productivity

I Left My Business For A Month And Nothing Bad Happened (Part 1)

We have a series of great ‘and nothing bad happened’ articles. Check out ‘I Bought Facebook Fans And Nothing Bad Happened‘ and ‘I Doubled Our Social Media Posts And Nothing Bad Happened‘. 

Next month, Breaking Even will have been officially in business for ten years.

My friends joke that I know EVERYONE in our small town and I think that’s mostly true. And even if I haven’t met someone, typically when I say my name, they’ve heard of me.

I’m not saying this to sound like a conceited jerk- if you hang out in a town with 5,000 people for 10 years and have a bit of a social life, you’d probably know most everyone too. And basically what I’ve found in the last year actively trying to do more sales is that if people want to work with us, they have in the past or are now. Sure, new businesses come into town once in awhile, but the reality is at a certain point, in order to grow Breaking Even I have to look beyond my backyard and the people I’ve been happy houring with.

Combining this current local market saturation with the wanderlust I’ve always had, I thought I’d spend last month seeing if I couldn’t tap into a new market. As someone who has run local businesses for a decade, this is my experience, so finding more local businesses (who just happened to be somewhere else) seemed natural.

So I silently left for four weeks and ran my businesses from upstate New York (2 hours from Montreal, wohoo). So how did I do it?



The key to this working was buy-in from my coworkers. We had the world’s shortest staff meeting about two weeks before I left where we established who would do what location-specific tasks (checking mail, mailing out purchases from our ecommerce site, etc.) I wasn’t able to do. I already know I couldn’t ask for better coworkers but I was worried they would think my month away was an extended vacation while they worked their fingers to the bone. Or that I would be unreachable. Or that they’d feel lonely and/or resentful. Of course, this was just me needing to 1) get over my own self importance and 2) make some documentation of some of my more mundane tasks (how to check mail, what to open, where the checkbook was, etc.) We’ll debrief in our upcoming staff retreat but it seems like the place didn’t burn down while I was gone and no one called/emailed me angry, so things did indeed run without me.

Just some of my scheduled meetings in Zoom. Best $19 I spend every month for the pro version.

The other thing I needed to do before I left was get clients used to talking to someone that wasn’t me. Because of my workaholic tendencies and my predictable schedule, I have made myself constantly available over the last ten years. People often stop in to try and run into me and that can be a time suck.

The reality is Kassie can answer a ‘When does my domain name expire?’ email as well as I can and Jane can schedule someone who has rented the Anchorspace conference room without my help. So for the few months before my planned departure, both Kassie and Jane have been emailing clients about work directly. The reality is that if things escalated or just got complicated, then I could be brought in. And every time I feel guilty for not fielding an email, I think of selling something, doing consulting, or some other use of my time and I feel ok. But this took a few months to phase in (and in a lot of ways is still happening).

I also had to use technology to keep in touch with clients. So I had five clients who wanted to meet while I was gone and four opted to take me up on the Zoom meeting (one said she’d wait until I was back). Of the Zoom meetings, I lost one client who wanted someone more locally available. For those I held remote meetings for, I offered to record the meetings so they could review them and one really liked this option. Meanwhile I got my third ever largest contract in my new location. The moral is you can’t please everyone but moving things to digital platforms 1) was an easier sell being a digital agency and 2) offered convenient options like after-hours meetings, the ability to record, etc.

It’s safe to say that for never having done this sort of thing before, this part of the experiment was a success for the most part. But, this was only a fraction of the overall experiment- in addition to keeping the home fires burning, I also had to get involved with an entirely new market. Stay tuned for part two of this post, which is all about networking in new territory!



Eleven Things To Do While Windows Updates

“Do you want your computer to update now?” the little notification says on the bottom of your computer screen and you think “Sure, I was just going to go make coffee anyway” and press the update button.

Then you regret your whole life.

Windows updates have turned into unexpectedly long processes; I just did one this morning and it took my computer two hours to update. I am usually good at remembering not to do this during the workday, but what’s a productive person to do while your computer is rendered useless for some indefinite period of time?

  1. Scan checks. Most banks have mobile apps where you can deposit your checks while you sit, wherever you are. Remember to hold onto them for 15 days until they clear and not to shred them right away!
  2. Open mail/pay bills. Whether you do mobile bill pay, pay by check, or some combination, get those business bills up to date.
  3. Go buy stamps… or whatever it is you’re out of. We all run out of stuff and wait a bit to replace it. Get a good list going and head out of the office for a bit to get those “odds and ends” you’ve been meaning to replace for awhile.
  4. Sharpen your pencils and dump your bad pens. Clean out your jar of writing utensils and throw out dead pens, put anything you don’t use anymore aside (in my case it was a bunch of colored pencils from when I was a camp counselor 20+ years ago) and donate it to your favorite kiddo, a day care, and/or a local arts organization. You can do the same for any desk drawer, too.
  5. Scan/deal with business cards. Whether you are an old school Rolodexer or use Evernote, get those cards from pile on your desk/in your bag to someplace useful.
  6. Catch up on your shredding. Maybe you have some checks that have cleared or old bank statements. I always have a pile going on my desk and when it reaches critical mass (or my computer is updating), I go shred.
  7. Scan receipts. However you track expenses, keeping a pile of receipts on your desk or in your wallet can feel chaotic. Scan them and get them into your accounting software (or wherever you keep them) for tax time- you’ll thank yourself later.
  8. Call that person. If you hate phone calls as much as I do, go through your voicemail and delete what is no longer relevant and follow up with people you need to follow up with.
  9. Go for a walk. Sometimes you have to embrace that the universe has given you this unexpected break. Go grab a coffee, check your mail, or get bagels for the office.
  10. Clean out the office fridge (or some other communal area). Get some coworker good karma and tackle something everyone would appreciate, whether it’s the supply closet, the fridge, or other communal area. If you work from home, you’ve got even more stuff you could tackle that everyone should appreciate.
  11. Catch up on offline reading. That trade publication or book your coworker lent you has been sitting there for awhile. Consider this a chance to hit the books and give your eyes a break from screen-reading.

Computers have to be updated every once in awhile, and even our best attempts to coordinate this with non-working hours can go awry. As you can see, this doesn’t mean you have to resort to twiddling your thumbs or stressing out about how much you aren’t accomplishing. There’s always plenty of offline things to catch up on around the office that you’ll thank yourself for later!



How To Rock A Ten Hour Car Trip

I’ve been driving a lot lately… and just like anything, you definitely get better at it the more you do it.

As I put another 450 miles on my car tomorrow, here are some of the things I’ll be doing to prepare for life on the open road.

Get a power block/large charger.

If you are both navigating and listening to audio from your smartphone like I am, that is going to drain your battery fast. A fully charged power block can charge my cell phone five times, which is more than adequate for my ten hour trip. Very handy. I like the idea that you can also get ones that have a solar panel. Even though I’ve never really relied on mine to charge that way, it’s nice to know it could.

This is the one I have and if you buy one, I get 3%.

Check out cell reception ahead of time.

Most cell phone carriers have coverage maps. Looking at your expected coverage before beginning your drive can give you an idea of how long, if at all, you’ll be out of touch.

Personally, unless I’m having a super long ‘how’s your life’ conversation with a friend, I hate talking while I’m driving. If it’s a business meeting, I want to take notes and if it’s anything serious, it needs my full attention. This is why I don’t schedule meetings while I drive. This also makes it a zen experience for me, which I appreciate.

Make a list of useful things, like coffee shops or coworking spaces with WiFi, etc. in case you need them.

I’ve got a pretty good list of places where they have 24-7 bathrooms, coffee shops I don’t mind stopping at in an emergency, and other helpful things. Your line of work may need to involve something more specific, like maybe occasionally needing a large format printer or UPS locations. If you make a regular circuit, make note of these useful resources in hard copy form including addresses, phone numbers, hours of operation, etc. Then when you need them, rather than having to do multiple Google searches, you can have it all on one or two sheets of paper.



Forward your calls if applicable.

Google Voice allows you to forward your calls to it and will transcribe and text/email voicemails. I find this handy when I travel as I can return important calls in a timely way.

Bring water and high powered snacks.

I bring about 10 water bottles (large ones) with me for both the dog and I. I’m never sad to have hydration with me. In terms of snacks, I love RX Bars because they are high protein (12 g and 250ish calories) and don’t have any chemicals in them. Being less reliant on road snacks is not only more economical but definitely a healthier way for your body to transition from one place to another.

Download productive audio books and podcasts.

The Pocket Casts app (not free) is my favorite podcast app. The app that comes on your iPhone either downloads EVERY episode or NO episodes of your favorite podcast. This app allows you to download episodes individually and arrange them in a kind of play list if you like. Once you listen to it, the podcast automatically deletes. And between that and downloading only the episodes I want, I have saved a ton of space on my phone. I also try to have at least one new audiobook downloaded in advance so I can look forward to it on the road.

Hide $20 in your car. 

I am the kind of person that carries cash (hint: if you ever have to split a dinner tab, those of us with cash always end up better off). But if you are the kind of person that doesn’t usually carry cash, hide $20 in your glove compartment. $20 can get you out of an unexpected toll or other situation and it’s not a lot of money to miss. The few times I dove into my stash, I’ve always been thankful for it.

The reality is that we all have these blocks of travel time and making the best of it is all we can do. And who knows, you might even enjoy it if you decide to.



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.



Time Management for Mom Bloggers

Note: Although part of my series on mom bloggers, this post on time management can apply to a variety of people. Moms are just one example of people who juggle multiple priorities. 

Today, a lot of women are balancing both career and motherhood. Some are working from home and are telecommuting, others run businesses from their homes. Still more are finding they can make money blogging about motherhood (a topic we discussed last time).

Interestingly, 95% of mom entrepreneurs — those who aren’t working for someone else — have a spouse/significant other who generates the primary source of income, according to Entrepreneur.

Moms with young children can save money on childcare costs by keeping the kids at home. However, with that comes another distraction for the work-at-home mother.

All this means is that time management is crucial for those moms who work from home to provide supplemental income, especially those starting a business. That also means making sacrifices.

In order to grow their businesses, many moms cut or eliminate entirely other areas of their lives way, as seen in the infographic below. Common areas that get neglected include social life, working out, and any of their usual hobbies. One thing that makes me happy to see is that a good night’s sleep still seems to be a priority among the working from home mom, with 6-8 hours being the average (since I’ve been hearing a lot of “You’ll never sleep again!”, a 6 hour night seems pretty decent).

From Entrepreneur

In terms of managing work time vs. household and kid time, there are several ways to approach things.

Separate work-time and home-time as much as possible. For many, this means having a designated work area (that is also recognized by other family members as such). It also means setting aside time to be in that area and being as productive as possible. One of the best ways to maximize productivity is to figure out the time of day when you are most productive and make that your dedicated “work time” if possible. It’s about setting up a work/home barrier for your own productivity and establishing a routine and boundaries for the others in your household.

Create a Schedule. As I mentioned earlier, flexibility was a big reason why many moms choose to work from home. Flexibility doesn’t necessarily come without a schedule, though. While the routine may vary from day to day (i.e. one kid goes to daycare on Tuesdays and Thursdays only, someone has a doctor’s appointment coming up, etc), creating a schedule for yourself (and your family) is one way to stay on top of work flow.

Work with Your Family. I read this blog post about a woman who was able to work at home without sacrificing any time with her family, which I find pretty appealing. She talks about how she learned to adjust her working habits — from learning to work outside where her daughter slept best to typing while her husband drove on longer car trips. Odds are there are areas where you can compromise and have the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, since every family and kid(s) are so different, I can’t offer any “do this one thing” tips on making this feasible — it will probably require some trial and error on your part.

Learn to say “No.” This means learning to say no to taking on more work than you can handle and even saying “no” to yourself when you start getting distracted by things like social media and the dishes sitting in the sink. Sure, you could probably multitask as many things as possible, but that’s probably going to make you feel crazy and, eventually, burnt out. Say no to the things that are going to hurt you rather than help you in the long (or short) run.

Learn to Say “Yes.” Gotcha! Sometimes, you need to learn how to say “yes” when people ask to help you. Or, maybe you need to take some initiative and let people know when you need help (something I’ve learned in life is that no one can read my mind, no matter how much I’ve tried to get them to). Maybe you’re a perfectionist and worried things can only get done the “right way” if you’re in charge. Or maybe you’re convinced that people are counting on you to do “all the things” and you’re afraid to fall short of that. Accepting help around the house, arranging a carpooling situation with childcare, or delegating certain tasks (even to older kids) can help keep things on an even keel.

Here is a list of general productivity posts that we’ve written over the years, in addition to some mom blog related posts that I thought were helpful in writing this post:

Chunky Yet Funky: Thoughts on Productivity and My Writing Style

Finding Time vs. Making Time

The Two Things You Need To Work From Home

Five Ways You Can Be More Productive … in 2015 or whenever

19 Time Management Tips for Mom Bloggers- Money Saving Mom

Mom’s Guide to Managing Time- Real Simple

 

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.



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