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How to stay motivated in a home office when no one is looking

Dave Archer

You might be surprised to learn that one of the biggest obstacles to successfully operating a home-based business isn’t access to cash or cultivation of clients; rather, it’s in the home-based business owner’s ability to stay focused and motivated every single day.

If you’ve ever taken a day or two off from an office job to get “caught up” working at home, at first the benefits seem great: no co-workers stopping by to chat, no mindless meetings to be called into, no phones ringing every time you start a train of thought. The silence is wonderful!

But then reality sets in. One of the most frequently asked questions I hear at small business building events is, “How do I stay motivated when there’s no one looking over my shoulder?”

For starters, being a focused, self-motivator is perhaps the single overriding characteristic you must have to make it as a home-based business owner. If you don’t fit that profile, you’ll want to seriously reconsider if a solo gig is for you. If you do have the self-motivating gene, give yourself a boost with these proven practices:

Set work hours and break times. Establish specific office hours and stick to them. Establishing a routine will help you change gears from your home environment to your work environment. Even if picking up the kids from school at 3 is part of your routine, block out the time on your calendar so you always have a clear idea of how your days are filled.

Make a time-management schedule for yourself every day. If you have certain quotas or projects to be met on a daily basis, mark them out in an hourly breakdown, if necessary. Check the items off your list as you complete them. This creates a path of self-accountability and will help you better manager of your time. Take this approach one step further and sketch out goals and objectives for the month, the quarter and the year. Not only will you stay focused, you’ll have a written playbook that will help you assess if you’re on track with your business.

Eliminate distractions. While it’s ideal to have a specific dedicated work space for your home office, such as an extra bedroom, by necessity, some home-based businesses start in a garage or on a kitchen table. Regardless of your workspace, try to eliminate distractions that could keep you from your work: a blaring television set, a constantly ringing home phone, interruptions by other members of your household.

Set boundaries for yourself and for others. Home-based business owners continually struggle with the quest for legitimacy. Regardless of how big or successful you become, there will always have a friend, neighbor or relative who feels they can stop by whenever they like for a visit because you’re home. Set firm boundaries right from the start. “It’s nice to see you, but I’m afraid I’m on the clock until 5:30. Can I call you then?”

What if you just can’t focus? Some days, the magic just isn’t there. If you’re having an off day, don’t blow off your business entirely, just take a different path for the afternoon. Organize your files, review your business plan, go online and read about the latest trends in your field. It’s fine to switch gears to blow off the cobwebs once in awhile, but don’t let yourself get too far afield.

Give yourself a pep talk. We all have those days where work feels tedious and it’s tempting to play hooky. If you feel your morale start to drag, stop and remind yourself why you’re doing this. You’re running your own business. You’re accountable to someone you most defiantly don’t want to let down yourself!

In next month’s column, we’ll examine some common home-based business pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Dave Archer is chief executive officer of Nevada’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. Contact him through http://www.NCET.org.