7 ways to stay sane and productive

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By Leo Valiquette

There’s an old joke about the easy-going work-life balance that results from being an entrepreneur. “I can work for only half the day,” says the entrepreneur. “And I get to decide which 12 hours that will be.”

There is certainly something to be said for being your own boss without any commitment to regular office hours beyond making damned sure your deliverables are done on time and clients or customers feel well-served. But in my experience, being self-employed, which invariably means you are working remotely from whoever has agreed to pay your outrageous fee, requires that you impose upon yourself the same obligations as any teleworker with a traditional J.O.B. and a boss.

I’ve met many entrepreneurs and sole proprietors for whom the weekend is often a convenient time to get work done without worrying about emails, phone calls and the other distractions that often plague a regular workday. That’s all well and good, and I’ve found myself in that same boat fairly often. When you don’t have the security of a regular paycheque and can only eat what you kill, finding yourself with such a volume of work that it bleeds over into the weekend is not always a bad thing. And if you’re a startup entrepreneur trying to get a product to market, a regular 40-hour work week is an indulgence you can seldom afford to enjoy.

On the other hand, there is a proverb with which you may be familiar: “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” It’s called Parkinson’s Law and I suspect it often conspires with Murphy’s Law, but that’s a post for another time.

So how do you prevent the glorious anarchy of self-employment from beating the hell out of your productivity? The pressure of a deadline is great, but here are my thoughts on what to do the rest of the time:

1. Remember the regular workday and keep it holy. This is the foundation upon which all else rests. Don’t forget that most of the rest of the world is working Monday to Friday, with some eight or nine-hour block between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., and this is the timeframe in which you are expected to be available. Always aim to get as much done as possible during this period. For those of us who have kids, the routine of getting them off to school is a great task master – once the school bus is out of sight, it’s time to sit down and get to work.

2. Have a dedicated workspace that simulates a formal office. I’ve read experts who say that your home office should be a completely separate room in your home that you only enter for work. At all other times the door is closed and you do not carry out any non-work related activities there. I don’t believe you need to go that extreme, but you do need a dedicated and private space with the principle purpose of being for work. It serves to put you in the right frame of mind. Even when there is no one else in the house, I still find it easier to focus when I am in my office upstairs in the spare bedroom as opposed to parked at the dining room table.

3. Organize your workspace in a manner that facilitates your focus and productivity. Maybe feng shui is the way to go and maybe it isn’t, but you know what’s right for you. Move furniture around, try putting your desk facing a window, remove visual distractions from your field of view. You will know when you have found the physical arrangement that works.

4. Reward yourself. A great way to stay focused and productive is to reward yourself. Set a goal such as knocking off for the day at 3 p.m. to do something fun and diverting, but have your To Do list of what needs to get done finished first.

5. Make a list. And did I just say have a To Do list? Cross off the items as they’re completed. I suggest starting with the biggest item first.

6. Avoid cabin fever. No matter how inviting and productive your workspace, the persistent sight of the same four walls can still drive you bats on occasion. I have the convenience of a nice independent fair-trade coffee shop only a 15-minute walk from my house. I will often structure my workday so I spend my afternoon there if I have a big chunk of research or writing to do. I am also lucky in that this place is usually pretty quiet in the afternoon. Some “remote offices” are far busier and distracting than others. I’ve seen it where a group of teleworkers congregate daily at a local coffee shop, but spend far more time socializing than they do working.

7. Get face to face. By that same token, don’t overlook opportunities to meet with clients and colleagues face to face. While time spent in the car is usually time wasted, it is nonetheless important to get out of your home office wear (a.k.a. pyjamas) and engage with other living, breathing human beings, as opposed to disembodied voices on a telephone. Read Alex’s post on why meeting in the real world matters. Consider too spending time in a co-working space, such as TheCodeFactory.

What would you add to this list?

Image: Cruciality.Wordpress

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