel better you will perform better.
3) Get out of the house
This doesn’t seem to be the best way to be productive, but many times when working day after day from your home office, you may just need a change of scenery. I find that scheduling an outing at least twice per week really improves my motivation and gives me a new perspective on things. I try to schedule my outings to be business related, such as trips to the post office, the office supply store or better yet to meetings with clients that I have set up. If your business relies on sales, the perfect reason to get out of the house is to go cold call. If cold calling isn’t part of your weekly routine, maybe it should be. Think about what you are selling and who your client base might be. Would you benefit from walking into 20 office buildings today? Or maybe you just need to talk to 10 people that you run into at the store or at the mall. The very best way to get motivated is to return home with a handful of new, hot leads!
4) Become intimately familiar with your internal clock
Some of us are “night people”, and some are “morning people”. Most everyone has cycles that we are probably familiar with. Don’t try to fight these peaks and valleys, but rather learn them, and then master how to use them. I have seen too many entrepreneurs struggle to try and be something that they are not. If you are a night person, you may want to get out of bed early to make the necessary calls based on time zones, but focus some of that night energy to your business by doing growth-oriented tasks during your “up” times. Maybe you need a midday nap, or a late start to be the best performer that you can be. Break your day into sections. Section one being Communications, or the time that you are at the mercy of other peoples’ schedules. This includes telephone time and sales calls. Section two is Maintenance, which is the time when you complete tasks that are less time sensitive and don’t involve customer contact such as bookkeeping, emailing or maintaining your inventory or website. Section three, Growth, is the time when you are strategizing and planning the forward progress of your business. Communication should be scheduled first, as it is revenue producing, and dependent on your clients’ schedules. Plan the other tasks around your internal clock to make best use of your most productive times of day.
5) Re-think time wasting activities
Our computers are not only productivity enhancers, but also they can be time killers. With social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace, GoMatador.com and even dating sites that are all at our fingertips and so easy to open up and use to connect with the world, you may find yourself burning off large chunks of prime work hours connecting with friends, family or even strangers. Don’t necessarily eliminate these time wasting activities, but rather change how you visit them and utilize social networking to grow your business. This is probably contrary to everything that you have every heard, but social networking sites are very, very valuable to small business owners. Make a habit of visiting these sites at a specific time every day and spending no more than 30 minutes connecting with others. Also, make a plan on how you can market your business using these sites. Do you need a separate account for your business, or can you solicit customers professionally from your personal account. Get used to doing business on social networking sites. Use your time there to build your business and not just to burn off time.
6) Don’t be task oriented your entire day. Save time for vision
Working from home can sometimes feel overwhelming. And what do we get overwhelmed with? Tasks. I’m yet to talk to someone who was overwhelmed with vision on how to grow their business, yet losing site of the vision…of the growth, will result in burn out and stagnation of your business. Get the tasks out of the way, but make sure you find time to focus on the vision of your business. Ask yourself these two important questions; “Where do I want this business to be in six to twelve months”, and “what can I do today to get it there”. Spending time on vision is like checking your road map. You do not want to end up on a dead end course wondering how you got there. Focusing on growth also greatly helps motivation. Sometimes simply looking forward will help you to pull through the mundane tasks with a fresh outlook.
7) Go to work
Work your home office like it is a job. It is too easy to fall into bad habits like sleeping in, migrating away from revenue producing work and focusing on other things such as house work, or even finding yourself stuck in a rut and not knowing how to get out. Work your business like a job. Set your alarm clock and get up at the same time every day. Take a shower and get dressed. Have a designated work area (office) that is for work. If you can help it, keep your office out of your bedroom or other living areas so that you can designate your time at your desk as true work time. Also, designate home time as time for your family. It is difficult for the entrepreneurial minded person to separate business from.. well, from anything. But you will find that if you can segment your business into business hours you will have a much more rewarding and fulfilling life, and you will most likely perform better when you get back to your desk.
8) Be accountable to someone
It is easy to not push yourself when you are your own boss. The key to continually driving yourself forward is accountability. Ask your spouse or a friend to email you daily or weekly for updates on your progress. Set goals and make promises to yourself, and share them with your accountability partner. Describe to them your vision and how completing your task list will help you to reach that vision, and have a regular discussion with them about your progress. A difficult or daunting task just may get completed if you know that you have someone to answer to on a regular basis. This trusted person may also become a valuable outside set of eyes that can see things from a different perspective and maybe even find easier ways for you to accomplish your goals.
9) Work backwards
We get so caught up in the day-to-day that we may lose sight of the end goals. When putting together your daily schedule, see your goal and work the steps backward to achieving that goal. Are there benchmarks that need to be hit before you can reach this goal? Are there capitol purchases that need to be made? Will you need more time, space, bodies, resources, money, sales, or contacts to reach achieve your end goal? Stephen Covey calls it “Beginning with the end in mind”, but take it one step further by beginning with the end AND with the path in mind. Visualize not only the end result that you are shooting for, but also the steps involved in getting there, and lay out your task list to get you there.
10) Celebrate your successes
If you have ever worked in management, you will know that rewarding your employees for their successes is the best way to keep them motivated and productive. The same holds true when working for yourself. Set goals, reach your goals and reward yourself for a job well done. Keep yourself smiling with these mini-incentives, and before you know it you will be reaping the big reward of achieving your ultimate goals.
Being a successful entrepreneur means not only being successful financially, but also living the life that you want to live. Your happiness is as important as your financial achievement and is something that needs to be cultivated. Of course, most entrepreneurs would find themselves fairly happy if their business was thriving and their capital accounts were full, so reaching your business goals is just as important, but don’t forget to take time for you and your mental/emotional health.
There are many more things that will help your productivity other than those listed here in this article, and the most important thing is to recognize when you are losing focus or motivation and push past the distraction. Constant forward progress will at the very least move you past the stumbling blocks and head you in a positive direction.
Aaron Kirk is a Managing Partner of Toreador, LLC and the co-founder of GoMatador.com. He has over 10 years of experience as an entrepreneur, consultant, and small business owner including building and selling franchises, micro-companies, and home based businesses. Aaron has authored and conducted many small business trainings and seminars, including "Growing your Business Through Customer Service", and "Selling in an Uncertain Economy". Additionally, he has traveled the country assisting small business owners grow their companies despite the economic downturn. Aaron is currently in charge of Operations for GoMatador.com.