As I often tell people, the biggest advantage to working from home is the convenience. Alas, the biggest disadvantage is also the convenience! You can go to work at any hour of any day, and "stay" as long or short a time as you wish. You may find yourself frequently working into the wee hours. Or, you may get up very early and begin your workday at 5 a.m.—even earlier, if you care to.
While this may be necessary when a big project is due, if this is your usual working pattern, it may indicate a problem. While different approaches work for different individuals, the key is discipline. You need discipline to work in spite of distractions, and you need discipline to stop working as well.
When I was in my 20s, just a kid in this business, I thought nothing of spending a 9 a.m.-to-9 a.m., 24-hour shift editing 16mm corporate films and commercials in a windowless editing studio at Cinema Sound Productions. I was pretty much what I’d call a "vampire"—I ran best at night. And I did so for a number of years.
During the past few years, as I’ve run my business from an office-studio a few miles from my home, I noticed that I operated more like a "blender." I’d head to the studio, do some work there, then head back to the house and finish some work there. I’d grab lunch, do the dishes, check and answer my email, update my website, mow the lawn, relax on the deck, eat dinner, go back to the studio and edit an audio track, head back home and work on a column, do more email, head to bed, wake up, and repeat.
While this worked for a while, now that I’ve moved all of my operations in-house, my ultimate goal is to become a "clocker." It’s not that I’m anxious to return to the good old 9-to-5 days. Heaven forbid! It’s just that by establishing a schedule, I actually have a set point where I can (i.e., "must") stop work and enjoy the finer things in life, such as a home-cooked New Orleans-style dinner with Gayle, a long walk with the dog, and a long soak in the hot tub.
Whether you’re a vampire, a blender, or a clocker, here are a few tips for making your body clock work for you, and not putting yourself on the road to burnout in the process. The important thing is that you control your schedule—don’t let it control you.
- Set working hours and observe them, no matter what. Treat yourself as if you were an employee in a "real" business (which, in reality, you are) and as if you had a strict boss to please (which, in reality, you do—yourself).
- Work during those set hours, and don’t work outside those hours. If you can, set office or studio hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.—whatever works best for you, as long as you finish working at the end of your workday. Then you’ll be free to unwind and interact with people for the rest of the night without the distraction of your business. An added bonus is that you’ll be forced to use those time-management skills that were so essential when you worked for someone else.
- Establish a routine. Very often, the flexibility of working at home can deteriorate into disorder and chaos, which usually leads to longer hours and less socialization. A well-established routine allows you to get your work done and have time to mingle. Sondra, my long-term (and long-suffering) right-hand person, used to find that she never had time to do what she loves to do, which is play out in her garden. She is really more of a blender. To make things work, she now schedules "no-brainer" work first thing in the morning, creative work after lunch, and play time after dinner. She still can’t get away from checking her email one last time before bed, but that’s a small enough concession to allow time for what she’d rather be doing.
- • Be flexible when necessary. For example, you have to give yourself a break when kids have to be dropped off or picked up somewhere. Work their schedule into yours, so that these interruptions are planned. Make maintenance and household chores part of your daily plan, but schedule them in the afternoon if you are someone who works most productively in the morning, or in the morning if you are a most productive at night. And remember to give yourself permission to take scheduled breaks.
- Make allowances for your own working biorhythms. You may be someone who has periods of incredible productivity followed by times when nothing much can be accomplished. You have to be realistic about yourself and your capabilities, and be alert for signs of burnout or increased stress. Schedule your time so that you’re working when you’re at your best. My friend Kelly, a photographer, is definitely a vampire. His preferred workday would run from 2 p.m. until 2 a.m., or even later. A fellow musician his entire life, he just doesn’t function until later in the day. For his business to succeed, he’s adjusted to meeting clients on their schedules, not his. But he won’t touch the creative work—studio photography, image manipulation, matting and framing—until the sun goes down.
So there you are. Whether you’re a vampire, a blender, or a clocker, you can always get the work done that needs to be done and, equally important, still have time and energy to enjoy what it is you’re working for. Me, I still love pulling the occasional all-nighter. Conversely, once in awhile I’m equally happy to skip out on all my responsibilities and spend the day in full-lounge position.
Steve Yankee (syankee at opinmarketing.com) has more than 35 years of video production and marketing experience and is the founder of The Video Business Advisor in East Lansing, Mich.