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This chapter is from the book

Procrastination: We Saved It for Last

We saved the ultimate Home Office Enemy—procrastination—for last. We even procrastinated about writing on this topic!

One of the toughest things about the solitary nature of the home office is procrastination. In an outside office, we all become attuned to working at a pace with our co-workers. We have people supervising us. We have an overall idea of how much work we are expected to accomplish each day. Working from home is solitary. Not only that, there are a thousand distractions. Joyce Lapsley, a Virginia-based consultant and trainer, says this about working from home: "Distractions/guilt about laundry, dust, etc. is one of the toughest things about working from home; that is, when I walk past a pile of dishes or laundry, I nag myself about them. On the other hand, when I'm relaxing, I feel that I should be working upstairs in the office." The problem with these distractions is they can often lead us to procrastinate on our work. While an on-site office has "busy work" or time-wasters, too, like water cooler conversations or personal e-mails, home offers other enticements, especially, for lack of a better word, "puttering" around the house. (You putterers know who you are . . .)

Home office procrastination, therefore, can be divided into two primary categories:

  1. Lack of self-direction or motivation

  2. Distractions of home

Let's tackle each of these in turn.

If self-direction is your problem and you find being alone leaves you daydreaming, not focusing, or not knowing where to turn first for a task, consider buddying up with another home office worker with a similar problem. In this new era of the home office revolution, there are millions of us out there. You probably know a few. Ask them if they would mind pairing up to conquer the procrastination bug. It might help to check in with someone as you would with a boss as you learn to motivate yourself, rather than having a supervisor choose the course of your day. You may even be able to do this online (see our website resources at the back of this book).

Another strategy might be to set off an alarm on your watch or an egg-timer for every 30 minutes, more or less. Chronic procrastinators can learn to value precious minutes by making them more measurable in terms of work accomplished. For instance, if you set your watch alarm to beep every 20 minutes, and it goes off and you realize you have spent the entire 20 minutes forwarding jokes on the Internet, surfing your favorite website, or daydreaming, you suddenly have a more vivid understanding of what happened in those 20 minutes—nothing! This can help train you to accomplish more by learning to set expectations for yourself for each block of time.

Motivational tapes help some people, as does music that "gets you going." Other strategies include mind games with yourself—or with the procrastination monster. First, you must figure out what you do when you procrastinate. In other words, if you like to make phone calls and gab with a friend for 10 minutes (or more) or you like to get up and snack (our own editor says this was one of his problems), set this up as a reward for a set period of time of solid working or the accomplishment of a dreaded task, such as filing.

Another technique is to figure out what particular office jobs you dislike the most in your home office. Do these tasks in limited intervals. Ten minutes of filing once a day is better than three hours of built-up filing at the end of two weeks. Commit to doing your least-favored tasks once a day, and don't give yourself mental permission to leave the office until you do.

A logical option is to pay someone to do those tasks you consistently procrastinate on to the detriment of your business. Can a bookkeeper do these functions once a week? What about a college student who can file or set appointments? See the box on "How Much Is Your Time Worth?" to determine whether this is a wise approach. Don't forget that just as you are telecommuting or setting up a home-based business, there are literally millions of others out there doing the same. Therefore, though you may hate to do your bookkeeping paperwork, you can bet the last dollar in your checking account that someone in your town or city is a bookkeeper who works from home by the hour. You may even be able to barter services.

How Much Is Your Time Worth?

When dealing with procrastination, it pays, literally, to know how much you are making per hour. Whether a telecommuter or home-based entrepreneur, you make an average hourly figure. Calculate that. Next, look at your most hated home office tasks: Filing? Bookkeeping? Appointment setting? Faxing and correspondence? Errands? Next, try to estimate what procrastinating costs you. In other words, if you put off correspondence until you have 30 letters to do, how long does it take to accomplish that—calculating a rough estimate of how much time you spent delaying, and doing other things to avoid the pile of letters (e.g., calling friends, visiting the refrigerator, etc.). Now calculate how much actual time it costs to do those letters. Not what it should cost, but what it's really costing your bottom line. In other words, if you make $50 an hour, and between wasting time over it, plus the actual chore of it, filing "costs" you five hours of time a week, that's $250. Now get pricing on how much it would cost to have this chore done by someone else. Finally, imagine your week free of this task and how much money you could make if you had extra time to place sales calls, do high-billing tasks, and so forth. Does it now make sense to pay someone to do your least-favorite work details? You may be losing money by doing them yourself!

What about people who get caught up in cleaning the house, laundry, mowing the lawn, or tinkering on the car? Technically, they're not really procrastinating, because they're getting actual household work done, but oftentimes, when examined closely, people who "putter" may actually be avoiding a work task they dislike. If this is you, then designate physical household chores as a way to combat mental tiredness. In other words, you are not allowed to use peak mental performance time to do a load of laundry or fix the leaky faucet. If you're truly mentally fatigued, use that time to do a chore, but also use it to stretch, take deep breaths, and increase energy levels. Even approaching chores as a way to invigorate, such as putting on your favorite rock 'n' roll as you fold laundry or clean the kitchen, or wearing a Walkman as you trim the hedges, can be a way to conquer procrastination in both your personal and professional life.

Again, it's all about playing mind games with yourself. And discipline. You're smart. You know your own pitfalls. Look at them and combat them in clever ways that bring you the end result you want.

There, procrastination wasn't all that bad, was it?

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