Christmas seems to start in October these days. All the decor is displayed in the stores as if the North Pole itself threw up by October 15th. Let’s not forget the Hallmark movies beginning the weekend before Halloween this year. I am 100% a “start celebrating on November 1st” kind of Christmas person but for all the anticipation and excitement, it always feels like it was over to soon come January 2nd. People are taking down their Christmas decorations and here I am still absorbing all the nostalgia with the few houses still lit up and my tree. It may be January 10th, but I am still not over Christmas. It’s a new year though. 2019 is full of amazing things that have yet to come and I am genuinely excited. Yet, I need a little help moving past the festive season and felt that some of you might as well…Read More
Packing is the tricky part of traveling. If my recent trip to the East coast has taught me anything, it’s that you never really know what to expect with Mother Nature. An October trip should have been brisk and cool. Instead, I saw 90 degree heat waves with only booties and sweaters in my carry-on. It seems the only two trips you can count on average weather conditions is somewhere sunny and tropical or somewhere cold and snowy. I love winter travel. There’s something about the shorter days and getting to see a place at night all lit up after a long day. It’s also a great time to be indulgent because you won’t be showing that belly near sandy shores. So go ahead and get that second mug of hot cocoa. No one’s judging!Read More
1 week until Halloween. Less than 1 month until Thanksgiving. 40 days until Hanukkah. 2 months until Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and a scant week longer until New Years’ Eve. Whether you are playing host or not, it’s time to start thinking about the holidays. I love fall more than most people and I wish the season was longer but to avoid the stress of last-minute dinner planning, gift wrapping and cookie baking, now is the time to get started. I hear all the time about how people love the holiday season but hate it more because it’s so stressful. It doesn’t have to be though! Just because you’re planning for Christmas and Thanksgiving in October doesn’t mean you have to have all the decorations out to celebrate early. It means…Read More
Ever since embarking on the wild adventure of self-employment, people love to tell me how lucky I am that I get to work from home. And they’re right! Working from home has its pitfalls though too. Don’t get me wrong. Nothing is better than wearing sweats and a basic tee wrapped in my favorite cozy sweater while everyone else braves the single digit temperatures. I save a ton of money on not having a commute and eating what’s in my house for breakfast and lunch each day. Plus, I rarely buy coffee. Nice, right? I agree! The biggest downside of working from home is the amount of distractions. For myself, there is no one home but me and (if I’m in the suburbs) the dogs. The TV will call your name on gloomy days when all you want to do is curl up on the couch. The dogs will try and use their mind power to use you has a human pillow. They’re so hard to resist! Most of all, there is no one to keep you on track.
Not working in an office, I find that I get loads more accomplished in my day. I hated working at a desk in a cookie cutter room. I took a million water and bathroom breaks and I found myself chatting with people on hangouts or AIM more than I found myself working. The days went by in a blur and I was miserable. Self-employment is not the easiest career choice nor is it the most stable. For those of you, like myself, who prefer creative freedom, choosing your own clients and workload, and working with people who have similar career and life goals that do not revolve around a corporate structure, self-employment and/or small business is the perfect fit. Let’s get one thing straight though, we work our asses off. On those days when distractions are winning over motivation, I’ve put together a list of tips to avoid them. Some may work for you, some might not. If you have any tips of your own, let me know in the comments below!
1 - Have a space created in your home strictly for work. In both of the places that I live, I have an “office space” that consists of a desk and all the things I need to do my job. It’s set up so that I can stay focused and on task with very little distractions. I also make sure my desk is facing outwards towards a window. The natural light keeps me alert and it’s much more pleasant than staring at a wall.
2 - Establish work hours. One of the hardest things when you work from home isn’t so much turning it on but turning it off. Not overworking myself is something I’m conscious of because I will work myself into the ground. Calculate how much time you need each day to conquer your responsibilities. Set up hours each day that allot that much time - no more, no less - and stick to it. Forcing yourself to complete your tasks within that specified period of time will help keep you focused . You’re giving yourself a deadline to finish the day.
3 - Set boundaries with friends and family. A big challenge in working for home is dealing with unannounced visitors and surprise phone calls. It’s hard for most people to understand that just because you work from home does not mean that you have the freedom to stop everything for a little chat when they feel like it. It may be flexibility you have and a drop-in once in a while is okay. If anyone is making a regular habit of it, it’s important to set a boundary. Let them know that these are your work hours and they need to be respected as if you were in a traditional office. As a friend or family member, they should understand that and respect your wishes.
4 - Dog moms, this one's for you. Scooby Doo likes to think that the work day ends at 1pm. He’s learned how to turn my desk chair around so that I’m forced to look at him. We all love our furbabies but when they’re being too much of a distraction, something's got to give. I have the luxury of being able to call family and ask them to handle the dogs for me on occasion when Scoobs is being extra obnoxious. On the days that I don’t, I have to heartbreakingly close my door. Call me a wimp, tell me that I don’t have control of my dogs, fine. It still does not change the fact that shutting out my rescue dog who means the world to me because I have to work breaks my heart. Sometimes, it has to be done though. Isolate yourself in your little work space and knock what you need to out as soon as possible.
5 - Keep the TV away and avoid comfy spaces. One of the first things I do in the morning when I wake up is make my bed and I don't get back in until it's time to go to sleep. I also avoid any spot where it could get too comfy like the couch. You want to stay focused and wrapping up in a blanket will not help. I also avoid the TV. It's easy to get into binge mode. If I do have the TV on, it's for background noise and usually on something like the Food Network or HGTV.
Those are my tips. It's not a science, there's no secret trick. It's making sure you have a good space to work and avoiding the comfy places throughout your home. Oh, and making sure the dogs don't distract you too much. At the end of the day, it comes down to self-management and being able to focus yourself. If this isn’t something you can handle even without distractions, working from home isn’t your thing and that is fine
Working from home is something a lot of people are doing more often these days. Whether it’s because they’ve embarked on the adventure of self-employment or their company is allotting so many remote work days each month, it’s a trend that seems to be taking root. Since entering self-employment three years ago this past Thanksgiving, I’ve created a little nook for myself that serves as my place of work. I’ve learned what is necessary for a productive space to work from and what is not. It’s taken some trial and error, and lots of wasted money on my part, to figure out what works. To get 2018 started on the best note possible, I wanted to share eight non-negotiable things that are in my own personal space. Everyone is different thought so some of these might not apply to you as much but at least give them a shot. You never know if something out of the norm for you might actually work!
1 - A Good Planner. I’ve been in the planner business since 2015 when I bought my first high-end planner. Since then, I’ve found an option that costs half the price and works even better, the Happy Planner. I like seeing my schedule on a weekly basis and in a vertical view. Each row (as you see below) has a different purpose: top tier for personal appointments and dates, second tier for work-related things, and third tier for all things blog life. I like to include goals and top to-do’s in my planner and sometimes deadlines and notes. My planner is my life. I’ll use my Google calendar for appointments, meetings and events (anything that requires a commitment from me) as a backup but my planner is the Bible of Christine.
2 - A fully stocked working space. Just because the office is at home doesn’t mean it should be any less stocked with supplies than an office. You don’t need a supply room full of dozens of back-ups but it’s smart to have the essentials within your office. This includes a desk, chair, lamp/lighting, computer (obviously), notebooks/pads, pens and pencils, scissors, a printer with ink and paper, tape, white out...you know, the essentials. I’ve built up quite a collection of supplies since college thanks to an office supply obsession but I’m cautious of clutter. Working in a cluttered space is as detrimental to productivity as not having the tools you need to work efficiently. So keep what you need and store or toss the rest. The less you have on your desk the better.
3 - A killer internet connection. Luckily I split my time between a city and the suburb of a big city so internet speed is never something I had to fight for. I have friends who live in different states and in the country and internet speed is something they don’t have the luxury to invest in. If you work from home and need to be on the computer and on email, a good internet connection is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Visiting family in Washington DC that didn’t have good internet was one of the worst experiences of my life. I had to go to a Starbucks to get onto my email. Unless you have a job that doesn’t require being connected to the rest of the world, there’s no way around it. You need fast, capable internet or you need to find a space that's able to provide it for you.
4 - A great coffee maker. This one is a bit biased because I have a coffee addiction but if you need your cup o’joe in the morning, this is a necessity for you as well. My Keurig had serious issues last year which caused me to spend a lot of money on buying coffee and ultimately time as well since leaving my house to get coffee was out of the way and not part of my regular routine. Having a good coffee maker available to you that’s stocked with beans or cups or whatever it requires makes the mornings go smoother and the afternoons survivable on bad days. I’m now a Ninja Coffee Bar owner and so far so good. I’m loving it.
5 - Essential oils and a diffuser. Last year, I became a Young Living member and ever since, I’ve been building up my collection of essential oils. Some days I use them more than others but the days that I do use them, they help me just the way I need them to. My nighttime routine now includes me prepping the diffuser for the morning so that I can press start and get going with my day. With this dry, winter weather, the diffuser is great to add a touch of humidity to the office. I have go-to blends for when I’m not feeling well and certain oils that I’m still experimenting with which is always fun. I know that my life has changed for the better with essential oils and I wish I had them earlier in my self-employment career when anxiety and stress ruled my life. If you’re interested in learning more about essential oils, contact me! I’ll be sharing more about them and my personal story as we get farther into 2018.
6 - Inspirational quotes. This isn’t so much a necessity as it is a nice personal touch. I received this block of quote cards several years ago in a box swap that I still use today. Each card has a quote on front and back and each morning, I flip it to the next one. Some days, the quotes are eerily applicable to my life. Other days, they don’t relate but they do make me think for a minute. It’s a nice touch for inspiration and motivation.
7 - Wall Calendar. I love my planner but it's good to have a monthly view of dates sometimes. I don’t write anything on my wall calendar, it’s only there for a month’s view of the days. It puts time in perspective by showing you how many days or weeks remain until a deadline or event. It also acts as a reminder for how much time is left in the month. I don’t know about you but November and December managed to disappear in no time even with the calendar on the wall.
8 - Water. One of the perks about working in an office is a water station or a stocked fridge with beverages. Let’s be honest, most people do not have water coolers in their home for regular hydration. With that said, it’s important to have a source of hydration at home. For those of us who don’t have safe, drinkable water (I’m looking at you well water), that could be keeping a stock of bottled water or some kind of filtration system. For those who do have good drinking water, that could be using a fun and reusable water bottle. The truth is that I drank a ton more water working in an office than I do at home. It was an excuse for me to get up and walk around. Having a water routine at home is necessary to keep the body hydrated and give it something cleaner than the dozen cups of coffee I can down in a day.
Do you work from home? What are a few essentials you must have for a productive and efficient work life?
It seems like the entire country is currently going through a schizophrenic weather season. Heat waves on top of cold fronts are hitting every corner at different times. Chicago, for example, had a week-long, record breaking heat wave followed immediately by classic fall temperatures. I went to bed one night with it 90 degrees and woke up to 65. You can’t make this up. What are you going to do though? It’s the transition from summer to fall and unfortunately, it’s almost everywhere. So what does that mean for travel? It means packing is going to be much more difficult than it usually is. I would recommend checking out our post sharing tips on what to pack when traveling to multiple climates if you're planning for more extreme weather changes within a trip. If you’re trying to brave the summer to fall, fall to winter or winter to spring times of year...keep reading.
1 - Pick one color scheme. It’s much easier to pack less if you stick with one color scheme for all your outfits. I like to go with neutrals and stick to black, grey, browns and white or nudes. I’ll pop in a few colorful pieces to mix it up when I’m going somewhere special but for the most part, you’ll see me either in black or grey while traveling. The one exception is my favorite sweater of all-time which is dark green because I can wear it several different ways with a few different pieces which brings me to #2.
2 - Choose multi-purpose pieces. Packing a handful of items that can be worn several different ways multiplies your wardrobe without having to add extra pieces. My favorite sweater can be dressed up, dressed down, worn with yoga pants, works with flats or boots and a few other ways. It’s super comfy, it’s warm enough to wear on its own with a long-sleeved tee underneath or with a tank for cooler days. Similar versatile pieces would be your favorite pair of jeans or flats. A cute top that can be worn under things or on its own. The smartest thing to do is pack a handful of versatile pieces that work interchangeably together. If you pack four items that can work 10 different ways, you’re set for the entire trip.
3 - Embrace layers. Remember about 10 years ago when layering was all the rage? There were shirts sold at the hottest stores specifically for layering. I don’t get how this can be a trend considering it’s one of the most basic ways to get dressed. The hardest part about changing seasons is the cold mornings and nights and hot afternoons. No one wants to waste time going back to the hotel twice a day to remove or replace clothing. Instead, layer up. Wear lighter pieces underneath items that you can remove and either carry, tie around your waist, or hold in your bag until it starts cooling off again at night.
Some destinations are more predictable with their weather which makes planning your suitcase much easier. For the unpredictable destinations, *ahem* I’m looking at you Chi-town, it’s better to plan for everything. That doesn’t mean filling your suitcase to the brim, but it does mean being smarter with your packing selection. For more advice on packing, check out a few of our other articles sharing tips and tricks.
With to-do lists constantly growing and so much to manage between work and home life, sometimes it feels like there’s no way to keep track of it all, even with the perfect planner. Our phones already hold pretty much all our lives- pictures, social media, Netflix. With these 5 apps, your phone can also help keep track of everything that needs to get done, and make sure it gets done.
Asana is perfect for anyone working in or managing a team. Team members can join the same group to share and assign tasks, share files, and add comments and updates to keep everyone in the loop. I personally use Asana at my job everyday, and my coworkers and I all agree it’s the best way for us to stay connected and know who’s doing what.
Sometimes, I really want my handwritten notes or a hard copy of something saved as a PDF on my phone so it’s easy to send in emails and texts. Taking pictures of notes works okay, but they often come out blurry, and the photo files are too big to send in an email. The Genius Scan app allows you to scan anything and converts it to a PDF on your phone. This makes it easy to send the notes or document in both text messages and email, and you can email it to yourself to save it on your computer.
I feel like if I’m not being productive, it’s because I’m looking at random articles and Tasty videos on my phone. With the pocket app, I can save all the articles and videos I see coming up on Facebook or Safari to look at later. Now there’s no excuses- you have the link saved for later, and you can look at it after you get your to-do list done!
As a working student, I have multiple email addresses that are constantly getting flooded with both important information and spam. Sometimes, I look at my mail app on my phone and feel overwhelmed by everything in it. The second I have my email finally organized, I feel so accomplished. Spark detects if an email is personal, work, or school related, and files messages away to their respective category. It makes it much easier to tackle my inbox and keep work, school, promotional, and personal emails separate.
Sometimes I feel like I need a to-do list just to organize my real to-do list. Wunderlist makes creating dynamic and interactive to-do lists simple. Within your to-do list, you can create subtasks, set deadlines and reminders, check off items, share tasks with colleagues, and add attachments and pictures. Each item on your list is perfectly tailored to help you get it done. Best of all, it can sync across all your devices and virtual calendars.
Venturing off on your own to become a small business owner or self-employed is a big step. You’ll find there are hundreds of people ready to offer you advice and just as many companies trying to sell you their latest product. Breaking off on your own professionally is already a challenge, all of those added decisions and complications don’t need to get in your way. I broke off on my own just over two years ago to become a freelance consultant and take this blog to the next level. The journey has had it’s ups and downs but through it all, there are several tools that have really helped me in terms of productivity, organization and just keeping my head above water. Everyone eventually finds their own process and systems that work best for them but if you’re just starting out on a solo career, consider these tools to help you get going.
I originally used Asana to organize and edit the content calendar for this blog. Prior to Asana, everything was on paper and making changes was always a mess. A friend of mine introduced me to Asana a few years ago but it took me almost a year to actually start using it. Asana is a fantastic tool but it can be overwhelming at first if you’re not particularly tech savvy and/or open to change. There are plenty of tutorials and information to get the hang of the platform and after playing around with it for a few minutes, you’ll notice that it’s not as challenging to use as you might have thought. Once you start using it and organizing whatever you need to in Asana, chances are you’ll be a devotee like I am now.
A few “projects” I have in Asana are the editorial calendar for Lattes, Life & Luggage, recurring administrative and management tasks that I need to stay on top of regularly, training for interns, travel planning, public relations and marketing plans, newsletter management and planning, research projects and all of my deadlines for clients in my freelance consulting. It’s accessible via your computer, mobile device and tablets. There are several different formats so that you can organize things in a way that best fit your needs. It’s also a great way to track progress on assignments whether you work solo or with a team.
File sharing is essential in most careers it seems. Google Drive (as I’ll discuss in a moment) is a great option to share internally but if you need to share documents externally or for viewing only, Dropbox is the way to go. Dropbox Pro gives you one terabyte worth of space and costs $9.99/monthly or $99/annually. I very quickly upgraded to Dropbox Pro simply because I use it with all of my clients and 2 gigs stopped being enough space very early into my venture of being a solopreneur. That extra space is also necessary if you have to save a lot of photos, especially high resolution. Leave the space on your Google Drive for internal documents and let Dropbox be home to photos and client shared folders.
When I rebranded to Lattes, Life & Luggage nearly one year ago (wow, time has flown), one of the first things I did after buying the domain was create a Google Apps account. I think it’s important to have a business email (ie. firstname.lastname@example.org). It gives you more credibility as a professional, no matter the career choice, and also helps keep you out of spam folders. Google Apps is a great resource because it comes with the ability to add other users in case you’re looking to expand your team. It also has more than just email services. You have access to a company Google Drive with 15GB of space per user, Google Calendar, Google AdWords, Google Hangouts and more all dedicated to the company.
While Dropbox is one of the best resources for external file sharing, Google Drive & co. is one of the best for internal sharing. Google Docs, Google Sheets & Google Slides are easy to adapt to which make them user-friendly plus you can have multiple people editing them at the same time. This is really the selling point. Rather than passing documents back and forth or waiting on someone to leave a document, several people can be in a document and working in it at the same time. Game changer!
STAYFOCUSED (or any other site blocker)
According to an infographic published on The Muse, the average worker wastes 3 out of 8 hours in the workday not including lunch and scheduled breaks. That same infographic pointed out that 44% of the time wasted is spent on web surfing. Inc. also published an article regarding time being wasted in the workplace citing the top distractions as Google and Social Media. I’ve read about digital distractions plenty and this past fall, I actually timed every single thing I spent time on. While emails ranked high on my list of time sucks, mindless Googling and social media scrolling were also culprits.
Being a social media consultant, it’s hard for me not to be on social media. There’s usually something I need to be doing for a client on at least one social media channel each day but there are ways to control the time-wasting scrolling. StayFocused is a Google Chrome extension that allows you to block selected sites. Set the hours in which you’d like to block the sites and a time limit for how long you’ll allow yourself to be on those sites. For example, say you want to block Facebook but still be able to go on and scroll for a few minutes during your afternoon coffee break. Allow yourself 10 minutes per day in your “working hours.” Once you hit that time limit, the extension will completely block access to all of your blocked sites. So, to be clear, if you have a total of five websites blocked you only get 10 minutes for ALL of those websites. Not 10 minutes each. You’ll find it sobering when you realize how much time you get back by avoiding unnecessary sites.
Embarking on a solo career, you’ll need to decide whether you want to work on an hourly contract agreement, in a retainer or project-based agreement or both. If you’re decision is both or hourly, you’ll need a solid system to track your time. Even if you’re working on a retainer or project-based method of payment, I still think it’s important to track your time because it gives you an idea of what you’re spending your time on and how long it takes you to complete any projects. Toggl is a free tool that makes it easy to track your time. The Pro Plan has more features like adding in rates but I’ve found that the free version works just fine.
If you’re interested in marketing your business or you’re in the business of content marketing, Buffer and Squarespace are my top two recommendations. Buffer makes it easy to organize and schedule social media posts. The Buffer Awesome Plan gives you up to 100 posts queued for each profile and up to 10 profiles. It’s also incredibly affordable compared to other social media scheduling platforms out there. Squarespace is my web hosting platform of choice. I’ve used Blogger and Wordpress as well but Squarespace by far is the easiest to manage as a non-designer and their customer service is incredible. There are obviously plenty of tools and programs out there for entrepreneurs, solopreneurs and small business owners. It just takes a little trial and error to find out what works best for you.
Tell us in the comments below which programs you find helpful.