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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You’ve achieved the dream, dumped the job, and are working at home. Now what?
Many people have the dream of getting out of the corporate rat race, leaving the stressful commute behind, and starting a business working from home. If you’ve managed to make that happen, Yay, you!
So now that your commute is down the hall instead of down the freeway, how do you structure your days so that you succeed? I’ve been working from home for over fifteen years and I’ve developed some essential strategies to make things work.
Okay, this sounds too simplistic. Of course, you’re going to get up. But let me tell you, the temptation to lie in bed late can be strong if you’re not naturally a morning person. But remember, you’re still getting up and going to work so lazing in bed in the morning isn’t an option.
If you’re like me and live on the west coast, those folks on the east coast who may be your clients have already been up and working for three hours before your eyes open.
One of the perks of working at home is that you can work in your pyjamas. Who’s to know, right?
However, there is a certain mindset that goes with being in your nightclothes and that is that you’re still on leisure hours. Besides, how you do one thing is how you do everything so sloppy is as sloppy does.
If you conduct business via Skype, or Zoom, where people will see you, it is doubly important that you look presentable and professional. Fix yourself up as though you’re going to the office, because you are.
While we’re on the subject of sprucing up, it’s also a good idea to make your work space presentable. One reason for this is because of visual calls online; the other reason is that a neat work space makes doing your job easier.
Besides being a writer, I’m a visual artist, and like most visual people, I’m happier when I can see what I need. But honestly, it gets away on me frequently. The “I’ll just put that here for now” method of dealing with incoming materials means it doesn’t take long until I’m overwhelmed with messes.
I’m not saying that you have to constantly be cleaning up, just regularly tidy up your space. The best way to stay on top of that is with systems, which we’ll look at in the next article in this three-part series.
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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 work with a lot of writers and I have taught art classes, led writing workshops, and tutored both artists and writers.
Sometimes people ask me if they should take a class or a course, either online or locally, in person. Here is my answer:
It depends what your goal is.
Yes, you should take a class, or some kind of instruction if you want to improve your work. This can be done in a myriad of ways. When I began exploring watercolours my first step was to borrow books from my local library and study what different artists recommended.
I learned early on that there are many different approaches even in this one medium. Since my goal was to increase my skill level, i.e. become more professional, I enrolled in a studio class that I continued to attend for a couple of years. In that class I learned many techniques how to use the medium to produce work that reflected my own style.
(Coincidentally, in the studio next door, another class leader taught all the students to copy the style of the instructor.)
During that same period I also decided I wanted to develop my writing skills. I followed the same pattern. First, library books, and then writing classes. Both were beneficial.
All this took place before the advent of the Internet and online courses. Now, I’m a big fan of classes online. They are easy and quick to access and you can start almost immediately after you’ve made the decision. You can generally work at your own pace without leaving home.
Among the disadvantages of courses online is that you will likely be working alone and unless you’re self-motivated, you may find that life gets in the way of finishing what you started. However, a well-done course or leaders will usually also offer follow up, a forum, or Facebook group so you stay engaged and motivated until the end.
A local class or course offers the benefit of social contact but requires you to show up at a specific time. It is fun to get together with others who share your interest and to learn as a group. The downside can be heading out on a dark and stormy night may put you off getting to the class.
So, here is my question:
If you wanted to pursue either a writing course, or an art course, which would you prefer: online or in person?
Please leave your answer as a comment below as your choice will help me to develop some programs that I have in mind. Thanks.
Our western society is a culture of striving. The prevailing attitude is that if you’re not knocking yourself out striving toward a goal, you’re wasting time and taking up space.
While I agree that it’s important to know where you want to go and what you want to do to make your life feel worthwhile, too many of us are striving at breakneck speed toward the unknown. Believe it our not, there is a word for this: coddiwomple. It means to travel purposefully toward a vague destination.
When I first read that word, I had to stop and ask myself if that’s what I’m doing. And surprisingly, the answer is, at least in some areas, yes. I’m busy working, striving, and reaching for a destination that’s kind of blurry.
How does this happen?
I believe that we’re products of our environment to such an extent that we simply flow in the direction of everyone else. (There is a reason Jesus compared us to sheep.)
But what would happen if you stopped? If we each took time to look carefully at all the “things” we are chasing, would we still want them?
To find that out, two things are necessary.
1) We must know what we truly value.
2) We must seek peace in our lives and live in that place where peace resides.
Sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it?
In my program, The Wish Plan, which I wrote and teach, the very first exercise assists you in determining what you truly value. I can’t put enough emphasis on the importance of knowing this.
It’s easy to spend precious hours, days, and years of our lives striving for something that we don’t really, in our hearts, even want. That’s not a good way to spend a life.
So, if you decide for even a day to stop striving for whatever you’re reaching for, and simply pay attention to what is right in front of you, how would that feel?
Sometimes when we stop, take a rest, and listen to our hearts, the answers come. So does the peace.
When I set out to create a daily journal I thought it would be easy. I’d sit down each morning at my computer and dash off a note about whatever was happening with me, and hope that there is someone out in computer land who finds it and finds it useful or interesting.
As with many things, the doing has been more challenging than I expected. I imagine that this is a metaphor for most of our lives. I want to spend quiet time each day, stopping the busyness, and hushing the whirr of demands, but day after day goes by and that time doesn’t happen.
The mornings begin with the telephone ringing or a deadline looming. The others in the house demand attention or there is a plan to go somewhere, and that sweet silent morning break gets pushed aside for the noisier demands of the day.
So how do we manage to take the time we need to be quiet, to really relax, to pray or meditate, or to just read or write for a few minutes?
Obviously, I’m no authority on this or I would be doing it everyday. I have no children at home, no dog, no job to rush off to by a certain time (for which I thank God—the job, not the kids or dog). But I do run a business, and sometimes that can be more demanding than all the others put together.
So here is what I do when my brain is so full and so busy that I am beginning to feel fractured and scattered in a hundred places. Around four o’clock in the afternoon, just when I start to feel draggy and a bit hungry, I stop what I’m doing and make myself a cup of tea. Then I take it to the wicker settee in the corner of my living room, under the palm tree.
Sometimes I read a book for a while, and sometimes I just look out the window and think. Sometimes I write in my journal or pray, talking to God about my day, my plans, or my frustrations, or about my friends and family who need help just now.
This bit of time, perhaps twenty minutes or a half hour, calms my soul again. For a little while I can put aside the demands of business and maintaining daily life and rise above the din of it all. Those minutes help me be clear about what I am doing and why I am doing it.
So now, I am trying to take a few minutes in the morning before I launch into my busy day, to write something down. My hope is that what I write will touch someone who needs to read it, at the moment she needs to read it; that my experiences and how I deal with issues in my life will resonate with someone who needs to know that she is not the only one struggling.
I know I’m not the only one who has trouble finding a quiet space in my days to just be still for a few minutes, to collect my scattered thoughts and to sit in silence even listening to my own heartbeat. But I encourage you, like me, to keep trying to find those minutes. Those times of peace hold our lives together.
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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.
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:
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