The Reality of Working From Home

Ground rules don't always cut it when it comes to homebased business. Here's how to deal with the unexpected.

By Cliff Ennico

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Time to challenge some conventional wisdom about working fromyour home. Some home office experts talk about the need to keepyour work life and home life strictly separate. You are told thatyou shouldn't get distracted by chores that need to be donearound the house, and that you should tell your family that between9 a.m. and 5 p.m., you cannot be interrupted.

According to these folks, when the septic system is backed up,you should tell your working spouse you are too busy preparing fornext week's important client meeting to baby-sit the plumbers.Who are they kidding? The reality of the home office is that youmust be available to do at least some household and personal stuffduring "normal" business hours.

And not just to keep your spouse or domestic partner happy."One of the main reasons people want to work from home is toget more control over their personal lives," says Patrick Gilligan, a Michigan-basedradio and TV personality and author of Patrick Gilligan Says Be Your Own Boss."The beauty of a home office is that you can go to the gym inthe middle of the week when there are no lines for theStairmasters; you can get your nails done on Tuesdays; you can bethere for the furniture delivery guys who say they'll come toyour house 'sometime between noon and 5 p.m.'"

The problem is that household chores (referred to as "honeydo's" in the home office literature, even though you aredoing them without any prompting from your "honey") havea way of becoming "time vampires," eating up so much ofyour day that your office work ends up being done evenings andweekends. How to manage your time, get everything done and stillhave a life?

The first step, according to Gilligan, is to cut down personalchores to an absolute minimum. "If you plan to receive a lotof registered mail or UPS deliveries in your business, get aMailBoxes Etc. account, and have everything go there. Otherwise,you will be running to the door to sign receipts every 10 minutes,to say nothing of the daily trip to your Post Office to pick up thestuff you weren't around to sign for," says Gilligan."If the lawn is starting to look a little too much like aNebraska wheat field in July, budget your mowing and showering timeinto your daily planner the same way you would a work assignment.If there are after-school programs that can keep your kids safelyout of the house between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., sign 'em up."Know what your time is worth, on an hourly or daily basis, and ask"Should someone who charges $XXX an hour really be doingthis?" If someone can do the job for a fraction of what youcharge for your services, hire them.

Next, according to Gilligan, you've got to get really goodat multitasking. "Right now, I'm doing this interview withyou. I am also responding to e-mails, doing a load of laundry downin the basement and taping two TV shows."

The final step is to negotiate chore time with your family. Askyour spouse or domestic partner "I'm going to the bankthis afternoon--do you need anything in that part of town?" or"I may have some down time Tuesday morning and Wednesdayafternoon this week--is there anything I can do for you?" Byletting them know the amount of time you have available on givendays, you give them the opportunity to pick and choose the thingsthey really need you to do. Don't say "I've only gottime to do one household thing today"; it sounds like youthink your time is more important than theirs.

One more thing: You should do one thing each day around thehouse to let your spouse or domestic partner know you love them.Just a small thing--like cleaning out the coffeemaker, setting thedinner table, brushing snow from the birdhouse or picking a beercan out of the gutter. Don't tell your spouse or domesticpartner you did it; let them discover it on their own. Nothing says"thank you for supporting my independent lifestyle; I'mdoing this for both of us" better, or more effectively.

Cliff Ennico is host of the PBS television seriesMoneyHunt and a leading expert on managing growing companies.His advice for small businesses regularly appears on the"Protecting Your Business" channel on the Small BusinessTelevision Network at E-mail him at

Cliff Ennico

Cliff Ennico is a syndicated columnist and author of several books on small business, including Small Business Survival Guide and The eBay Business Answer Book. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.

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