Working at home is not for the faint of heart—nor for the easily distracted.
I have worked at home for over fifteen years and I know a lot about distractions. While I no longer have small children or teenagers in the house, the distractions dangled before my eyes by the rest of my life are countless.
Know your direction
Facebook is fascinating, blogs are brilliant, and email is endless, but if spending time on any of these will not result in my business success, I will have wasted precious time looking at them. In order to avoid distractions it is vital that you know what your goals are for your work.
I will be the first to admit that it’s not easy to stop and ask yourself if what you’re about to do will contribute to your goals, but once you get in the habit, I think you’ll find that your productivity will increase, and most likely your bottom line, too.
The Internet is a fun toy, so if you remind yourself that cat videos and knitting blogs are for off-work times, you won’t feel deprived of those enjoyments, and you will get a lot more done.
Give your brain a break
For creative people and dedicated individuals, putting your head down and working straight through can happen without you realizing that hours have passed. I tend to write or work on art or websites only to look up and realize that it’s already 4:00 PM and I’ve hardly left my desk for hours.
A good way to avoid this is to set a timer to ring after fifty minutes of work. When it goes off, get up, walk around, breathe deeply, stretch, and adjust your gaze to something far away out your window. This is good for your brain, your circulation, and your eyesight.
Move it, baby
This brings me to my final point in this series. Be sure to build breaks into your day that include going outside and getting some fresh air. Go weed your garden for ten minutes, take a brisk walk to the mailbox or the corner store, or just walk around the block. It’s not healthy to sit for hours at a time.
It’s also important to have human contact, so if you work alone all day, be sure to factor in a trip to the library, or a networking event so that you get out of the house. Working at home can be lonely and isolating, even if you’re an introvert and love your own company.
Get up, move around, see people, and do something fun. You will have more success if you balance your work life with lots of other activities and you’ll enjoy it all more, too.
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There is always time to do something you love.
I can almost hear the protests:
We all have busy lives, some busier than others. However, I believe that what usually stops us from doing things that we really love, is prioritizing.
For example, I’ve decided that I want to do a sketch every day. Nothing fancy, just a little sketch in my pocket sketchbook. Am I doing it faithfully? No.
The reason I haven’t done it yet is because I have to re-arrange my schedule to make room for a fifteen-minute sketch and I haven’t done that. I could spend that much less time watching Netflix in the evening, or I could get out my sketchbook and draw something while I eat breakfast.
While I want to do it, I haven’t made the decision to fit it in.
If you think about something that you’d like to do more of, ask yourself what has to happen before you can accomplish it. Can you get up a little earlier in the morning? Or, go to bed a little later at night?
Perhaps exchanging one activity for another would make the space for what you would like to do. It might require a little imagination, but really, we often do a lot of things in a day that aren’t strictly necessary. It’s like time clutter. Clear out the non-essential and there is more space.
Put simply, it comes down to this:
If you want more time, do less.
I once read a story about a woman who had survived several tragedies in a fairly short time. With no warning her husband left her, someone close to her died, her house burned, and she had lost her job. I’m not going to say that she didn’t suffer, because she did, and greatly, but she managed to pull herself together and move on.
She moved to a different city and started over. In the process she made the decision that she would say ‘yes’ to whatever opportunities came her way. As she made friends in her new location, she became known as the one who would always say yes to requests for new adventures. Taking this attitude completely changed the woman’s life.
I believe it will change your life, too, when you decide to say yes to life, to your dreams, or simply to a new experience.
It is time to say ‘yes’ to:
You will never have the time is you don’t say yes now. None of us really knows how much time we have, and the tomorrow that we are putting things off until may never come. We only have so many days here on this earth and when it’s over, well dear, it’s going to be too late to take your kids to see the ocean, or go on that romantic weekend with your sweetheart, or study French.
This was brought up close and personally to me when I nearly died one night from internal hemorrhaging. Coming face to face with my own mortality made me sit up and take notice of where I wanted my life to go. I realized that the ‘some day’ I had been putting things off for, had to happen now, not later.
We women are often guilty of saying yes to everyone else’s wants and needs instead of our own. Doesn’t that imply that the needs of others are more important than your own? If you think about that for a moment, you must agree that it just isn’t so.
Everyone’s needs are of equal value, it is just more important to the owner of those needs that you drop everything and attend to them rather than to your own. Get some perspective. Just because someone demands that you submit to his or her wishes, doesn’t mean you have to do it.
Think about what you need to say yes to. Your life is numbered by days, and they go by with shocking regularity and speed. Now is the time to start saying yes to what makes your life really worthwhile. Don’t wait. Don’t put it off. Say yes now.
Not sure what you want to say yes to? My program, The Wish Plan, can help you discover what you value, and make a plan to get it.
Remember those summer days when you played outside until long after the sun went down and came in smiling and worn out? After you mom made you wash and get into your summer pyjamas you flopped into bed and instantly fell asleep between crisp cotton sheets. You woke when the sun came in your window and hit the ground ready for another fun day.
That was then, you say, and this is now.
Stay with me for a moment. What happened along the way that robbed us of the delicious experience of a good night’s sleep? Our date books are crammed with commitments; we’re on call for everyone and the dog, and after another exhausting day, we fall into bed only to be wakened by snoring mates, full bladders, or the thought of tomorrow’s schedules.
We really need to re-learn the art of the wonderful sleep. For sleeps to be luscious and satisfying, we need to put aside the cares of the day early in the evening. If the cares of the day are so numerous that it is not possible to retire them early, then perhaps it is time to re-think how much we are trying to cram into our days.
Not long ago, I felt caught in the constant swirling cycle of too many things to do and not enough time to do them all. I stayed up too late, woke in the night and lay awake thinking about important every detail I must remember to circumvent some crisis. Eventually falling asleep just before dawn, I then spent my days like a flag at half-mast. I was neither awake nor asleep but dragged through my days too foggy to accomplish much at all. Anxiety and fluctuating hormones were ruining my life. Finally, I went to see my doctor. He prescribed a rather benign drug whose side-effect is that it makes you sleepy. I re-entered the world of the childlike sleep.
Once I began sleeping well again, I had the clarity required to see what needed to change to make my life simpler and less stressful. I realized that there are some things that I will not be able to do, that I must choose one main course in life and focus on it. My evenings have become quieter and calmer. I spend more time with my husband. And I look forward to going to bed, sliding between my pale yellow sheets and reading, or snuggling into my puffy pillow and drifting off.
Sleeping luxuriously means giving your whole self to the process.
It may not seem easy to go back to those delicious sleeps of childhood, but it is possible to improve your sleep life. By endeavouring to make the experience a luscious one, you improve your chances of being well-slept.
Surround yourself with beauty
One day I sat down to make a list of some of the things that make my life feel rich and full. There were very few things on the list that I didn’t already have and appreciate. But one item on my list was to buy fresh flowers regularly. For me, buying flowers had fallen into the category of money frittered away since flowers soon die leaving nothing to show for the money spent.
So buying flowers and having them around my home is a sign to me of my prosperity and luscious living, a sign that I have enough money that I don’t have to concern myself with such a small expense. With that exercise, I realized how very little is often required to feel rich and prosperous. Very often the problem lies in not identifying what gives us that delightful sense of joy, because we can be too busy to look.
If you were to create your own list of delights, it may not include buying flowers. Beautiful music, pleasing colours, pretty things give most of us a lot of pleasure, and surrounding ourselves with these delights makes life so much more lovely.
Our surrounding have a powerful impact on how we relate to other things in life. So it is important to fill our surroundings with objects that lift the spirit and soothe the soul.
Surrounding yourself with beautiful things is an act of self-care. When you treat yourself well, you are acknowledging that how important you are. You are one of a kind and very special. Take the time and care to add more beauty to your life to give your own soul delight.
Ask yourself if your home gives you pleasure to be in? Is your bedroom an expression of your beautiful self? If not, then take the time to identify those things that need to be removed, replaced, or revitalized. Adding beauty to your surroundings it can be as simple as placing a violet on your kitchen windowsill, to as elaborate as redecorating your whole house.
Whatever you choose, remember that our souls are nourished by beauty, so if you want a well-nourished and satisfied soul, be sure to surround yourself with more of it.
Eat Chocolate for Breakfast
Several years ago while travelling in France, staying at hole-in-the-wall hotels and eating at small cafes, I had breakfast at a tiny bakery with a few wooden tables. The morning sunlight streamed through the windowpanes onto the tiled floor as a round woman with smiling eyes served miniature cups of espresso and pain chocolat (pronounced pan shocolah). Similar to a croissant but with layers of rich dark chocolate rolled in swirls of buttery warm bread, eating a pain chocolat for breakfast is like starting the day with a little bit of heaven.
The French are famous for their joie de vivre, but you don’t have to live in France to indulge in wonderful treats for breakfast or anytime. Living with lusciousness means choosing to include sensual delights as often as you can and not settling for less than the best of what you want.
Try this: Go to a chocolate boutique and buy yourself some fabulous truffles, one or two for each day of the week. If you can make them last all week, good for you. If you can’t, just buy enough to give yourself a happy, sensuous moment of bliss. Then go back another day and do it again. It won’t be enough to blow your diet, just enough to give you a treat. Even if you do not live near a great chocolate boutique, you can buy really fine chocolate at your grocery store.
The main point here is, take the time to include those small things that make your life more pleasant. If it is harmless, painless, and won’t break your budget then go ahead and add to your life those experiences that make it better, more fun or just more luscious.
You can apply this delicious concept to anything that gives you a morsel of delight in your day. Take time to give yourself luscious little treats. Don’t postpone living. Try taking a bubble bath in the afternoon or have your morning coffee before anyone else in the house is up so you can savour the silence. Use your favourite coffee cup. Buy yourself flowers.
We must treat ourselves kindly and well and we must also treat ourselves to luscious moments, morsels and delights. These self-loving gifts are the materials of everyday sweetness.
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A few years ago I was working a trade show and while taking a break I walked past a booth advertising a new resort project. When I made eye contact with the man behind the table, we both had a jolt of recognition and said at the same time, “I know you.” It took a few minutes to trace our past connection, but we remembered that he had been the realtor who sold our house several years before. We had also attended the same church for a while.
We agreed to have lunch together to talk about old times, and during our conversation over burgers and fries, he made a comment that I have never forgotten. “A hundred years from now there will be all new people on the earth.” I realized, that with only a few exceptions, the statement was true.
Since then I’ve given that concept a lot of thought. If I am one of the people here now, then there must be a reason for me to be here.
What if we are all here at this time because we are the exact complement to the people with whom we will come into contact?
What if we are each here to be the one to help someone or several others get through this journey we call life?
If that is the case, then what do I bring to the table to offer others as a means to aid them on their journey? What talents and abilities do I possess that will make someone else’s journey easier?
If I have a responsibility to the other people who are inhabiting this earth in my time, then I need to look at what my abilities are that I can offer you. If I am to offer you my very best, then I need to use the talents that God gave me to the best of my ability.
There is no point in me spending a lot of time and effort trying to be something I’m not, since my purpose will be thwarted. Assuming that we are given talents and natural abilities which we might develop for the purpose of using them to make the world a better place, then it doesn’t make any sense at all for me to not maximize those talents and abilities.
If I spent an inordinate amount of time on meaningless tasks, am I not wasting the time I have been given to develop my talents for the benefit of those around me? Am I not squandering my abilities, to not develop them?
Why am I here now?
Who am I here with and why them?
What do I have to offer ?
Am I maximizing my talents for the good of myself and the rest of the world?
Do you have notice that it gets harder to make decisions toward the end of the day? You’re too tried to figure out what to have for dinner or what to watch on TV. That’s because we all have a finite amount of decisions that we can make in any given day.
Knowing that helps us prioritize. We can cut out a lot of decision making by implementing habits and routines. That way we save them for the important stuff. It also frees brain space for more creative and productive thinking. Routines are a great tool that simplify our lives and cut out a lot of our daily stress.
Chances are you already have a morning routine. You get up, you get your coffee, read the paper or check email and fix some toast before heading into the shower. Let’s expand on that. If you create a “uniform” for yourself, you don’t even have to think about what to wear. You just grab a pair of pants and a shirt, or a skirt, tights and sweater and off you go.
Implement some routines into your workday wherever possible. Meal planning helps you figure out what meals to fix and eat. A cleaning schedule makes sure you stay on track with your household chores without you having to spend any valuable decision making skills in the process.
Building your creative work—writing time, or art—into your routine soon makes it a habit. When it’s already a habit, you don’t need to try to fit it into your day because it’s already part of your routine.
Wrap your day up with a bedtime routine that not only helps when you’re too tired to make smart choices, it also helps you fall asleep more easily.
Start by doing a few chores that make the next morning easier. Making sure the kitchen is clean and the kids’ school things are in order are great examples. Come up with a few calming things that help you slow down and get ready for sleep. Read a book, listen to some music, or wind down with a cup of herbal tea.
Sit down with a pen and piece of paper and think about what parts of your day and week you can turn into routines. Write the down and create daily to-do lists for yourself until you’ve established these new habits and routines.
Spending a little bit of time creating routines and habits will make your day run a lot smoother. You might just find yourself less stressed and get more done during your productive hours. And that’s a beautiful thing. It allows you to save plenty of decision making for the fun stuff like figuring out what park to go to, what family movie to watch or what board game to play.
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Creating new habits isn’t easy. Here are six simple tricks that will make it a little easier. Use them until you’ve internalized your new creative habit and don’t need them anymore.
Schedule It And Put It On The To-Do List
Sometimes we forget to do that new thing we were trying. Maybe we forget that we’re supposed to be writing first thing in the morning instead of reading the news, or that we need to get that daily walk in that charges up creative energy.
Schedule your new creative habits or make them part of your daily to-do list until they become something you do automatically.
Make It Public and Be Accountable
Let family and friends know what new creative habits you’re trying to establish. They will call you out if you don’t stick to your plan and get you back on track.
You may even go as far as sharing it publicly on Facebook or write a blog about your new journey. Knowing that others read it and know about it might be just enough to keep you going when you feel like throwing in the towel or slipping back into old routines.
Piggyback On A Habit You Already Have
Whenever possible, add the new habit to one you already have. For example, if you fix a cup of tea or coffee at 4:00 pm, and you want to get in the habit writing in your journal, make the new ritual to do your journalling while enjoy your tea.
It’s much easier to amend an existing habit or ritual than creating an entirely new one.
Make Slip-ups Costly
Here’s a fun idea. Put a jar on the kitchen counter and each time you slip back into your bad habit or forget to stick to the new one you have to put five dollars in the jar. It will quickly help you remember to skip wasting time surfing Facebook instead of working on your creative project. For extra motivation donate the money to charity at the end of the month or hand it over to your spouse to go spend.
Find A Partner and Help Each Other Along
Find someone with the same or similar creative goal. This could be a writing partner or fellow artist. Keep tabs on each other and encourage each other to keep going. It’s much harder to skip if you know someone else is depending on you.
Make It A Group Challenge
If one accountability partner is good, a whole group is even better. And they don’t even need to be local. Find a supportive group creative online and challenge each other to stick to your new habit for the next 30 days or so. Not wanting to be the first one to give up will keep all of you going until you establish that new habit.
Give these simple little tricks a try. Keep using the ones that you find helpful until you have made new creative habits you can stick with without the help of any tools or support.
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They say it takes 21 days to create a new habit. That’s kind of a weird idea though, isn’t it? It doesn’t take that long to form a bad habit. And sometimes no matter how hard we try it takes us a lot longer to form a new habit.
When it comes to creative habits, how long does it really take to develop a new habit? The answer is that it depends. It depends on your mindset and it depends on how big of a change it is from what you are doing now. If it is your habit to eat a bowl of ice cream at night and you switch from regular ice cream to a low sugar frozen yogurt version, it’s probably not going to take you very long to make that new habit. Giving up ice cream altogether though or cutting out all sugar on the other hand might take a lot longer.
When we ask that question, what we really want to know is how long do we have to tough it out before it gets easier. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel where we don’t have to try so hard to do things differently or structure your day to fit in more writing time anymore? In other words, when will this new behavior of painting daily or writing a thousand words before work become automatic?
While it will be different from one person to the next and even from one habit to the next, there are a few things to keep in mind.
It’s easier to make a new habit than get rid of an old one. Whenever possible, try to replace an old habit with a new one. For example if you’re wanting to write every day, try replacing that half hour you spend reading the news over your morning coffee with 30 minutes of writing instead.
Habits will form faster if you stick to the same time and environment each day. Instead of trying to fit in sketching whenever, keep your sketchbook next to the door and schedule your art journalling time right after dinner, for example.
A constant reminder of why you’re trying to change your behavior is also helpful. Remind yourself every day that you’re writing every day so that you can finish your novel by the end of the year. Or put up a picture to remind you that you’re developing your painting skills so you can have your own show. Keep your reason why you’re changing front and center and then be prepared to stick it out. Yes it will take some time to make new habits and replace old ones. But it will be well worth it in the end.
It’s hard to keep up willpower for any length of time. Yes, we can stick to a low-fat 1,000 calorie diet and go hungry for a week or two, but eventually our willpower fades. And yes, we can do exercise we hate for a while... until we run out of willpower.
But what about getting up to take the kids to school every morning, brushing our teeth or going to work every day. Those may not be our favorite things to do either, but we do them daily without the risk of running out of willpower. That’s because they have become habits. They are so ingrained in what we do and who we are that we do them without even considering skipping a day or a week. We don’t have to make a conscious decision each day to shower or drive to work. It’s just what we do – a habit.
When you start to think about it, there is an inverse relationship between habits and will power. When you first want to build a new creative habit, say, write or paint every day, it takes a lot of will power or self-discipline to get it done day in and day out. As you start to establish that habit, it becomes easier and easier to do until you don’t even have to think about it anymore. Doing your creative work is just part of your daily life.
Just being aware of this process helps us stick it out. We know we don’t always have to make such a big effort to go work out or skip the donut for breakfast. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We know eventually it will become habit to go write for fifteen or thirty minutes first thing in the morning or grab your paintbrush and add a few more strokes to your work in progress.
While we’re in that transition from willpower to habit, we can use tools to make it easier. Use a to-do list or creative planner or set a reminder to help stay on track. Find an accountability partner so the two of you can motivate each other and help bolster that willpower when it starts to fade after the first enthusiasm wears off. Compare daily word count or report in with each other every day. Even something as simple as laying out your craft materials—brushes, paints, novel research, etc.—will give you a jump start on getting at it in the morning.
Let’s talk about forming new creative habits. We all have times in our lives where we intentionally want to change our behavior for the better and create new habits for ourselves. This could be getting in the habit of eating healthier and drinking more water. Or it could be moving more and taking the dog for a daily walk. Or it could be work related, or spiritual, or fitting more writing or painting time into your day. There are so many areas in our lives that could be improved and made easier if we created new habits.
Getting into the habit of doing something is often easier said than done. For some reason that I'd rather not explore, we seem to acquire bad habits without any effort, but getting into a “good” habit can be a little more challenging.
Let’s break it down into a three step process that makes it easy to follow until we’ve internalized the new creative behavior and made it a true habit – something you do automatically without having to think about, like brushing your teeth.
Decide What You Want To Do
The first step is to decide what you want that new habit to be. Be as specific as possible. Don’t just tell yourself you want to write more. Instead say something like “I will write for 30 minutes every single day”. Deciding what your new habit will be and committing to when and how you’re going to do it, is half the battle.
Remind Yourself To Get It Done
The next few days should be smooth sailing. You’re motivated and excited to get this done. Sticking to your new creative habit isn’t an issue. But a few days in you’ll notice that it’s easy to slip back into old habits.
Maybe it’s raining and you don’t feel like painting. Or maybe your day just gets away from you. This is when it’s important to have a daily reminder. Set an alert on your phone or add the new habit to your daily to-do list for a while.
Make It Part Of Your Routine Until It Becomes A Habit
Which brings us to the last step. It takes some time before a new behavior becomes a true habit. Until then, a routine will work to your best advantage. Even before the new behavior becomes automatic, a routine will help you get it done without having to spend a lot of willpower or relying on daily reminders.
Make daily writing part of your after breakfast routine, or change fitting it in when everything else is done, to doing it before you start on your to-do list for the day.
Congratulations! Decide to create the new creative habit, practice the routine until it’s second nature and you’ll be well on your way to forming a new good habit.
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Taking a vacation this summer? Why not turn it into a creative retreat too? It is so easy to do.
Just go to your nearest art, craft, or stationery store and pick up a watercolour sketchbook (such as a Moleskine one). While you're there buy some watercolour paints. You don't have to get anything fancy. A child's paintbox will do.
Also get a water brush that holds water in the handle. They're amazing and fun. Here is what I took on my holiday to the lake.
I bought this plastic paint box a few years ago and squeezed watercolours from tubes into the pans and allowed them to set.
Whiling away the afternoon at a coffee shop, I made this little sketch of a woman eating a brownie. It took about ten minutes to draw and paint.
Don't let your fear of not doing perfect work keep you from being creative.
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Recently, the writing world is all a-flutter with the sudden (How could it be sudden?) revelation that Huffington Post apparently requires its writers to work for free. While I have no opinion on HuffPo in particular, this scenario does bring up the unpleasant truth that creative people are asked to, and agree to, work for free far too often.
Sure, I know it happens in other occupations too, but it’s particularly rampant in the arts. The contention is that because you love what you do that should be compensation enough.
But you’ll get exposure
The carrot that’s dangled in front of our noses is, “but it will be great exposure.” As a visual artist as well as a writer, I fell for that stinker many years ago, until I wised up and realized that my work was being used and the benefit to me was zero.
People gush over talent but forget that the artist or writer is not building a career on a gift that dropped from the sky onto her head. Years of training, practice, and sacrifice have gone into developing her art. Giving it away is career madness.
For creatives, who admittedly tend to be right-brained people, demanding money for art can be difficult. Part of the reason is that we all know that while people love art they don’t want to pay for it. The same folks who ask an artist or writer to work for free wouldn’t dream of asking a dentist or car mechanic to do the same.
The other issue is that silence about money in artistic fields leaves us all at a disadvantage because we don’t know how to value our work. It takes work, time, and gumption to become intelligent in these areas and to learn how to market your own work.
Small pond, many fish
With the advent of print on demand and digital publishing, the market has been flooded with written materials that in days gone by wouldn’t have made it onto a shelf. I’m a huge fan of indie publishing but a result I’ve noticed from this influx is price competition between authors. It’s no secret that when you compete on price the winners are the buying public, not the people who produce the product and sell it. But if you keep giving the milk away, no one is going to want to pay for it.
Don’t worry; I don’t need to eat
When others consume the creative person’s work without paying, it directly affects the economy of a family. My kids aren’t going to be happy when I try to feed them “exposure” for dinner. My mortgage company won’t accept “I did it for free because I love it” in payment either.
Just stop it
So what’s a writer, artist, or musician to do? Here are some suggestions:
This isn’t just about Huffington Post exploiting writers, it’s about all creatives giving our work away for free so we can be more than the plain girl/guy at the prom “hoping someone will like me.” I learned years ago as a visual artist that benefitting someone else and hoping for “exposure” was worthless and always resulted in a net loss in time, energy, and money for me.
If all creatives stopped “giving the milk away” and stopped competing with each other on price, we would all benefit. So value your work, your skills, your talent, your hours. Charge more, demand more, and laugh when someone suggests that you do it for free.
Value is measured in money. Value yourself.
People ooh and aah over talent, but the artist, writer, or musician is not building a career on talent. Years of training, practice, and sacrifice have gone into developing their art. Giving it away is career suicide.
Do visions of the sleazy used car salesman in a gaudy plaid jacket and polyester pants leap to mind when you think of marketing?
Most creatives dream of quitting the day job and going full-time. Oh, and making boatloads of money. Rather than toil away in obscurity, clinging to fragments of that far-off dream, perhaps it’s time to:
Where I share thoughts, creative ideas, and spread sweetness for abundant living.