How to cope with the
stress of a home office
kissed off the corporate life, deep-sixed the suits and left the
cold sterile office for the warm confines of home. So why aren't
you more relaxed?
Home-office entrepreneurs face just as much
stress as their cubicle-dwelling counterparts: Kids who don't understand
why Daddy or Mommy can't play with them. Spouses who "need" errands
run. Friends who drop by to chat. And clients who demand attention
Take heart. There are a few things you can do
to save both your business and your sanity. First things first:
Home-based entrepreneurs need to recognize that
establishing a successful business can take years, says Mark Gorkin,
a licensed clinical social worker known as "The Stress Doc" and
author of the soon-to-be-released book, Practice Safe Stress
With the Stress Doc: The Art of Managing Stress, Burnout and Depression.
"I see my small-business operation as more of
a marathon than a 100-yard dash," says Gorkin, who works from his
Washington, D.C., home. "I need to build in strategies that will
help me for the long haul."
Begin with a meeting
Many home-office experts recommend inaugurating the business
with a family meeting. Gather everyone together to set some boundaries.
Spell out what you need in terms of work hours, privacy and help
from various members of the household.
This is also the time to talk about what you
will not be doing: cleaning the house, walking the dog, cooking
dinner and running errands. Being at home does not make you responsible
for the home.
And if you're starting a home-based business,
how happy is your home? If your marriage is rocky or your family
is going through a tough time emotionally, you might want to stabilize
your home life before you add business stress to the mix.
"If you have serious family problems, get some
family counseling before you start the business," says Gorkin. "A
home-based business is a family affair -- and the family needs to
If you are the only source of income for the
family, you might want to consider launching your home business
as a part-time enterprise and gradually increasing the hours.
"You avoid setting up that all-or-nothing, do-or-die
scenario," Gorkin says.
Office space: your final
You need an office -- preferably one with a door that closes. It's
tough to run a business from the kitchen table if that's where the
family eats three times a day. Try to find a room that can be set
aside exclusively for your business. First, when you walk in, you'll
be primed to work. And second, no one else will have an excuse to
interrupt you or move your things.
Since you'll be spending a lot of time in your
office, the room needs to be bright, well-lit, neat, clean and appealing.
"Care for yourself enough to do that," says Ruth Luban, a California
psychologist specializing in burnout and author of the book Are
You a Corporate Refugee?, which is due out in November. "You
have to live in that room."
Your most important office accessory? A comfortable,
ergonomically sound chair. It's more expensive, "but it makes a
huge difference in your stress level," says Luban.
Get organized. It doesn't matter if you use
a file cabinet or milk crates, but you need to establish a system
so that you know where everything is. Nothing is more stressful
than having a client on the phone and not being able to find what
you need, says Lisa Kanarek, author of 101 Home Office Success
Secrets and Organizing Your Home Office For Success.
And what if you find your conscience tugged
by household chores? "Take all of your materials into your office
with you -- including a snack -- so you won't be tempted," says
Kim T. Gordon, author of Bringing Home the Business: The 30 Truths
Every Home Business Owner Must Know.
Follow that schedule
Set a schedule and stick to it -- with clients, family and yourself.
It will keep you out of the fridge at 10:45 a.m. and off the phone
at midnight. Don't fall into the trap of saying you'll stop when
you're finished. With a new business, you're never finished.
"Most of us entrepreneurs are compulsive about
completing tasks," says Luban. "That's the paradox of success. When
you've given everything to the business and have prestige and recognition,
you are too tired to enjoy it."
You are your business's greatest asset, so treat
yourself well. This means three meals a day, scheduled breaks and
regular exercise. "There's no way you can stay healthy and resilient
unless you take care of you," says Luban.
Don't neglect emotional support, says Gorkin.
He has joined several small-business groups that provide support
-- and a good network of contacts.
Home-business owners also need to beware of
the loneliness factor for you and your spouse. Get out of the house
on a regular basis and talk to other small-business owners. If your
spouse is your only source of emotional support, "you're both going
to burn out," says Gorkin.
Expect setbacks and hang on to your sense of
humor. "You're going to get kicked on your butt 16 different ways
starting up a business -- and it's so important to be able to laugh
at yourself," says Gorkin.
Just say 'no'
Learn to say no. Even if your clients know you work from home, that
doesn't mean you are available to them 24 hours a day. Answering
your business phone after hours may give the impression that you
are unprofessional -- or even desperate. It helps if you have a
second phone line -- one your entire family can safely ignore.
"Certain time has to be private time," says
Gordon. "Try to picture what you would do if you were in an office
and act accordingly."
Friends will assume that if you're home during
the day, they can call, drop by or send their kids over to play.
You will probably have to beg off only once -- politely -- before
they get the message, says Gordon. Saying "I work between 10 and
3, could we get together after that?" or "I'm working today but
I can schedule a lunch with you on Thursday" will let them know
that even though you're home, you're also a busy professional.
The same goes for family. Just because you're
home doesn't mean you're the designated maid, dog walker or carpool
driver. Set a schedule with family and -- within reason -- stick
to it. You also want to schedule time to be with your family --
and away from your business -- on a regular basis. Part of eliminating
stress, says Luban, "is knowing there is more to you than this business."
How to not work
Getting out of the house at least once a day will spur your creativity,
says Gorkin. If you can't leave the house, grab a cell phone and
a pad and go out onto the porch, into the backyard or just to another
room. A change of scene can give you a much-needed new perspective.
When the day is over, stop.
"Set up a decompression ritual," says Luban.
It can be anything -- a walk, a hot bath, or just time to sit in
the yard. Just like your old commute, it's a signal that the work
day is finished.
Don't be afraid to fail
Part of eliminating stress is dealing with the fear of failure.
"Keep in mind you are taking a risk," says Kanarek.
"What kept me going was the thought that, 'If this doesn't work
out, I can get a job.' Once I had that attitude, I started enjoying
the work more and I made money."
Most important: Remember why you set up a home
business. "People get so into the business, they forget why they
started it in the first place," says Gordon.
During a recent talk, she asked a group of entrepreneurs
why they chose to work from home. One father said he wanted to be
there when his kids came home from soccer practice.
"So are you?" Gordon asked him. "Not really,"
he replied. Her lesson: Remember why you launched the business --
and make those goals the priorities.
is a freelance writer based in Georgia
--Posted: Sept. 28, 2000