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"Plan B": When a Good Day Goes Bad— Very Bad

When you work from home, you need to be prepared for the unexpected. For example, you plan out a quiet workday because the kids are in school until three o'clock. An hour later, the school nurse is calling because one of your children is throwing up. Next thing you know, your perfect day is over and you are in the car driving to your child's school.

Successfully working from a home office depends on you being able to roll with the unforeseen surprises that will occur. If you are the rigid type or have a tendency to come undone when things don't go your way, you will be very cranky at worst—and most certainly not your most productive at best.

Try to have a "Plan B" for various home office disasters. Even for telecommuters, and those without kids, disaster on the home front can mean a lost workday. For instance, you may not have children, but that doesn't mean you won't find yourself spending half a day waiting for a car to be repaired when you were told it would only take an hour. Or that you won't suddenly have a personal emergency, trip to the dentist that turns into a root canal, and so forth. A "Plan B" enables you to salvage part of your day. For instance, we have a client who is never without her day planner. If she has to get her car repaired or go to the doctor's office, she brings it along and uses waiting room time and excessive delays to organize even months in advance. John Diaz, a salesman, is a firm believer in sending personal note cards to clients for holidays and thank yous. He keeps a supply of them in his glove compartment and uses stalled traffic, waiting for the oil to be changed in his mechanic's waiting area, and other typical "time wasters" as a way to maximize his day.

For those with children, sickness tends to be the ultimate "Plan B" crisis. Keep the items on the list below on hand for days when you're child is home from school. It's also good idea to have the necessary medications available (i.e., Tylenol, cough medicines, etc.) so that you don't have to go running out to the drugstore with a sick child in tow. Remember, again, if you buy two or three of a common item (such as Tylenol or cough syrup) once, you will be saved a trip somewhere down the road that will, because of Murphy's Law, come at the most inconvenient time possible. The items on this list below can amuse a sick child so he or she doesn't demand all of your attention:

Coloring books
CD games

It pays to have some of these be NEW items. Why? Who doesn't like something new? A new CD-ROM game is going to amuse your child a whole lot more than one that's been played a thousand times before.

Next, figure out what you can do in the moments your child is feeling needy or wants you close at hand. You can straighten up, sort the mail, and so forth—versus what you can do later on when your child is sleeping.

Plan B is like any office emergency system—the more prepared you are for any eventuality, the more likely it is you will not lose an entire day of work.

Top Five Time Wasters

  • Telephone calls (that's what Caller ID is for!)

  • E-mails (get off everyone's joke lists)

  • Interruptions

  • Messy work area

  • Lack of a schedule

Top Ten T-i-m-e S-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-r-s

  • Keep an organized work area so you don't waste time hunting for things.

  • Plan your day ahead of time, and set yourself up the night before.

  • Keep your To-Do lists short and realistic for each day (e.g., the top two or three things you must do that day).

  • Before you take on something new, like a new commitment or exercise class, eliminate something old or that you don't need/want anymore.

  • Group tasks together (e.g., all errands, calls, paperwork, reading, filing).

  • Screen your phone calls with an answering machine or caller ID.

  • Use a hands-free head set so that you can do two things at once.

  • Use down time or "waiting room" time for planning and reorganizing, catching up on reading, and so forth.

  • Write down a phone memo with date, time, and reason for calling and record it in one place.

  • Do your hardest work during your peak hours.

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