Before Becky Boyd turned her basement into an office for her public relations business, MediaFirst PR, she fell prey to the “just let me check another e-mail” syndrome that ails many home-based entrepreneurs.
“We had a computer in our living room, and it was so easy to run in there and go online and start doing e-mail,” says Boyd, who works with her husband, Jim Caruso.
After founding the company in 1992, the pair worked offsite. But they moved home because, well, they liked being there. It was easy, convenient, required no commute and – a big plus – their young son wouldn’t have to sit in after-school daycare.
They built out the basement of their 4,000-square-foot, three-story house, creating two offices and a computer closet. Every day, Boyd dresses for work like she would for an offsite office. She sets hours, too, which is imperative for home-preneurs who can get swept away by the compelling forces of working where you live.
“It’s very hard to leave work at work because work is always available,” says Boyd, who has to fight the urge to work 16-hour days and fill weekends with earning income. “It’s not like I have to drive anywhere, fight traffic. I just go boom, and I’m in the office. You have to make a concerted effort to get away from it.”
It’s Your Life, Protect It
Asher Epstein, managing director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland, and a serial entrepreneur, says, “It boils down to being disciplined, setting work hours, setting family time and trying to stick to those.”
Epstein’s home-office is a desk in the family room, so he makes sure to spend time with his daughter and wife before heading back to work late at night or early in the morning. He also shuts down every Friday night and Saturday for focused, guaranteed family time.
A weekly day off gives Epstein an edge: “It gives you a chance to separate yourself, get some perspective and keep you fresh in the long-run – which is important if you’re going to keep up an aggressive pace.”
Nothing is ever as urgent as you think, he adds. That’s a great reminder to let after-hours calls go to voicemail. And it sends the message that you’re busy, which is good for business.
If you provide superior service, you won’t always have to be on call anyway, says John Clarkin, director of the Tate Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Charleston, in Charleston, S.C.
“You want to have the passion and desire that it takes,” Clarkin says. “All that fire and passion [is] not easily shut off [when you] walk out of [the] home office into the kitchen.”
But if you’re in it for the long-haul, you can’t work 24/7 for long without burning out and tanking your business in the process, he continues.
“Smart entrepreneurs need to take their time and balance their life because most do it for their families,” he says. “If they’re always working, they’re not going to have much of a family.”
Practice a Closed-Door Policy
Put a door on your workspace, and close it – both when you’re working, and when you’re not.
Don’t take papers and files out of the office. “Don’t have your daughter sitting on your lap while you’re doing invoices,” Clarkin says. “Don’t spread stuff on the kitchen table while you’re eating.”
Learn time management by reading a book, taking a class or talking to a mentor. This means setting hours – for work and play – and sticking to them. “You have to do it consciously,” Clarkin explains. “It won’t happen by itself. [Learn to] leave it behind, physically and mentally: Close the door, put the phone on answer, do not take those calls in the night.”
But while balance is the goal, cut yourself a break when you overshoot your office time. Entrepreneurship is a round-the-clock pursuit, “a way of life,” Clarkin says. “Whether in an office, retail [space] or home, true entrepreneurs live it 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Just don’t forget why.