As many family-owned businesses quickly realize, there is often an overlap between “work from home” and “family business.” Luckily, a lot of the same challenges employees and freelancers face are the same as family-owned businesses. That means the solutions can be modified to work for us as well.
Inspired by a recent SpinSucks article, “Three Challenges to Remote Work and How to Overcome Them,” here are three most common challenges I see with family-owned / work-from-home businesses and some creative solutions on how to deal with them.
- Being productive
- Staying focused
- Clear division between work and home
At the heart of all three of these distractions is just that, being distracted. Anytime you choose to do one task over the other, you are letting impulse (or guilt) override your priorities.
How can you possibly be expected to make follow-up phone calls when there is a pile of laundry to be folded? How can you devote time helping with a school project if you know a client deadline is looming? The plain fact of work-from-home life is that there will always be orthodontist appointments, emails, quick trips to Target* or other seemingly important must-be-done-right-now tasks.
I’m a huge fan of alliteration and these five things will help keep you focused and productive. Write them out on a sticky note and put it on your computer!
Delegate. Defer. Delete. Distract. DO.
*Humor me here. We all know this to be a flat-out lie. No one can get through Target in under an hour or for under $100.
Yes, the kids need clean clothes for school. Yes, they can do the laundry themselves. (My kids are 9 and 15. At this point, they should be washing towels and sheets too!) In the end, it doesn’t matter if they can’t quite fold the clothes the way you would. It matters that the job got done. Need some other ideas on tasks to delegate tasks outside your family?
Instacart. Peapod. FreshDirect. Heck, even your regional grocery store may offer delivery services. There are even meal delivery services that allow you to have the ingredients for menu planning and meal prep delivered to your door or the completed meal itself. For my family, that option didn’t work so well, but subscribing to a menu planning service like eMeals did. As part of delegating tasks in the house, we got my mom a debit card that she can use at the grocery store (she is retired and lives with us.) We work on planning menus together and she grocery shops.
Listen, there is nothing more beneficial for productivity than a clean bathroom. Need help finding someone? Check out Nextdoor or Care.com for leads. My kids still keep their rooms clean(ish). We still do all our own laundry. Counters get wiped. Dishes get washed. Only now the more time-consuming part of cleaning – like bathrooms and floors – are handled by someone else.
I’ll be honest here. If I didn’t have help cleaning it wouldn’t get done. Having a cleaning service “costs” me time because we have to tidy up before the cleaners arrive. Every ‘spare’ moment on a weekend before was spent feeling guilty over not cleaning. Not anymore!
Between Etsy, Amazon Pantry, Amazon Prime and Boxed you have a lot of options to get home and business basics delivered right to your door. Need printer toner and paper? How about a present for a birthday party your kid is invited to? How about toilet paper?
With the holidays coming up this means you don’t have to spend driving, yelling, parking, screaming, standing in the checkout line, and losing your sanity. Money well spent in my opinion!
Okay, so “things” need to get done, but chances are they don’t need to get done right now. Not everything is equally important in priority. Not everything is an emergency. Not everything is deserving of your attention right now.
Set a Timer
My watch reminds me once an hour to get up from my desk and stand / stretch. I use this time to switch up laundry, make myself a snack or add an item to my Amazon shopping cart. The key here is to schedule your interruptions – not let them rule your day. I give myself FIVE MINUTES to get back to my desk. Five minutes is a lot of time to get something done like fold a load of towels, make a doctor’s appointment, or check my personal email. Remember, not all of the tasks get done during my break. Just one. Choose wisely!
Make a List
If you’re afraid that you will forget, keep a list at your desk and jot it down – then move on. Don’t sit and wonder where you can get the best price, where the sales flyer is or if you should do it yourself or delegate it to someone else. You can think about the list next time your timer goes off, at lunch, or at the end of the day.
Is there anyone in your family that can take care of some of the items? Then delegate it! Do you keep moving a task from list to list and never actually doing it? Then delete it. Sounds simple. Feels hard.
Okay, if you can’t delegate it or defer it, maybe it’s time to delete it.
You don’t really need to make 30 handmade gift baskets for the school carnival. You don’t really need to make cupcakes from scratch for the party. You don’t really need to promise a client a full rewrite of a proposal by tomorrow morning.
You’ve heard the saying… Every time you say “yes” to one thing you are saying “no” to something else.
Stop. Saying. Yes. To. Everything.
Now I know what I said before – cut out the distractions. But there are times where being distracted can give you a boost in productivity. More specifically, find a distraction for people (children) so that you can focus on the task at hand.
If you know there is a time where you absolutely positively need to be heads-down for work then you need to communicate that very clearly with the rest of the family and make sure they are properly occupied with their time.
When the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix book was released my daughter was a toddler. In order to get in some uninterrupted reading time I purchased her the biggest PlayDoh set I could find. She camped out in the family room on a plastic tablecloth playing (without me freaking out over a mess) while I read. More recently, I had a really important work phone call to make and I took time with my son beforehand to start him on a kitchen project (we now have gifts to bring to my family’s house for Thanksgiving.)
Sometimes you just need to sit down and DO the work. Families that run businesses together have a lot of perks. But sometimes it just comes down to working with your family and getting work done WITH your family, not despite them.
For example, my daughter is in her second year of video production classes so she’s a natural fit for editing our training videos. My son is great at sorting through collected business cards from a conference and scanning them into our CRM. Talk to your kids and find out their ideas for helping the family business.
Batch the Work
Batching works just as well for distractions as it does for productivity. There is a time management process called The Pomodoro Technique that I use often for the work portion of my day. Lifehacker has an introduction to the process that quickly teaches you how to carve up your time to make focused and productive chunks of time in your day.
What I do is make a list of the things that need to get done and set a timer on my computer for 25 minutes. I do NOTHING for those 25 minutes but the task at hand. If the task is email then there is no checking Facebook. If it is making return phone calls then I do nothing but dial dial dial in those 25 minutes. Some tasks take longer than 25 minutes (this article, for example, took several chunks of 25 minutes for me and included time out for a doctor apointment) so I just use the break between to refocus my eyes after staring at a computer screen too long or getting up and stretching for a bit. I don’t leave my desk but do give my brain a break until the next chunk of time.
Time batching also works for non-work activities. I know my youngest gets home from school at 3:30pm so I arrange my time accordingly. As soon as I hear his backpack hit the floor in the front hall I know my time with him is coming up. More times than not he comes straight to my office for a hug and to chat. I have marked off time with no meetings or scheduled calls so that I can spend time with him to go over homework or what the book in class is. He knows he gets time with me so when I need time later to work, he’s off working on a project or with LEGOS.
… now to talk about the balance of “Home vs. Work”
I’ll be honest here, when you run a family-owned company from home there is often little division between home life and work life.
Sometimes my husband and I travel for work and the kids don’t see us for a week (we call every night, don’t worry.) Sometimes I miss school events. Sometimes we talk about work at the dinner table. Sometimes our kids and my mom travel with us when we attend conferences. Sometimes my husband needs to eat dinner late because he’s on a client call.
But guess what?
Most times we are home when our kids come home from school. Most times we are able to make doctor appointments during the weekday. Most times I can drive my kids to school if they miss the bus. Most times we can work after our kids have gone to bed. Most times I can start dinner during one of my breaks.
It’s a big glorious mashup of work and life and family.
We like it this way because we’ve made it work this way.