By Carolyn Campbell
Maintain the balance in your life by keeping your family and business apart.
The idea of running a home business is enticing. There's the 30-second commute to your desk, the casual dress code, and the freedom to choose your break time.
Yet there's also the challenge of being in two places at once. Experts and home entrepreneurs suggest that separating the two environments can help you avoid a constant tug of war between home and office. The following ideas may help improve efficiency and reduce stress in both your home and home office.
1. Physically separate your home and office. Lionel Fisher, an Ocean Park, Washington, freelance writer and author of On Your Own: A Guide To Working Happily, Productively and Successfully from Home (see "Worth Reading"), states that the most important element in working productively at home is to create a workplace that is solely that--a place of work. "When you walk into your office, it signifies that you are at work," he says. "When you leave, you are no longer working."
Both Fisher and Ellen Parlapiano, a homebased entrepreneur in Scars-dale, New York, and co-author of Mompreneurs: A Mother's Practical Step-By-Step Guide To Work-At-Home Success (see "Worth Reading"), feel that a separate room with a door offers the most easily distinguishable separation. "You can close the door at the end of work hours to remind yourself you are stopping work to devote time to your family," says Parlapiano.
If your workplace is a dining-room table or an armchair during certain hours of the day, you can maximize success by mental commuting. "Draw an imaginary line around that space," says Fisher, "and drum into your consciousness that when you're there, you're there to work."
Dividing home and business phone calls also contributes to professionalism. Many home offices have two telephone lines or identify business calls with a double ring.
Salt Lake City's Steve Osborne, a homebased author, recommends buying a phone with a "mute" button. These buttons, which block any sound on your end from being heard by business callers, can preserve your professional image. Says Osborne, "No matter how well you train your family to tiptoe past your office and speak in whispers, it's inevitable that something potentially embarrassing will happen. Mute buttons are worth their weight in gold."
2. Prioritize working hours and family time. For a conscientious home entrepreneur, a 9-to-5 office schedule can wind up being 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.--with Saturdays thrown in for good measure. While budding home entrepreneurs may be inclined to work "all the time" and take calls around the clock, they later discover that setting office hours helps them spend quality time at both work and home.
"Be a self-starter--and a self stopper," says Parlapiano. "Harness the discipline you utilized to get your business going to keep that same business from running your life." She suggests resisting the temptation to open business mail or to network online on weekends. "Think about leaving your laptop and cellular phone at home when you go to your child's soccer game," she says.
3. Set boundaries and establish expectations. Osborne is only half-kidding when he advises home-business owners to remain aloof with family members and others who tend to interrupt your work "unless they're bleeding or on fire," he says. "To survive and prosper as a homebased business owner, you must be brutally disciplined with yourself, and expect your family to be disciplined in the way they treat you when you're working." He suggests that home-business owners set rules, inform family members what those rules are, and insist that they abide by them, explaining that a home business is not a game, but a serious issue of financial survival.
4. Use rituals to help you make the transition. "Try using a simple ritual to make the transition to work as easy as possible," Fisher advises, recalling the story of a home-business owner who prepares her first cup of coffee while she lets her dog out each morning. When she finishes the coffee and lets the dog back in, that is her signal to begin working. Some people who work at home get up every morning and prepare themselves as if leaving for work. Others have an absolute rule, such as "get up, shower and dress by 9 a.m."
5. Plan ahead for back-up help and extra hands in case of an emergency. When a child is sick, even the most effective home-office organization is threatened instantly. "As a home business becomes successful, the owner realizes that there are times when he can't do it all," says Fisher. "Ask for help immediately when you need it."
Parlapiano suggests that work-at-home entrepreneurs build an extra day or two into deadlines. "If a project is due on the tenth, plan to finish it by the eighth--just so that you have two days as a cushion against emergencies," she says. She further suggests making back-up child-care arrangements in advance. Home entrepreneurs might also consider hiring a temporary office assistant on peak occasions to complete routine tasks.
If it's your home life that's falling behind schedule, you may want to hire some household help rather than use office time for home chores.
6. Give yourself a break from both environments. Richard Shaw, owner of Cineclean Publishing in Kenilworth, Utah, a company that provides literature for building-maintenance organizations, operates his business in a series of blocks of time. Shaw works hard until noon--then takes an hour to run errands or have lunch at a restaurant. "The physical activity spurs new ideas, so when I return, I'm like a new person starting a new day," he says.
"It's smart to get away from your place of business once in a while," says Fisher. "Promise yourself that when you finish three more pages, you can do something really interesting, like go jogging or take the dog for a walk. If you don't have a reason for going out, invent one." Remember that there are three vital components to balance: office, home and family, and personal time.
Carolyn Campbell, a home-office entrepreneur for 20 years, has written more than 200 magazine articles.