From the October 1998 issue of Startups

People are not machines. We cannot work continuously without paying the price. Taking time to refresh and rejuvenate can head off physical ailments, such as repetitive stress disorders, as well as mental exhaustion and burnout.

"Breaks are important, both physically and mentally," says Priscilla Huff, a Sellersville, Pennsylvania, author of several books about entrepreneurship, including More 101 Best Home-Based Businesses for Women (Prima Publishing, $12.95, 800-632-8676). Huff grabs a 15-minute break every two hours. "I approach my work with more enthusiasm when I return," she says. How to squeeze breaks into a harried schedule? Try these tactics:

  • Go gradually. If you now take no breaks at all, add one 5- to 10-minute break in the morning for a week or two, then add an afternoon break to your schedule. Finally, extend breaks to 15 minutes, or add several others until you can comfortably handle one every few hours.
  • Use a timer. If you often forget to take breaks, a timer, alarm or other auditory reminder can help you stay on track.
  • Do something fun or personally rewarding on your time out. The inclination for homebased business owners is to do the laundry or pay personal bills and call it a break. Sorry, but those don't count.

Huff heads to her backyard. "I'm an amateur birding enthusiast," she explains. Fifteen minutes is enough time for her to relax while watching wrens and chickadees. It's enough time for you to take a walk, read a chapter in an escapist novel, work a puzzle, lift weights, hit a few golf balls, or just sit outside and breathe deeply.

Three's Company

Whether it's babies or business, having more than one at the same time presents plenty of challenges. But like parents of triplets, owners of multiple homebased businesses find ways to cope.

Stephanie Burgett is a mother of three, ages 1, 2 and 13, and runs four businesses from her Sioux Falls, South Dakota, home. How does she manage it all? "Family comes [first]; I juggle my businesses around it," Burgett says. "For me, that means working a lot of late nights."

But finding time isn't the only hurdle multiple entrepreneurs face. Terri Lonier, a New Paltz, New York, small-business expert and author of Working Solo (John Wiley & Sons, $14.95, 800-222-7656), explains: "The biggest challenge in operating several businesses from home is maintaining a clear identity for each in your customers' minds--and in yours. Also, you may find yourself fumbling with a lack of focus. It can be difficult to know where to put your energy."

One solution: Start with a "base" business and add others that fit with it. For example, photography would be a natural extension of a writer's business. Running a furniture refinishing enterprise would not.

Lonier also suggests multiple owners leverage technology:

  • Use voice mail with as many mailboxes as you need.
  • Select different e-mail addresses that feed into a central address.
  • Order "distinctive ring" service on your phone so you can distinguish each business's calls by the sound of the ring.

One "don't": Never mingle business records. Keeping your checking accounts, bookkeeping and business records separate lessens your headaches and keeps the IRS happy. Most important, Lonier points out, good records give you a clear picture of which businesses generate the most profits, so you know where to invest your time and money.

Break It Up

If you sit at a computer all day, breaks--especially exercise breaks--are doubly important. The more time you spend chained to the keyboard without any exercise, the greater your chances of developing a repetitive stress injury.

If it's tough to remember to stop and you're not sure which exercises would help, check out ExerciseBreak software from Hopkins Technology. The program offers a series of online exercises that pop up on your screen at predefined times, so there's no excuse for forgetting to take time out. Available for Windows/DOS ($29.95) or Macintosh ($39.95); call (612)?31-9376 or visit http://www.hoptechno.com

Lynn H. Colwell is a business writer in Post Falls, Idaho.

Contact Sources

Stephanie Burgett, c/o Watkins Inc., (605) 331-2138, Icemama36@aol.com

Priscilla Huff, c/o Little House Writing & Publishing, http://www.selfemployedwoman.com

Terri Lonier, c/o Working Solo Inc., info@workingsolo.com, http://www.workingsolo.com