While at lunch some years back, my friend reached into her purse that could double as an overnight bag, and extended a gift bag to me across the table. It wasn’t my birthday or any cause for a celebration. Separating the colorful tissue and ribbon, I peered inside and pulled out a pair of soft, fuzzy slippers.  I looked at her quizzically. “They’re your new work shoes!”  I had recently made the decision to quit my day job to focus on building my own business, strictly from home.

I remember our conversation that day oh so well.  I was already a side entrepreneur, but excited to pursue my desired career more extensively. And, I was equally excited that I was finally going to be able to stop juggling and get organized. The grocery shopping, the cleaning, the clutter, the laundry, the bills – all of those unending tasks that were always almost done, but always left unfinished.  I was finally going to be able to get everything done!

You can stop laughing now.

Working at home has proven to be the biggest juggling act of all. While I no longer pondered every morning what to wear to work, I did think about exactly how I was going to accomplish all of the things I see around me every day that need to get done. Seeing them was the problem.

When you’re working from a home office, it’s tough to ignore the dust on the desk and the bills piled off to the side.  It takes every ounce of self-restraint not to wipe down mirrors, countertops and sinks when taking a lunch or bathroom break. It’s hard not to answer the phone when my wonderful mom, who would do anything in the world for me, calls. “Hi honey. I know you’re working, but…..” That 20-minute phone conversation amounts to more time than that lost in my productivity.  Focus is difficult to maintain when you work in an environment with multiple distractions, and even more difficult to regain.

The beauty of working at home is that you can work whenever you want. Or, is that the beast of working at home? You might find yourself slipping into the office real quick just after dinner, when you could be spending time with your family. Or, shopping and cleaning because you just can’t wait any longer, then working into the wee hours because your office is right down the hall from your bedroom. Or, because your work is right there with you, in your home, that could mean that you’re always working.

You can have the best of both worlds. You can throw a load of laundry into the washer on your way into your office, flip it into the dryer while making a phone call, and fold it during your break.  You just need to weigh all of the factors and set some rules for yourself that will help you maintain a balance.

Make a schedule for work. Include the days, number of hours and set times that you plan to work each week. Write it down and stick to the schedule for at least one week. (You can always adjust it the next week – you’re the boss.)

Turn off the ringer on your phone. I don’t know about you, but I average 4-5 solicitor calls per day. You don’t need to keep your phone off all day, but a few hours of uninterrupted time could equal an entire day of intermittent work.

Track your time, as well as what work you do when. You may find that you perform certain aspects of your business better or more efficiently at one time of day than another.

Schedule the personal necessities that you need to accomplish, just as you would if you were working outside your home. Include paying the bills, cleaning days and shopping days. The luxury is that you can do these things based on your self-imposed schedule.

Don’t lose your personal life. Shut down the computer. Close the office door. Make sure that you aren’t working during time that you would normally spend with your family and friends.

Don’t let the fuzzy slippers (bathrobe, sweats, pajamas) be your sole work wardrobe. Some say you should get up, shower and get dressed as if you were going to a remote office. But, there’s nothing wrong with working a few hours in the morning, getting in a workout and then getting ready for the day, either.

The beauty of working from home is that it’s personal, individual, and it changes based on what you have on your agenda.  And, you really don’t have to ask anyone’s permission.