Do you have trouble staying disciplined?

The single biggest hurdle to online success is lack of discipline.

In my experience online, there has been one glaring issue that “work from home” employees encounter: lack of consistency and discipline. Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, when you work from home, the temptation is to put work off until later … to sleep in … to read the political blogs … to watch the pMetrics live stat ticker for hours and hours … to justify the one, no two, no three games of Madden 2009.

More than anything else, I think that freelance workers on the web have to struggle with the lack of structure that working from home introduces. It’s this reason that so many online employers pay on a performance basis rather than a salary basis. But even performance based pay doesn’t solve the problem completely because it fails to account for loss of momentum (i.e. if you start a project and your new employee works for 3 weeks and then decides to work intermittently for the next 3 weeks, your plan to monetize the new site suddenly takes a back seat, and you start losing money. Sure, you can let the employee go, but then you’ve got to reinvest time in replacing the person, regaining momentum for the site, etc.)

When I hire a new full time salaried employee, as I’ve done five times in the last four months, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way of managing the new work-from-home situation is to closely monitor productivity. I hate micromanaging, but after employing dozens of full time employees, I’ve noticed a clear and distinct pattern. It doesn’t hold for everyone, but I’ve found that most work from home, full-time employees, left to their own devices, end up putting about 3-5 hours in on any given work day, when they are being paid for an 8 hour work day. Because of this natural human tendency, the only recourse I have is to repeat my expectations a few times, set minimum performance standards along with incentives, and if that doesn’t work, start applying pressure by voicing my disappointment and potential consequences.

I hate voicing my disappointment. It creates a negative work environment. I also hate setting minimum performance standards. My preference is to set performance incentives that motivate an employee to go above and beyond the call of duty. But that doesn’t often work. Rather, as most of us can understand, the incentive of sleeping-in or playing video games in the middle of the day often wins out.

9 thoughts on “Do you have trouble staying disciplined?

  1. IF someone can make that $1000 article happen in 2 hours, that’s a pretty awesome hourly wage for them and it’s deserved. If someone else takes 40 hours, it’s not as great for them but it’s also appropriate if that’s the pace for their capabilities.

    YEAH – $500/hour would be an awesome hourly wage. Let’s see – if the employer is paying you $1,000 to do something in 2 hours .. do you expect to be paid $4,000 for 8 hours work?

    Sometimes – micromanaging includes making sure the hired staff actually works 8 hours in an 8-hour work day for a reason .. and not 2 hours .. Just finishing a job in record time does not mean one should pack up the bags and go home to the swimming hole. There’s always something to do. It’s the boss that wants to only work 2 hours per day, not his/her employees or subcontacts.

  2. Hi there! I followed this link from the related article. You mention working less than 8 hours a day and being paid for 8 hours a day. I kind of find the whole idea of salaried pay strange. Not that I complain being paid a salary! But in many office jobs, as another commenter mentioned, people aren’t working nearly 8 hours a day. It’s awful to have to sit somewhere for an allotted time with the mentality that you’re stuck there whether you’re working straight out or not. Time could be so much better spent elsewhere if that’s the case.

    I’m a big fan of the concept of ROWE – Results-Oriented Work Environment. It makes sense. People should be paid for what they’re good at and what they’re accomplishing. If I were a boss I would much rather pay someone $1000 for an excellent article, regardless of how long it took them, than to shell out a set amount per day for sometimes great and sometimes mediocre-to-nonexistent work. IF someone can make that $1000 article happen in 2 hours, that’s a pretty awesome hourly wage for them and it’s deserved. If someone else takes 40 hours, it’s not as great for them but it’s also appropriate if that’s the pace for their capabilities.

    Different people work at different paces, so paying two employees a $50,000 salary with the same position when one is capable of so much more but spends half of his or her time playing TextTwist, and the other is frantically working to produce the same results, doesn’t really make sense to me.

    It really depends on the workplace environment and the type of work involved, though.

  3. I have to agree with Deb Ng on this one – not everyone can work from home (or be self employed any where for that matter). Some people just do better in a structured environment.

    As for the work for eight hours thing, I’m not as keen on that. BUT, I make up for it because I do work on weekends (at least a few hours). I get in a few hours before my family gets up. I get in a few hours during nap time (sometimes during school if all is running smooth – we homeschool). And I squeeze in a few hours before dinner. All in all I usually get in about 5 to 6 hours each day – and about 3 to 4 on the weekends.

    To me the beauty of working at home is that I CAN be flexible with my time – working when I want to work and when I can work. As long as I’m meeting or beating my deadlines then the hours are not as important.

  4. I have a hard time disciplining myself to get to work too! It’s one of the hardest parts about working for myself, so it must be even more difficult from your perspective. I sort of knew what to expect before I started working online. When I used to work in an office and had to bring work home because of a sick child, I never got as much done as I thought I would. Just like in my days of prepping tax returns, I’ve started using a time sheet. It keeps me focused and also provides feedback on how long things actually take.

  5. Although everyone wants to work at home, not everyone can. Sure, it’s better than hiring daycare or a babysitter, and it’s certainly better than commuting, but consider this:

    – Will you be able to give your client/employer your all and keep your kids occupied at the same time? I said yes, but the reality is, I was working late into the night or waking at 4 to have quiet time. During the day, no matter how good my intentions, my time was still spent organizing crafts, playdates, and playing taxi driver. Its only better now because my son is in school full time.

    – Will you be able to give your client/employer your all and still keep that flexible schedule? Perhaps you don’t have kids, but other things call for your attention. Lunch with friends, the television, the fridge, the park, sales at Kohls. Can you work at home and not be distracted? You may say yes, but it’s not that simple.

    I learned it takes discipline through my mom. She worked from her home office as an instructional designer for years. We and her friends were envious, but she showed us it was a job like all other and had to be treated as such. People who work at home must have a good work ethic, unfortunately, many who work from home don’t. I’m constantly hearing of workers who miss deadlines, flake out or turn in rushed, poorly written work. Yes, there are plenty of perks to working at home, but we have to remember our jobs come first.

    This gives me an idea for a blog post. Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. Ryan: How to do micromanaging? And how to practice micromanaging over the Internet?

    Example: Microblogging as worklog timeline

    That’s the article I am waiting for

  7. Honestly though, you mention putting in a 5 hour day, but if you’ve worked in an office environment, that’s about as much as most office workers really put in, sometimes less.

    With writing, I go through spurts. Some days, I will want to put in ten, twelve, even fifteen hours in a day, while other days, I will only want to put in four or five hours. Overall, I think I keep myself a head of the game, and work hard to learn new things that will continue to make me a better employee. I think that sometimes employers are too focused on immediate results to see the amount of time certain employees put in. While working with certain blog networks in the past, I felt like they didn’t see everything I was doing and probably felt like I wasn’t doing enough. My wife will attest to the amount of time, focus and energy I put into my projects, having been frustrated with me more than a few times as I chose to work rather than do things with her.

    Now that my wife is back in school though, the only thing I have to do each day is work, thus creating an almost office like environment for me, where I work all day and rest all night (unless I am in a groove).

    I wonder if for some people it isn’t a lack of discipline but one of accountability or ability. Some workers are definitely slower than others, and as interest diminishes, so does productivity. As I have said to you privately before, rather than micromanaging, change up their job, responsibilities and duties in hopes of keeping them as fresh, interested and productive as possible. This will also keep things positive, rather than the negative issue of taking people to task when they don’t do what you want.

    There should definitely be an understanding regarding expectations, and for bigger projects, events and needs, their should be an overview or timeline. It would be like paying people to build you a house for $200,000 and not telling them what kind of house you want or need. The more detail you give, the more oversight you have, the more the house will fulfill what you were looking for.

  8. You are exactly right. After spending 8 years in the navy then striking out on my own I had a little bit of a rebellious attitude. No one was ever going to make me get up at 6am to work. That didn’t last long ….. my wallet finally gave me an attitude adjustment when that one dollar bill got very lonely…….haha.

    Discipline is something that needs to be mastered to be successful as a self employed individual.

  9. Very true article here, it’s quite difficult managing and maintaining a work from home employee base. I myself have even fallen victim to the ever so tempting call to video games and other activities around the house. (Luckily that was in the past)

    It’s interesting how you say you hate to express your disappointment on the matter and those standards to work within. But always keep in mind that a truly “good” employee will see the reasoning for the standards and will be able to respect that. Thus keeping you happy and in turn keeping themselves morally happy.

    It’s technically along the same lines as any assembly line worker. A work standard that you set is just like an expectation that if not met will result in losses for not only the employee but also the employer. An assembly line worker is expected to complete the task at hand in such a time that it doesn’t interfere with the rest of the line. If they fail to meet the expectation at hand, the whole line gets backed up and in some cases shut down. Don’t feel bad or disappointed for telling your employees about minimal expectations, it’s a good thing! 😛

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