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Got a problem? Let homebased business experts Paul and Sarah Edwards solve it.

Q: I am often tempted to watch television during work hours. At first, I set a rule that I would only watch for one hour during my lunch break; however, I have sometimes gotten sucked into a show and watched longer than I should have. Then I rationalize by saying I'll work longer hours. Sometimes I'll have the television on in the background and press the mute button when I get a call. Do you have any suggestions on how I can break this bad habit?

A: Take the set out of your office. Watching television is one of the top five bad home office habits. Get a VCR if you don't have one and tape your favorite daytime shows. If you don't like these shows enough to watch them after work hours, your problem is probably not that you're addicted to TV shows; rather, it's that something is missing from your workday. Find out what's missing and replace your bad habit with some new, more appealing habits that will serve you better. For example:

  • Are you bored with your work? Is watching daytime television more interesting to you than the work you do? There will always be a few tasks in any business that are so mindless you might as well be watching television while doing them, but you're in the wrong business if that's how you feel about most of your workday. Ask yourself the following questions: Has your business lost its magic? Did it ever have any to begin with? How could you make what you do more exciting and challenging? What prompted you to go out on your own in the first place? What do you like best about your work? What could you do more of in your business that would make you forget about watching television?
  • Do you miss the social interaction of an office setting? Arrange to have more contact with people. Call up a colleague. Get active in local business or professional organizations. Join an Internet news group. Sign up for a class or ongoing social activity you enjoy.
  • Are you stressed out from working too hard? Give yourself something to look forward to--plan an exciting evening. Or replace your bad habit with one that will benefit you physically and/or mentally. Many homebased business owners, for example, enjoy listening to talk radio or music while they work. Others take a break during their lunch hour to walk through their neighborhoods or to exercise. What would you enjoy most?

For additional ideas on how to break a bad habit, pick up a copy of Complete Idiot's Guide to Breaking Bad Habits (Macmillan) by Jane S. Ferber, Suzanne LeVert and Gary R. McClain.

Q: Although I've just had a baby, obviously I can't take maternity leave from my business. How do I balance the needs of my homebased business with a newborn, both of which require an incredible amount of time?

A: Get help. Most female homebased business owners take some type of maternity leave. They stagger contracts or clients so they have a one- to two-month break, hire temporary or part-time personnel, or subcontract work out to colleagues for a period of time. Of course, this may require some planning and the demands of each business are different, but it's impossible to do two full-time jobs for long, so start getting some help immediately.

Get help caring for your baby, get help running the business or arrange for some combination of the two. Begin by deciding what kind of assistance will be most helpful. Ask yourself:

  • How much time each day do you want to devote entirely to your baby?
  • What aspects of your baby's care could you use help with? What do you want to do yourself?
  • Which business tasks are the most burdensome right now?
  • Which tasks demand your full attention without interruption? Which must you do? Which can others do?

By working from home, you have many more options for tailoring child-care arrangements to your particular needs than do working mothers who aren't homebased. For help with your newborn, for example, you could hire a nanny to come to your home for a few hours each day while you work (we hired a woman to help us when our son was an infant). Alternatively, you might line up help from family, friends and relatives, or you could exchange babysitting hours with other new mothers. When you feel comfortable taking the baby out, you could place him or her in a nearby family day-care center for a few hours a day.

Sometimes new fathers can take paternity leave. The number of men opting for leave has doubled since 1994 and includes the likes of FBI Director Louis Freeh. Having dad at home, even part time, can be a big help. Mom and dad can care for the baby in shifts, and dad can help answer the business phone and do other business-related tasks.

Sometimes taking simple steps such as getting voice-mail service or hiring an answering service can free you to better concentrate on both family and business matters. Having a baby monitor in your baby's room and in your office might also help.

Whatever options you choose, set up a schedule that suits both your needs as a new mother and your work habits. For some people, that means working only mornings, afternoons or evenings. For others, it involves squeezing in work around the baby's sleep times. To keep your sanity, remember this is a special time. It can be exhausting, but it will pass all too soon, so arrange your schedule to enjoy it while you can.

Q: I sell several mail order products, and I've gotten too busy to take all the orders. Is there a service that can take orders for me?

A: Absolutely. Look in the Yellow Pages under "Telemarketing" or "Answering Services," or use the same keywords to search Internet Yellow Page services such as BigBook (http://www.bigbook.com), Bigfoot (http://www.bigfoot.com), Four11 (http://www.four11.com), GTE SuperPages (http://www.superpages.gte.net), On'Village (http://www.onvillage.com), or WhoWhere? (http://www.whowhere.com).

The costs for such a service begin at around $500 per month after an initial setup fee of $1,500, according to Howard Goodman, president of telemarketing company Goodman Communications West in Chatsworth, California, and author of Seven Steps to Successful 800, Radio and TV Direct Response Campaigns (Touchtone Publishing). Setup fees include the first month's service and 500 minutes of phone time. You can get a copy of Goodman's booklet free of charge by calling (800) 466-8595.

If you have a question for Paul and Sarah Edwards regarding a homebased business issue, send it to "House Calls," Entrepreneur's HomeOffice, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614.


Paul and Sarah Edwards are homebased business experts and co-authors of several books, including FindingYour Perfect Work and Secrets of Self-Employment (Tarch/Putnam).

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