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How to Survive Working from Home: Advice From Other Entrepreneurs

How to Survive Working from Home: Advice From Other Entrepreneurs

When people learn that I work from home, one of the first things they generally say is, “You’re so lucky! I wish I could work from home too”. I usually just smile in return when what I really want to do is tell them exactly what it’s like to work in the same place where you eat, sleep, socialize, relax, and take care of your family.

Yes, I readily admit that there are many perks to my commute being just a couple of stairs, and having a full kitchen at my disposal come lunchtime is great, but it isn’t all glitter and gold. Sometimes working from home can present some rather unique obstacles that you wouldn’t ordinarily find in a typical workplace setting.

My Biggest Obstacle: Separating Work from Home

For me, probably the biggest one is separating work from home. When I used to report to an office every day, I simply showed up for work at eight and left at five…other than the handful of times I worked over, of course. But still, when I was at work, I was in work mode. And when I left, work was in my rearview mirror.

Now, working out of my home office, I’m almost always in work mode. When I get up in the morning, I walk to the kitchen, grab a cup of hot, caffeine-filled coffee, and wander right into my office where I start my day. If I’m busy, I typically don’t even stop for a break and lunch becomes a sandwich in front of the computer, typing away in between bites.

Additionally, instead of the end of my work day being clearly defined by walking out of the building, getting into my car, and driving home, it’s now much more blurred. Sometimes I’m able to walk out of my office around five or six o’clock, not to step foot back into it until early the next morning, but other times (most of the time), I’m lulled back in by an email that needs answering or one more “quick thing” that I suddenly remember I need to do.

Arguably, this does help me run my business, always being dialed in, but I also realize it’s not good for me personally. Never being away from the office is a good way to increase stress levels, never feeling as if you’re “off duty.” It’s also a quick way to burn yourself out, potentially causing you to dread the career you once loved.

That’s why I’m making a conscious effort to overcome this issue by getting up and walking out of my office every hour or two, even if just for five minutes, to give myself time to clear my head. I’ve also started taking my lunches away from my desk…for a full 30 to 60 minutes nonetheless (well, most of the time anyway)!

The end of the day is still a little blurry, depending on how many deadlines I have to meet but, all in all, I do try to close up shop by six. When new emails come in after that, I either don’t look at them or remind myself that answering them the next morning is still reasonable. They can wait. I’m no longer “at work” and that’s okay.

Of course, there are many other obstacles to working from home, so I’ve reached out to other small business owners and entrepreneurs asking them to share theirs, as well as to tell us how they’re overcoming them.

Here’s what they had to say. Hopefully, some of their advice works for you too.

Work Away From Home, At Least Sometimes

Louise Hendon, co-Founder of Paleo Flourish Magazine, says, “My biggest obstacle is not being too lonely and isolated. To combat this issue, I try to work in coffee shops instead of only at home (my usual daily schedule is to work at a coffee shop in the morning, then go to the gym, and then work at home some). I also have scheduled weekly calls with other entrepreneurs so that I can feel part of a group even if we’re not in the same location.

If you don’t feel like going to a coffee shop, Erin Simpson, VP of Marketing & Partnerships with Ayoopa, suggests that you “check out your local library. Often they have free Wi-Fi and good work spaces as well!”

Get Out Every Once In a While (Even If You Have to Be a Princess to Do It)

Laura Fredrick, public relations consultant for Laur PR, admits that she sometimes never leaves the house, but “I finally realized that in order to interact with others, I would need to start some hobbies. I signed up for a ballet class at night, as well as tennis lessons, and decided to start my own princess appearance company where I dress up as a princess for little children’s parties on the weekend. My hobbies have allowed me to make up for the communication and social interaction you miss from working in an office.”

Talk to Others

Hilary Corna, speaker and author of One White Face, admits to dealing with loneliness from working at home as well. “I became severely depressed when my first book came out because writing is already lonely, much less, when you do it at home. Scheduling calls with people lightened the pressure.” She also suggests that you “tell people how you feel. It’s important to keep communicative and express the feelings as them come up so you don’t judge them and your work.”

Get a Pet

Another loneliness curing option that works, according to Jeffrey A. Hensel, Hard Money Lender with North Coast Financial, Inc., is to get a pet. “I knew I would miss the social aspect of working in an office, but it was more difficult than I was anticipating. Luckily I have a dog who keeps me company throughout the day. I have doubts that I would be able to work from home full-time without having my dog.” On that note…

Mute Your Pet When Handling Business

Kimberly Kohatsu, founder and Chief Creative Officer with Charles Ave Marketing, agrees that “A great thing about working from home is that I get to spend all day with my dog. But just like any dog-friendly office, there is occasional barking. I make a habit of muting myself on conference calls and only un-muting when it’s my turn to speak. It’s also a great way to resist the urge to interrupt whoever is speaking.”

Set (and Keep) a Schedule

John Goodman of John Goodman PR says, “When you work from home, you have two choices. Work as you normally do, or goof off. I work as if I was going to an office. And I work harder. I work from six in the morning to 10 AM and take a 30 minute break. Then I’m back at the desk until one in the afternoon. I take a midday, 1:30 break and walk three miles to refresh myself physically and mentally. Then I return to my home office and usually work until six or beyond. Staying on schedule is key to my success working from a home office for over 20 years.”

Get Out of Your Pajamas

Abby Chinery with BonAppetour admits that, “The biggest temptation with working from home is to get up at 9 AM, stay in your pajamas and work in bed. This is the biggest motivation-killer for me. I like to set my alarm for 7:30, get up and dressed. I feel like I can face the world, and more importantly my work, when I feel good about myself and feel presentable.”

Take Time Out of Your Day to Learn

Antonella Pisani, founder of Official Coupon Code, says “When you work in an office, you’re often learning from peers and colleagues. At home, I find it important to spend a bit of time reading and researching so that I can become smarter.” (As a side note, this is something that a lot of successful entrepreneurs admit to doing, which makes this specific suggestion one worth considering!)

Complete Five Things Every Day

Raz Chan, is an author, coach, and speaker with Raz Chan International and he says that, “Too often, it is very easy to get distracted from important tasks pertaining to the business. There is no boss looking over your shoulder to make sure you clock in on time and put in a productive day of work. To ensure I only focus on tasks that move my business forward, I concentrate on completing five things every day that will move me towards achieving my goals. For each task I set a timer for two hours, when the two hours are up, I move to the next task.”

Give Yourself Rewards

Christine Hohlbaum, president and CEO of Butterfly Public Relations, also faces distractions that threaten her focus. How does she overcome them? “I use a reward system. I set daily goals. When I’ve reached them, I reward myself with something fun such as an episode of House of Cards or a walk in the woods.”

Take a Cold Shower

Jamal Asskoumi, owner of LeagueofTrading.com admits that, for him, “The toughest challenge working from home is staying motivated. It’s easy to become lazy and complacent when there is no one to monitor you. However, I counteract this each morning with an ice cold shower. There are several health benefits of cold showers, but for me, it makes me feel awake, ready and motivated for the day ahead.”

Join a Gym

Megan Constantino, founder and Chief Creative Officer of Parachute Partners, says that it’s her workout time (away from the house, mind you) that helps make her at-home job feel more enjoyable. “My sanity between a toddler and my company is getting out of the house to go to the gym. It encourages me to mingle in person and grab some endorphins for an hour.”

Invest In a Door

Jim Lastinger, CEO of Deep Field, Inc., says, “As an entrepreneur that’s worked from home for the last 9 years, I can easily say that the biggest obstacle that I have had to overcome is constant interruptions from my kids (7 and 5-year-old girls). My office is centrally located in our house, making it very accessible and tempting for them. When I really need to get work done I have to close and lock all the doors to the office and explain to the girls that I have to work for however many hours. It sounds simple, but sticking to it is hard because I love being around the girls and they love coming to visit.”

Put Up a Sign

Ed Brancheau with Goozeology may or may not have a door, but he helps his family understand his need to focus on his work in a different way. “I have a sign that says ‘WORKING’ in big red letters to warn my family that they shouldn’t bother me unless the house is on fire or somebody’s cut off a leg.” I like it!

Set Boundaries with Friends

Kids aren’t the only ones that can potentially derail you. Andrew Schrage, CEO and co-Owner of Money Crashers shares that, “Another obstacle is ensuring that those in your circle of contacts know that just because you work from home, that doesn’t mean that you’re available for short-term help or assistance with stuff without advance notice. You should have a work schedule in place, you should try to follow it as much as possible, and it should be communicated to those around you so you’re not asked to do things to help out others that will affect your day as far as productivity.”

Shilonda Downing, founder of Virtual Work Team, says she sets boundaries with others too, but in a slightly different way. “I like to use analogies to help people understand how serious my business is, even though I conduct my business from home. Simply asking a rational person if they’d come to your brick and mortar job unannounced or just hang out at your cubicle all day while you’re trying to work can help others understand that you’re not being rude, but really have to work undisturbed at times, just as if you were in a corporate setting.”

Set Boundaries with Clients Too

In addition to making sure your friends and family understand when you are and are not available, you’ll want to do the same with your clients, says Denise Dukette, owner of Out of the Office Virtual Assistance. “Educate your clients on acceptable times for meetings and phone calls. This can be addressed in your contract or as part of your on-boarding process. Establishing this boundary will allow you to have a better work-life balance, which is usually the reason why one chooses to work from home in the first place.” 

Have a Designated Office Space

Gabor Papp, SEO consultant and growth marketer at Shapr3D suggests that you also “create a small office at your home. Even a small corner can do it, but make sure to have a dedicated space for working. It might be tempting to work from the couch, from bed or from the kitchen, but over time you’ll start mixing life and home time with work and get confused.

Admittedly, sometimes you don’t have a lot of space. Joshua Schall, President of J Schall Consulting, says, “The biggest obstacle I have to overcome is not having a proper secluded and dedicated ‘office’ in my small 1-bedroom Austin apartment. Compounded on that is the fact that my girlfriend is a teacher and has the summers off. That creates challenges for having quiet times to work on client’s strategy projects. I have overcome this by working nontraditional hours while she is sleeping, working out, or out of the house or by putting on noise-cancelling headphones while listening to music.”

One other note on this subject: Katie Christy, founder and CEO of Activate Your Talent, says, “Do not be tempted to take a conference call while fixing dinner or return work emails from bed. These behaviors blur the personal/professional boundaries. When you create an office at home (even if it is just a corner of your living room), the physical divide will help you feel like you are able to leave work at ‘the office’.”

Get a Different Phone Line (or Number)

Erik Perez from Hello PR Group says, “I have a separate home phone line through Google Voice which allows me to separate the phone calls and keep it personal versus business. This gives me the opportunity to separate work and life, and still have the freedom of having a home office.”

Another option, and one suggested by Debra Benton, executive coach and author of The CEO Difference: How to Climb, Crawl, and Leap Your Way to the Next Level of Your Career, is to get an outside number. This helps as then “calls do not come in from different time zones in different parts of the world and disturb your family. They can leave a message and you return the call on your schedule.” Bonus!

Limit Your Distractions with the Help of Apps

Lori Cheek, founder and CEO of Cheekd shares that “one of my favorite ‘work from home’ productivity hacks comes with the help of an app called Stay Focusd.  When working from home, Facebook and Twitter can be a major distraction. StayFocusd helps avoid these distractions by restricting the amount of time you can spend on them. The Google Chrome extension lets you set specific time restrictions on certain websites with a 10 minute default option. Once your time has been used up, the sites you have selected to block can’t be accessed for the remainder of the day.”

Social media strategist and women’s empowerment podcast host Stephani Roberts admits that she sometimes suffers from “shiny object syndrome,” but has found a way to overcome it as well. She says, “I turn off ALL notification sounds and minimize notifications on social media and my phone. When I want to bang out content I use the Tomato Timer. This allows me to write and produce in sprints. It totally works!”

Work In Chunks to Boost Productivity

Many small business owners and entrepreneurs admit that they survive working from home, and the lack of productivity this type of environment can sometimes bring, by breaking up their work and doing it in time chucks. Karen Dennis, freelance writer and publicist for healthcare professionals, is one of them and she says that what works for her is to “set a timer and work in 90 minute blocks. If I am focused, I continue past the 90 minute reminder bell. But if I am having trouble sitting, then I take a break…answer texts, return phone calls, throw a load of laundry in the machine, eat lunch or workout.”

Delegate Tasks…to Your Kids

Victoria Marin is a mother of five in addition to being co-founder of Adirondack Learning Academy. How does she manage? She delegates. To her kids. “I enlist the help of my older children with household chores and assisting their younger siblings with homework. Younger children enjoy helping with meal preparation and outdoor activities such as gardening. I have found the buddy system to work best. By pairing my older children with their younger sibling, the work gets done, they develop a stronger bond and I gain the time I need to hold web conferences and conduct business in a quiet, professional environment.”

Pretend You’re Being Watched

Professional speaker, author, and consultant Barry Maher says that he makes it a point to “structure my day just as if I were working at an outside office.” For him, this means, “having office hours, treating what I’m doing like a business, and acting just as I would act if a boss were watching.” That should do it!

Have a Plan for When You Feel Stuck

Andrea Travillian, small business strategy consultant with Smart Step, Inc., says, “When I am stuck on a problem I find myself in the kitchen looking for food; it is my procrastination technique. I have overcome this by having a set of things I do when I am stuck on a work problem that actually helps me make a decision. For example, I will sit outside or walk around the block to allow my brain the time to process the problem and hopefully come to a solution. When that does not work, I acknowledge that I am procrastinating and kick myself out of the kitchen!”

Meet Clients Face-to-Face as Often as You Can

Sandra Garcia, president of Conscious Public Relations Inc., says, “My biggest obstacle is not being able to meet potential clients face to face who do not live in our area, but this is something all service businesses would face. When engaging with a potential client, I always offer up Skype, Google Hangout, and FaceTime as alternatives to a phone call as this is the best possible way to meet ‘in person’ without actually doing so. Internet connections can sometimes cause calls to drop suddenly, but it’s still a better alternative than a phone call.”

Take Advantage of Technology

Dan Nainan is a professional “clean comedian” who has performed for President Obama, Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton, and other top names, and he says that one of the things that helps him survive working outside a normal office setting is to take advantage of work-anywhere technology. “I use Dragon Naturally Speaking to write everything…my book, blogs, and emails,” he says. “I’m also able to dictate into my iPhone or my iPad no matter where I am, so I can actually sit on a park bench and work on my forthcoming book. Or I can write whole chapters of my book while taking a walk. It’s fantastic.”

Have a Backup Wi-Fi Plan

Deidre, co-founder of Lion & Orb says, “There’s nothing worse than having your Wi-Fi drop out when you are working on an important proposal or in a web conference. Have a hot spot or backup Wi-Fi plan, or at least know where you can quickly get online again if something happens.”

Work Your Household Chores Into Your Work (Break) Schedule

Nick Zwier Elliott, VP at uCampaign, says, “I’ve been working for my company about a month now from home. It’s been a radical change from working in an office. One of the biggest pitfalls I’ve had is wanting to clean the house every morning instead of starting work. There are breakfast dishes to be done and other small chores (laundry, cleaning the grill) that feel like they should be done. I’ve set up a system where I work for an hour and then spend 10 minutes doing what I want. It refreshes me and gives me a good break.”

Or Take Care of Them Beforehand…

Melanie Gray, founder of Bread and Butter Marketing, says, “When you can see a pile of dishes in your peripheral vision all day long, it is pretty hard to ignore it. Walking past a full washing basket between 10 and 20 times per day is almost impossible for a soul who likes everything neat and orderly. The only way I could overcome this challenge is by making sure it is taken care off before my ‘official’ work day starts. Eliminating the distraction is easier than ignoring it.”

Create Your Own “Commute”

Ron Schmedly, president of DefensiveDriving.org, says, “Many people complain about a commute, whereas I have the exact opposite problem. As you go through your work day, you become stressed and do need some time to unwind before you step into your family life. I owe my family the respect to be ‘present’ when I am done with work, so I now go for a 15 minute walk when my work day is done. This gives me time to decompress, get anything out of my system and ready to step into my role as a husband and a father.”

Outsource So You Don’t Feel Overwhelmed

“As a home-based business owner you need to be the president and CEO, the marketing manager, bookkeeper, secretary, office manager and tech support,” says Debra M. Cohen, president of Home Remedies. Yet, she goes on to say that “It’s impossible to handle all of these jobs and work efficiently.” Isn’t that true? So what does she do?

Cohen says, “I have learned to outsource all of these support services so that I can focus exclusively on the most important aspects of my business (dealing with contractors and homeowners). I have a webmaster, a virtual assistant, an accountant, a computer programmer, graphic design person and I can speed dial my tech support person when I have an emergency that can shut down my business. In fact, last week my computer crashed and my IT guy was able to log in remotely (while I took a shower!) and fix the problem in less than an hour.”

Create an Effective Communication System with Your Remote Staff

Having employees that work from their homes as well can present a whole new set of challenges, something that Scott Baxter, Founder and CEO of PlayYourCourt, knows all too well. He explains that, “When I first started, I ended up having a lot of repetitive conversations to get everyone on the same page. There was a LOT of back and forth because every time I jumped on the phone to update someone they would provide a new idea or valuable insight that I wanted to relay to the rest of the team. Eventually this was taking up enough of my time that I needed to come up with a solution to manage our time more efficiently.”

What did he do? Baxter says, “I now send out an email to everyone at the beginning of the week detailing ideas that are on the table. Throughout the week everyone is expected to read through it and come up with opinions, then we have a team conference call at the end of the week to discuss and set out goals and execution items for the following week. During that call, each person gets the floor for an allotted amount of time, uninterrupted, to share their thoughts. This system has dramatically increased in our team efficiency and we have been conducting business this way for almost 3 years now.”

Develop a Routine with Your In-Home Employees

And what if your employees are in your home? Kaleigh Wiese, co-founder of Garment Exchange, reports that “I have had a mix of one to six employees at my home on any given day. My success has come with a developed routine. I use my mornings prior to people showing up to allow me to feel focused and caught up on my personal life. We also encourage working remotely to allow people to increase productivity and for me to feel like I have claim over my home when I need it.”

Buy a Second Home

Bill and Eleanor Seavey run a bed and breakfast called Her Castle and say, “One of the obstacles is that it is a year round, all week long business (especially weekends) which obviously restricts our ability to just go where we please, when we please.” So what did they do? Well, something I never even thought of, but can see why it works for people who run this type of home-based business.

“We bought a second home about five years ago 35 miles away (much smaller!) to allow us to have a place with no guests 2-3 days a week,” says Bill. “Doesn’t always work out that we can go there, but at least it’s an option.” Maybe it’s an option for you too if you have this type of business?

Take Time to De-Stress

Because of all of these obstacles that are present when you work from home, it’s also important to de-stress. Josh Turner, founder and CEO of UsersThink, says that he does this every day. “I meditate at the beginning of my day, right before starting work. By just taking a few minutes to close my eyes, sit up straight, and focus on my breath, I’m able to clear my head and enter the workday without nearly as much stress. I use QuietKit.”

Keep Your Perspective

Christopher Cunningham, content director at LDS.net, adds to this feeling of calmness and clarity (despite the hurdles) by keeping a positive outlook. “It’s a miracle to live in a time when I can keep a job I love, live in a city I love, and watch my son full-time. Almost any work challenge is worth that fantastic situation.”

Very true, Christopher. And thanks for that reminder!

I’m always interested in learning other small business owners’ thoughts on relevant topics and issues, so if you have a unique article idea, feel free to contact me at cdebusk13@gmail.com (put “Businessing Magazine” in the subject line, please). If I use it, it’s a free link to your website!

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by Christina DeBusk // Freelance writer, author, and small business consultant committed to helping entrepreneurs achieve higher levels of success.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.