Did you know there are over 6.5 million home-based businesses in the United States and that they employ more people than venture-backed companies? I even read somewhere that it is projected over 50% of homes will have a home-based business. That’s pretty incredible.
On the surface, working in a traditional job and working from home seem totally different. In actuality, there are several similarities, especially when it comes to organization and productivity. If you have a home-based business or are thinking of starting one, check out these tips on how to organize it and be more productive:
Design your home-based office with efficiency in mind. Have a clean office desk with enough space hold a computer, work phone, in/out box or action file and room to write or work. Additionally, keep items you use on a daily basis within arms reach of your work area such as client files or reference binders. Less frequently used items can be stored in other file cabinets or closets that are further away from you desk or office. If you are constantly getting up to get an item then you are wasting time and potentially running the risk of getting distracted. Click here for more information on how to organize your office desk.
Establish your work hours and stick to them. Imagine a traditional job where you had to be at the office at 8 AM on the dot. Well, set that same standard at home. Be at your desk, with coffee in hand ready to start the day.
Get dressed as if you’re going to the office. Ok…maybe you don’t have to get dressed up in a suit and tie. After all, that’s one of the perks about having a home-based business. But at least make the effort to get showered and cleaned up to allow yourself a fresh start to the working day.
Keep business and personal records separated. A lot of home-based businesses are also used as regular home offices where family information, calendars and schedules are maintained. If that’s the case, I highly recommend you keep files separated in either different drawers or filing cabinets. You don’t want to run the risk of losing or mixing client and other business documents with your personal ones.
Consider having separate home and business phone numbers with separate voicemail messages. You can do this in a number of different ways by getting multiple landlines, cell phones or a combination of each. Or you could do like I did and have both business and personal calls directed to the same phone. I have a Google Voice number set up as my business number that directs calls and messages to my personal phone. What’s nice about this is that I can record a separate business voicemail for my clients and colleagues if I can’t answer and it will send a notification to my email account of any missed calls or messages.
You may also want to have a separate mailing address for your business as well. Setting up a PO Box is a great way to not only separate your business and personal mail, but to protect your privacy as well.
Establish rules with your family members. If your family members are at home while you are working, be sure to lay down the law for them not to bother you unless it’s for an emergency. You may have to spell out exactly what that means but try this…”If it’s something you wouldn’t call me about if I were at another office, then it’s probably not something you need to bother me about at home.” Or, “Pretend you are in school. Would you be able to talk to me while you are in class?” Of course this only works for older, more self-sufficient children (and spouses) but what about younger children? Daycare…preschool…or beg for your family to help! Believe me…it is near impossible to concentrate with little toddlers running around asking for a toy, snack or drink every 10 minutes! Oh, and one other thing. If your kids are old enough to answer the phones, be sure to give them rules on whether or not to answer your business phone or teach them how to properly answer with a well-versed greeting and how to take a message.
Turn off distractions. At home it’s easy to keep the television on or have the stereo blaring, but it can be quite distracting. You may also consider screening your home and business calls (if you can afford to do so) and just let the calls go to voicemail for you to check later. Another thing is to turn off email alerts so that you are not tempted to answer an email when you should be focusing on your important items. I still find this very challenging, but when I stick to it, I am much, much more productive with my time and day.
Take breaks and be sure to eat lunch. Just like you would do at a traditional job, be sure to take breaks every so often to reset your mind and your focus. And don’t skip lunch! What’s great about working from home is that you can save money and calories by eating at home and not eating at restaurants every day. Of course, be careful about snacking all day with your kitchen only a few steps away.
Automate as much as you can. Chances are you are a one-person shop and therefore are responsible for a lot more than your primary job. Try automating bills, invoices, receipts, notifications, newsletters, mailings, etc. It will save you time and resources.
Ok. So you are still drowning in work…consider hiring a virtual assistant if you’re having trouble keeping up with the day to day administrative tasks. Virtual assistants (VAs) are becoming increasingly popular and are reasonably affordable. Do an internet search to find one that can suit your needs.
Set a quitting time. I still find this hard to do, but the point here is to get into a normal work routine with a regular start and finish time everyday so that you can spend quality time with your family and friends or focus on other priorities in your life. Yes there will be times where you’ll have to get back on the computer after the kids have gone to bed but try not to make it a habit.
What about you? Do you have any suggestions or tips on how to organize your home-based office? Any recommendations on virtual assistants or other office products to be more productive at work? I’d love to hear them.