Number one thing people ask when I tell them I'm self-employed and I work from home: “How do you do that? I'd never get anything done!”
Well - first of all if I didn't get anything done, my self-employment gig would have died a quick death many years ago. Instead I'm in my 19th year of self-employment. No way I'd get repeat work from clients or get referrals if I didn't follow through with what I've promised to do - on time and within budget. But, it is a fair question. How do you make sure you're working at top productivity when you are in charge of overseeing yourself? Long term self-employment means I've had time to figure out how to foster my own best productivity.
Here are my “Top Five” techniques which help me be productive while working from home.
1. Know your rhythms
I am a morning person - I know this because I start nodding off by 9pm, sometimes in the middle of dinner (fact). I also know, no matter how late I stay up, I am still wide awake by 5am (6am if I'm lucky) pretty much every day. So - I get up and I make use of that time. Working early in the morning is great for me because I'm at my most alert and creative. Added bonus: very few others are awake and working at that time so I can be assured of no interruptions. Find your rhythm and work with it.
2. Protect your time
For those of you who work from home, you will know, you have to protect your time. There will be people in your life who do not get it. You are at home, but that does not mean your time is free. You have schedules to keep, meetings to attend and deadlines to adhere to. You may be your own boss, but that only means that you have many bosses - a changeable list that consists of all of your current clients. They all need attention, and you have to be an expert at managing your time to keep everyone happy and your paychecks arriving. So, don't be afraid to be clear with family and friends that you'll have to defer that call with them until after your day's obligations have been met. It's ok to mute your phone for a couple hours or leave non-urgent emails or texts unanswered until you take a break.
3. Turn off distractions
Depending on what I'm working on, sometimes I like background noise - music or some quiet tv for a bit of company. But if I really need to concentrate, I turn everything off. This includes the phone, email, texts, social media, etc. Deadlines come first. Check in 2-3x a day and only answer the urgent stuff. If you need to, respond to a client request with “I received your message, thank you. I will respond later today.” And make a note to yourself to follow through on that promise. Making the most of your designated work time means that you will be giving your clients great value, and that you will be able to maintain balance in your own life as well. Managing distractions is a big part of that.
4. Clear the desk
If I have a big project on my schedule, I know it will require extra concentration. The only way I can be assured that I can give that project the attention it needs, is if my desk (i.e. my mind) is clear. So it helps to get everything out of the way before I jump in. I respond to all client emails and calls. I complete small projects and requests. I carefully schedule other big projects so they don't overlap each other. I even take care of little household tasks if needed. I take the time needed to get everything out of the way in order to make room to deal with that big project. That way I am able to really concentrate on the complex task at hand, and be much more productive in that measure.
5. Indulge in minibreaks
I think it's important to break away from work several times a day, both mentally and physically. Being self-employed can be demanding - long days, and long work weeks. Not only do you have billable client work to do but you have all the admin that goes along with those projects, plus managing and marketing your own business. So - to keep myself fresh even in very busy times, I like to take small breaks in the middle of the work day. If I have time, a walk outside is my favorite thing. Maybe multitask by running errands. If your time is really crunched, even getting a load of laundry started or playing with the cats for a few minutes can be restorative, as long as you get up out of your seat and move around. If I give my mind a few minutes to concentrate on something else, not only do I get a little down time, but sometimes can actually dislodge an answer to a problem I've been unable to solve while concentrating. So stop what you're doing, at least every couple hours, and do something else. Move your limbs. Think about something else, or nothing at all. Your mind and your body will thank you, and in turn your productivity will increase when you dig back into work.
Top Five Records
With the title of this post, I am reminded of the film High Fidelity starring John Cusack and Jack Black, filmed in Chicago during the years I lived there. In this film, Cusack is self-employed - he owns a run-down independent music shop in Chicago. He and his quirky employees spend much of their time competing to show off their intense over-knowledge of music and associated trivia by challenging each other to categorize their top five songs for a random selection of life events. Well worth a watch if you haven't seen it - below is a particularly funny scene. No, it doesn't have much to do with this post - just a little giggle to brighten your day.