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Originally Posted 4/24/2009 2:31 AM on USA TODAY

By Rhonda Abrams, USA TODAY

Can’t find a job? You’re not alone. Over 13 million Americans are out of work. Are you just going to sit at home in your bathrobe and mope? No. It’s time to start your own business and create a job. As someone said to me, “Being a consultant means never having to say you’re unemployed.”

As you transition to self-employment, there’s lots to think about. One of the most important, but overlooked, is how to establish a day-to-day routine of how you’ll spend your time. It’s tougher than you think.

First, recognize you’re no longer just looking for a job, and you may have to break some bad habits. When you’re job hunting, your day goes something like: Check job listings, send resumes, have coffee with someone who knows someone who might have a job lead, read e-mail. Even if you’re working really hard at trying to find a new position, that’s half a day.

You can justify spending the rest of the day exercising (staying in shape for that job interview), golfing (“another word for networking, hon …”), running errands or picking up the kids (yes, you really do have time for that, no matter what you tell your spouse).

Once you decide — or realize — you’re actually running a business, you need a different approach to time management.

Recognize that you do, indeed, need structure. You can’t play it by ear every day. And you need to devote enough hours to build a business; you can’t just wait until you have clients or customers. On the other hand, you don’t necessarily want or need the rigid limits you had when you were someone else’s employee.

That’s a tough line to walk. I know. When I first started my then home-based business, I set a rigid 9-to-5 schedule. After a while, it didn’t fit the way I was most productive. I worked best very early in the morning, then taking a break around 9 or 10 a.m. to walk my dog, work diligently until 2 or 3 p.m., go exercise, and then perhaps end the day with a bit more work, if I had any to do.

There are tempting ways to waste time when you work from home. You can spend hours on the Internet, feeling busy. You can read news and blogs and interact with people on social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. These may be useful but limit the amount of time you spend.

Here’s Rhonda’s Rule: Don’t fritter away your day on Twitter (although do follow me on Twitter at RhondaAbrams).

Here are eight keys to a productive work-at-home work routine:

• Set and keep work hours. These can fit your bio-rhythms and responsibilities (carpool?) but set aside times when you’re solely focused on your business.

• Do NOT accept personal invitations from, or run errands for, family and friends during your set work hours, otherwise people will think you’re always available.

• Have kids? Use time without them (school hours?) as your business hours. If they’re not yet in school, if possible, get someone to watch them while you work.

• Make sales calls every day. Each day, make it your top priority to do at least one thing directly related to closing a sale, such as calling a prospect, sending out a proposal, meeting with a referral source.

• If you’re easily distracted, set aside certain hours that are Internet/e-mail/phone-free so you can concentrate on your work.

• Once you have clients or customers, attend to their work first. Then sales. Then marketing.

• Yes, you can exercise during daylight hours. You’ll have more energy and enthusiasm for your work if you stay in shape.

• Get dressed. You can wear shorts and a T-shirt, but get out of your PJs. It’s an attitude thing. And take a shower.

What if you don’t yet have enough paying work to fill all the business hours you’ve set aside? Then use that time to make more sales call, meet more referral sources, do more marketing. If you have the time set aside, you’re more likely to use it productively.

If you stay structured, and stay focused, I know you’ll succeed.

Rhonda Abrams is president of The Planning Shop, publisher of books for entrepreneurs. Her newest book is Successful Marketing: Secrets & Strategies. Register for Rhonda’s free business tips at www.PlanningShop.com. For an index of her columns, click here. Copyright Rhonda Abrams 2009.


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