time management

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!

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


You Make How Much Per Hour?!

timevsmoneyIt’s everyone’s dream to get paid more to do less, or nothing at all (which is why everyone was clambering for Powerball tickets recently). You’ve probably heard the statistics of corporate CEOs and how their salaries translate to an hourly rate. If I just had their job for ONE hour, I could rule the world…or at least pay off my student loans.

Part of you thinks it’s obscene for one person to have all that money, but another part of you wonders how you can reach this higher plane of financial glory.

Just for fun, let’s take a look at the astronomical figures some people are pulling in each year. One of Chipotle’s CEOs, Montgomery Moran, makes about $13,500 an hour. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good burrito, but that number seems pretty steep for convenience food. Moran’s hourly wage is utterly eclipsed by Larry Ellison’s (CEO of data sharing service Oracle) $267,779. To put this in a bit of perspective, Ellison is making more per hour than the average American brings home in a year (roughly 5 times more, in fact). He’s making more per hour than the cost of 4 years of college tuition.

Moving away from CEOs, what do some of our favorite celebrities bring home? In spite of griping about Spotify ripping her off, Taylor Swift had an excellent year. It’s estimated that she makes about $40,000 per hour, putting her slightly behind Katy Perry who makes $67,500 per hour. (Interesting fact: both ladies are ahead of Beyonce now.) The highest paying celebrity in 2015 according to Forbes is Floyd Mayweather, mainly because of the boxing match this past spring.

Each of these high-rollers offer us entertainment or run companies that contribute to our quality of life as we know it. But what are CEOs or celebrities doing that contributes thousands upon thousands of dollars an hour? Checking email? Traveling? Writing songs? Singing? When you consider many of these tasks are actually handled by someone else, maybe some CEOs and celebrities just get paid to exist. It’s difficult to say. As Gigi Hadid recently pointed out to us on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, “Modelling is hard. You have to look good and be nice to people.”

What about the blue-collar end of the spectrum? Anesthesiologists (not quite blue collar in the traditional sense, but not quite at the CEO/celebrity level) usually make around $100/hour. This position is high-stakes with a clearer value to their contribution. Tattoo artists, commercial pilots, and underwater welders all make about $120/hour per project. Even though these jobs usually only require 15-20 hours of work per week, it still averages out to a decent hourly rate.

But, what about you? Using some of the ideas below, you can develop a strategy for making more per hour without necessarily working more.

Idea #1: Charge according to value from the start. Say you’re a freelance sandwich maker. You’ve been doing this for awhile, so you have your routine down to a science, and as a result you’ve significantly whittled down your production time (4 minutes per sandwich). When you get an order for 5 sandwiches, it’s only going to take 20 minutes of your time. If you charge by the hour, you might be selling yourself short. Charging per sandwich (or per project) is the way to go. For other sorts of projects, you’re better off charging per hour.

Clearly as a freelancer, there are going to be some five foot long party subs in your life but the greater percentage of standard sandwiches you can make with your time, the greater your hourly take home pay.

Idea #2: Be on retainer. There is a cost to being available and let’s face it, there are some clients who want you to be available. Getting paid for a set amount of time to be available (and not needing to necessarily be doing something) is a great way to increase your take home… but beware when all your retainer clients need you in the same week! (This is why you don’t want to take on too many of these.)

Idea #3: Profitshare your pay. Take a cue from some of our CEO friends and, instead of getting paid a large base salary, get paid a percentage of profits. There is plenty of revenue sharing softwares out there but, maybe in building that up and coming software company a free online shopping cart and taking 10% gross revenue for 5 years will mean a higher hourly rate than they would have paid you up front. Note: only do this when you truly believe in the company.

Idea #4: Sell people the same thing. Let’s say you get really good at making flyers for musical theater. If you have clients spread out around the country, why not use the same layout for multiple events? This is clearly something only applicable in some instances but if you’ve packaged something together that works for a certain type of client or job, why reinvent the wheel? Please note that we’re talking more along the lines of systematizing than producing carbon copies for clients (depending on your line of business).

Idea #5: Outsource. (Full disclosure: Nicole hates this idea but it exists so we’ll talk about it.) One way to make money off something is to find someone else who will do it for cheaper and be the middle man between them and your customer. Many people make six figure incomes by finding freelancers and designing processes that use their skills effectively. The freelancers get to do what they like at a cost they agree with, the middle man gets to build a team for a fraction of what an employee would cost, and the customer gets a good product. Or at least that’s the idea.

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If Paris Hilton is able to get paid $374,00 an hour to DJ in Ibiza, you should be able to gain a little something for your work, too.

Finding Time vs. Making Time

Lately I’ve been feeling exhausted, as if I could close my eyes at any given moment and bam, be fast asleep. Granted, I’ve never had a great track record for getting a good night’s sleep, but this recent stretch has made it incredibly hard to do all the things I would like to in a day: finish writing snail mail to my grandparents, get quilting tutorials from Gram, carve out some creative writing time, relearn the saxophone, learn how to play the ukulele, spend more time baking, do more yoga, take any sort of new class, read something challenging, get the oil change my car desperately needs, go to the track and workout…I have a lot of ambitions lately. This past weekend, I disconnected from this list (except item 2- my Gram gave me a brief quilting intro and hilarity ensued), and complained to a relative about my lack of time. Her response: “‘I don’t have time’ is just another way of saying ‘I don’t want to.’ The time is in there, somewhere, it’s up to you to make it happen.” Not the answer I wanted, but it was definitely the answer I needed. Funny how that happens.

We can’t ever find time, not like the way we find a $10 bill in a pair of jeans during laundry. Time is happening here and now. So, as I wail about never “having” or “finding” time for my various projects, I should really be shifting my attitude to “I already have the time, I just need to use it differently.” Here are some general ideas I’ve gathered to start putting into practice:

Well, would you look at the time…If you have to set an alarm to remember something, no matter how trivial or ridiculous, set it. Having an external reminder reroutes your attention so you can get in a new routine for doing things (the key is remembering to set the alarm). I tend to lose track of time generally, so having an alarm keeps me focused. Well, maybe just less distracted.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 9.16.50 AM

If you have ever seen Disney’s “Mulan,” this will make sense. If not, well…it’s still kinda funny.

Another trick that a friend has shared with me: first thing in the day, do the most pressing and/or most dreaded thing on your to-do list. This starts the day off with a fist-in-the-air, “I’ve totally got this!” vibe, and you won’t spend the rest of the day with this task looming over you (seriously, it’s a gross feeling). Almost every article and blog post on productivity recommends this,  in some shape or form.

Crossing off that one thing on your to do list feels like this.

Crossing off that one thing on your to do list feels like this.

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun” -Mary Poppins. As an adult, I’ve noticed that a lot of what I need to accomplish in a day isn’t exactly “fun,” like getting an oil change or spending time on the phone with a health insurance provider. These tasks have to get done, and unless you’re rich, famous, or in possession of a super advanced robot, you have to take care of it yourself.

To tie-in my Mary Poppins reference, when I have to clean my room or run on a treadmill, it seems to go by faster if I listen to Walt Disney on Pandora. It would go by even faster if the woodland creatures actually helped instead of staring blankly from the backyard. Disney music might not be your…jam…but there’s always a way to make the necessary, ho-hum tasks more exciting, from grocery shopping to the DMV.

Coffee is not the answer. I’ve always enjoyed the morning coffee. And afternoon coffee. Well…coffee became something I ingested throughout the day without tracking (like water or air). Vaguely aware that beyond 4 cups before noon borders on the excessive, I felt like I was able to accomplish so much more. My brain was ON! A couple weekends ago, I’d run out of coffee at home but was too lazy to go to the store. By 10 a.m. I had a splitting headache. That moment was a bit of a wake up call. It turns out, excessive caffeine can wreak havoc on your body and emotional state.

Scaling back on coffee huge for me, but other people have various things that help push them through (I was an avid Diet Coke drinker for years, too). The issue was not so my body needing coffee as much as the belief that it was going to make me more productive/energetic. Motivation, much like happiness or anything in that vein, is an inside job. Coffee does not equal motivation.

Maybe someday, I'll be down to just one.

Still counts…

Be Accountable. Sometimes, being accountable to yourself just isn’t enough (it definitely isn’t for me). Nicole has shared her accountability buddy experience before, and I’ve realized that 90% of my life isn’t strictly accountable. Most of the time, this is amazing, but it also means I require a lot of internal motivation. What I lack in accountability I try to make up for in self-awareness (or good friends who make constructive observations).


An example: speed work with running is one of my least favorite activities, but necessary in order to get faster. Since I haven’t had a coach since high school, am running purely for personal benefit, and don’t run with other people, I had to find ways to hold myself accountable for these workouts. Trick 1: Reward: even if it’s something little like watching an episode of It’s Always Sunny, it’s amazing how well this works for me. Trick 2: Visualization-this may sound weird, but here me out. If I go to bed picturing the hard workout (or other activity) that I’m dreading, it’s more likely to get done. Once I allow that little voice to say “Well, maybe you don’t have to…,” it’s game over.

If you aren’t accountable to another person (boss, friend, running buddy, etc), find a way to hold yourself accountable. Some tips on that here.

Chill Out. In the frenzy of “do all the things” this summer, I ignored the cues from my body to take a breather. Breathers were not on my to-do list. Even when my body slowed down, my brain was still tying itself into impossible knots. In other words: my stress skyrocketed and I had zero chill. After only a few months, I dissolved into the fatigued, frazzled, and ultimately useless puddle that started this blog post. Even though I don’t have some high stakes job that forces me to work ridiculous hours, or really anything on the surface that would explain it, my body had been coping with high levels of stress for months on end. Much like the aforementioned coffee-intake, dealing with this amount of stress over a long period of time has serious consequences for one’s health.

In other words, I was able to accomplish the bare minimum of what I needed to in a day, and none of the extra stuff. If you have an ambitious to-do list or feel generally stressed out, remember to slow down and take cues from your body. Making time for hobbies and side-projects is important, but you have to factor in some down-time.

As we head into holiday season, keep in mind that finding time shouldn’t feel like squeezing water from a stone. Making time is a reasonable way to approach the tasks at hand, whatever they may be. Prioritize, find the fun, and maintain sanity! And have a Disney music dance party if it helps.

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