Monday, September 10, 2012

Training Yourself to Work From Home

Most people have fantasies about working from home, thinking of all the great fun they could be having if they were not sitting in an office being watched or annoyed for 8 hours per day.  Believe me, I was no different from anyone else, having the same visions of myself in my one piece pajama outfit dancing through my head. Usually when you tell someone that you are working from home, they smile and think that you don't really do anything except watch television all day. It's not like that at all, although I wish it was sometimes. I thought I would scream when I realized that it's really hard work.

After many years of working in broadcasting, health promotions, and even as an elementary school teacher, I decided to take a risk.  For many years I successfully kept one foot on land and the other in the ocean. In other words, I kept a full time job, but also freelanced and nibbled in different types of marketing activities.  One colleague bravely said to me, "One day you will have to make a choice and bite the bullet". He was absolutely right and a decision had to made without any regrets.  The hardest part about making a decision is making it.  I was afraid that I would fail, but that certainly is not the challenge.  I have since learned that you can learn from each failure that you may encounter, as long as you keep trying it's the right track.

Striking the right position in working from home can be challenging. Over the years I have learned a few tips that have been helpful in increasing productivity. Here are a few ideas that may reduce the potential stress of working from home and ensure a productive work day:

Preparing the Right Elevator Pitch

  • Be careful how you respond to the question from friends, family members and colleagues when they ask what you do for a living. It's one of the top 2 or 3 questions that people tend to ask you in the working world to try to get a better understanding of who you are and what you do. It's quite natural to say, "I work at home". Now watch the reception you may receive or did receive. Most people hear that you lounge around all day and can't find a job so you claim to work at home. They believe that you lounge in your pajamas all day and watch soap operas or day time reality shows where people fight over a parking space or a chicken wing. That's not the right impression to leave a potential client or employer with now is it? Most people don't understand the amount of discipline it takes to actually work from home and accomplish goals.
Designing a Schedule
  • Developing a schedule a great tool that leads to greater production. For me, working from home is no different than working from an office, after all, we have all done it at some point in our life and understand the routine of getting up, getting dressed and getting to your desk on time.  There really isn't much difference except you are usually in a better mood and a lot happier. Each day, I usually wake up between 7:30 and 7:45 in the morning.  Like clockwork I run through the following activities:
    • Put on the coffee maker or tea kettle for a cuppa
    • Shower and make myself presentable
    • Get dressed in clothes that are comfortable and presentable if I need to run out to meet with a client
    • Turn computer on and allow emails to download and calendar to open
    • Prepare breakfast to that will provide the energy needed to start the work day
    • Review list of Things to Do

Reviewing the Latest News

  • While sipping my morning beverage of choice, it's always nice to glance over the latest news headlines that can help you when speaking with clients or updating their Facebook or Twitter pages.
  • For a quick review, I glance at the following news sources: AP News, Washington Post, New York Times, local newspaper, Politico, Do It Marketing and Wired PR Works. Of course it all depends on your area of expertise and interest.
  • If there are websites that are related to your work -- I would recommend have a quick look at them too just so you are up to date on what's happening in your field.  For me, it's public relations and advertising so I check in on Advertising Age, Ad Week, and PR Week.

Keeping a list of Task to be Completed

  • Prioritize items to be completed on the To Do list. I usually use an electronic do do list or reminder list that is on my mobile phone and my computer that allows me to check off items once completed. 
  • Applications that I use for my phone are: Reminders, Notify Me, and/or Wunderlist which can all be downloaded from iTunes.
  • Keep a list of telephone calls to make or return.
  • Schedule a time during your day when you will return phone calls so that it will not interrupt your flow of work.
  • Check your voice mail throughout the day for urgent calls.
Be Organized
  • It helps to organize your work space, even if you are not an organized person. For me, I can't get my day started if my desk is in complete shambles. You can do one or two things: One, I usually clean and organize my desk at the end of my work day or spend the time during the morning to organize it. Clearly, the latter takes away from your work time.
  • Also at the end of the day, I review task that were completed and those that are outstanding, highlighting them to be completed at the appropriate time.
  • Create folders or notebooks for each of your clients so that the information is easy to locate when needed. Develop key sections of your notebook that will allow you to go directly to a certain section. It helps to keep detailed notes of the last conversation you had with your client so that you can remind yourself of key details. Clients are usually impressed.
  • Keeping my computer desktop well organized makes it easier to find files and information that you may be searching for.  Each client has a folder which is kept in a folder on the computer simply called, Clients. Each folder holds items such as -- design work, agendas, meeting notes, invoices, collateral material developed, contracts, communications plans, crisis plans, etc.
  • Check your calendar at the close of business for meetings that may have been booked for the next day.
  • In using most calendars, it's possible to set alerts that will email you or alert you a day before or hours before you are to be in a meeting.
  • One of the greatest project management tools that I have discovered and that I simply rave about to everyone is called: Base Camp - http://basecamp.com/. There is a 30-day free trial to check it out and you don't have to put up a credit card. Can't hurt to give a test drive. It helps me to stay in touch with my consultants, clients and to track task to be completed and see what has been completed during the month. 
Daily Routine
  • Taking a break is necessary. If most of your work is on the computer, it's beneficial to step away from your computer at least every 45 minutes to give your eyes a break from the screen. Taking a walk to your window or patio can help you to feel better. Even stepping out and looking at the sky or passing traffic can break things up a bit. Besides you are the boss.
  • Remember to eat lunch or to use that time for yourself. For me, I usually will take a 30 minute lunch break and go for a short walk or run an errand to the printer or copy center. I am fortunate that both are in my community and allows me time to interact with other professionals and change the scenery which puts me in an even better mood.
  • Track your time. Whether it's a phone meeting, a conference call, or working on a project, remember to start the clock. It helps at the end of the month when you are preparing invoices and trying to figure out what you did in the 4 hour slot of time that is sitting empty. For example, I have one client who request a detailed invoice that outlines exactly what I am doing each hour that I invoice for services. Other clients just want to know the number of hours you are invoicing and an overview of what work was conducted.  It helps to be prepared for either. I use yet another application on my phone that is worth it's weight in gold. It's called iTimeSheet and can also be downloaded from iTunes. It's simply a must or any other one that is similar. It takes time to find the one that's right for you.
  • When traveling, remember try not to stray to much from your daily routine of being productive. Often traveling to other coasts can throw one off a bit. Remember to give yourself adequate time to adjust to your new surrounding and be prepared for the work.
Ending  Your Day

  • Make sure you actually end your work day. Like so many of us who are freelancers or entrepreneurs, we tend to work 24/7. It can be a difficult habit to break but it's a lot easier if you don't start it.  It's normal and actually preferred to work an 8 or 9 hour day. The great part of working from home is that you get to organize it in the way that works best for you. Some people are early risers and like to get a jump on the day before the sun comes out. As for me, I love working during the night when the house is quiet. The greatest aspect of being in charge is being able to do both when necessary. Often I have early morning meetings or early morning conference calls with clients on the East Coast so one can easily redesign his or her schedule to meet their needs.
  • Remember that when you have worked the hours that you have set for yourself, it's important to turn off your computer and walk away from it to start enjoying your evening and your life with your spouse, partner, friends or colleagues. Just like in the workforce, their will always be an email dropping into your mail box.Try not checking mail from your cell phone if you are out enjoying your time off unless you are expecting an urgent reply or request. Most things can wait and if you set parameters, people will understand that the office is closed. For me, I usually work 9 to 6, sometimes going over a bit if I have been out in meetings all day. Other times may demand that you do work on a weekend or an evening. That's fine as long as it's not every evening or every night.
For the past 12 years I have been working as an independent business owner specializing in public relations, social media, social marketing campaigns, instruction design and facilitation and graphic design. I can't think of anything else that would make me happier. Granted, it's not easy and you work a bit harder because you are accountable to yourself who can sometimes be a rather tough boss to face in the mirror.  The best part of my work is selecting great consultants for my team. You get to choose the best for you as opposed to working for a company where you may feel stuck working with someone who may not be a good fit. Your team becomes your professional family and are invested in your success. The greatest gift of working as an independent are the skills that you will build to become a self starter, a creative thinker and someone who thinks outside of the box. It makes you more attractive when and if you decide to re-enter the job market.

I hope these ideas will help to secure your success. Looking forward to hearing your ideas too.