Few home based businesses operate without a computer. While initial enthusiasm may at first inspire great productivity, distractions abound for work-from-home adults banging away on their keyboards. Add to this recipe the infinite reaches of the Internet, and it’s a wonder any work gets done at all. It’s time to transform the home office’s primary fun source into a bona fide work horse.
Start by organizing the computer used for business into a serious machine. Keep the personal photographs as the desktop background, as long as you wouldn’t be embarrassed for clients to see them. The verdict is not so kind for other components of a work computer. All games and unnecessary software should be removed to keep tasks focused on money making endeavors. If the computer is a shared machine, utilize the profile function of most operating systems. Make an account for the business session so diverting programs are not available, but still stored on the hard drive for other family members.
Email is excess communication. Use a business email address and do not give it out to friends and family members. When people disregard your requests for personal email to go to a personal account, block their addresses. Personal email should only be checked on your scheduled breaks, and never for longer than 15 minutes at a time. A simple digital kitchen timer by the desk will help keep perusing periods honest. Business email should not be checked more often than first thing in the morning, and right after lunch unless a particular correspondence is expected. It will only distract you from the task at hand. Make a habit of deleting unwanted messages in the morning, and again before ending for the day.
Stop the file frenzy by eliminating chaotic folder systems. Catching yourself using Search too often from the Start menu? It’s time to rearrange the document filing system. Look for folders with similar names, or titles that aren’t clear about the contents. For example, folders named ‘Financial Documents’, ‘Accounting Files’, and ‘Account Information’ might be confusing if someone is looking for a specific customer invoice. First tier folders should be broad subject matters, such as ‘Money’, and folders nested inside should be as specific as possible, such as ‘Customer Invoices’ or ‘Supplier Invoices’. Each additional level of folder names must be more specific than the last, so a third level in the above example would then be ‘Customer ABC Company’.
Reduce mistakes with file names and watermarks. Multi-tasking is the norm, and nothing is worse than sending a draft, or worse the wrong file to a high profile client. If there will be multiple versions of a file, due to revisions or client input, put a sequential number at the end. File.doc becomes File1.doc, File2.doc, and so on. Never delete drafts of a document or proposal while the project is still in motion. Once a project has been billed and paid, the files may be moved to a back up server if disk space is absolutely necessary. The existence of these electronic files may be needed for reference, proof of work performed, or deliverance from disaster involving loss of the latest revision. Adding a clear identifying watermark such as “Draft” or “Intellectual Property of My Company Name” will further help identify a document when the file name is not readily apparent. Just don’t forget to remove it from the final version prior to printing and submittal.
When all else fails, clock the computer time. Pesky preoccupation can quickly be cured by a simple week long log of computer activity. Store a notepad and pen in a handy location, and write the start time and quick name for each task. When finished, log the stop time and start time of the next one. Notes can be as simple as: “9:12 Email to John Smith, 9:38 Proposal for Project Z, 10:04 Checked email, 10:30 Project Z again….” Startling trends and work habits will glare at you worse than a middle manager from cubicle world. On the positive side, the time log will add insight into better ways to schedule the work day so all obligations are met. Including the obligation to take a breather.
Computers are double-edged swords for productivity. On one edge, the razor sharpness cuts down time needed to process information, collect data, and manage communication. All of this is negated by the other edge becoming dull from aimless Internet browsing, email chatter, and worst of all video games. Moving from the outside work world to a home based business is a tough exercise in balance and personal accountability. Setting up simple parameters and prescriptive business practices, a savvy home based entrepreneur ensures her computer remains a tool and not an obstacle to success.