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One of the best things about owning your own business is the ability to work from home. Some would add that it's also one of the worst things about owning your own business. Love it or hate it, working from home has become more and more common as technology improves, making the idea of going into an office seem almost quaint.
So whether you're doing a startup in your garage, launching a business out of the extra bedroom or simply telecommuting to your Fortune 500 job, here are some tips to ensure you succeed.
Start strong: Start your workday with a repeatable routine that puts you in "business mode." Make a commitment to be at your desk by a certain time and hold yourself accountable for completing all necessary preparations by that time, including getting dressed and grabbing your coffee and breakfast. One home-based entrepreneur I know swears by putting on shoes as the signal that he's ready to tackle the day.
Stay on task: It may be helpful to have a weekly meeting or check-in with a fellow entrepreneur to plan your goals and actions, as well as to celebrate your completed tasks from the previous week. There's nothing like having a deadline to help maintain focus, especially when you're doing something out of your comfort zone. I also recommend writing down your key goals each week and placing the list within easy view of your desk.
Avoid distractions: When you work in an office, you have the temptation of the vending machine. When you work from home, you have the temptation of your entire refrigerator, freezer, pantry and the unwashed dishes from last night. Don't give in. Your working time is serious business, and it needs to take priority over a dusty bookshelf or an uneaten lasagna.
One easy trick for avoiding distractions is to check your sightlines. When you are seated at your desk, what objects are in your field of vision? Some people like to set up against a blank wall to cut down on visual noise, while others like to hang up soothing nature scenes or inspirational quotes. If you have distractions in your sightline, the solution may be as simple as putting up a folding screen or changing the orientation of your computer and chair.
Take breaks: Interestingly, one of the best ways you can manage distractions is to take regular breaks. Give yourself permission to take a "coffee break" mid-morning and you'll actually find it easier to hold off on switching that load of laundry until breaktime rolls around. Taking a couple of breaks each day is also good for the body, so make sure you get up, walk around and do a few stretches to counteract the hours of sitting and computer work.
Get out of the house: When you really need to put your head down and crank, consider getting out of the house. A local coffee shop may be the perfect place to plow through a thick report or bang out a first draft. There are also co-working spaces popping up in many cities where you can simply show up with your laptop, plug in and get to work.
If your calendar isn't regularly peppered with meetings, find a local small-business group or professional association for both the camaraderie and the networking. Check Meetup.com or local newspapers and business publications to find such events, and take advantage of the chance to meet similarly situated folks.
Turn it off: Finally, don't forget to shut it off at the end of the day. Owning your own business and working from home can feel like an "always-on" proposition. Consider an end-of-day routine that does the reverse of your morning drill, something that puts you into relaxation mode. This might be as simple as changing your shirt or shutting down your monitors. Busy times may call for pulling some long hours, but we all need time to rest, renew and relate to people outside of our professional identities. Your friends and family just might insist on it.