Top Three Thieves of Time Affecting Home-Based Business Owners


One of the perks of owning a home-based business is that your time is your own. No one is forcing you to work specific hours, take lunch at a predetermined time, or work on a holiday. You are not required to perform tasks in a set order, handle them in a specific manner, or complete a certain number of tasks per day. You launched your business with the assumption that you would have to base your schedule on the needs of your customers, but you were certain that you could balance your workload to ensure time for a personal life. Most home-based business owners find their new freedom exhilarating, and many of them actually work more hours than they did at their traditional jobs. However, longer hours do not always result in greater productivity. If you find yourself working more hours to accomplish less, you may have fallen victim to one of the three thieves that can steal your company’s most valuable asset, which is your time.

Time Thief #1: Disorganization

Disorganization can be physical, mental, or emotional. Physical disorganization often takes the form of clutter. You may have piles of unopened mail on your desk, records that need to be scanned or filed, business-related books or magazines that you never got around to reading, or hard copies of queries from potential customers that await your response. Mental disorganization can manifest as struggling to find the right word to use in an email, finding it difficult to hold a train of thought, or blurting out an answer to a question posed by a customer, vendor, or employee without considering the potential implications of your response. Emotional disorganization typically occurs when you are stressed, conflicted, or anxious. For example, you may be seriously concerned about your cash flow, or you may be experiencing physical and mental stress from working too many hours, getting too little sleep, or trying to juggle too many tasks without assistance. Feeling conflicted is common among entrepreneurs with families, especially if they have young children. Often, one of their motivations for starting a home-based business was the chance to spend more time with their families, but things do not always work out that way. In fact, the belief that a home-based business allows more family time is actually considered one the top myths about running a business from home. If your business is booming, you may need to spend more time at work; if it is struggling, you may increase your hours to search for ways to boost your income. In addition, you may find that you sometimes have to choose between making your family happy and fulfilling a business commitment. For example, you scheduled a video conference with an important client at a specific time, then you discover that this is the exact time of your child’s recital. Regardless of your decision, you will probably experience at least some degree of emotional conflict over your choice.

Time Thief #2: Procrastination

When you set your own work schedule and pace, it can be easy to postpone tasks. Sometimes, you feel that you need to prioritize other matters, or you may be too tired to deal with something at the moment, so you put it on the back burner. Procrastination can also seem like a great way to avoid tasks that you dislike. Depending on the chores that you postpone, procrastination can steal your time in a variety of ways. For example, you receive an order that requires you to manufacture a large number of your products, but the requested delivery date is a month away. You feel that you have more than enough time to meet the schedule, so you decide to wait before you start producing the products. When you are ready to begin, you discover that you do not have a sufficient inventory of the necessary raw materials, so you have to spend an entire day calling several vendors to obtain the materials that you need. The last week before you need to ship the order, you work 20 hours each day to manufacture the products. However, procrastination can also steal your time in other ways. Remember the stacks of items mentioned in the discussion concerning disorganization? You can set things aside for only so long before you will be forced to deal with them.

Time Thief #3: Distraction

When you work from home, distractions may lurk around every corner. Friends, neighbors, and relatives may assume that you are always available to receive visitors. Your roommate, children, or significant other may have a similar attitude. However, it is not just the people in your personal life who can pose distractions. Some customers expect you to make the time to chat with them whenever they call, so a call that should have lasted less than three minutes turns into an hour of discussing the customer’s recent surgery, grandchildren, or vacation plans. Other clients may not understand why they need to make an appointment instead of just dropping by without notice. There can also be distractions originating outside of your home that you can do nothing about. Perhaps there is an abundance of new construction in your neighborhood, or your neighbors are having their property landscaped. However, you could also be distracting yourself. You go online to check your email, notice a headline in your browser feed about your favorite actor signing to appear in a new movie, and an hour later, you are still clicking on related links. You start to the kitchen to make yourself a sandwich, then you notice that the floor needs to be swept and mopped. You decide to take care of the floor, but you figure that you might as well clean out the refrigerator, take out the trash, and put away the clean dishes while you are there. A similar series of distractions can occur when you are trying to accomplish a task related to your business. For example, you look up an invoice to prepare a quote for a customer, and you cannot remember whether you paid it. You check to make sure you paid it, but something about your bank balance does not seem quite right, so you immediately reconcile your account. In the process, you find a charge to your debit card that seems vaguely familiar, but you cannot quite place it, so you call your bank to get more information. By the time you get back to the quote, you have forgotten where you were, so you have to backtrack to ensure that you do not miss anything.

Tips for Defeating Time Thieves

No one knows your situation better than you, so no one can provide a list of ways to handle time thieves that will work for everyone. However, there are some general tips that may help.

• Sign up for a virtual mailbox. The service can receive your business and personal mail, then post scans of the envelopes online so that you can decide whether you want them to scan the contents, shred the item, or forward it to your home.
• Carefully review your subscriptions. Whether you receive physical or digital copies, if you do not have time to read them, they could be wasting your money as well as your time.
• Post a calendar in your kitchen where family members can record their appointments and important events. This can help you attempt to match your business schedule to their needs.
• Limit the number of times you handle a piece of paper. Whenever possible, deal with it immediately. For example, if you receive an invoice in the mail, enter it for payment, or scan or file it if you paid it with a credit or debit card.
• Take care of your health to help reduce stress. Eat a nutritious diet, exercise, and keep your appointments with your physician.
• Enlist help when you need it. Whether you hire someone, ask family members to shoulder more responsibilities, or seek advice from a mentor, find a way to get the assistance that you need.
• Set firm limits with neighbors, relatives, friends, and family members. As diplomatically as you can, convey to them that you are as unavailable during working hours as you would be if you were employed elsewhere.
• Practice the art of selectively seeing only what you need to see. For example, if it is during your working hours, avoid taking a peek in the laundry room, making an inventory of your entire pantry, or checking your patio door for fingerprints.
• If outside distractions are present, consider using white noise to help you concentrate. There are many free options available online, so whether you prefer the sound of birds chirping, thunder, a babbling brook, a gentle rain, waves breaking on a shoreline, a fan, or virtually any other sound, you can probably find several excellent choices.
• Try to maintain a fixed schedule. Unless your business dictates otherwise, it really does not matter whether you start work early in the morning, at noon, or at sundown. However, sticking to a schedule can help you organize your time, and it may help you reduce your stress.