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When You Hit the Wall

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You know that episode of Seinfeld when Jerry or George asks Newman why it is that so many postal workers suddenly go off the deep end and blow their coworkers away with a semi-automatic? Newman’s answer (in suitably melodramatic tone): “Because the mail … never … stops.” Running an online business is a bit like that, so be prepared.

You don’t feel like that to start with. Oh no. If so, we’d think twice before cashing in our day jobs to do this full-time at home. No, in the beginning it doesn’t feel like work at all. It’s, well, fun.

After a while, though, the novelty starts to wear off and it begins to feel a little less like play and more like real work. That’s OK though. You’d still much rather work for yourself than your old boss so you figure you’re onto a good thing.

But then it happens. One day you wake up and realize the thought of switching on your laptop makes you feel ever so slightly sick in the stomach. Whereas once your routine was 1. get out of bed, 2. stumble into the study, 3. turn on your computer and 4. start your morning mail download BEFORE 5. feeing the cat (and if you’re owned by a cat or two you know just how significant this priority really is), now you find yourself beginning to put off downloading your mail, feeding the cat becomes first priority as does almost anything other than sitting down and actually starting work for the day.

You suddenly realize that an online business is always just that. Online. All the time. No such thing as weekends in this business. Email continues to trickle (and often flood) in every day of the year. Every single day. Think about that. It doesn’t stop just because it’s the weekend. Or Christmas Day. Or because you’re on vacation. It is relentless. Sometimes you will know how Newman feels and even begin to have moments of sympathy for him.

Once you get to that stage, you have, my friend, Hit The Wall. Congratulations. You are now officially running an online business.

So, what can you do about it? The wall, that is. Here’s nine tips that will help.

1. PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE

Well, obviously, the best thing is not to let it happen in the first place. Easy to say, tougher to do. After all, it’s only if you know there’s a wall there you CAN hit that you stop to think of ways to slow yourself down before you get there.

How do you avoid burnout in a traditional paid job? Balance and moderation in all things. By working a set number of hours a day and no more, taking time for things you enjoy and not just work and the preparations for and recovery from, work. Enjoying some “down” time, in other words. Taking a break from your responsibilities and having some FUN for Pete’s sake. Life wasn’t meant to be easy but it wasn’t meant to be all work either.

But, as I said, you have to know the wall is there before you can avoid hitting it. If it’s just too late for you, here’s how to get back on your feet again.

2. TAKE A TIME OUT

Set up an autoresponder for all your mail notifying everyone sending you mail that you are away from your office for the next two days (or however long you can comfortably take without damaging your business). If you must process orders manually, take care of them but let everything else wait.

On your time out, the object of the exercise is to mentally break from your business so you can get some perspective. This means taking a whole day off, and not thinking about what you should be doing or what isn’t getting done. Just focus on taking the day off. Do something you enjoy but haven’t done for ages. Go for a walk in some nearby gardens, go to the ocean and sit on the sand and ponder the horizon. Meditate. Go for a long drive in the country. Do whatever you want that’s enjoyable for you but nothing related to your business. Something that gets you out of your own head for a while.

By the end of this day, you should have cleared away most of the cobwebs and relaxed your mind. Once you’re in this state, your thinking will be clearer and you should be able to take a step back and look at what you’re doing with your life and your business with greater perspective and objectivity.

The day after your day off, think about how you are running your business and how you might restructure your habits so you are more productive but still have something of yourself left over for yourself … and others. You may realize, for example, that you’re never free of the ball and chain (how I affectionately think of my laptop) because you’re in the habit of checking your email compulsively 30 times a day and have somehow got the idea into your head that you must answer your mail within 30 minutes of receipt. Says who? Just because email is a near instantaneous form of communication, that doesn’t mean your response needs to be instantaneous.

Now, I’m not talking about letting a week go by. Obviously running a professional business requires that you respond to your mail (online and off) in a timely manner. But it can certainly wait a few hours until the time you have set aside for next reading and responding to email. So don’t let your computer become an anchor dragging you down. It’s a tool to assist you in your business. It is there to serve you, not the other way around.

3. MAINTAIN FOCUS

One of the main reasons for burnout whether you’re running an online business or work in a more traditional paid “job” is allowing work to become all-consuming. The internet, in particular, can become addictive if we don’t watch it. How many times have you found that an entire day has gone by while you’ve been “busy” on your computer but, when that day is over, you have a hard time identifying anything particularly productive you have done with that time?

It’s extremely easy to lose focus online. You go online to research a subject for an article you need to write for this week’s issue of your ezine. Along the way you see something that catches your eye and before you know it two or three hours have trickled away like sand through your fingers with nothing to show for it.

When you sit down at your computer to work, work. If you want to do other things online, schedule time for them. Non-work time.

4. TAKE REGULAR TIME OFF

No matter how much you enjoy your online business, spend enough 18 hour day/seven day weeks and you’ll burn out. No question.

When you work a traditional full-time “job” you have time off. For most of us it’s the weekend, for others, such as shift workers, that time off may fall at different times. But the one constant is that when you work, you need time off to rest, recuperate and regenerate your body, mind and spirit.

The same holds true when you run an online business. Just because you CAN work 18 hour days/seven day weeks, does this mean you should? Even looking at it from a purely business perspective, do you really think you’re doing your business any favors by working yourself into the ground? Where are you going to find that ‘zen’ time when you have your most creative ideas? When are you going to plan for the future growth of your business? Certainly not when you’re up to your eyeballs in ‘busy work’. You can think much more easily, clearly and effectively when your mind is relaxed and calm. Who said that thinking time can’t be spent at the beach or in the hammock in the back yard?

So take time each week for you. Your business will be better for it and so will you.

5. SET FIXED WORKING HOURS

Working at home can be a challenge. Many people think that the real challenge lies in the temptation to goof off when you should be working. We know that reality is different. In reality, the nature of business online, the instantaneous communication, the order that may be sitting in our mailbox even now as we write this article, means that the temptation is more to spend every waking hour hooked up than goofing off. This can quickly lead to a spiral of compulsive work habits and an inability to set work aside for the day.

For this reason, for most people it is a good idea to set fixed working hours and stick to them. This will help you bring more focus to your work knowing you only have a limited number of hours today to devote to your business and this will mean that you are at least as productive (and probably more so) in your 8 hour work day than you ever were in your 16 hour marathons when you were so tired half the time you felt like your eyes were going to fall out.

6. … BUT NOT FIXED ROUTINES

Another good way to keep things fresh and avoid burnout is to stir things up a bit every now and again. Sure, there are some routine things that have to be done day in, day out but that doesn’t mean you have to do them at the same time every day unless that works for you.

If your habit is to check your email first thing in the morning, maybe your first order of business should be to write that article or sales letter you’ve been putting off and checking your mail after lunch. Not only do you avoid the boredom of the same old routine day in, day out, getting something difficult out of the way upfront acts as a kind of springboard for productivity throughout the rest of the day. Who knows, you may even be able to knock off early!

7. PLAN YOUR DAY

Nothing is more certain to create stress and anxiety than the feeling you have so much to do you just don’t know where to start. Or, more importantly, where to finish.

To avoid this waste of valuable time and energy, plan each day. Doing this a week in advance is a good way to ensure a productive week. Sure, you won’t know exactly what’s going to come up on a particular day but there are certain tasks that you know have to be done. So allocate days and times to them in writing. Cross them off your list when you’re done. This gives you a sense of accomplishment when you complete set tasks and necessitates that you prioritize your activities. What is important will get done. Knowing this frees your mind of the worry and anxiety about what may have fallen through the cracks and leaves your mind clear and calm.

8. BREAK THE HABIT OF COMPULSIVELY CHECKING EMAIL

As I said earlier, it’s easy to become compulsive when it comes to checking email. After all, as that little voice in your head insists, there could be an order waiting for you. How many times have you been sitting at your computer thinking about starting something that’s going to take some effort (such as writing an article or a sales page) when, ding!, the “You’ve got mail” message pops up and off you go, to see what it is. While you’re there you read a couple of newsletters, check out this or that new affiliate program someone’s just sent you a sales pitch about and, before you know it, that quick mail check has turned into three hours you can’t get back. Bad habit. Very very bad habit.

So resist the temptation. Close your mail program until the time you have designated for your next mail check. Work on the tasks you have assigned yourself for today. Your mail will still be there in three hours and a whole lot more of it besides.

9. SEGREGATE YOUR BUSINESS AREA FROM YOUR HOME AREA

In addition to segregating your time between work and non-work activities, another good way to segregate your business and non-business lives is to physically segregate them. A dedicated room in your house that you can use as your office and close the door on at the end of the day, separate communications systems that you can turn off at the end of the day, reinforces in your mind that once that door is closed, once that answering machine is turned on, your work is done for the day. Go home!

Never before have so many had such an opportunity for independence in their working lives. Never before has the potential for self-employment been easier to realize. But the freedom from the control of others that we seek when making the break from paid workforce to full-time online business is something we must protect lest we substitute one form of servitude for another. There is, after all, nothing so confining as the prison we build for ourselves. An online business is one way to achieve financial freedom and independence in our working lives. Understand the terrain and you can be as free as a bird, in control of your own destiny. Fail to understand it and be grounded. The choice is yours.

2000 Elena Fawkner

Elena Fawkner is editor of A Home-Based Business Online … practical business ideas, opportunities and solutions for the work-from-home entrepreneur. http://www.ahbbo.com/

When You Hit the Wall
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