Embracing Your Inner Boss at Mastermind Weekends with Every Day Boss

One of the conversations that seems to be on repeat lately is the topic of working from home. I’ve been a home worker now for over four years and while it has perks, it absolutely has its downsides as well. After all, nothing is perfect! One of the things you look for and look forward to is collaborating with other like-minded individuals and people in similar career trajectories as you…

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4 Winter Must-Haves If You Work From Home

Working from home in the wintertime has its perks. While everyone is digging through snow to get to their cars and their offices Monday morning, I don’t have to step foot out the door. However, it’s the season of chills up the spine and all the cozy things so why not embrace it? My “working” wardrobe might not consist of sweater dresses and dress slacks but it certainly reflects the season. There are a few tweaks I make to the kitchen and home office this time of year as well. I call them my “Winter Office Must-Haves.” They are the necessities to get me through the colder months which can stretch through April and even May sometimes in Chicago…

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The Lady Boss' Guide to Chicago

Chicago is one of the best cities for self-employed individuals and entrepreneurs. Going off on my own almost four years ago now, I’ve had the chance to get to know the city in a different way. It became my office playground like many other people who are in similar career paths and work environments. I’ve explored different neighborhoods and found a few favorite spots to return to and a few spots that are better for casual coffees with friends. For a productive day “out of the office,” I learned quick that cafes and coffee shops with a strong internet connection are vital. It’s also a perk if they offer real food and not just snacks or pastries as well as plenty of outlets. To meet with colleagues or clients, it’s important to find spots with a lower noise level or at least moderate so you can have a conversation without screaming. Some of the best spots are tucked away in the neighborhoods of Chicago and others are right in the heart of downtown. All it takes is a little exploration to find the right ones!

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5 Productivity Tips For When You Travel: #WorldProductivityDay

In honor of World Productivity Day, I thought it would be a fantastic time to share a few tips to stay productive while traveling. One of the reasons I have the fortune to travel often is because I can work anywhere as long as there’s an internet hook up. When you’re not bound by a corporate office structure, it affords a lot more flexibility to live your life rather than your job live life for you. With that said, while traveling is a perk of working from home, you still need to make time to meet deadlines while away. It’s not always easy and sometimes you might have to spend more time in the hotel room or coffee shop than you would have preferred, but it is doable. These are some of the tricks I’ve learned in the last few years.

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#1 - Set Office Hours. This was the most important lesson I learned and I learned the hard way too. It’s great to plan and work while traveling but it doesn’t work well unless you set aside specific times dedicated to it. I schedule a few hours early in the morning from 7-9am (if not earlier), venture out until lunchtime and then get a few more hours in during the afternoon. Usually around 1-4pm. There are two reasons for this. One, not much is open before 9am so there’s not a ton to miss out on and the afternoon is a high tourist time, perfect to avoid crowds. The second reason is because I tend to get the most action on email in the afternoon so if there’s a time of day I need to be present, that’s it. If necessary, I’ll set aside an hour or two at night as well. The point is, that time is specifically set for working. Whether I grab my portable office and head to a coffee shop or make a spot for myself in the hotel lobby, that computer is open and I am focused. When you don’t set that time aside, it’s hard to gage how much time you need to get all your tasks done and the lack of organization could end up causing you to spend more hours at the computer than you’d prefer.

#2 - Make the most of the time you set. Along with setting the time to work, making the most of it should be just as important. Don’t waste the three hours you’ve set aside in the morning checking on your Facebook feed. Unless your tasks have to do with social media, sign off all your accounts and mute your phone. Avoid any and all distractions so that you are solely focused on getting work done and getting out to explore. But don’t forget, just because you’re working doesn’t mean you have to be holed up in a hotel room. I haven’t been to one town or city without a local coffee shop or bakery that offers internet. Take your computer out of the hotel and sit in a cafe like a local. It might give you a little extra motivation to get your to-do list done.

#3 - Batch Tasks. One of the most efficient ways to work is by batching similar tasks together. My day typically blocks out by writing assignments, pitching assignments, and miscellaneous tasks. Schedule the hardest tasks or the ones that will take the longest amount of time at the beginning of your set work time. Getting them out of the way will help keep up momentum so you don’t get discouraged by the time you’ve reached your final to do. Getting discouraged could cause you to spend more time on it then necessary. The strategy of batching tasks is helpful because it forces you to concentrate on the same type of work rather than constantly shift your focus and mindset. It’s a more productive way to get things accomplished.

#4 - Prepare in advance. This is a big one and it will have a great impact on how much you’ll be on the computer while traveling. Regardless of your job, there are tasks that can be done in advance so that they’re off your plate at a later date. For me, these tasks might be writing and scheduling social media content or getting follow-ups out for a pitch that I sent recently. Two weeks before leaving, make a to-do list of all your regular tasks, all your deadlines and anything that you can think of that might come up during your time away. Figure out what can realistically be completed before you leave and execute them. By taking care of things that can be done in advance, you’re freeing up time to enjoy the destination rather than work on those tasks. It will also relieve some stress when you return.

#5 - Let your team know you’re traveling. Unless you want it to be a secret, be honest with your colleagues and your clients. Let them know you’re going to be traveling for a certain amount of time and that you won’t be as available as usual. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be there to handle emergencies if they come up or stay on top of your regular tasks. It lets them know that you might not be as quick to answer and that if there’s something that can wait to be addressed when you return, you’ll file it for later. This is helpful because it will keep clients and colleagues from piling on new responsibilities that aren’t urgent and they’ll most likely back off a bit on communications as well. And that’s great because you won’t be constantly digging out of emails. The bottom line - you’ll be returning soon and if you have a good relationship with the people you work with, they should be understanding and flexible to allow you to still handle things but keep it light

10 Things Not To Say To Someone Who Works From Home

WARNING: This post is loaded with sarcasm. You have been warned.

Working from home. It’s a blessing and it’s a curse. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Most other people in the world who also work from home would most likely agree. You know what all of us definitely agree on though? Not wanting to hear a few common comments that seem to slip into conversations with friends, family, and even new acquaintances. These are comments that suggest working from home is an easy life and not real work. It’s definitely not something anyone else should take us seriously for. Right? Wrong! So this post is for all you fellow work at home professionals. Keep reading and have a laugh.

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1 - Do you really work though?
Does working from the second I wake up in the morning to the second I go to sleep count as real work? If so, then yes. We really work. Just because I’m at home doesn’t mean my to-do list is any shorter than yours. In fact, it might be longer

2 - It must be nice not to have to wake up early.
What defines early? Because I’m up anywhere between 5 and 7 am every day. Unless the typical morning time has moved to 3am or something, I’m awake earlier than when I commuted to work in the city from the suburbs.

3 - It must be nice to be your own boss.
Oh yeah. Handling my own taxes, insurance, cleaning, office supply purchases, and let’s not forget being my own tech support is exactly what I had imagined when I chose the route of self-employment. Earlier this week when my computer crashed and displayed all different shades of pink and orange, I was jumping for joy because I knew exactly how to fix it.

4 - I’m so jealous, it must be so easy.
If it’s so easy then someone needs to explain what I’m doing wrong. I find myself scratching my head in contemplation a few times each day trying to problem solve. Besides, if it were easy wouldn't anyone do it?

5 - So do you ever get dressed?
What? Is this even a question? Yes, I get dressed. Some days my wardrobe is sporting a cute athleisure look and others I’m dressed to the nines. Would you be able to work in your pajamas? Is anyone productive in their pajamas? I’m not binging The Queen all day. I’m sitting at a desk emailing my life away.

6 - Since you’re home, can you (fill in the blank)...
Because I don’t have anything better to do, right? Listen, working from home doesn’t mean I have an infinitely open schedule to be a babysitter, dog sitter, errand girl, etc. It means my office is in my house. That’s all. Hire a neighbor.

7 - Why don’t you get a real job?
If I had a dollar for every time I heard this one, I wouldn’t need a job. Why is it that my office location somehow manages to discredit the actual work that I do? I don’t get it! I’m almost tempted to invite people inside to see the post-it notes all over the wall and my desk. The planners with every minute of the day scheduled and the notebooks upon notebooks of notes. Does this look like a real job to you?

8 - Must be nice…
There’s something about those three words that make your brain open up with Mount Vesuvius ready to blow. Maybe it’s the condescending tone that typically accompanies it. Or maybe it’s the insulting phrase that finishes the sentence. Needless to say, if these three words are said in my presence, get ready for either intense sarcasm or some kind of passive aggressive response.

9 - Don’t you miss people?
In what sense? Because I’m communicating with people all day and sometimes I want to shut all means of communication off. Sometimes I’ll miss human interaction but that’s what weekends and coffee shops are for. Am I right?

10 - Do you get paid much?
Ok. First of all, no one’s income is any of your business. I would NEVER ask someone who much they made at their job. Second of all, if you work from home and are self-employed, income is something that is not as steady as, say, a salaried position. So having people confront us with something that we already stress about regularly on our own just adds to the fire. Bottom line: don’t ask.

The point? If you know someone who is working from home, leave the judgement at the door. Leave the dumb questions too because they’re annoying and frankly rude. Self-employment is hard and it takes some serious guts to embark on that journey. Kudos to anyone who made it work! Instead of questioning someone on their decision or downplaying their everyday life because of their office location, ask them how it’s going and if they’ve gotten any exciting new opportunities lately. Inquire positively like you would want someone to do about your career.

5 Tips To Avoid Distractions When Working From Home

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.

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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

8 Must-Have Items If You Work From Home

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

How To Balance Blogging With A Full Time Job

There are only 24 hours in a day and we're recommended to sleep for 8 of them. For those who work full time jobs, that's another 8 hours on average during weekdays and it's not including travel time. That leaves you with 8 hours for travel, meals, the gym, a social life and anything else. Yes, we all have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyonce but we also don't have assistants planning them for us and keeping us in check. So how do you manage your time successfully?

There are a lot of questions about blogging and the commitment it involves for those who are new to the game or just at the interested stage. Blogging seriously means you want to make a career out of it or at least a side business rather than just hobby blogging in your free time. Both are commendable but they require a different level of commitment. Blogging seriously is almost a full-time job in itself and it doesn't pay out immediately which means unless you have a trust fund or great savings, you'll have to keep your day job. The trouble then is finding the time and energy to dedicate to your blog. So how is this done?

1. Schedule time to blog like you'd schedule work meetings or doctors appointments. Schedule a set amount of time each day, whether it's 30 minutes or 3 hours, and commit to it. This runs along the same lines of scheduling in a workout. That time you set on your calendar for this task should be treated like a meeting with your boss or a dentist appointment. Don't miss it. 

2. Don't overwhelm yourself. Create a posting schedule that is reasonable for the time you are able to commit. If you work 8 hour days and have a 1 hour commute each way, maybe posting 5 times per week isn't the best fit for you right now. Stick to a consistent schedule such as Tuesday and Thursday but don't feel the need to post daily right away. Increase your posting schedule as you generate content and get ahead. Which brings us to #3...

3. Schedule in advance. What feels better, packing a night or two in advance or the morning of a trip? The same idea applies to blogging. Schedule all of your blog posts in advance of them going live rather than the day of or even the night of. All blogging platforms carry a scheduling option for posts and it's the best feature to take advantage of. I am currently working on getting to scheduling posts 10 days in advance but in an idea world, I'd be at 2-3 weeks in advance. This also prevents stressing out about missing a posting day. You can also do this with your social media posting. Facebook allows you to schedule posts on pages and there are several platforms like Buffer, Hootsuite and CoSchedule that allow you to plan social media promotions in advance as well. Nothing needs to be done in the moment so take advantage of all the scheduling opportunities available to you.

4. Set weekend office hours. Remember earlier in this post when I mentioned blogging seriously takes dedication? That means being open to giving up a good portion of your weekend. Weekends are my most productive time to blog. I don't have to worry about clients, I don't need to worry about getting dinner on the table and I can just crank out my to-do list. I highly recommend using the weekend to your advantage. Take a couple of hours in the morning, work all day long. Whatever you are willing to dedicate, do it. It will give you a little relief during the regular work week. 

5. Plan well. If there is one piece of advice I can offer, it's to be incredibly organized. There is nothing worse than wasting time trying to figure out what you need to do first. Create an editorial calendar. Whether it's in a program like Asana (which I personally swear by) or in an excel spreadsheet on Google Drive, get a content calendar built out. This will eliminate the guessing game of "what will we post this week." Organize all tasks that need to be completed for blog posts, marketing, social media management, etc. in a deadline capacity. Stick to those deadlines as if they were for your boss. Find a system that works for you and stick with it. The more you're organized and the more you plan behind the scenes, the easier it will be to stay on top of content and growing your blog so that one day, you can leave that 9-5 and blog for a living.

Obviously not everyone has a stereotypical 9-5 job Mondays through Fridays. However, apply these tips to your personal work schedule and you will make things work. It's not easy and it takes a lot of commitment and dedication. It's a passion project but if you love it that much, all of the extra work, late nights and sacrificed weekends will be worth it. I promise.