On paper, working from home has the promise of an ideal working environment. You can be flexible in your working hours, no commute, reduced colleague interruptions; all allow you to achieve everything with time to spare.
However, you may find you achieve less working at home, leading to feelings of anxiety and stress building up which further impacts productivity. Personally, I found most of this problem was largely down to poor time management.
1. Tidy desk, tidy mind
A messy working environment will inevitably lead to you losing crucial pieces of information and wasting time looking for it. Create a simple, structured filing system for your paperwork, digital files and email content, filing information regularly as you receive it.
2. Establish clear objectives
Without clear goals you won’t know if you’ve achieved what you set out to do. Start by creating and maintaining a to do list of everything which needs to be done.
Add estimates for how long you’d anticipate spending on each task, remembering to be realistic with your targets as it’s all too easy to be optimistic.
Break larger tasks into smaller chunks of work to monitor your progress better. Breaking larger tasks into sub-tasks will also produce a more accurate estimate of time required for the overall task.
Keep your to do list up-to-date. Regularly ticking off completed items is a satisfying reminder that you are achieving your goals, which helps keep you motivated.
A structured to do list organises your thoughts into clear objectives, allowing you to concentrate on the task in-hand, but you’ll need to know where to focus your attention. It’s easy to choose the jobs you find more interesting rather than the ones which need doing.
Assign each task a priority rating of urgent, high, medium, or low, adding any deadline dates associated with each task.
Add alerts into your calendar software to remind you at multiple dates prior to the deadline so you don’t miss it.
Review your list every day, updating and re-evaluating as priorities shift.
4. Do not disturb
Working at home means it’s too easy to take time out to catch-up on those overrunning weekend DIY jobs. If you have family or friends around the house, they’ll likely reach out to you for help with something. All these interruptions break your flow of concentration. It’s essential you set boundaries with yourself and those around you where you have fixed ‘Do not disturb’ periods which will allow you to ‘get into the zone’ and make real progress with your work.
5. Regular breaks
We’re not machines and performance will suffer if you don’t take a break. Even though you think you might get more done by working through lunch, it’s actually likely to be counterproductive and effect your performance later in the afternoon. Take at least a 30-minute break for lunch, get some air and do something physical to stimulate the body and mind, such as a brisk walk.
If you have people working for you, try and delegate tasks appropriately where possible. If you have regular tasks on your to do list, take the time to show your staff how to do them as this will save time in the future.
Keep these tasks on your to do list, as this reminds you to follow up on their progress so they’re not forgotten about.
7. Avoid repetition
If you find you’re constantly performing similar tasks over and over, come up with a strategy to streamline the process to avoid repetition. For example, if you end up repeatedly answering similar customer enquiries, invest the time to improve your website with an FAQ page, so the information sought is more obvious.
As a small business owner, your time is your most valuable asset. Hopefully you’ll find that my tips will help you achieve more with the same amount of time, and reduce your stress levels at the same time.
Simon Horton is the founder of ShopIntegrator, a hosted shopping cart e-commerce solution.
What you need to know about working from home
Ben Lobel runs through some of the key elements for creating an efficient home working environment
For the majority of people it is a successful method of working, however it does come with added responsibility. Not only are home workers faced with the temptation to under or over work, but they are also in charge of their own health and safety, as well as the protection of any office equipment they are using.
When working from home there can be a temptation to either be too relaxed in your work schedule or to over-do it. With no employer supervision, it can be difficult to stick to set working hours. It is therefore important to set boundaries; ensure that you start and finish at a certain time and take a specific lunch hour where you have a break away from the computer. It can be helpful to have a specific room that you work in, so that you can physically leave the room – and your work – behind at the end of your working day. This can put a clear divide between your home and work life, so the two do not merge.
Protection of office equipment
Whether using a company’s equipment or your own, it is important to ensure that all items are protected whilst working from home. Designating a specific work area that is removed from where you eat or drink can help this, as can ensuring small children and pets respect and avoid your work space. Accidents do happen, so it is essential that your office equipment is covered by the correct insurance. When making the transition to working from home, don’t forget to ask your work about insurance policies.
Client meetings and inter-office collaboration tools
In recent years, the use of virtual meeting technology has improved massively. If your company is not already signed up for specific web conferencing software, you could try looking at signing up to the basic packages on offer from companies like Zoom, GoToMeeting, RingCentral, Vectera, and many others.
If working from home for an employer, you are still legally entitled to the same health and safety training as employees in the workplace so you will be responsible for keeping your own work space safe. Completing a basic risk assessment could help highlight any potential hazards that need to be resolved. This could include checking that plug sockets are not over-crowded and keeping computer leads secure to reduce the risk of tripping over exposed wires. For your own safety, it is also important to use a chair that suitably supports your back and take regular breaks from the computer screen to protect your eyesight and improve your ability to concentrate.
On the surface, working from home can seem like a stress-free alternative to a high-pressured office environment. For the majority of people it is a successful method of working, however it does come with added responsibility. Not only are home workers faced with the temptation to under or over work, but they are also in charge of their own health and safety, as well as the protection of any office equipment they are using.
Related: The essential guide to setting up a home office