Archive for ‘Work at Home’

May 7, 2013

One more day, then back on track…

Getting back on track!

Getting back on track!

Every once in a while, my writing life gets hijacked by other priorities. I think it’s one of the hazards of working from home.

It’s been that way for me here for almost a week now, but I’m almost through the  rough patch. One more busy busy day away from my office, and I can get back on track with my works-in-progress!

That means I can get back to my blog, too, which I’ve really missed. I count everyone who visits here and chats with me as friends, and I’ve missed being able to read your posts. I’m looking forward to catching up again. Hopefully there will be some time tomorrow afternoon where I can sit back and enjoy reading other blogs.

As busy as today will be, a good chunk of it will be spent acting as a chauffeur for one of my daughters. She’s going on a photo shoot with her school photography club. I’ll have fun watching, but I’ll be bringing my Kindle along, as well. I have a library full of marketing books I want to dig into again. 🙂

I still have to write an update of my most recent KDP Select adventure. Hopefully that will come tomorrow, as well.

One really big blessing over this past rough week has been the Rome Construction Crew. I haven’t had a chance to connect, but I’ve been able to keep up with my health goal and volunteer goal and I’m making some progress toward my writing goal for May. Just knowing I’ll have to post about it at some time has been incredibly motivating for me. You are all wonderful and I wish you the best day ever.

February 26, 2013

My fountain helps me focus

My hummingbird fountain

My hummingbird fountain

While helping clean out my grandparents’ home a few weeks ago, I came across a hummingbird fountain.

It didn’t work. The tubing connecting the pump to the actual fountain had corroded and broken. I brought it home, anyway.

Last Thursday I was pleasantly surprised when my sweetheart replaced the tubing for me and set it up on top of one of my filing cabinets in my home office.

I’ve turned it on every day since then while I work, and it’s been extremely pleasant.

There’s something to be said for the sound of running water. This is especially true on deadline week. It completely soothes me and reminds me to ‘go with the flow.’ When my fountain is on, my creativity seems to stream from my mind to my fingertips, where I can write it or type it out.

Perhaps I think too much about these things. I tend to look at the objects in my life as symbols, things I can learn from, lessons to treasure. Still. Where’s the wonder in the world, if you can’t feel awe over something as simple as clean water?

It’s food (or water) for thought.

Anyway, I’ve noticed a strange correlation between having my fountain on and how focused I am at work. In a world full of distractions, this makes my little fountain a valuable asset to my home office.

What helps other writers focus on their writing work? I’d love to know.

December 23, 2012

How new curtains make me write better

I write better when I feel at home in my office--and these curtains help me feel at home.

I write better when I feel at home in my office–and these curtains help me feel at home.

It’s the week before Christmas. I look around my office.

It’s not clean. The toy box I keep in my office to entertain a certain little soul has been moved by that same enterprising little soul to the middle of the room. The limited space by the door has been conquered by Christmas presents and wrapping paper. The table that serves as my desk has a piles of notes from three different projects on it, as well as my camera, my cell phone, my recorder and a well-used copy of Dr. Suess’ Green Eggs and Ham.

But it’s better than it was a month ago. I can see the carpet. I at least know where my notes are, which means I can get things done on those projects when I feel like it. All the Christmas presents are in one place–no running around at the last minute looking for things hidden in drawers or under the bed, no tracking down wrapping paper or tape. Doing just a few things each day has helped keep things under control.

That said, I got a kick out of this blog post from The Garrett because it resonated so well with me. From that post:

My office has three states:

  1. Hot mess – If the office usually looks like it’s exploded, like it does now,  I’ve been busy working in it. The closets are open, the desk is surrounded by paper, pens, packages of Kleenex, chargers and a few unidentifiable objects. Things (plants, books, papers, cats) are hanging off my bookshelves. My closets are open and things are falling out. That’s what it looks like now.
  2. Cold mess – If there are a lot of boxes and laundry baskets in the middle of the floor and it hasn’t been vacuumed in a long time, I’ve been avoiding it – and my novel – for a long time. I’ve just kidnapped my laptop, closed the door and fled. This is what it looks like after the holidays.
  3. Clean –  Have you ever seen Poltergeist? Remember the little psychic lady who says “This house is clean”? If so, you know how creepy “clean” can be. It is the worst state for me office by far. Everything is tidy. Spotless. Dusted. Everything’s been filed. The carpet has been cleaned, the laundry is gone, and worse, the desk is immaculate. If my office looks like this, it means something’s wrong; I’ve spent a lot of time in there but all I’ve been doing is cleaning.

I had to smile. Several times. My office is currently a lukewarm mess.

I understand what that post is all about, although I’m coming to see I really do write better in a clean office. It’s worth the investment in time for me to be able to focus.

I recently re-decorated my office in an attempt to claim my office space as my own. This weekend, I made curtains. And was this just an attempt to avoid my writing projects?

I don’t think so. Sure, it took an hour or two away from my writing time, but that’s not bad when I think of the benefits I’m getting from them:

  • They make me feel ‘at home’ here. I’ve admired the fabric for these curtains in several fabric shops. never mind the fact that they don’t have any green in them and may not exactly go with my new green walls. They sparkle. It’s a constant reminder to me that I need to make all my work sparkle too. Also I just love sparkly things.
  • Because I feel at home, I allow myself to daydream here. Writing, for me, is daydreaming while I type. I become a more productive writer and can concentrate well enough to be a better editor.
  • So does this make me a better writer?

I’m giving myself the benefit of the doubt and saying yes. I write best when I’m happy.

Maybe it’s just about pampering myself or having something new that I really love. Maybe somehow it makes me feel a little more professional to put time and effort into my work space. When you work at home, there’s something to be said for every effort you make to be professional.

Whatever it is, these curtains make me happy, and that can’t be a bad thing.

December 19, 2012

Writing like a FlyBaby

This is my office timer and, I suspect, home to Inspiration. (At least, she seems to come out more when I use this timer.)

I’m a flybaby.

For the past few years, I’ve been fluttering on and off with the FlyLady system for managing my home, my office and my life. I’m slowly, very slowly, getting better at it.

One technique that I’ve found very helpful for breaking through writer’s block is the use of a timer. Two or three freewrites of five minutes each, during which I’m brainstorming and writing as fast as I can go, generally gives me enough decent pathways that I can get back to work and expect steady progress.

My timer is a small white kitchen timer, a digital one that beeps when the time is up or can be used a stopwatch if I just want to keep track of how long one particular thought can carry me.

I was slightly surprised to discover I’m not the only writer who seems to think this way. Recently I discovered an online article by freelance writer Laura Spencer detailing sixteen things writers can do in five minutes. That article can be found at freelancefolder.

Freewriting for just five minutes a day has also helped me break through times of discouragement. Focusing that hard on one thing for just a few minutes seems to make it easier to focus on other things, as well. Celebrating for five minutes after forty five minutes or so of five-minute bits of progress breaks up the sadness completely.

Here are my favorite five-minute tasks:

  • Read a picture book to my toddler
  • Sit in a sunny window and drink a glass of lemon water while I muse on the plot for a particular story or the outline for an article
  • Review my goals and dreams (I keep them in a binder that I call ‘My Big Red Book’). Doing this every day before I start work not only keeps me focused, it helps me relax when deadlines get close. It’s as simple as remembering I have a plan, and that the plan I have is workable.
  • Call my Mom–we never have to talk long, but the brief connection with someone who always loves me is well worth the effort.
  • Water my office plants
  • Go outside, get the mail from the mailbox and sort it in the fresh air. Anything I don’t need can go right into the garbage bin before I go back into the house.
  • take out the trash–it’s still all about the sunshine and the fresh air and stretching my legs on the sidewalk for a pace or two.

I use FlyLady’s decluttering system in my home office, too. It’s most useful with the paperwork that piles up so easily. I’ve read in several FlyLady e-mails that you can do anything for fifteen minutes. For me, fifteen minutes spent filing papers and throwing away trash is time well spent.

One other technique that’s particularly helpful for me is using a pattern of activity with a timer to keep me on track. For example, the day after a deadline usually means I have to catch up on tasks that I’ve let slide a little bit. On these days, I may do paperwork for fifteen or twenty minutes, write a little, play with my baby, write a little, do some housework, write a little, and then repeat the entire process. I keep tally marks for the fifteen or twenty minute periods when I’m actually working so that when I get back into the flow of things, I have an idea of how many billable hours I worked.

Granted, these days aren’t as productive as my ordinary work days, but they’re better than looking around wondering where to start. This technique has worked for me when other methods haven’t.

When you have writing to do and can’t seem to get going, these things matter.

December 15, 2012

Baby in the background: is this professional?

My toddler son, one of my sweetest writing interruptions, 'helping' me in my office by standing on a step-stool. (I'm deliberately not focusing on the way he helped me redecorate my office floor.)

My toddler son, one of my sweetest writing interruptions, ‘helping’ me in my office by standing on a step-stool. (I’m deliberately not focusing on the way he helped me redecorate my office floor.)

For the most part, my children get their education at home.

That’s not to say that we don’t appreciate and utilize the public school system. We have, and I expect we will again in the future. Even now, with all of my children at home during the day, we’re active in the public school system through some terrific online charter schools.

There are plenty of good options, both in the home and away from it, for families who are engaged in each other’s learning.

We’ve worked out routines and schedules that allow me to help the children with their learning objectives, give me time to work and leave me a few spare moments every day to manage the household (sometimes just barely). It’s a busy life, and it’s completely worth the effort.

There are times when it’s more difficult than others. As a work-at-home writer, having company all day presents a unique set of challenges. The most difficult situations to handle are the days when my toddler is sick and I’m working on a deadline.

For example: two weeks ago I had a telephone appointment with an executive and a public relations representative from an oil-related company looking to invest in a big project in the Bakken area of North Dakota. They’re busy people. I was glad to have the interview set during my scheduled work hours, which generally happen during the quietest parts of the day–and then, that morning, my baby started showing signs of an ear infection.

“I need to warn you that you may hear a baby in the background,” I said when they called. “Will that bother you? Do we need to reschedule this appointment?”

These nice gentlemen assured me that it was okay. They had families of their own, and they understood.

As kind as they were, I was embarrassed when I realized that my son had an ear infection six months ago when I first contacted them for a separate article.

I took my toddler to the doctor the next afternoon. Sure enough, he’s getting some molars and he had fluid behind his ears. No wonder he was cranky. He’s had a total of four ear infections so far this year.

I’ve heard that a child’s risk of ear infections goes up dramatically after a big move. All I can do is prepare for these kinds of uncertainties the best I can and try to be flexible. Most of the time, people understand.

I get that I need to do all I can to be professional, and I’ve come to the realization that putting my family members first is part of that responsibility. With that in mind, maybe juggling a career and at-home education experiences and managing a household isn’t unprofessional at all. Maybe it’s just a different way of looking at what’s professional and what’s merely thoughtless.

Professionalism, to me, is careful consideration of the people you live for and work with. It’s a code of mutual respect.

My responsibilities to my children come first. This includes rocking my toddler when he needs some reassurance, even when work piles up on me. I do this because I respect my son, I respect my daughters’ rights to focus on their school work, and I respect my right to enjoy my children while they’re young enough to need me.

My responsibilities to others are significant, too. I keep my telephone appointments whenever possible because I respect the people I’ve contacted and I appreciate how busy their schedules can be. I run fact checks whenever I can because I respect the right of my readers to have good, accurate and pertinent information. I meet my deadlines because I respect my editor. I work hard because I respect myself.

If, every once in a while, the needs of the people in my life clash, I will put my family first. So far, the few people I’ve had to explain the occasional background noise to have grasped this concept with a surprising amount of compassion. I believe that’s because they respect themselves and the multiple roles they fill, too.

As I move into the New Year, I’ll adjust my work hours to accommodate new semester schedules, growth spurts and the necessary interviews I need to do my best writing work. Everything will fall into place, and I’ll move ahead with my personal writing goals.

More importantly, I’ll continue to work on creating the most nurturing environment I can so that my children get the best possible education.

Yes, there will be times when the learning experiences happen away from home. I understand that, I expect it, and some days I fervently look forward to it, both for my sanity and for the growth of my children.

It’s just that the things my children need to know the most–namely, that they’re loved unconditionally somewhere in the world–happen best here at home.

Is this professional?

I hope so. I try to make it so.

But even if it’s not, I’ll never regret the time I spend with my kids.

December 12, 2012

My Feng Shui home office: cheering up my chi


Not so long ago, I decided I needed to Feng Shui my office.

At least, I knew I had to do something with it. The walls were a dingy yellow that slowed me down. In the middle  of work, I found myself staring at them, distracted by a desperate need to clean them. Every shadow was a fingerprint left by someone I didn’t know; every nick in its imperfect surface, a reminder that this room didn’t yet belong to me.

Even with the blinds up and the sunlight pouring in, this was the kind of yellow that made me feel brittle, old and too unfocused to write well. It was the hand of a thief that reached into my mind and took all my best thoughts. I found myself weary enough to toss things in the trash instead of recycling them, and piles of papers cluttered up every corner because I didn’t want to take the time to put them away.

I’m sure that at one time, that particular shade of yellow meant something to someone. I almost felt bad changing the colors. Almost. It had to go.

And so last week, a year and a month beyond the day we moved into this house, I painted my office a happy, light, spring-time green. It’s now my thicket in the forest, my sunlit meadow, my moss-covered stepping stones as I wander through lanes of imagination.

It makes me want to grow…and so I work, and I learn, and I’m writing and polishing articles faster than I’ve done in a long time. This feels good.

I’ll hang sparkly blue curtains in the window this weekend.  The acrylic painting of an ocean scene, given to me as a Christmas gift from a multi-talented writing friend, is back on the wall. My tiny blue water fountain has new batteries. All I need now, I think, is a fish.

The real celebration came spontaneously. As I was wandering through the Christmas section of one of America’s favorite discount stores, I came across a low shelf filled with despairing plants. They called my name, pleaded with me for life.

I brought three of them home. One jade plant sits near the window, on the top of a metal filing cabinet. The other jade dances on the corner of my writing table, and the Christmas cactus smiles at us all from the top of another filing cabinet across the room.

In just a week, these plants have begun to flourish. My office feels clean, new, both relaxing and full of energy. It’s affecting me in little ways–I’m drinking more water, I’m exercising more, and certainly I’m happier handling my deadlines.

Writing feels right again–and although I don’t really know about Feng Shui, I think this was a good move.

My chi is cheerful.

December 9, 2012

Something about Saturdays


There’s something wonderfully comforting about Saturdays.

I still work on Saturdays. With three children at home (all day every day), it’s the only way I can manage to get in forty billable work hours every week.

That said, I work at a much more relaxed pace than I do on weekdays. My alarm doesn’t go off at five in the morning. There’s no worry about missing telephone calls, no concern over unread e-mails, no pressure to write more than the bare minimum. Mostly, it’s a day for planning and preparing for the upcoming week.

One of my mentors, LaVonn Steiner of Excel Leadership, once said she set aside one day a week for paperwork, office work, financials, things like that. Bonnie Staiger, an outstanding leader with The Staiger Consulting Group in North Dakota, told me during an interview she has one day a week where she doesn’t sit down until all her papers are filed and her work space is completely clear.

For me, that day is Saturday.

Today was one of the most pleasant Saturdays I’ve had in quite a while. As I looked over the activity of the past week, I realized that I had accomplished a lot more than I originally thought I had. Being a prolific writer, for some reason, brings me deep satisfaction.

On top of that, my office is gradually becoming less cluttered (yes, I’m trying hard to be a FlyBaby), I feel much clearer about my writing goals and I feel like the work I do is worth the effort I put into it.

It’s a totally, completely rewarding kind of day.

Add to that the fact that I’m not chained to my desk on Saturdays. I keep the laundry going, wash dishes, read to my baby and listen to my daughters laugh with the friends that come to hang out here. If there’s time, I bake treats and read and play the piano. When it finally gets dark, my family and I gather to watch Psych, Star Trek or Merlin together (we’re such escapists here). It’s really a great day for all of us.

One thing more makes it perfect. At the end of the day, I file my writing and editing works-in-progress away for the rest of the weekend. I won’t touch them at all until Monday morning, five o’ clock-ish, or maybe later in the morning, depending on how exuberant I feel. On Sunday, all I do is relax, center myself and rejuvenate my spirit.

With that in mind, Sunday really is the best day of the week–but the fact that it’s right around the corner makes Saturday something special.

September 11, 2012

Messy Office, Messy Mind

My office on one of my 'messy mind' days

My office on one of my ‘messy mind’ days

About six years ago I interviewed the owner of a printing company. His desk was immaculate. For some reason, I asked him about it.

“Show me a messy desk, and I’ll show you a messy mind,” he said.

I hate to admit it, but I think he’s right.

I had a double deadline last week, which meant bouncing back and forth from telephone to e-mail to working drafts and note transcriptions. Unread mail, notebook paper and printed notes became stacks on my office floor. My baby’s office toys were scattered from the toy box in the corner to the door on the other side of the room. I missed garbage day, which meant the garbage can was overflowing by the end of the week.

And by the end of the week, I could hardly think clearly at all. I ended up finishing the second article at my mom’s house, where it was clean enough for me to focus.

I hope I’ve learned my lesson. If messes slow me down that much, then it’s actually a time saver to keep my office clean and tidy.

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