Posted Sept. 9, 2008 -- It's unfortunate, but true: many people who work from home find that their work is trivialized by others simply because of the atmosphere in which they work. Because you are at home, friends and family seem to assume that you must always have time to talk to them or that they can drop by anytime when, in fact, the opposite is most often the case.
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When I first started as a freelance writer, this was something I encountered on an almost daily basis. Case in point: up until several months ago, my mom used to call me nearly every day just wanting to chat. Although I'm not so busy that I can't make time for my family, just because I can work in my pajamas doesn't mean that I have time for an hour-long conversation about last Monday's golf tournament.
So, how does a work-at-home go about getting stuff done? Below are a few time- and people-management tips specifically designed for people working from a home office:
Explain to friends and family what you do and that it is important to you.
When I first began freelancing, most of my friends and family seemed to think that my writing was just a hobby, and that I would eventually find a "real" job where I would go into an office, work until 5 or 6 p.m. and come home to my husband. It hurt that everyone but my husband was blind to the fact that this was my job, and it was something I intended to do for as long as I could. Finally, after several months of interruptions by family members calling to "just have a little chat" and friends asking me to lunch because I "wasn't doing anything anyway," I had to sit down with the most notorious offenders and explain to them exactly what I was doing and that it was very important to me. I also told them that, like any business, I had an administrative, accounting and marketing department in addition to my product. The difference between me and an established business, though, was that I was all those departments. Although it was hard to do, most of my friends and family accepted the fact that working at home does not equal available all the time.
Establish boundaries by setting working hours and letting people know about them.
Although your time may be more flexible because you work at home, that doesn't mean that you're sitting on the couch eating bonbons. Depending upon your profession, you probably need to make yourself available during regular business hours. If you find that friends and family just can't seem to take the hint, tell them, gently but firmly, that you simply must be available to clients during those hours, and that you will talk to them later.
Set aside a place for work to minimize distractions.
It may seem obvious to most people, but it is vitally important have a separate space for your home office. Ideally, you'd have an entirely separate room so you can close the door against distractions. And if you are a work-at-home parent, consider hiring a childcare specialist to take care of the kids during the day. It's not very professional to have screaming kids in the background when you're making a conference call, and no matter how hard you try to avoid interruptions from your children, they'll happen unless you have someone there to help you.
When you're done working, leave.
Many people who work from home find that they work even longer hours than they did when they worked somewhere else. The time they would have spent commuting can now be spent being productive, which is wonderful. But the downside of working at home is that it is very easy to work too late. Make sure you're not spending all of your time in front of your computer. Once you've finished the day's tasks and have determined what your major goals should be for the upcoming day, stop working and turn off that computer! Now is the time to hang out with friends and family.
Adrienne Muralidharan lives in St. Louis, Missouri and operates a corporate copywriting and editing service called Inscriptio Communications. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.