It's Monday morning. You wake up on your own, reach for your phone and with your eyes hardly open scroll Instagram. Eventually you roll out of bed. You brew your coffee as strong as it can possibly get without tasting like gasoline while running through your day's to-do list, the one you were gung-ho and DETERMINED to crush just last night. Plans for the week fill your mind as your turn the corner, tripping over a pile of last week's laundry. "I should really do that, too" you note, hair in a ponytail, still in pajamas. Suddenly overwhelmed by the numerous tasks of getting your work-from-home business off the ground you sit down to enjoy your breakfast and make a list. As the chores grow longer and longer you feel like you're drowning, clueless as to where to start and you're paralyzed by what needs to be done. Instead of acting a day catching up on all the Real Housewives feels cozier. Plus it's raining out, and you need to do dishes, so....you will. Your ginormous ambitions are soon left in the dust as you vow tomorrow will be the day, giving in to the biggest perils of working from home: distractions...and the lack of discipline that comes along with it. Look, I'm not the most disciplined person you will ever meet, heck I am far from it. Clearly the above scenario didn't just hop into my head divinely from God, it's one I knew far too well. When your office is just around the corner from your dirty kitchen sink and your significant other doesn't quite understand what "blogging + emailing all day" and "pinning for research" means (look, IIIIIIIII know it's like, legit, but...) it's easy to become overwhelmed by running a small business from home that requires a LOT of attention. It can feel as though one's to-do list doesn't even have a dent in it, so you resort to something that does have immediate gratification, like folding clothes or mopping the floors or finally giving your dogs a haircut, so even if you just manage to get that ONE THING finished, something got done. But I'm here to tell you: that's not going to get your business anywhere. Sure, you may be one of those crazies who can't get creative when their desk is a mess but you gotta leave that ish behind. Chances are your desk will always be a mess, own it. Instead of waking up and letting the days take your wherever they may, leaving you feeling defeated come dinner time, vowing once AGAIN you'll get your website updated tomorrow, here are a few things I've found helpful in staying focused while making your own schedule working from home:
[Photo is from a morning with fellow photographers B. Mussack + Shannon Forbes). I had plenty of work that needed to be done, but instead knew that a mini hike + swim was much more important...considering I had been working non-stop. I am thankful they convinced me to swing from the other side of the pendulum for the day and be lucky to live in Hawai'i!]
1. Pretend your office is outside of your house, run by a strict boss: Set your alarm for the same time every day. Wake up, work out (or whatever your morning routine is), shower, get READY (ok, ready-ish, maybe put some make-up on with those yoga pants?) and be sitting at your desk ready to work by _____ hour. It will help set boundaries within your work day and get your brain focused. Plus, you'll feel profesh.
2. Set work hours (and emailing times): Making it known to yourself, your significant other, and your clients that you are in the office from ____ to _____ helps set routine and manages expectations. In emails I list my working hours so others know when to expect a response (and I absolutely avoid my email like the plague during the evenings and on weekends) and I set limitations on myself. Let's be honest, small business owners could absolutely work 12 hours days every day (happily!). There is THAT much to be done, and by setting routine and strict structure you're more likely to get more accomplished throughout the day. For me, work begins promptly at 9am and ends at 5:00pm (sometimes a little later). When Marshall hits the front door home from work, I leave my office, shut the door, and make a point to spend the evening with him. Some people also find it helpful to only answer emails within certain time frames of the day, worth a try!
3. Avoid internet distractions + k-holes. I know people love to sit down at their computer with their coffee and scroll Facebook and read blogs. Heck, doesn't it go something like "give comments to get comments?". While I think it's important to know what's going on the the world and to also support your peers, I think checking out what everyone else is doing first thing in the morning not only takes a ton of time but can be detrimental to our entrepreneurial psyche. For real! Think about it: before you have even opened an email you've seen who's been picked as Martha Stewart's Top Photographers, seen a FABULOUS film shoot that left your breathless and wanting to stomp your camera, and that such and such got booked in Bora Bora again, #thankful. More than likely in your noggin now nothing will be as good, so those Real Housewives from the sofa are looking real soothing right about now...Can't peel yourself away from other's blogs? Maybe limit yourself to 3 a morning, or commit to spending your lunch break scrolling your guilty pleasures instead.
4. Lunch Break: Speaking of lunch break: take one! It's easy to get burnt out if you don't, or worse, not eat all day then eat all the things when you realize you're starving at 4pm. You'll feel like a responsible adult who runs her own business and feeds herself. Bravo!
4. Designate 'out of office' days. Making your own schedule is awesome, it's what we've always dreamed of, right? However it can get tricky and lead to scattered days when scheduling shoots, photographing weddings on Saturdays, and finding time to run to the post office. Consider making set days for certain business. Like Mondays "download + email" days (with no appointments allowed), Tuesdays and Thursdays "session" days, and Fridays fun days (since most wedding photographers are shooting on Saturdays). Making a point to book multiple consultations and run errands on certain days helps keep time efficient.
4. Invest. Finding it hard to focus on business and get it all done? Simply put, "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:21). Now, our hearts should certainly be deeply invested in places OTHER than our businesses, but when it comes down to it--if you're committed and working hard the discipline will follow. Just take it one thing at a time. Don't feel like you have to do it all first, prioritize. Choose the project that will have the most immediate impact (i.e. submitting weddings, updating website, blogging, setting new pricing, etc.), then work towards the next project. Soon you won't be thinking about the laundry downstairs, instead you will be so determined to get your business rolling that you forget to get up from your desk to pee (I know I'm not the only one who sits here saying "okay....let me just do 10 more edits THEN I will use the restroom...."). In time you will most likely go from one extreme to another, so make sure to find a solid balance.
5. Skip the guilt. Don't let lies of "I'm not doing enough" bring you down. Do the work and you ARE doing enough. And don't ever EVER feel bad about taking a day off from work to hit the beach or take a road trip...it's your business (that you will soon be having to pull yourself away from!), make it one you truly love.