Working from home spells trouble for many people.

The allure of working from home is as powerful as any narcotic. After having worked  14 years in a labor driven industry. I can honestly attest to the fact that it would take an enormous amount of money for me to go back to that rat race.  I vividly recall the stress, frustration with coworkers, dealing with employee problems, as well as having to deal with inept management.  Despite the nightmarish memories of working the 70+ hour job, I have had my own struggles with working from home. This topic has been on my mind for some time and I thought that I would discuss some of the issues that I and others have faced as well as some solutions.  

The classic thinking concerning working from home goes something like this:

Set your own hours! Work at your leisure.  No more bosses. Working from home provides you with a new freedom where you have more time for family.  

While there is an element of truth in this description, it is often exaggerated and distorted. Mainly this occurs from people selling turnkey style businesses and e-commerces.  The reality of working from home is that it will only provide benefits if it is handled properly and responsibly.  Entering into the work from home arena means having a practical understanding of how you will need to work and some of the pitfalls of your new workspace. 

Routine

One of the largest issues I have noticed with people working from home is developing a routine. This issue has been the downfall of many people who attempt to work from home. It has been my experience that most people begin a home-based business highly motivated and work diligently for the first few months. After this initial effort phase, people begin tapering off their work.  If not corrected, these individuals will end up not doing anything after a few more months. The individuals who are working part or full time will typically abandon their e-commerce and those that work strictly from home may start looking for other ways to make money such as getting a job. In most instances, this problem is due to a lack of routine. 

For those individuals who have never worked at home, the number of distractions, may come as a shock.  When I began working form home 10 years ago I was constantly interrupted by people and  things I would have once ignored due to being at work. For instance, phones become much more accessible when working at home because there appears to be no reason not to answer it. I have wasted tremendous amounts of time dealing with frivolous or unnecessary phone calls. 

Pets can even be a distraction.  At first, I thought it was cool that I was able to be home and spend time with my cats and dog.  This illusion was swiftly shattered by the fact that the pets were also excited that I was at home and wanted to monopolize my time. 

Friends and family became my largest nuisance. This may sound strange but many people do not understand that working from home is still work.  I had the issue of friends asking me to help them with errands or tasks. At one point, I found myself walking my dog and my neighbors dog three times a day.  What I learned the hard way was that many people don’t consider working at home to be real work and they have no problem asking you to do things because of this belief. The person I was in a relationship with at this time, really thought that I should be doing all the chores around the house simply because I was at home. This thinking is pervasive in many people and in order to solve it you need to establish a routine.  I found that working from home requires that I create a routine not just for work but with how I deal with people.  It was necessary to tell people I was working and learn to say no to many things. You will not be able to establish a routine if you do not learn how to manage the people and other distractions in your life.   

While it might seem simple to establish a routine, it is not because as a home based business- you are the company. This means that working often overlaps with other areas of your life. Working a 9-5 schedule with any home based business is a complete farce.  Furthermore, people who try to run businesses in this manner typically fail or meet with mediocre success. Successful owners work irregular schedules and they are on call for their business. To compensate for this reality you need to design a work routine that takes irregular hours into account as well as providing a time strictly for work. 

A lot of the work that is performed on e-commerce sites can be repetitive or requires concentration such as writing content or developing new product descriptions or marketing campaigns.  Trying to set strict hours or trying to work 8 or 9 hours is not a good idea because you will end up working these hours as well as having to answer emails or deal with customer issues outside of your work hours. As well, you need to abandon the idea of the normal work day. Eight hour work days were born out of the development of industrial efficiency and are really not conducive to running a home based business- especially an e-commerce. 

It took me some time, but I was able to develop a more practical work schedule that was based on setting goals and knowing limitations. I work a lot of hours but mainly because I like working. My schedule generally goes something like this:

  • Get up between 5 and 6 am. I live in Arizona and waking up at this time allows me to stay current with the east coast where I have a number of customers. I also like watching the sun come up and I use this time to read the news and drink some coffee. 
  • Between 6 and 7 am I begin work by answering emails. This takes about an hour (sometimes more) but is an important part of my day because despite the trend to automate the entire e-commerce world using forums and search engines, good customer service is still the best means of developing and nurturing solid business relationships.  
  • Somewhere between 7 and 8 am I begin the actual work dealing with my e-commerce. This might entail writing a blog, researching new marketing ideas, developing new products, building a website, etc. I typically spend about 4 hours doing this work. This is four solid hours of uninterrupted work which I focus on the tasks at hand. I don’t answer my phone or email during this time. I find that I get my best work done during this period unless it is a new customer or a serious problem. 
  • By now it is between 11 am and 12 pm and I stop to eat lunch. I may watch TV or I might even take a hour or two nap.  By 1 or 2 pm I start taking care of other home related work such as cleaning.  I also take a walk or exercise depending on the day. During this time my phone is never far and I answer emails frequently. 
  • From around 2-3 pm I start working again and stop somewhere around 7pm. I will answer most emails during this time but as it gets closer to 8pm I will only answer urgent emails. I try not to deal with any emails, after 8pm unless it is serious. (But I still deal with them a lot of the time.) 
  • I repeat this routine about 6 days a week. I usual take Tuesdays off and try to cut Saturday and Sunday short if possible. It really depends on what types of projects I am working on.

I have provided my basic routine because I believe it is helpful for people to understand that developing a routine is a very individualized process. I don’t know anyone who works from home (who is successful) that is working a static schedule. Accepting this at the beginning of your work at home career will allow you to create more effective work practices.  Rather than throwing yourself into work when you start your business, only to burnout, it is better to work in short concentrated amounts of time. It is better to work four quality hours rather then trying to put in 10-15 hours of low quality work.  Every business is different.  My business relies on me writing large amounts of content and creating marketing approaches for other businesses. This means that I have to do a lot of research as well as writing. It might be possible for you to run your e-commerce on three or four hours a day, it just depends on the needs of the business.  The key to being successful is to make sure that whatever routine you devise, it is distraction free and it is something that is sustainable. 

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