I’ve worked from home full-time as a writer, blogger and now podcaster for more than a decade: through multiple pregnancies and new babies, industry changes, technology hiccups and even a new puppy or two.
Here are three truths I’ve learned about running your own home-based business:
You have to get used to working around other living things…that aren’t working.
The thing about a house is that people (and other creatures) live in it. So in order to successfully work from home, you’re going to have to get used to watching people going about their daily business, which has nothing to do with your business.
If you have a kid at home, you’ll have to grapple with the cognitive dissonance of performing important grown-up work with the not-so-grown-up sounds of Team Umizoomi in the background.
If you have a dog, you’ll find yourself staring at it longingly every once in a while as it naps in a patch of sun at noon.
If you have a cat, you’ll find yourself staring at it longingly as it naps on your keyboard.
If you have none of the above, you might just find yourself staring longingly at your retired neighbor as she putters around her garden.
If any of these distractions become too difficult to manage, remember that you are always free to get up and putter around your own garden, watch Team Umizoomi, or nap in a patch of sunlight on the floor. After all, you’re driving your own bus now.
The 8 to 5 schedule no longer applies.
In a typical office environment, it’s more or less understood that everyone paces themselves. No point burning yourself out on Monday … you’ll have to show up again on Tuesday. People work at a steady pace and take breaks in an organized, regular fashion. It’s all very orderly, if a little boring for a novelty-seeking type like me.
In more than a decade of working from home, I’ve come to view schedules as just a suggestion. Sometimes I get an incredible amount accomplished by 2:00 p.m. on Monday, and then stare out the window drooling most of Tuesday morning. Sometimes I go back to bed for an hour after sending the kids off to school, then make up for it with a caffeine-fueled ass-kicking session in the afternoon.
But freedom does come with downsides. Since I never leave the office, theoretically I could work all day and night (and sometimes, I do). I’m sometimes unreasonably grumpy about other people imposing their schedules on me and have been known to cancel appointments just to remind myself that I can.
And that late-morning nap? It only works out if I was disciplined enough to check everything off my to-do list the day before … or if an emergency didn’t come up overnight. (Note: It often does.)
The takeaway? Running your own business can offer a tantalizing amount of freedom, but a successful work-from-homer has to learn to capitalize on downtime when it presents itself, while always being prepared to hit the ground running—hard—when work needs doing. Still, I wouldn’t trade the freedom … not even for a scheduled lunch break and paid vacation.
Flexibility is everything.
Anyone who’s worked for themselves for a while knows this: The same day you expect to put in a solid eight hours in peace, the Internet will inexplicably go out, or your babysitter won’t show up, or your preschooler will decide he’s no longer willing to sit through a conference call without hanging on your sweater and whining, or your neighbor will drop by to complain about your dog, or your dog will run away, or your spouse will decide to take the day off and then hover over your shoulder remarking, “Oh, so this is what you do all day,” until you want to throw an elbow back right into his junk, or your furnace will break and you’ll have to deal with the repair guy, or your brain will simply decide it isn’t going to function properly today.
Yes, these things can happen if you work in an office, too, but when you work for yourself, it’s all on you. The deadlines and client relations, the accounts payable and receivable, the customer service and human resources, are all ultimately your responsibility. There’s no buck to pass, friend.
But after a while, those of us who are cut out for this kind of life get good at recognizing what’s truly urgent and what’s not. You get good at narrowing down your list of people for whom you’ll open the door at 2:00 p.m. on a Wednesday when you’re on a deadline, and stop feeling bad about ignoring the doorbell (and if needed, hiding behind the curtains) for the rest of the world.
You tell your spouse to get out of your space while you’re working—or maybe, better still, you take him to lunch. You hit “mute” on the conference call and snuggle with your preschooler in the patch of sun on the floor. You do all this because you can, and you must. Doing your own thing, no matter how crazy or chaotic it sometimes seems, is somehow wired into your DNA.
And the next time you’re playing the self-employment lottery at the mailbox—waiting, once again, on that late client payment or contract—and think, just for a second, about leaving it all behind and heading back to a regular job, you’ll drop that thought as quickly as it came.
It may be a crazy life, but it’s your crazy life … and you know you wouldn’t have it any other way.