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Five Tips for Organizing the Home Office

Categories: Career, Hacking Life

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Our home-based businesses are becoming busier every day, and it has become necessary for me to purge and organize the home office. I can’t work amid clutter. The closet had become a dumping ground for all kinds of things that didn’t have a place elsewhere in our home. I had old office supplies that I no longer used, piles of papers to sort through, and a lot of items I had been holding onto to sell, but hadn’t got around to. Organizing our homes office so that is efficient for two home-based businesses turned out to be a bigger task than I had anticipated.

I recently sat down with Laura Watts, a professional organizer and operator of her own home-based business, Double Take Organizing, and listened as she shared her tips for getting the home office organized and how to keep it that way.

Here are five of my favourite tips that Laura provided for organizing the home office.

1. Paper is the cause of a lot of disorganization in a home office. Laura recommended that to help eliminate clutter from paper, touch a piece of paper only once! That means that if you print something, file it. If you write a list, refer to it as soon as you can and discard it when you’ve completed the tasks on it. There are a ton of electronic tools and apps available to help you manage a paper problem or eliminate its use.

2. Magnetize with paint. This idea has me totally captivated! I love a magnetic surface for getting things up off my desk. I especially like magnetic clips that will hold bunches of coupons, photographs, paint chips or kids’ artwork, and being able to put these up on a magnetic wall surface sounds like a terrific way to organize the home office. Further tips for using magnetized paint can be found here.

3. Use a business card capture app such as Abbyy. A few years ago I tried out a business card capture app for my iphone but I wasn’t happy with the results. The technology just hadn’t advanced to the point where the data capture was accurate. Abbyy is a great app that is very accurate and totally worth the $4.99 I paid for it if it means my data won’t get lost and I can maintain up-to-date, accurate records of my business contacts.

4. Ask yourself if you’ve used the item in the last year. There comes a time in every home office organization project when purging becomes necessary. To ease the difficulty of eliminating extra clutter from the home office, get rid of stuff! Give it away, donate it to shops such as Salvation Army or Value Vilage, or throw it in the garbage. I usually have to wait until the right mood strikes me to do this, but when it does, look out! I had five garbage bags of stuff picked up last week and another five will be picked up next week. It feels good.

declutter

Another pile ready for donation. Get out of my house!

5. Go vertical. The amount of wall space in my office that is left blank is dwindling. Almost every wall has either a shelving unit of some kind, a bracket or basket for holding files and documents that I can’t throw away. When you run out of space to actually work at your desk, go up!

vertical

Even this space beneath my office window is being used to help me stay organized. No space is wasted!

What is your favourite method for organizing the home office?

The “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of Crowdsourcing Blog Content

Categories: Career

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Last fall and winter I had the pleasure of teaching a class at the local community college on a topic that is near and dear to my heart: social media. As part of the course, my students and I spent some time discussing the merits of crowdsourcing. I had them do a little bit of research and come up with examples of how businesses use crowdsourcing to solve problems.

Not sure what crowdsourcing is? I bet you’ve encountered it, even if you didn’t realize it at the time.
My favourite simple definition of crowdsourcing comes from Mashable:

Crowdsourcing is distributed problem solving. By distributing tasks to a large group of people, you are able to mine collective intelligence, assess quality and process work in parallel.

Many writers and bloggers use social media as a tool for crowdsourcing ideas, facts, quotes and examples for the purpose of writing blog posts or articles. I’ve done it. In fact, I used crowdsourcing for my post right here on Work it, Mom called “Shift Work for Beginners.” I wanted to talk to other parents who were more experienced with shift work so I distributed the task of collecting information about shift work to my Twitter followers, mining their collective intelligence on the topic to generate some content within my article.

It used to annoy me when I saw writers using this method to collect information, only to present it as their own in a post or article later on. I think I felt a bit betrayed. I don’t mind crowdsourcing posts much anymore, because it’s easy for me to identify them. Crowdsourcing becomes a problem for bloggers when their followers begin to feel that the engagement is no longer sincere, and exists only for content generation.

All of this got me thinking about the ways in which crowdsourcing can be done well, along with the ways it is sometimes done poorly.

Three “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of Crowdsourcing:

Do:

1. Divulge to your audience or community that you’re fact-hunting or looking for a quote on a particular topic for an article or post that you’re writing.
2. Credit the source in your article, having gained permission for the quotation ahead of time. Link to the Twitter account or blog URL of the person who provided you with the quote.
3. Engage all of the members of your audience or crowd when it comes to the answers you receive (this is the social web, after all). It’s rude to ask a question in a room filled with people but only acknowledge the funniest, most witty or most interesting people present, isn’t it? The same is true when crowdsourcing. Thank others for contributing to the discussion or at least acknowledge their responses.

Don’t:

1. Never present the ideas of others as your own. This is called plagiarism. Professional adults do not engage in plagiarism and there is no excuse for taking someone else’s thoughts or ideas and passing them off as your own.
2. Don’t constantly rely on your crowd for developing your content. Presumably, your community has been following your writing because they value your original thoughts. Keep it that way.
3. Don’t wait until the last minute to engage in crowdsourcing. Doing so will ensure you won’t have enough time to properly credit your sources.

Do you use crowdsourcing for your writing? Do you have any “do’s” or “don’ts” to add to this list?

Work Flexibility and the Sick Kiddo

Categories: Career, Parenting, The Juggle

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The morning started off like many others. Nate wandered into our bedroom in the grey light of morning and climbed into bed with me. We snuggled together for half an hour or so before we decided it was time to go downstairs and settle in on the couch for coffee and cartoons.

He felt a little bit warm to me, but we had just been in bed where I had found it to be a bit warm under the weight of the duvet with Nate’s little body snuggled up with mine. He didn’t seem hungry and because he wasn’t acting himself, I avoided giving him milk, opting for a bit of water, instead.

“Take little sips,” I told him.

I waited.

He seemed okay, in good spirits and talking.

Later on, I took him to the bathroom to use the potty and get dressed, and as I was taking his shirt off, he looked…off.

“What’s the matter, buddy?” I asked him.

Then he made that face…you know, the face kids make when they’re about to puke.

By some miracle, I managed to whirl him around to face the toilet and he was sick in the bowl. I was glad I hadn’t let him have any milk.

Poor guy…it had been a long time since he was sick to his stomach. The last time he had a stomach flu he was just 14 months old. We still refer to that illness in our household as “The Great Stomach Flu of 2011” and Graham and I had both had to miss work that week to care for our very sick boy and recover from the sleep deprivation that followed.

After he was sick, I sent a text to Nate’s daycare provider to tell her we’d be staying home that day and I got him settled back on the couch with a blanket, a bowl and a movie. I rolled up the area rug and put it away for the day, the result of a lesson learned during that awful flu two years ago.

I then checked my calendar to see what I had scheduled for the day. Fortunately I had no appointments, sales calls or important errands scheduled but I had been planning to continue a freelance editing job I’ve been working on. It was very easy to put that off for the day and instead focus on taking care of Nate.

That day is the day I really understood the biggest benefit to being a self-employed parent. There was no manager or supervisor to call, no office I had to phone to notify I’d be off, no lost wages and no guilt. I could simply put aside work activities until Nate’s nap, later that evening, or the next day, even.

The real reason I now run a home-based business.

At that moment I knew for sure that the decisions I’ve been making for my family and my work have been the right ones for us!

Rejecting the Labels of the Working Mom

Categories: Career, Working? Living?

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I’m confused.

I’m in the middle of a transition with respect to the way I spend my days and earn my income. I’m not sure what label applies to me; am I a stay-at-home mom or am I a work-at-home mom? Is it even important to make the distinction?

It used to be so clear. I worked full-time as an editor at a publishing company that allowed me to work from home. When I had a baby, being a mother who worked full-time in a salaried position in a home office made me a work-at-home mom.

Later, I left that job to work part-time at the local college as an instructor while Nate was looked after by a grandparent or at daycare. The line was clear: I was a working mom.

Now, I’m leaving the college position to stay home and work two home-based businesses and do some freelance editing and writing. What can I say…I’m a woman who wears many different hats! I’ll be working for myself, in our home, while our son is looked after at daycare.  And in the middle of all of this change, I’m finding it difficult to categorize myself as either a stay-at-home mom or a work-at-home mom.

I guess I always assumed that a work-at-home mom worked at home while her children were home with her. I always envisioned women who referred to themselves as work-at-home moms somehow managed to get their work done while their children were at home with them. I don’t really know why I latched onto that image; perhaps it’s simply because I have a young child rather than a school-aged child, so my perspective is coloured by my personal circumstance. Maybe it’s the image I had in my mind of a woman like Kristen Chase, seated in front of her computer on an exercise ball, bouncing a baby on one arm while writing with the other. (Or is that simply urban internet legend?)

Image source: The Mommyhood Project

I posed the question on Twitter a few days ago, asking, “If you work from home as a self-employed person or doing freelance, do you consider yourself to be a SAHM?”

I was assured this scenario referred to WAHMs rather than SAHMs.

I asked, “Even if the kids leave for the day? Too many variables. I hate the labels.”

My friend Jen Lemen made a good point in her response:

“Especially if kids leave for the day. If you were single and a freelancer would you say you’re unemployed?” (Actually, I might, but that is another issue entirely…)

She continued, “You’d say you’re an independent contractor or an entrepreneur or a freelance writer, etc.” (I guess it’s time for an attitude adjustment!)

Ever since our exchange, I’ve been thinking about the WAHM and SAHM labels, and I’ve decided that neither of them really feels natural to me. Neither really applies. We are so anxious to use labels to categorize one another, and I don’t feel like I fit into either one of these narrow categories. Instead, I’ll focus on the descriptors that Jen so helpfully offered in her tweets to me.

Do you refer to yourself as a SAHM or WAHM? How so?

When it Rains, it Pours

Categories: Career, Making Time

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Last week I wrote about how work seemed to come my way at about the same rate that it fades out of my life. Later that same week, I was checking out my Facebook feed and I saw a status update from someone in my network of contacts that caught my eye:

“Seriously, does anyone know who I can hire to create a website?

I got all excited. Although I am not a web designer by trade, I’ve certainly had a fair bit of experience putting together basic websites, including the site that my husband and I use for our own small businesses, several blogs and other sites of a similar nature. I’ve dabbled with Wordpress design and coding and so far I haven’t broken anyone’s website. I decided to reply to my friend that yes indeed, I did know someone who she could hire to create a website, and that someone was me. I supplied her with links to the websites that I currently maintain and she liked what she saw. After hearing from her about the kind of website she had in mind, I arranged to put together an estimate for her.

The next day I was working away through my marking for school and my mind was racing. I was making a mental list of all the work I needed to get done over the coming weeks and realized that I had over-committed myself. Again.

I had customers to follow up with.

I had orders to deliver.

I had events to plan.

I had ads to place.

I had projects to grade.

I had chapters to proofread and edit.

When did I think I was going to have the time to create an estimate for a website, let alone actually accomplish the launch of a high quality website the client could be proud of? There were not enough hours in the day (see the title of this blog).

this isn't happiness.™

(Image source: this isn’t happiness)

It pained me to do so, but in the end I sent a polite message to my friend telling her it wouldn’t be in the best interest of her business for me to take on the job, after all. I explained to her that I have a tendency to take on too much at once and I apologized that I wouldn’t be able to do the job for her, offering to refer her to someone else if she’d like. I turned down work, a practice that felt completely wrong and foreign to me.

Still, I’m proud of myself for understanding my limitations. I can’t do anything well if I’m trying to do too many things at once. This is one of the hardest professional lessons I’ve had to learn.

What are your professional limitations? Have you ever turned down work? How do you feel about doing so?

Tips for Work-at-Home Moms to Stay Productive

Categories: Career, The Juggle, Working? Living?

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Now that my husband Graham is back to work following a layoff, it seems as though my days are even longer and more quiet than usual. I love that my professional time is increasingly mine these days to manage, but sometimes it’s hard to stay focused on building my business and staying in touch with my customers when what I really feel like doing is eating brownies and watching episode after episode of the Wonder Years on Netflix.

I remind myself that we are not paying for daycare so that I can watch television all day, and try hard to stay focused. There are a few things I do to help keep myself on track work-wise so I can be productive when Nate and Graham are both out of the house. Here are my top three pieces of advice for work-at-home moms who need to stay focused on work during the day while the kids are at school or daycare.

1. Make lists. I noticed a couple of months ago that I was waking up really early in the morning and was unable to fall back to sleep. As soon as I woke up, a switch in my brain would flip on, and I’d start running through all of the things I needed to accomplish later that day. I described this to a friend of mine, who recommended I start keeping a notebook for my ideas and lists of tasks. This was great advice, and now I keep not only a daily list, but a weekly list of appointments and tasks that I can fit in and around my appointments and errands. Now, if I wake up early, I just think of that list and I can go back to sleep, secure in the knowledge I have everything written down.

2. Shut down. When I really need to focus, I close all of the program windows and browser tabs on my computer that aren’t in use for the task I’m tackling right then. I switch my iPhone over to silent mode and flip it over so I won’t be distracted by any visual notifications. When I need to stay focused, social media can be a real distraction for me, so I eliminate it from my surroundings until I’m ready to take a break.

3. Prioritize. When the list of items gets too long to accomplish in one day, I start moving things up and down the list. For example, I can send out product samples another day in order to meet a deadline today. I do the tasks that require my undivided attention during the day, and save housework and other jobs that require less focus for the evenings. Laura Watt, owner of Cubits Organic Living agrees.

“Do not do laundry when kids are out! You can do that with them or with your partner or have [him or her] do it.”

Smart advice, Laura!

Do you work at home or run a home-based business? What’s the best method you’ve come across for staying focused?

Considering Marissa Mayers’ Memo

Categories: Career, The Juggle

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This week the major topic of conversation in my Twitter stream is CEO Marissa Mayer’s assertion that employees at Yahoo! would no longer be welcome to work remotely due to the fact that the practice is bad for productivity. The general consensus among those I follow ranges from outrage to disappointment.

As a person who once worked a full-time permanent position as a Content Editor from the comfort of my own home office, I have an opinion about Ms. Mayer’s decision: I think it’s silly. It’s silly to say that employees who are often more productive at home should now spend money out of pocket on travel expenses to get to work. It’s silly to assume that being present in a cubicle will make an employee more productive. And it’s silly to assume that an employee will be more engaged in his or her work simply due to physical proximity to colleagues and management.

I’d argue that working from home makes employees more engaged with their work. Photo credit: Monster College.

For the past two and a half years I’ve been teaching communications classes online while teaching various general education credits during the day in the classroom on campus. The debate over the merits of work-at-home employment arrangements was a timely one for me because I was presented last week with a choice: I would have to choose between teaching classes in person, on campus and teaching online. This, due to a rule that is still foggy to me, and is never very clearly explained by my employer.

In any event, I had to weigh up the choice. Would it be best for me to continue to drive to the college at my expense for gas, parking and commuting time, or would it be better to stay in the comfort of home, where I could schedule my time to interact with my students according to my own schedule? I think Marissa Mayers would say, without hesitation, that I should choose the option that would take me on campus regularly, where my students would benefit from the “speed and quality” of my presence at school. I think my online students would argue with her; I’m in contact with them on a daily basis and thanks to technology, as constantly available to them during business hours as I am to the students I meet in person.

In the end, I decided that I prefer my online teaching job. It allows me to do my work without spending any extra money to go to work, and I can really put my professional strengths such as communication, technology and time management to good use. There will be no more need to rush home from campus in another city in time to pick Nate up from daycare. There will be no more need to wake Nate up and get him to daycare early in the morning on those days I have an early class. The ability to juggle my home and family life with my professional aspirations makes me more appreciative, more engaged with the work I do from home.

I wonder what Marissa Mayers would say to that?

Do you agree or disagree with Ms. Mayers’ decision that employees are more productive when they work in the office? If you worked from home at Yahoo!, would you find a new work arrangement that would allow you to continue to work remotely, or would you head back to office life in a cubicle?

Shift Work for Beginners

Categories: Career, The Juggle

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When Graham and I had only been married for a few years, I took a job at a brand new arena in a city about a half hour away from our home. The arena was just opening up and my job was to be the Assistant Manager of Suites and Catering. If you’ve been part of any brand new enterprise, you’ll know that opening a venue like an arena for the first time is no small feat; getting all of the private boxes or suites ready for the guests who were paying top dollar to occupy them during concerts or hockey games was a hefty job.

Doing that job required some long, late hours at work. Graham was very understanding when I would text him at midnight telling him to go to bed, that I wouldn’t be home for a few hours. I distinctly recall arriving home after a particularly long night at the site around four o’clock in the morning. I was barely in bed and asleep before it was time for Graham to get up for the day and head to work.

Several years, many jobs and one kid later, we are now experiencing the phenomenon of the night shift once again. Graham was offered some work during the night shift at his job site and decided to give it a try, since it would be for short term and also because the pay would include a premium.


Image source: Alday Consulting Services

Last night was the first night we ventured into the world of shift work. Nate went to bed around 8:00 and that left me wondering what to do with myself when the usual time for my bedtime came along.
I tweeted, “It’s throwing me off completely! Shift starts midnight. Do I just go to bed? Do I wait up? What’s the etiquette?

While it may seem ridiculous to consider etiquette when it comes to one’s spouse’s work schedule, I was baffled. It felt rude to just go to bed but I didn’t want to stay up until he left the house after 11:00. In the end, I watched old episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 until I dozed off and he came to kiss me good night and left for the night. I slept horribly…waking up repeatedly to check and see that yes, he was not asleep beside me (although it was certainly a more quiet night than I was used to).

The whole experience got me thinking about families who deal with shift work. I put the word out this morning, asking my Twitter followers to tell me what their favourite thing is about shift work, and asking what their least favourite thing about shift work is, too.

Some of the responses I received included:

@theanykey:

“Favorite part? Maybe the bed to myself.”

“He definitely doesn’t sleep well because of the transition, and it is difficult to let him sleep well because the kids are noisy.”

@minderella:

“Fav is that during the days he’s home (even though he’s sleeping) I could put a toddler down for a nap and leave with the older kid if I wanted to.”

“Least is that he doesn’t get proper sleep.”

I didn’t hear from any women who actually work night shifts, but I’d love to hear from them and how this affects their family life.

Do you deal with shift work in your family? What is your favourite thing about working at night? What is your least favourite aspect of working shift work?

Three Awesome Apps for Busy Working Moms

Categories: Career, The Juggle, Working? Living?

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Is there a working mother alive who doesn’t feel like something is missing if her smart phone isn’t nearby? If there is, I’d like to meet her, and ask her how she manages to stay connected to her job and her family without the use of the technical tools I’ve come to rely on so much to do business and be available to my family. Of course, I realize that it’s physically possible to get through the day without my iPhone at my side, without Facebook to connect me to my network of colleagues and customers, but it would be a challenge!

I use my phone not only to make calls, but to make sure that my daycare provider is able to get in touch if necessary if something happens with my son. I use my phone to answer e-mails from students and clients who get in touch with me throughout the day. Judging from the responses of other working moms I’ve talked to about smart phone use, this is pretty much par for the course.

There are some other apps, though, that I’ve come to rely on almost every day for staying organized and running a business and household.

Motivated Moms. Motivated Moms is “a yearly chore calendar”, and it has been a lifesaver for me on occasion. When the house is just too cluttered, too dusty, too messy, I start using this app to help me get the house back on track. Every day there is check list of household chores that need to be done and I just check them off as I go. After about a week of using the app, I’ve made my way through the house and feel much better about things. If I had the time, I’d love to use this 365 days a year but a mom has to sleep, right? Motivated Moms isn’t a free app, but it’s one I feel is worth buying.

Track My Mileage. Now that I run my own small business, it’s important to keep track of the mileage on my truck to make sure that I can claim the right amount for our taxes next year. I started doing this task in a notebook but I was really bad at it. I forgot all the time in the beginning, until I got an app installed on my phone to take care of this. The best part is, you can e-mail yourself the tracked data as an Excel document for business bookkeeping purposes. I’m using the free version of this app.

IMG_3040

ArtKive. Once in a while, Nate brings home something special that he’s made at daycare. I’m totally the kind of mom who would keep every piece of artwork he creates throughout his entire school career. The collection has started and he’s not even in school yet! Then I discovered ArtKive. According to the Apple App Store, “Never again feel guilty about throwing away artwork your kids bring home. Get rid of the clutter and start to enjoy your child’s work.” This description gets it just right…all I have to do is take a picture of Nate’s creation and I have a copy saved for good! I can also send the picture to a select network of family members if I want to.

What are the apps you can’t live without as you go about the business of working and caring for your family?

In Defense of Daycare

Categories: Career, Parenting, The Juggle

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Most weekday mornings Nate and I have our regular routine…he eats his cereal bar or toast with honey and watches his cartoons while I inhale coffee and read my Twitter and Facebook streams. When he asks what I’m doing, I tell him I’m reading my news. Among the “headlines” I encountered earlier this week was a tweet written by a woman I follow on Twitter. She wrote there about how badly she is suffering now that all of her kids are in school full-time. She is a full-time stay-at-home-mom who is feeling lost at this point in her children’s lives and doesn’t know quite what to do with herself.

I could not relate to this at all.

Whenever I hear other mothers talk about how much they would love to quit their jobs and stay at home full-time, I become uneasy. It’s not that I don’t support their wishes and goals; it’s just that their wishes and goals are so vastly different from mine at times.

I’m a very happy work-at-home (and some days outside of the home) mom. I would not be a happy stay-at-home mom. This is a notion I feel responsible for justifying all the time. For example, I mentioned to an acquaintance at the end of the last school year that I would only be working at the college one day a week this year. Her response congratulated me on the fact that I’d be able to save a lot of money on daycare since I’d be home with Nate the other four days a week. I sheepishly informed her that we’d be keeping him in daycare full-time.

“He’ll be going to school next September anyway, so we want to keep his routine going,” I said.

“I’ll still be working from home some days with my school work and I still teach those online courses,” I went on.

“He loves going to daycare…he has so much more fun there with the other kids than he’d have at home with me,” I concluded.

Nate goes to daycare

Nate goes off to daycare with his buddies.

I felt the need to explain myself because mothers are supposed to want to be home all the time with their kids, aren’t they? Activities like creating homemade craft projects and healthy lunches together and peaceful, productive outings with our children are supposed to be the epitome of mothering small children, aren’t they? Well, Pinterest lies. Life with kids at home isn’t like that.

It doesn’t matter how I try to describe the reasons why I don’t want to be a stay-at-home mom, they always come out wrong. At first, my defensive nature kicks in and my justifications for continuing to send Nate to daycare full-time while I work from home always rouse my own inferiority complex about the kind of mother I am.

Then I take a breath, tell myself to relax, and remind myself that it doesn’t matter what my reasons are…having Nate in a great daycare arrangement is what works best for all of the members of our family, even on the days when I’m at home by myself.

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