Good For You

Get the Baby off the Ceiling, Please: When Working from Home isn’t Working

As a parent, I learned quickly that, in order to be productive, I had to be out of the house. I have two young children — a 6-year-old who has some relatively minor developmental challenges and a 2-year-old who has done more to reinforce the “terrible twos” stereotype than anyone I’ve ever met. Both of them need and deserve an extraordinary amount of attention.

For years, now, I’ve telecommuted— one of the things I’ve enjoyed about working at Breaking Even is the ability to work anywhere that has wifi.  Almost anywhere, that is.

My house, be it ever so humble, is a no-fly zone when it comes to being productive. This was reinforced recently when I announced my intention to set up my Surface in the basement to do some editing. “Or, you could go to the library –- they have good wifi there,” my wife told me. What went unsaid, and what I should have picked up, on was the message, “You stupid man. You know what happens when you try to work from home.”

But down the basement I went, folding chair in one arm, Surface in the other. Things seemed to go well for an hour, and then an earthquake struck. Or, at least I thought it was an earthquake. You see, I had set up shop directly beneath the living room. We don’t have carpeting, it’s all hardwood. So there’s nothing to dampen the sound of the toddler stomping her feet as she continually ran between the TV and the couch (I’m convinced running and stomping are the only two modes of locomotion available to toddlers).

A half hour later, there was a series of ungodly screams. That itself is not unusual in my house, where ungodly screams have become part of the daily ambient noise (songbirds sing to greet the day, the tea kettle whistles, children laugh and then the ungodly screams). Nevertheless, my concentration was broken and I had a deadline to make for Nicole.

So I trudged upstairs, walked past the toddler who had managed to duct-tape herself to the ceiling fan, past the smoldering crater where the 6-year-old had burned down the sofa. I kissed goodbye to my wife who had assumed a fetal position on the floor (her eyes reflected the untold horrors our offspring had wrought upon our house) and headed to the library, where I was vastly more productive.

Maybe I’m exaggerating here, but the point is working from home as a parent can be more difficult in practice than in theory, even with another adult at home. Little kids yearn for your attention, naturally. They may not understand why mom or dad has to work, even with repeated, patient explanations, or the concept of deadlines, conference calls or why the preferred parent can’t unstick them from the ceiling fan.

Kassie has written a series of articles on mom blogging, and one, in particular, emphasizes the need for good time management and the need to compartmentalize when working out of the home. I’m a long way from mastering those skills, and I recognize that, in order to be productive, I need to be as far from my family as possible.

For those who can work from home while raising small children –- my hat’s off to you. For those who spend their days watching the kids while their partners are at the office (or the library) — my hat’s off to you as well.

Also, honey, if you’re reading this, the couch cushions may have flared up again. The fire extinguisher is under the sink.

Losing the Battle Against My Circadian Rhythm

At another job at which I work, I recently had to cover for a coworker who was on a well-deserved vacation. What this meant was getting up at 4 a.m. every day for the past week in order to meet a morning deadline. Here’s what I experienced on my pre-dawn commute to work:

  • Robins. I heard them a lot. Many people enjoy the sound of robins, but to me, the sound of those filthy red-breasted worm-eaters was just a reminder as to how freaking early it was.
  • Bobbing LEDs. These are used by joggers and bicyclists and serve as a shocking reminder that some people are up at this hour by choice. Seriously.
  • No traffic. Because all the sane people are still in bed. Their warm, soft beds. Maybe with their spouses. Snoring quietly, their eyes dusted gently by the sandman, dreaming under a smiling moon and twinkling stars. 

Once I actually got to work and downed my 14th cup of coffee, I discovered something. I was productive as heck. Why is that? (Don’t say it was 14 cups of coffee because that’s a slight exaggeration.)

It’s possible that with only one or two other unfortunate souls in the office there were fewer distractions. But I also believe that my brain just works better in the early morning. I’m working faster, and my output is more accurate. Yet, after lunch, I want nothing more than to stare blankly at a blank computer screen.

So I have to ask again, why is that?

In search of answers, I read this Wall Street Journal piece that cites molecular and computational biology professor Steve Kay — a man whose job title sounds more impressive than anything I’ll ever do in my life. According to Kay, most folks who work a 9-5 job are at their best in the late mornings, and we tend to drop off shortly after lunch.

The piece also argues that we should instead organize our lives around natural body clock — our “circadian rhythms,” citing “potential health benefits.” The WSJ paraphrases Kay, stating: “Disruption of circadian rhythms has been linked to such problems as diabetes, depression, dementia and obesity.”

Then there’s this article in Harvard Business Review, makings the case for managers to schedule workflow and deadline around that circadian flow.

I never used to work so well in the morning, but that’s changed as my youth has faded. It’s not surprising that our body clock changes as we get older. That teenagers are hardwired to sleep in and work late is nothing new, for example, although there is a movement underfoot to require schools to start later in the day to accommodate that rhythm.

So how did we get here? Why do most folks work 9-5 when our body tells us to take a 3-hour break after lunch? This infographic from Podio.com provides some answers, with its roots made in the wake of the British Industrial Revolution.

My day isn’t 9-5. Rather I start anywhere between 5-6:30 a.m., depending on the day ahead, and whether I need to take time in the day to address the latest family crisis. What this means is my own circadian rhythm has me fighting the desire to eat lunch at 10 am and nap until 3 pm, at which point I start to feel productive again—right when it’s time to go home.

The lesson for me is to get as much done as early as possible because when noon rolls around, it’s all down hill. As I’m writing this, it’s 2:30 in the afternoon and I find that my productivity has dipped sharply. For example, it took me an hour to write the previous sentence. So it’s time to wrap this up.

Good night and sweet dreams.

Personal Development for Busy People

One of the number one reasons we don’t follow through on something is because of the time commitment it takes to get it done. We’re all busy people, so when it comes to working out, reading that book the internet is raving about, or starting up a new hobby that you think looks interesting, the number one justification is “I don’t have time for that!”

I consider myself “busy people.” Until recently I was working 2 jobs (1 full/1 part time), helping my dad with housework at his place once a week, working out regularly, and trying to have a healthy pregnancy. When I was juggling all of those things, I did still manage to find time to incorporate personal development in my schedule. Here’s how:

Listening to podcasts. Podcasts are a great way for on-the-goers to work some personal development into their day. You can listen on your commute if you’re driving, taking the bus/train, or even walking. I also like to catch up on podcasts when I’m doing chores like dishes or folding laundry. Listening to a few episodes of “Side Hustle School” makes things feel less tedious.

Reading. Probably one of the most difficult personal development mediums for me to follow through with is a book. It’s the easiest one for me to bail out on at the end of the day when I start winding down. Do I really want to read this book that’s going to make me think more after a day of thinking, or should I just watch South Park and completely veg out? Knowing that this is the easiest way for me to self-sabotage, I started bringing my book to the gym after work and reading on the elliptical. Some days I will set my alarm 15 minutes early and spend that time reading before doing my morning routine. If audio books are your thing, you can also listen to personal development books using the same tips from the podcast section above.

Please appreciate that it was very difficult to snap a picture of me reading while also maintaining balance on the elliptical.

Online Learning. To me, online learning is anything from signing up for a 30 day course of some sort, following a certain blog/topic, or enrolling in an online class. These all have varying levels of commitment, but regardless you’ll want to have an internet connection and a computer/tablet/phone so you can participate. The next is creating the time to get online solely for personal development reasons (i.e. not Facebook). For an online course, you’ll obviously need more time than reading someone else’s blog posts, which you can do standing in line for groceries or on the bike at the gym.

Asking Other People. If you’re at a loss for what podcast to listen to or what book to read next, ask someone you know who is into that sort of thing. All of the podcasts I listen to were recommended to me by someone else. When I was looking into things like personal fitness certification and starting a blog for fun/just because, I asked for recommendations for books to read and started paying more attention to different techniques/plugins used on my favorite bloggers’ websites.

What do all of these things have in common?

No matter how you decide to get your personal development fix, there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success.

  • Know your weaknesses. For me, that’s the desire to wind down at the end of the day and watch something brainless on t.v. Knowing this, I incorporate personal development time into a workout, while I’m doing chores, or by setting my alarm earlier in the morning.
  • Find something you’re genuinely interested in. If you’re already a busy person, it’s going to be even harder to motivate when you’re dedicating time to something you have “meh” feelings about. Find something that you want to pursue and it’s amazing how much harder you’ll work to make time for it.
  • Make the time. Speaking of making time, one of my favorite time related quotes is “You have just as many hours in the day as Beyonce.” Even if it’s not an ideal amount of time, spending 10 minutes on something every day is better than spending no minutes. You can also think of personal development as a way of shortcutting your learning time because you’re learning from an expert and that will save you time and money in the long run.
  • Be Organized. One of the best tips I’ve heard from Side Hustle School was that if you’re a busy person trying to work a side hustle, organization is key. If you only have half an hour of time set aside to work on a project, have an agenda before you sit down so you can get right to it instead of spending 5-10 of those minutes hemming and hawing about where to start. Making lists at the end of a work day or as you go to bed can be a great way to have ‘what’s next’ ready to go for next time.
  • Make yourself accountable. When you’re busy, it can be easy to just say “Eh, there’s always tomorrow.” The problem is when you keep pushing things to tomorrow you’ll never get them done. Find a way to make yourself accountable for personal development- if it’s a matter of paying for something because that makes you feel accountable, then consider signing up for an online course. If you’re more accountable when it comes to other people, find a friend who also needs some accountability help and make it a weekly check-in. Click here for the blog we wrote about accountability partners if this is going to be part of your lifestyle.

More reading when I couldn’t fall back to sleep on Saturday morning. Great way to start the day!

No matter what type of personal development you’re trying to pursue, there is always a way to fit it into your schedule! Try some of the tips mentioned above and find out what motivates you.

If you have any tricks for fitting personal development into a busy schedule, or recommendations for books/podcasts/etc, please comment or send us a message!

Our online course, Internet Marketing For Artists, is online and ready for you! For $30 and 30 days, you can learn the basics of online marketing, search engine optimization, and business marketing best practices for your artistic business… all in 15 minutes a day or less. Click here to learn more or sign up: http://breakingeven.teachable.com/p/internet-marketing-for-artists

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Five Tips For Organizing Your Contacts

When’s your grandmother’s birthday? What’s your neighbor’s cell phone number? What’s your college roommate’s mailing address?

I only know one of these pieces of information by heart and, like most people, I have to rely on my contacts list for the other two.

Unless you’re my mom (who is the most organized person I can think of), you probably don’t have this information as ‘at hand’ as you want to have it. If so, this post is for you.

Tip 1: Determine every place you keep contact information, then pick ‘the one’.

Let me use my case as the example:

  1. I rip corners off envelopes when people send me stuff so I have their mailing address. These are in a pile on my desk (if I got them at work) or my dresser (if I got them at home). They are in the same piles as business cards people give me.
  2. I have all email going into one Gmail interface.
  3. I text people/meet people in real life and put them into my phone contacts.
  4. I use a CRM for work and have people in there who I’ve classified by relationship (business contact, family, etc.) that syncs with my phone and email to track what information/contact has been made and when. (Note: not as creepy as it sounds.)
  5. I have a Rolodex on my desk which, besides being something everyone can laugh at and revealer of my middle aged-ness, has business cards in it and is full.
  6. I rely very heavily on Facebook for birthday reminders and those people not on Facebook, my mom is kind enough to text me about.

Clearly I have some decisions to make but one thing is true: I will never feel organized until everything is in one place, whether it’s a paper system or digital one. I’d love to know, say, my client’s birthdays, but before getting ambitious I have to pull everything into one system. You do, too.

If you decide on paper, it’s time to find a nice address book or Rolodex and start going through your lists in all your digital places.

If you decide on digital, you need to pick one system that is the main system (ex: Gmail) and then merge/import your data from the other systems in. Most programs will let you export to a .csv file (comma separated value, like a text file with commas where lines of a table would be) that can be imported in. Googling something like ‘merge Hotmail contacts into contacts on iPhone’ should give you some options, or hire a nerd to do this once you understand what all the moving pieces are.

Tip 2: Clean duplicates or people who shouldn’t be there.

Once everything is in one system, it’ll be very easy to clean duplicates (since the system will either automatically do it or make it easier to spot because alphabetically, they’ll be right next to each other).

The one thing technology can’t do is delete those people who shouldn’t be there, like ex-boyfriends or deceased relatives (I have other places for both but I don’t need ‘David OKCupid’ to appear every time I look for my colleague Dave’s number). Lost time, people.

Tip 3: Make it work everywhere.

Let’s say you picked Gmail contacts and have cleaned them out. It won’t do much good until you put them on your iPhone too. Or the Mail application on your phone. And anywhere else you need to regularly access them.

Tip 4: Create process when you add a new contact.

Yay, you met a new friend when you went out for drinks. Now what?

Well, ideally you have a system for adding her into your contacts. Yes, maybe it takes an extra two minutes to look up her birthday on Facebook and type in her mailing address as you put her into your Gmail contacts but the first time you need to look up her email address and it’s actually there, you’ll be grateful.

If this sounds tedious to you, you can use a website like Upwork and hire someone who does this periodic data entry/finding for you, then you can email them and say ‘Add so and so to my contacts.’

Tip 5: Periodically clean out.

Just because you met that cool Australian guy at the youth hostel and traveled Rome when you were 20 does not mean he needs to be in your contacts. (Bye, Chris.) By periodically cleaning out people you aren’t planning to stay in touch with you will make your list a lot more manageable. Fun fact: Australian Chris I’m sure continues to exist despite the fact I deleted him the other day.

If you want to remember these people, maybe write a short story about them or make a fun ‘Random People I Once Knew’ Google Doc and stick them there. Your contacts list is a living document and your past, while an important part of you life, shouldn’t exist there.

Having an organized contacts list will make you feel in control of your entire life and who knows, maybe I’ll be texting people to let them know about birthdays one day soon, impressing my friends and family with my organization.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Four Steps for Organizing Passwords

How long does it take for you to find a password for something? Do you have passwords written down on sticky notes or on a random piece of paper in a desk? The problem with this system is that it isn’t very secure, and it probably takes awhile for you to find the password you need. Or, you just get so frustrated with looking for it that you’re constantly requesting new passwords. Either way, you could probably benefit from some password organization. (Also, if you have one password for everything…that’s not a great idea either, for security reasons).

Here are 4 steps for getting your passwords organized:

Step 1: How are you organizing?

The first step with organizing is figuring out how you’re going to organize things. Are you a more of a digital person or do you want to keep things on paper? The number of passwords you manage (i.e. just your own personal passwords or, like us, hundreds and hundreds) may also be a deciding factor. It doesn’t make sense for us to write down all the passwords we manage on index cards when you consider the time it takes to 1) haul out the index cards, 2) find the client password for the thing we’re getting into (website, Twitter, etc), and 3) enter in the password- add that time up even just over the period of a single day, and that’s a lot of inefficiently used time. Not to mention if you lose the stack and have no copies of it, you are totally up the creek.

Whatever you decide to do, remember that any new system takes a little practice getting used to. Choose either digital or written as your general method and move onto step 2.

Step 2: Choose a Secure System

Choose a secure system. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Google Docs and spreadsheets are not a secure password management system. Neither are sticky notes stuck to your computer screen. Sure, these things are probably easier than typing in a master password to something like KeePass or Lastpass, but setting up something that is more secure is more

Paper system: If you don’t trust your passwords in an electronic system, you can always use a paper system (sorry, but still no sticky notes). Lifehack recommends using index cards in a small box, or something like an address book to keep your passwords organized (ex: A is for Amazon). Unfortunately, unless you have this paper system locked away somewhere, it is still vulnerable to anyone who might stumble upon it. Consider how it will be stored when you aren’t using it.

Electronic Systems: Many of these systems offer a free option (great for personal password organization) and paid versions (if you manage a lot of passwords). A few things that these programs have in common: a master password for accessing your collection of passwords, browser extensions, extra security in the form of two-factor authentication, and accessibility across devices (most will not automatically sync for security reasons).

A few popular options for electronic systems include: LastPass, KeePass, 1Password (offers a 30 day trial period but costs money for individuals, families, and teams), and Sticky Password (which also has biometrics so you can login using a fingerprint). My advice is to figure out what things are important to you (cloud backup? accessibility on all devices?) and do a little research for the best possible match. Note: nothing will be perfect unless you build it yourself so just pick something and learn what you can about it.

Step 3: Data Entry

For us, entering client passwords into KeePass initially took awhile. As with any new system, setup tends to be the most tedious/boring part, but it’s an important part of the process that you will thank yourself for later. Whether you’re entering 5 passwords or 500, this is one of those tasks that you can set yourself up watching a favorite t.v. show or movie and crank out some work. In other words, find your own way to embrace the initial data entry involved. It can be fun if you let it.

Step 4: Save/Back Up

If you use an electronic system like one mentioned above, make sure you are saving and backing up databases as you go if you’re entering new passwords on a regular basis. Having a password protected backup file of the database somewhere is also a good idea in case you accidentally delete something you actually need.

If you are using paper, you’ll want/need some way to duplicate your file on occasion. Paper backups are needed just like digital ones so a photocopier or a scanning app on your phone could be your best friend for this task.

Keeping your passwords organized is important- even Martha Stewart has written about the matter. It will save you so much time to have it all in one place, plus you can use the data entry time to get caught up on your favorite television shows.

You can also read more about our journey in getting our passwords organized in a secure fashion using KeePass here: BEC Story #2: The Password Problem

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

5 Tips for Organizing Files (on Your Computer)

This may come as a surprise, but in my college years, my laptop was drastically more organized than it is now. Perhaps because I had more incentive to be organized back then- assignments for classes, thesis, job and other post-college material, plus any random photos I wanted to save (the ‘cloud’ didn’t exist back then, after all) took up space on my desktop, so if I didn’t have some sort of organization, I’d drive myself crazy. These days, that same laptop is primarily used for random personal stuff and I’m not nearly as diligent about keeping it organized (especially since I’m not spending as much time on it as I was in college).

The good news is, at work I’m much more organized. It helps that a lot of what I work on has to get accessed by other people- I’d rather have people coming over to my house when it’s clean rather than a sloppy mess, after all. Wherever you lie on the spectrum of organization on your computer, here are 5 tips for getting rid of a cluttered desktop and files with long, weird names.

Choose a Destination. Where do you primarily want to save your stuff? Some options include directly on your desktop, in a place like Dropbox or Google Drive, a USB, etc. Choosing one location and sticking to it also helps with being able to relocate something later on. Of course, some combination of these things works as well, i.e. all photos are saved in Dropbox while your collection of satirical essays lives in a folder on your desktop. Consistency is key.

The exception to saving to multiple places is creating backups- always a good idea. Remember not to save your backup in the same place you saved the original (because that kind of defeats the purpose).

Folders and Sub-Folders. Making a folder is easy, and so is dumping documents and other materials into that folder. But if you have a really vague folder, like “Photos,” it can still be maddening to try to find anything in there. That’s where sub-folders come in handy. On my personal computer, for instance, I have a vague folder called “Bates.” Can you imagine what a mess it would be if I just put everything from my years at Bates into that folder and called it a day? Instead, when you open that folder, you see 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and Thesis (anyone who went to Bates knows that Thesis deserves its own folder).

Your folders and sub-folders are up to you: how your brain works and what type of material you are working with.You can even have a folder named “Voltron 5000” that has your child’s school pictures, as long as you’re easily able to find what you need.

File Names. Another tip for file organization is appropriately naming your documents and files. When it comes to finding a file, it doesn’t help if you have several “untitled” documents or downloads that are a 15-character series of random letters and numbers. It’s just as important to be thoughtful about how you’re naming files as how you’re storing them, from an organizational standpoint.  https://www.howtogeek.com/howto/15677/zen-and-the-art-of-file-and-folder-organization/

Clean Out Downloads Folder. If you’re cranking out work and are in the zone, chances are you’re probably saving things where it’s easiest (Desktop and/or Downloads). My recommendation, before your desktop is suddenly drowning in files, is to schedule a time at least once a week to organize these files. Move them out of Downloads to a permanent location (and no, your desktop doesn’t count). This could be a matter of putting it in the appropriate folder or moving it to the trash.

Share the System. If you’re working in a system like Dropbox and have multiple people with their hands in the pot, adding and updating files, it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page with the system, otherwise things will get messy. Have one or two people decide on “The System” (if you try to get everyone involved there can be a lot of back and forth) with other people giving feedback will ensure you’re thinking of organization in a complete way.

Once the system is decided, post places where it is easy to see: the company’s Google Drive, a private employee-only part of the website, etc. so people can easily refer to it.

Additional Resources:

Dropbox Tips for Organizing Files 

Google Drive Tips on Organizing Files

4 Things You Can Do to Create a Perfectly Organized Google Drive

Zen and the Art of File and Folder Organization

If you’re anything like us, your computer is like your toolbox for getting things done. Cleaning it out will reward you in increased productivity, decreased headaches, and (ideally) a faster running computer.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.
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