Maximise your work time from your home office | the work life balance
I work from home & I love what I do. So far so good. But rewind a few months & I often wished I had another 4-5 hours available to me each day. I would get stressed about running out of time, frustrated that I hadn’t got through that day’s to-do list & don’t even mention school pick-up. I was constantly late, creating a congestion problem at the bottle-neck of kids, push-chairs & mums all trying to push their way out of the school gates as I was hurriedly trying to get in. Because, yes, as well as running a business with my husband, I also have two sons. Actually, sometimes I feel like I have 3 kids. Husbands hey, do they ever really grow up? In fact, scratch that, I sometimes feel like I have 4 kids, the two I actually have, JB (my very talented photographer husband who when he’s not working more often than not acts like a kid) & the business. It’s constantly there, needs loads of attention, is growing all the time, I love it to bits but it can be very demanding. Sound familiar?
One of the reason’s I started to work alongside JB on his photography business was so that I could be at home, be here for the kids when they needed me, be able to take time off during the school holidays & be around after 3.30pm to spend some time with my boys; listening to what they’d been up to at school that day or ferrying them to one of the many activities they partake in. I could’ve gone back to work for someone else but I wanted to have the best of both worlds, I wanted some flexibility. Ultimately, I wanted to be in control. So it’s funny that for most of my time doing this (my eldest is 10) being in control was that last thing I felt! It was a constant juggle, often dropping balls. I was surgically attached to my laptop. I even put a desk in the living room so that I could check out my emails whilst not in the office.
It can be so hard to throw all those balls up in the air & keep them all moving. But I’ve been trying to do just that & I’m actually getting quite accomplished at it. What I’ve discovered is that if you put certain strategies to work, you can be a lot more efficient, which certainly helps with keeping the balance! So here’s some top tips that’ve worked for me:
This is the biggie if you work from home. Loads of my friends have said ‘I could never do that, I’d be washing up & cleaning all the time’. For me, if I didn’t have discipline, I’d be out having a coffee, catching up with people all the time. But you can’t. You need to be strict on this otherwise you’ll find yourself wasting time in the day & working at midnight. Not good for your health, happiness or productivity. So be clear on the lines, don’t blur them. Yes, perhaps you’ve still not put the washing out & it’s 11am or the breakfast things are still out & it’s nearing lunchtime. Leave it & get on with your work.
And it’s not only distractions around the home that will hamper your productivity. A friend may pop round with something for you. Be nice, say thanks & explain that you’re working & you’ll catch them later at school. And whatever you do, don’t waste time on Facebook or Twitter (hard but not impossible!). You need to set yourself targets & stick to them. I’ve started to have a clear ‘desk time’ now. I’m at my desk working (not reading the latest online gossip) at 10am & I finish at 2pm. Before I start work I clear away the breakfast things, put the washing out, read the latest news with a coffee. All done & dusted for 10am. I finish at 2pm so that if I need to whizz to the supermarket, make a bite to eat, pack a swimming bag or even go for a run, I can. I’ve found that this really works for me & my biggest challenge is sticking to it. No going in the office at 4.30pm when the kids are demanding my attention. If JB asks me to move an appointment, I now ask him to email me so that I can deal with it the next working day.
2. Lower Your Expectations.
Yes, really. Not everything has to be perfect. I say that to my kids all the time (& they take me at my word as believe me, most of the time they’re anything but!). Honestly, if you’ve got a to-do list as long as your arm, you need to crack on through a few things. I’d love to spend time making sure every blog post was just right, but if I did that, I’d never blog. Sometimes things just need to be done so that you can move on to the next action.
And I’ve started to lower my expectations of what I can do in a day. My working day is now reduced & desk time is 10am-2pm. There’s no way in the world I’ll get everything done in 4 hours but if I focus on getting 3 things done rather than 10, I leave the office feeling much happier.
3. Make a plan. Stick to the plan.
A lot of the work we do is the same & follows the same processes. Get a booking, confirm it, get a brief, confirm delivery time, attend the shoot, process the images, send to client, get feedback, post to blog/FB/website. But putting those processes down into a working document means that we always know where we are in the process, who’s doing what & everything has become more organised, more streamlined. So create some working processes. Once you’ve done that, the important thing to do is to stick to them. We’ve had our blips on this, things get busy, JB is out shooting & then working evenings. So, to tackle the problem & not slip back into bad habits we’re moving around the office furniture to create a clear wall. The aim is to make it our ‘thinking wall’ & our ‘strategy wall’. Everything will be on there – words, images, you name it. If it keeps us organised & our processes front of mind, it’s worth the upheaval of an office reshuffle.
4. Define your roles.
This is relevant to me as I work with my partner. Maybe some of you do to. But when time is so precious there’s nothing worse that doubling up & finding out that you’ve both been doing the same thing! This can be as simple as making it clear who’s going to tick the accept box on the weekly football teamer invite. I’ve defined that any football/cricket/kids stuff that finds it’s way into our inboxes will be dealt with by me. JB knows to just bin it & move on. Going back to the work processes, JB & I have clearly defined exactly what part of every workflow each of us is responsible for. He deals with commercial bookings, shoots, edits & sends to clients. I deal with all wedding bookings, meetings, the general calendar, the bookkeeping & all social media. And so on. Jon doesn’t have to chase an unpaid invoice or remind me to upload something to the website because we each specialise.
As well as delegating out the roles between myself & JB, we also pull people in when we need then. A busy week means we send the images on to a retoucher who can do the work a lot quicker & JB can concentrate on something else. Along with everything else I need to get done, expenses became my bugbear. I literally hated pulling all the receipts together, working out cash payments versus ones that came out of the business account. Then putting them all together on a spreadsheet etc etc…So now my accountant does it all for me. I bung them all in an envelope, wave goodbye & wait to get a figure back to pay. Now, when thinking about the expenses, I do so with a smile on my face!
And don’t be afraid of asking for help. Sometimes it’s good to admit that you need to reach out to someone. It could just be that if a Tuesday is routinely a busy day for you, do a child swop with a friend so that you get a longer day in the office. You may need a few sessions with a business coach or you may need to outsource your social media (either that or get it all together on Hootsuite, if you’re not familiar with it, check it out, it’s amazing & saves SO much time!). But really, whatever it takes, use your network, both professionally & socially, to make your working week easier.
6. Build in some ‘you time’.
Yes, you’re stretched way to thin. The to do list isn’t getting any shorter. The kids are getting more demanding & then there’s still dinner to prepare, washing to do & a house to clean.
I honestly feel that if you spend a little time taking care of yourself, spending a little time doing the stuff you want to do, you’ll be much better equipped to handle the chaos & craziness of the work life balance.
So, with my new work time regime, I’ve been able to teach myself how to make bread (no bread machine in this house). I’m actually getting better at it, the kids think it’s amazing that dough can grow & it tastes divine! And, because I sit at my desk for 4 hours a day, I’ve started a bootcamp 3 times a week, signed up to an online social media course AND allowed myself one coffee get together with either a networking friend or a personal friend (often one of the same!) once a week.
So, I hope these tips can help you as much as they’ve helped me. It’d be great to hear about how you manage to work from home, juggle daily life & run a successful business. Let’s share our tips so that we can all get the balance right. Leave me a comment… I’d love to hear about it!
I’m Rachel Bradley. I work with my husband Jon and together we run Jon Bradley Photography Limited. We’re based in Wokingham.