Avoiding the “I Can't Get Anything Done” Quagmire

When you become a freelancer, you quickly discover a major pitfall of working from home. Nobody understands or respects the “working” part of the phrase.

Everybody assumes that if you're at home, you're not really working. You're as free as ever to talk on the phone, do housework, fix the sink, or tend to the kids.

Here are 6 strategies to keep you out of the “I can't get anything done” quagmire … or to pull you out if you're already there.

  1. Establish the Work Mindset

    There's one person you must convince more than any other to respect your work time. That person is you.

    Start every workday by saying out loud: “I'm at work now.” And don't forget it. If your life is such that you have to do your freelancing work in several sessions throughout the day, say those words every time you sit down to work. Use them with other people when necessary.

  2. Establish a Balanced Schedule

    Get a big piece of butcher paper and make a 7-day calendar. Fill in any times when you have something you absolutely have to do that cannot be done any other time.

    Set aside time for yourself and your family too – time for daily exercise and family activities.

    After you've filled in these times, what's left is potential work time. But it's important that you not schedule all that leftover time for work. You need to be flexible. So choose times for work when you're less likely to have outside demands. Be reasonable, but be strict with yourself. You might, for example, schedule yourself to be at work from 9 to 2, when the kids are at school.

  3. Set Up an Office Area

    Your “office” doesn't have to be a separate room, though it helps. But if that's not possible, designate an office area that's visually distinct from the rest of the house. You want to be able to tell friends and family that when you're in your office, you're not to be disturbed.

  4. Get Family Agreement About Work Space and Work Hours

    Take time to talk with all family members about why you work at home. Tell them how nice it is to not have to commute, to set your own hours, and to make the money you deserve to help out the family. Get them to agree that during work times, and when you're in your office, it's exactly the same as if you were 10 miles away and physically unavailable.

    It's especially important to get your spouse to understand … and agree to … your work schedule.

  5. Recognize and Manage Distractions

    Email can eat up a lot of your time. Do a quick first-check of emails in the morning. Then schedule 2 or 3 other times in the day to check again. Read only work-related email during your work time.

    Invest in Caller ID or an answering machine with call screening. Don't answer any calls that aren't work-related during your work time. You don't have to answer a phone just because it rings. If people get irritated by your new attitude, explain why you've adopted it.

    Do not take TV breaks during work time. TV is addictive. Avoid radio programs that get you talking back to them. Use radio or music only as background to keep you from feeling isolated.

  6. The Special Case of Children

    Set rules for your children about when it's important to be quiet. When I'm on the phone, even my little guy knows that means I'm talking with a client and he needs to find something to do until I am done.

    I try to keep business calls brief. As soon as I wrap up a call, I tell each child what a great job he did. Make sure to properly thank family members for following the rules. Praise them for their help and kindness.

    Get your children interested in what you do. I have my boys color, draw, or decorate file folders for me. We talk about business, and I get the chance to show them what I do and how I do it.

    Get them interested in art. Show them color guides and Pantone books and see if they can pick a new color for your clients' business card.

    Keep stock photo books on a bookshelf set aside for them, and show them how much fun it can be to cut out interesting pictures and make a collage.

    Have the older ones help out by spending time reading with the little ones. Have the smaller folks help out by doing simple tasks like picking up their toys. Just 30 minutes of their help each day makes all the difference in the world. It also teaches all family members how to be part of a team, work together, and complete a task together.

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Published: June 29, 2006

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