“Working online must be amazing!”
This is what a guy told me some time ago. We were at a bar having some drinks, because it was somebody’s birthday.
It was one of those situations where you’re chatting with a friend of a friend and comes up the question: “So what do you do?”
I was focused on my international trade consultancy business at the time. So I explained what I was doing.
“Basically, I am based here in the UK, my clients are in Spain, and I provide them with market intelligence reports about Latin American markets. You know, I work online.”
His answer was something like:
“No way! Can you do all that from home? Man, working online must be amazing!”
And if you work online, which most of you do, you’re probably familiar with this kind of reaction.
For someone who works a 9-to-5 job, working online is like the perfect deal.
Wake up late every morning, no alarm. Wear pyjamas all day. Reply to emails from a hammock, in between sips of a fresh piña colada.
Let me tell you something. I live in Manchester, UK. Here it rains 53% of the year. No kidding, check The Guardian.
There is no hammock and no piña colada for me, amigo!
If I want to work online, I need to find better motivations than that — as I’ll show you later.
This post is about the unsexy stuff of working online. About the things that nobody talks about and everybody who works online suffers from.
Let’s get into it.
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When the cool online world crashes into the REAL world
Working online is cool. That’s true.
Sometimes I walk through the city center early in the morning to attend an event or something like that.
I see those zombie faces walking to the office. It’s devastating.
And I totally understand them. Spending your day in a cubicle with no natural light, grey carpet and having to commute an hour every day to get there is not amazing.
When everyday work life is like that, the alternative of working from home becomes very attractive, at least to me.
But I need to be honest, after all these years working from home (or anywhere else with an internet connection), it is not always that cool.
The first day is amazing. You’re at home with your laptop, in your leisure clothing, coffee in hand and music in the background.
You almost feel like Tom Cruise in that movie, ‘Risky Business’.
But after that initial rush, you realise that you need to actually work.
That’s what this is about.
And let me tell you something: working and being productive when nobody else is watching is one of the most challenging things you can do in business.
And here are a few not-so-cool things about working from home:
Your family thinks you’re available at any time to receive a package, attend to the plumber, go to the shop or any other tasks. After all, you’re working from home. That’s not a real job!
So, yes, you become a sort of “home assistant”.
Distractions will become your kryptonite if you work from home.
You will get distracted by ANYTHING, e.g., Wikipedia, a friend’s message or a simple thought.
I think this has to do with our lizard brain. I’m not sure, but I read it recently in a Seth Godin book.
The thing is, your brain — or at least a part of it, hopefully — is constantly keeping you at a very comfortable “status”.
They call it the ‘comfort zone’. This is that area where you’re in full control of what happens around you.
Let me give you an example. Being on your couch watching the last video of Casey Neistat is far more comfortable than doing the hard work that will give you the awesome lifestyle that Casey has.
Note that I have linked to his YouTube channel before. That was a test. If you clicked on it, you lost.
Sorry, I’m getting a little distracted with this. Let’s carry on.
Distractions are a black hole you have to steer away from at all costs.
The freedom paradox
One of the top reasons people offer when they’re asked why they want to work for themselves is: “I want freedom”.
So let’s start a home-based business. I can do what I want and schedule my day the way I want to.
The reality, especially in the early stages, is very different. And by “early stages”, I mean “the first few years”.
Again, you will need to choose better reasons for why you want to start your own business and work from home (more on that a bit later).
The freedom paradox is this: You can be free on a Tuesday afternoon to go to the gym or take a walk when somebody else is working, but you might be busy as hell on Sunday evening.
That happens, and you can manage, and you will. But before you can do that, you need to structure your work, set priorities, define processes, delegate stuff and ton of other things.
The rollercoaster of working in isolation
I feel like I’m on a roll today.
So let’s carry on. There’s a scene in the movie, The Shining (Sorry, Mr. King, I know you prefer the book). Jack Nicholson — after several months of isolation — becomes completely mad and blocked in the process of writing his book.
That’s how I feel by 7 pm on those busy days when I don’t have a chance to leave home for some fresh air.
That’s a bad thing. We all know howThe Shining ends.
If you’re working alone at home, I’m sure that at some point you have suffered from the “isolation syndrome” of the solopreneur.
Being busy when you work from home means you don’t need to go out and have any contact with the real world. In fact, the more focused you are, the more isolated hard work you will do.
Finding balance is not easy, but let me tell you what I did to solve most of these problems.
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How can you improve all this?
Okay, as I said, this situation is very normal in the early stages of our entrepreneurial home-based journey.
But I never said that this situation would last forever.
In fact, the farther you go on your journey, the more you will know yourself and what makes you more productive and efficient.
Here, I’m going to give you a few tactics and routines that helped me with this.
Find your real purpose
Why are you working online? Because you can work from home or anywhere else? So what?
What’s your purpose for that?
In my opinion, working from home doesn’t equal working less. Only a lazy person would think such a thing.
Working from home equals working better.
If you can integrate your personal and professional life, the overall results of your work will be better. And more importantly, you will feel happier.
I consider it very important to find the real reasons why you are working online.
Self-awareness and routine
Human beings are creatures of habit.
Sorry, maybe too much reality here, I know. But the truth is that we become more productive and efficient at doing something when we do that something at the same time and follow the same process each time.
And that’s different for every person. I am far more productive when I create content in the mornings. Maybe you aren’t.
All my content creation tasks happen between 8 am and 12 pm every day. I know that if I try to write a new post in the afternoon, after lunch, I won’t be doing anything productive.
So you need to plan your work days according to that pattern. Which brings me to my next point.
Plan your work day carefully
Planning my days beforehand is the best productivity hack I’ve found.
I became obsessed with it.
Asana is a great tool for organizing your tasks and projects, especially if you’re working with a remote team.
But you can use it just for you to organize your daily tasks and have an overall view of the week and month.
My Asana looks like this:
Then I synchronize my tasks in Asana with my calendar, and I have a clear view every day about what I need to do.
The next step is to assign every task a specific time, and add links to necessary documents.
I know, I look like a weirdo. But this works extremely well for me.
So my calendar looks like this:
Find your workspace
Working online doesn’t mean working alone.
I recommend that you have a place where you can go to and work with other online entrepreneurs. I have a fantastic place near home. It is a coworking space by day and a members-only cocktail club by night.
My girlfriend was super-excited about the second one.
It’s a great place to go and work, and be surrounded by other like-minded people. I think the neighbours upstairs are not so happy with the cocktail club part – but anyway, it’s still cool.
By the way, I’m writing these lines from there. Take a look:
Working online is a great way to work, but it’s not suitable for everybody.
We are all different, and what works for me could be a bad idea for you. This is why self-awareness is essential in this process.
Testing different routines and process is the only way you will find your OWN working online style.