The Internet is filled with articles on how to be productive while working at home. They provide tips such as establishing a routine and having a schedule. However, running a home business has so many working parts that need to be managed simultaneously, that it can be hard for new entrepreneurs to prioritize every task that needs to be done. In many cases, home business owners spend too much time doing things that don’t lead to fast and profitable results. Here are suggestions for how to organize your day so that you're not wasting time, and your home business is making money.
Know Your Peak Work Times
Many productivity books suggest that you don’t put email as your first to-do in the morning. Others recommend doing your hardest tasks first. But true productivity comes when you understand your peak work times—times when you feel the most focus and energy—and schedule your work accordingly.
For some people, getting into work mode takes time, so starting with email is an ideal way to ease into the day. Others experience an energy drain after lunch, so they should focus on more important tasks in the morning while their energy is higher and answer emails in the afternoon,
Some home business owners have several energy peaks and lows during the day. For example, they might be energized to work early in the morning and again late at night. In that case, working during those times, and doing something else during the late morning and early afternoon is the ideal schedule.
If you're not sure about when your peak work times then take a week or two to track how you feel when you're working. Note the times when you feel low or high energy or feel very productive. You'll likely see some patterns emerge.
Prioritize Your Tasks
One of the biggest challenges of running a home business is to make sure you’re focused on the tasks that make money. Having a filing system is important, but not more important than doing work for a client or shipping your product. Ideally, you should prioritize your tasks in order of their results:
- Makes money now: Doing work for or invoicing a client
- Makes money in the near future: New projects, marketing, customer service
- Makes money in the far future: Projects that take time to put together, networking
- Business management: Non-marketing or customer service email, doing the books, filing, etc.
Organize and Schedule Your Day
Most home businesses will have the ability to have a set schedule with repeating tasks. For example, a freelance writer can have a set time to write each day. A virtual assistant will have a set time to manage client social media and other tasks.
While working from home allows for flexibility, it isn’t bad to have a routine for tasks you do regularly. A schedule creates a routine and habit, so you don’t have to think about what you need to do. It helps you organize and plan the non-regular aspects of your day around your normal activities.
For a schedule to work, you need to stick to it. So if you find you’re procrastinating a lot, it’s time to go back to reviewing your peak work times or consider hiring a virtual assistant to do the non-money-making tasks you’re avoiding.
If you're easily distracted or overwhelmed, or you're procrastination, then it may be helpful to manage your workday using The Pomodoro Technique. It involves working on one task for 25 minutes without interruption (timed with a timer), taking a short break, and doing it again. After four of these cycles, you take a longer break and start the cycles again. The goal is to increase productivity and focus with a simple, uncomplicated method.
Manage Unknowns and Interruptions
The biggest challenge to home-based business owners is dealing with distractions and managing the tasks that aren’t scheduled. Too often you’re interrupted by a phone call or an unforeseen issue (i.e., your website goes down), throwing your regular routine out of sync. Another issue related to managing your tasks has to do with activities related to long-term projects, which often get pushed aside for more pressing tasks. To best manage activities that you haven’t planned for, you want to assess their importance and either do it, schedule it, or delegate it.
- Do it: These are pressing issues or crises that must be dealt with. The challenge is in knowing if a task is so important that it automatically goes to the top of the list. Anything that can affect your income should be considered important. So if your website is down, you want to deal with it first. If a customer is complaining, you need to fix it fast.
- Schedule it: For to-dos that pop up that need to be done, but not necessarily ASAP, work them into your schedule for later.
- Delegate it: Any time you can take a task off your plate, you’ll have more time to focus on the important money-making tasks. So if an issue pops up, and you have a good virtual assistant, see if they can deal with the issue.
When working on a long-term project, the best way to manage those tasks into your schedule is to:
- Break down the project into its to-dos.
- Pick a “Done” date when you want the project completed.
- Schedule in the to-dos from now until the done date.
- Treat them as "important" tasks that can't be put off.
Use a System
There are many great online and print systems to help you organize and schedule your day. The trick is to find the one that works for you. Digital systems often have web-based and smartphone apps so you can keep organized while away from your home office. Some home business owners prefer a print system and the ability to physically check off to-dos. Some people use a combination of both.
If you’re not sure what’s best for you, test the various options, taking in consideration how you work, and how many cues, triggers or alarms you need to keep you on schedule.
Ideally, you’ll want to schedule for the week, and maybe even a month. However, it’s important to review and adjust your daily plan as needed.