working from home

The Secrets To Working Productively From Home (Even With Kids)

By Abbi Perets

For the past 17 and a half years, I have worked from home. I have five children, currently ages 7-17, and these days, I have a pretty solid 6 hours, 5 days a week when my children are in school. And even when my kids are home, they are fairly self-sufficient. But just a few short years ago, my kids were ages 0-10 — and one of them has significant developmental disabilities. 

In all the time that I have worked as a freelance writer, I have never missed a deadline. How is that possible? Back when I was a new mom of one tiny baby, I discovered a few secrets to working productively from home, even with kids in the picture. 

In a nutshell, if you want to be productive when you have small children who need full-time care, you must be smart about planning. Yes, a big part of why many people choose to freelance is to spend more time with family. But if you want to be a successful freelance writer, remember that you are also a businessperson — not just a parent with a side hobby.

Here are three important steps you can take to work more productively from home, even when you have young children:

1. Set up a dedicated office space.
I’ve lived in 6 different houses over the last 17 years. In every one of them, I have designated a specific office area for myself. In my first tiny apartment, my “office” was a little half-room that would have felt small to Harry Potter. My computer and printer took up my entire desk, and I had to squeeze into the tiny space between the chair and the desk to get in and out. But it had a door. 

In one house, I had a gorgeous, spacious room with built in bookcases, room for a comfortable couch and a treadmill, and a separate closet. The downside? The glass French doors that let in the light didn’t lock, and my kids were in and out 97 times a day. 

In another house, I didn’t even have a closet for my workspace. Instead, I commandeered a corner of the dining room table. Every morning, I set up my “office,” and every afternoon, I packed it up and put it away so that we could have dinner. But by giving myself a set space for work — instead of grabbing my laptop and working from the couch or my bed — I put myself in a work frame of mind. 

2. Designate your work hours — and hire reliable childcare.
When my first baby was born, I quickly realized that babies need a decent amount of care and attention — and so does a freelance writing career. I hired a sitter to watch my daughter for four hours every morning. During that time, I closed the door to my tiny little office and worked. The rest of the day, I took care of my baby, but those four hours were reserved solely for work. 

In different seasons of my life, I have had different schedules. When my husband and I bought a house in Southern California and our budget was stretched to the max, I had to cut back on childcare hours. So I found a high school student who could take my three kids to the park for 2 hours every afternoon, and my husband was responsible for another 2 hours every evening. It wasn’t easy, but we made it work so that I had my four hours every day. I also put in another few hours on Sundays as needed — say, if the sitter missed a day or my husband had to work late one evening.

3. Plan your schedule realistically. 
At the end of every week, I sit down with some markers and plan the next week. I start by listing everything I need to get done — for example: 

  • Draft guest post for Jacqui
  • Finish article for Kate
  • Proofread and send white paper to Emma
  • Edit material for Sarah

I refer to my notes and emails to make sure that I haven’t forgotten anything, and then I go back through the list and note how long each item will take me. I’ve been doing this for a long time, so my estimates are pretty good. If you’re new to freelancing, I recommend allowing more time than you think you’ll need — maybe even twice as much time. 

Then, I go through the list and schedule every single item on the appropriate days in my calendar. I block out the time in writing because that is the only way I know I’ll be able to get the work done. 

The whole process takes about half an hour each week, but it gives me a true plan, and a real sense of what I can commit to during the week ahead. If I see that I have filled every available slot, I already know that if anything goes wrong — an emergency trip to the dentist, someone home sick for the day, whatever — I’m going to have to make up that time in the evening or on the weekend. I can also see that if a girlfriend invites me out for lunch, I need to decline — and if a client wants something turned around immediately, I’m going to have to get super creative. 

On the other hand, if I see wide open swaths of time, I know this is a good week to put in some extra time on my marketing or one of my long-term personal projects — or enjoy the freelance lifestyle and catch up with a friend in the middle of the day.

If you want to be productive, you need to give your business the respect it deserves. Take your work seriously, and you’ll find that you can get more done. 

Abbi Perets is a freelance writer with a passion for parenting, technology, health, and business, and you can find her work all over the Internet. She also owns SuccessfulFreelanceMom.com and offers a free course on how to be a freelance writer. 

5 ways to restore balance in your life when working from home

By Chloe Waugh

Working from home isn’t for everyone- but if are lucky enough to have set up your office from your home there are a few ways to make it work for you. Here are my top tips for creating that all-important, much desired and almost impossible work/life balance: 

1. Make the most of your weekends

You have two days- and yes, I know, it isn’t enough! But I always make sure I get everything in order over the weekend to ensure that my Monday morning runs smoothly and my week is off to a great start. You know what they say- ‘A Sunday well spent brings a week of content’… and it is so true! 

Saturdays are my fun and active days- we get up early and take the dog to the beach for a run, followed by a visit to our local farmers markets for breakfast and coffee. After that we either catch a Yoga class, or go surfing as a family.  I find if you get out and about (out of the house) and do something fun and active, heading home afterwards for a clean up doesn’t feel too bad.  I give the house a clean, do some washing and write a grocery list. I either hit the store afterwards or save it for Sunday, depending on our Saturday night dinner plans. 

Sundays I get the groceries, wash the sheets and prepare a meal or two for the coming week. I make sure all the washing is folded and put away and I have a nice clean slate for the week ahead. Sometimes I have been known for writing a to-do list for the coming week of work so that I have a clear mind for a good night’s sleep. I cook a nourishing meal for the family that night and everyone is prepared and rested for Monday- Plus, I know that we have spent some quality time together before a busy week of school and work. 

2.  Get the exercise that you need to be the best version of you

I am a big believer in the powers of practicing self-love and getting plenty of exercise, which has pulled me out of feeling sluggish and depressed on more than a couple of occasions. Working for myself from home gives me the freedom to explore my own interests and passions, such as Yoga and Pilates, in my own time. Whilst my work comes first (after my family of course) I put my health and happiness as my top priority in order to be the best version of myself, not only for my family, but also for me. 

When I am feeling healthy and happy, it is reflected in my work, and this is super important when developing creative content. So, in saying this, if I can catch a class at 9am after the school run, I do it. I can always make up for it after my son goes to bed or the next day, so I don’t make a big deal out of it. This gives me the adult interaction I crave and the time out of the house, so when I get back to the office (home) I am feeling pumped for the day ahead.  This may not work for everyone, but I encourage you to make exercise a part of your daily routine- even if it is only getting out of the house for a walk down the street for coffee. 

3.  Write out your weekly goals every Monday

Sit down on a Monday morning (or Sunday evening) and write your list. Not just a to-do list, but a list of goals or specific tasks that you need to get done in your current work week. 

Make them actionable, achievable, prioritised and relative to that week. Make sure you don’t get ahead of yourself with far-out goals for months down the track and big plans for the future. Stick to the five days that you have ahead of you and focus on what will be achieved that particular week. 

This sets out a clear list of things that you absolutely need to get done that week, and leaves you with a checklist to tick off as you go.

4. Dedicate time to your children, and live in that moment

I have a school-aged child, so this may vary with your situation, but I think you can apply this anywhere. 

Every afternoon after I pick Jasper up from school we have an afternoon snack together, talk about our day and I help him with his homework. This takes one hour- this is Jasper’s time. During this hour I do not answer emails, check Instagram, answer work-related phone calls etc. 

I sit with my son, give him eye contact and really listen to what he says.  After his homework and snack, then it is back to work for me- I am lucky in that Jasper is at a great age (eight years) so he can happily amuse himself with reading, toys and his gaming whilst I get another 2 hours in before I cook dinner. My partner and I talk to Jasper about this and he understands that I am working, and if he needs me he can talk to me, otherwise he leaves me to my work. 

Then we regroup at dinnertime, do the shower/bedtime routine and if I am feeling up to it I get another two hours of work in (especially if I am doing the morning exercise class). 

My fiancé is a pilot so he works away from home; I work my routine around his roster (my bible) but 70-80% of the time I am home on my own. But, when he is home, he does everything he can to help, which allows me to catch up on rest and work. We balance our lives out by making sure we both get enough in of what we love doing and we are both really happy with how it works and how supported we both feel. I make sure he gets a surf, he makes sure I get to Yoga. 

I can understand how this arrangement would be a lot more difficult with a baby or toddler, but the same principals could be applied during meal and play times. It is all about prioritising what is done workwise while your child is in care and what you can squeeze in when you have your child at home with you. Ask for help when you need it, and understand that you can only do so much - putting too much pressure on yourself is only going to be detrimental in the long run, for you and your family. 

5. Start each workday with intention and focus

OK - so you have exercised, cleaned and looked after your family- you are ready to take on your day!

Start each day with an intention; focus on what you need to do- write a list if it helps, then tick each task off as you go. 

A rule that I have applied lately is to not turn on my computer until I have set an intention and I know exactly what task I am going to do and how long I am going to spend doing it. Try it- it has really worked for me (and I am the biggest procrastinator around). 

When you are feeling a little fidgety or wandering off-track (hello Facebook notifications) you need a break. Boil the kettle, have a stretch or get some air. Come back to it after 5-10 minutes feeling refreshed and reset your intention. Believe it or not I repeat this process up to 5 times a day! My best work is done in spurts of around 45 minutes and then I need to break. Sometimes my break involves unpacking the dishwasher, or making Jasper’s bed and fixing up his room.  Other times I catch up on a Podcast or video series I have filed away, sometimes I do this standing up in the kitchen to give my back a break and do some stretching.

Everyone is different, find out what works for you then use it to your advantage. It only takes 10 minutes to hang a load of washing out - could you do this on your break? 

Chloe’ Waugh is a social media strategist, manager and coach who has gained a reputation as being efficient, creative and easy to work with. Chloe’s passion for social media really blossomed after the birth of her son 8 years ago, and it has naturally developed into her profession over time. She is now founder of Social Media Creative and has developed several different packages and resources to help others boom online. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

Is your work space destroying your writing?

By Rebecca West

What would happen if you tried to run a marathon in shoes that didn’t fit? You might cover some distance, but you sure wouldn't do it at your best level, right? Yet every day we ask ourselves to write inspired, funny, life-changing blogs in environments that work against us.

Where are you working? At your dining room table with piles of junk mail and kid’s homework pushed to the side? On your living room couch in front of the TV? In a disorganised office with shabby walls and a calendar from 2009? If you are not working in a space that makes you feel and behave like a professional, you may be sabotaging your own success.

Every time you walk into a professional space — from a restaurant, to a hair salon, to your CPA’s office, you make judgements about the quality of the work based on what you see. Delicious colours and intimate eating nooks elevate the food. Creative colours and eclectic design suggest the ability to create personal and distinctive hairstyles. Tidy piles and a clean space suggest an organized CPA in full control of her client’s accounts. Just as we evaluate other professional spaces, our own work environments speak to us and affect the output of our writing. 

When you’re starting out it’s perfectly reasonable to carve out whatever space and time you can. Just getting a post published is cause for celebration, and no one ever needs to know that you did it while feeding the baby, running the dishwasher, and wearing your pjs. But as you grow as a professional your output will grow and mature too, and may deserve a bit more focus than a stolen five minutes perched at the breakfast bar can give you. 

My first home office was a tiny two foot wide desk I built into a nook in my bedroom. It worked great for a couple years, but as my company took off I spent more and more time at that little desk and having that space in my bedroom meant that I was kind of taking work to bed with me. Not great for my sleep quality or my work-life balance. 

I moved my office into the guest room and it worked amazingly well for me for another few years. It looked and felt like a “grown up” space and helped me advance in my career. I had a wonderful view of my garden, and a door I could close when my workday ended. 

A few years later I outgrew that space too, needing a place where I could have a few employees and where it wouldn’t be quite so easy to “just do a load of laundry.” My work needed more of my dedicated attention. I was actually pretty astonished at the efficiency I gained by moving out of the house.

A client of mine found the same thing to be true. As a work-from-home mum with a growing business she realised that by keeping her office at home she was giving half-attention to both her kids and to her work. Even though she wouldn’t be at an away-from-home office more than about 10 hours a week, by creating a dedicated work space in an office building a few miles from the house, she discovered that she could do more in less time. In that space she could really focus and do her best work, and then when she came home she could give devoted and loving attention to her kids. No more having the stress of trying to be all things at all times.

Now, if you’re juggling kids and work and just doing your darnedest to get in the writing, I know you’re doing your best — celebrate that! But at the same time, you have set yourself some professional goals, and to succeed you have to honour the goals and yourself enough to create both time and space for it. Take a moment to evaluate if the sacrifices you are making in your space, by “borrowing” a corner of the dining table, is actually getting in the way of reaching your true potential. You are a professional, maybe it’s time to create a room of your own. And besides, wouldn’t it better to be away from your kids for a few hours and then give them your full attention than give them half-hearted attention for twice that amount of time and not really have accomplished your best work in the end, despite the sacrifice?

Remember, there is no prescription for the “perfect” writing or work space. For some it will be a coffee shop or co-working space because that social energy is essential for wonderful writing. For others it will be a quiet nook decorated in soothing, spa-like colours, a calm respite from the busy world where the words can flow. For me, I need nature. In Seattle the weather is too unpredictable to write outside regularly, so I bring the outside in. My home office overlooks a lush garden where I get to watch the birds at the feeder, and my professional office has a couple of windows letting the daylight pour in and a giant 4’ by 6’ print of trees in a rainforest.

To reach your highest potential you have to find what inspires your best work. If you’re feeling a little stuck, try my guided mediation — I developed it specifically to help folks look into their own heart to discover what they need from their space. You can also spend some time on Houzz or on Pinterest collecting images of rooms that inspire you. One other trick is to think of someone who you greatly admire, someone who’s work you aspire to emulate, and imagine the environment in which you might expect them to write. While it might not be anything remotely like the space in which they write, that won’t matter, because in the end it is just important to create a space that draws out the amazing writer in you.

Love where you work. Trust me, your writing will thank you for it.

Rebecca West is a Seattle-based interior designer and environmental coach helping folks in transition create spaces that support and nourish their next chapter. She has a special love for empty nesters and the newly single, bringing a lively and optimistic energy to these bittersweet life moments. On her website she shares before and afters of transformed client homes, each one a story of another person embracing a change in their life. Meet her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, and watch for her upcoming book, Happy Starts At Home.

How to Care for and Feed Your Entrepreneur

By Melissa Gondek

Congratulations on the acquisition of your Entrepreneur!

Your life has taken an exciting turn, full of unpredictability and suspense. Wild success may be just around the corner, or crushing defeat may lurk behind the door. Whatever happens, your Entrepreneur will face it with the enthusiasm and stubborn determination that make this breed so loveable.

As you prepare your home to receive your Entrepreneur, we recommend installing some basic equipment for their safety and comfort. After all, a safe, comfortable Entrepreneur is a productive, happy Entrepreneur!

1. Portable computer with high speed Internet access and large storage capacity. Also consider a keyboard that won’t drive you insane when they’re typing email while you’re trying to watch TV. Your Entrepreneur will type those emails no matter what you say, so plan to enjoy the sound!

2. Business cards and an assortment of marketing literature. Entrepreneurs enjoy the challenge of designing their own cards with no skill or knowledge. They also hate to admit they can’t do something. So don’t worry about hiring professional assistance right away. Your Entrepreneur will cry “Uncle!” soon enough!

3. Brainstorming and note-taking tools. Entrepreneurs never stop thinking, so a steady diet of stickie notes, white boards, art journals, and colorful pens capture their brilliance.

4. Large quantities of healthy snacks. Entrepreneurs can sometimes be distracted by kitchen cupboards and refrigerators, so ensure your Entrepreneur stays healthy by providing wholesome foods that feed their lively little brains.

5. Optional: Color printer with WiFi capability, so your Entrepreneur and her friends can easily print presentations, workbooks, and templates when they come over for Play Dates.

Your Entrepreneur and the Outdoors

Your Entrepreneur will need to be walked regularly, but be prepared to ease into any outdoor time. Their focus sometimes causes them to forget the sun exists, so the first minutes outside can alarm them. Just be patient and murmur encouraging words until they feel comfortable under the sun’s rays. Promising a treat, like a car ride or ice cream cone, can help distract them from any residual unease.

Once your Entrepreneur remembers what fresh air smells like, you may find you have trouble getting them back inside! For this reason it’s a good idea to plan a full day outside occasionally, to let them burn off some of their considerable energy. Just be sure to pack lots of Entrepreneur-friendly snacks, and stay away from areas with free WiFi!

Sleep Cycles of the Entrepreneur

You may find that your Entrepreneur develops nocturnal habits as she discovers new projects to occupy her. This is no cause for alarm. Entrepreneurs have flexible sleep schedules, and have been known to subsist on no more than a few hours of sleep at a time. 

You may find that these sleep habits are cyclical, recurring when your Entrepreneur becomes engaged with a new toy or puzzle. Or your Entrepreneur may settle into unpredictable sleep habits permanently. Look at this as an opportunity to take up more of the bed for yourself, and just one more reason to love your Entrepreneur!

Living Happily With Your Entrepreneur

There are some phrases you should avoid saying to your Entrepreneur. Use of these phrases may result in outbursts of hostility from your Entrepreneur (aka “hissing”). 

Phrase to Avoid 1: Did you leave the house today?

Your Entrepreneur has a busy online world in addition to the considerable activity in her head. It is therefore not uncommon for your Entrepreneur to spend the day entirely indoors, sometimes even without performing customary grooming rituals. These can be her most productive periods, making her both happy and successful.

Don’t let this alarm you. Above all, do not imply to your Entrepreneur that this is anything but desirable. Trust that she will leave the house when necessity demands it, and even sometimes when it doesn’t.

Phrase to Avoid 2: You remember work, right?

When your Entrepreneur takes a break from creating her masterpiece, she spends her time mastering: accounting; marketing; social media; computer programming; website design; copy writing; and client management. For starters.  Any suggestion that she doesn’t “work” belittles her commitment. 

Phrase to Avoid 3: Don’t you want to come to bed?

Questioning your Entrepreneur’s nocturnal habits will not affect them. Trust that if your Entrepreneur stays up until 4:00 am, the resulting masterpiece will be breathtaking. Or at least that a breathtaking masterpiece will happen sometime in the future, and this is practice.

Phrase to Avoid 4: Relax, it’s the weekend.

When living in the wild, Entrepreneurs habitually remain active without regard to day-of-week. Scientists believe this relates to their flexible sleep habits, but further study is needed.

In the meantime, allow your Entrepreneur to exercise her mental muscles regardless of weekday designations. You’ll find that she is an energetic companion whenever she puts away her projects, and never more so than when she feels that those projects are “complete” for the time being.

Phrase to Avoid 5: Just get off the computer already.

Your Entrepreneur is naturally obsessed with her business world, and may go long periods without recalling the outer world. This may regrettably result in a weakening of your bond with your Entrepreneur, especially if these periods are very frequent and/or lengthy. Unfortunately, accusatory remarks will have the opposite effect to the one intended.

Stay calm. Offer your Entrepreneur subtle, friendly invitations to rejoin the outer world. Once she has made the transition, let your Entrepreneur know that you miss her, and would like to re-establish your bond. Suggest some activities and be open to her suggestions. In no time, you and your Entrepreneur will be back to your usual unpredictability and suspense.

Above All, Love Your Entrepreneur

Some last words before we leave you to discover your Entrepreneur’s quirks and foibles. Remember that you acquired an Entrepreneur because you relish her independence of thought and strength of will. Entrepreneurs are nothing if not resilient, devoted, and conscientious, so cherish these strengths.

As with any breed trait, you’ll encounter joys and challenges with these characteristics. But the time you spend nurturing her natural spirit and enthusiasm will be rewarded by her deep gratitude and devotion. 

Your Entrepreneur lives with gusto, and in choosing to make an Entrepreneur part of your life, you do, too. So embrace your Entrepreneur and love them! 

Unless they’re working on something, in which case you should probably just go have a sandwich.

You can find Melissa getting her hands dirty over at Small Company Artworks, where she sculpts small figures to make spaces smile. She also blogs about art, creativity, and surrounding yourself with life's little pleasures at Small Talk. She's been known to hang out on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, especially when she has work to do.

3 Tips For A Virtual Business

Taking-Your-Business-Virtual

By Kristy Smith

With the rapid changes in technology reshaping the way we work, it’s crucial for modern businesses to adopt a new way of thinking, and open themselves to the possibilities of ‘going virtual’

The way we do business is changing. A recent survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that more than a third of micro businesses now use the internet to enable staff to work from home, which represents an 8% increase in two years, while for larger businesses, more than 75% now have the facility for staff to use the internet to work from home. 

With telecommuting on the rise, the traditional 9 to 5 office workday will soon be a thing of the past. Entrepreneurs can take advantage of this shift in business mindset by setting up flexible and scalable business models that allow themselves and their staff to work remotely with adaptable and accommodating schedules. Some of the benefits of ‘going virtual’ include:

Reduction in costs - with overheads such as office space and commuting expenses eliminated the costs of running business are greatly decreased. This allows entrepreneurs to create adaptable business models that can scale very quickly to suit market trends

Increases in productivity - Over two-thirds of employers report increased productivity among their telecommuters 2 this is thought to be due to a quieter work environment with less distractions and the ability to have a more flexible work schedule, unhampered by commuting

Flexibility – with no need to travel each day and the ability to work outside of traditional office hours, going virtual suits the busy schedules of entrepreneurs and working families alike. 

So how do we leverage all the wonderful benefits of remote working? Well the devil is in the details when it comes to setting up and working in a successful virtual business. 

1. Make The Cloud your Friend
With all the wonderful technological advances of the past 10 years, there are a plethora of options when it comes to cloud based SaaS programs you can use to take your business virtual. So do your research and educate yourself on all the necessary and relevant systems that will enable you to work remotely.  Choosing and setting up these systems should be your # 1 priority if you want to ‘go virtual.’ Solid systems and administrative practices are the foundation of a successful business. Don’t know where to start? We’ve included a handy list at the end of this article to help you get the ball rolling.

2. Communication is Key
Without the face to face office time you’d get in a traditional work set up, you need to ensure that both you and your team communicate on a regular basis. This means regular skype meetings, project updates, phone calls and emails. For example, you could set up a weekly skype call each Monday to communicate with your team and go through the status of current projects. The key is to keep in contact regularly. When working with a remote team there can be the tendency to ‘set and forget’ and you can become of touch with your own staff, so make it policy to keep in contact regularly

3. Be Accountable
There needs to be clear cut parameters around how your remote staff will work and what’s expected of them. Virtual roles need well-defined job descriptions, and project management procedures must be carefully documented and followed. Many managers say that while they trust their staff, they feel better if they can actually see them and monitor their work. There are programs such as Screenshot Monitor that can assist with this virtually, and implementing a ‘results based’ merit system that focusses on the quality and output of your staffs work is a good way to gauge that your staff are being accountable whilst they work independently.

Don’t know where to start? Here’s a handy list of some of the most popular cloud based business software:

  • Project and Task Management: Basecamp, Asana, Trello
  • Accounting: Saasu, Xero, Shoeboxed
  • Email Marketing: Mailchimp, Aweber, Infusionsoft, Web Chameleon
  • CRM: Highrise, Zoho, Salesforce
  • Google for Business: Google Drive, Gmail, Google Calendar
  • File Sharing: Dropbox, Google Docs
  • Social Media Management: Hootsuite, Buffer
  • Content Curation: Feedly, Zite
  • Communications: Skype, Eventbrite, Go to Meeting
  • Blog Administration: CoSchedule

Kristy Smith is the energetic founder, director and driver of Virtual Elves, a business that provides you an understanding of how to work with a virtual assistant. Connect with her at www.virtualelves.com.au