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This desk in the corner of our living room is the "office" of Beam Virtual Assistance.

This desk in the corner of our living room is the "home office" of Beam Online Business Services.

Loved the peek at the workspaces of the famous over on Lifehacker (see at http://lifehacker.com/5367129/nine-workspaces-where-famous-folks-get-stuff-done ) last week.  And since I just got my own space “just right” after 8 years of working from a home office, I could not resist posting a picture of my own workspace, as humble as it is.

No matter how busy I get, I try to keep my desktop as clutter-free as possible.  Clutter can be distracting and I need the empty space while working on projects.  Still, I prefer to think of the open space as an invitation to creativity.  Just as I need some free space on my calendar in order to foster my creative projects, I need some free space on my desktop to welcome new ideas.  It’s a visual metaphor and reminder of potential and possibility.  It also inspires me to work towards the ideal of a paperless office.  I either bookmark, scan, or PDF what would otherwise become paper that I would have to find a place to store.  There’s plenty of space on my computer for my virtual files but not so much in the file cabinet.  I use the cabinet to store what clients send me and other projects in process.

As my office is a part of my living room, I try to keep it neat to match the rest of the room.  When my work is put away, not only is it safe from the family life that takes place in the same space, but it’s also less likely to capture my attention when I am not working.  Boundaries are tough in any home office situation and visual reinforcement helps me stick to my work limits.  Really it’s sticking to those boundaries that keeps the ideas and creative projects coming.  Left to it’s own devices, work and/or family could easily and definitely take over my life and my space.  Rather than give in or give up, I choose to allow the time and space in my life for thinking.  And my (almost) empty desktop is there to remind me of this priority.  While work is in progress, it really looks a lot more like the photograph of Tina Fey’s office with orderly post-its (they still work) and a baby at the keyboard (only my baby is six now and into lego.com in a big way).

This entry would not be complete without a nod to my favorite blog Unclutterer at http://www.unclutterer.com where every week they post a photograph of a readers’ workspace.  I love to see the variety and creativity of how people set-up their spaces to work for them.

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Who has time to do add something new to the to-do list?  Artist, teacher, and entrepreneur Nancy Willis was understandably reluctant to start blogging or take on any social media beyond Facebook.  Her weeks are already full with her class schedule at Napa Valley Community College, workshops at Nimbus Arts, an active studio practice, and catering gigs to keep it all going.  Like many entrepreneurs, she is too busy doing the work and needs some help running the business, in this case, with marketing.  Of course, being her friend and an online office manager, I recommended hiring a Virtual Assistant!  Short of that option, I have been keeping an eye out for some DIY solutions that would not add anything to her workload but make what she’s already doing work a little harder for her.

My first thought was a blog as Nancy keeps her friends updated with tales of her studio progress, art residencies, and workshops by email already.  For example, just last month, she threw a dinner party for her friends which was professionally photographed for a future project.  Followers of Nancy’s work are familiar with this “dinner party” theme in her paintings and she continues to explore this idea in video paintings.  The photos were gorgeous and her telling of the evening enjoyable and had all the makings of a blog post.  But Nancy doesn’t have a blog.  She does have a website, a static page with some images of her paintings, but no time or know-how to keep it up to date with her offerings.  Most of us can relate that technology is tough to chase.  Nancy was not interested in taking on the task of blogging.

The next email from Nancy related her trip to Sundance as the featured artist and the bidding war that occurred over her painting.  Fascinating and fun stuff!  With her annual open studio sale coming up, this content needed to be out there on the web to stir up interest in her work beyond her already large circle of friends and admirers.  Her next email announcing her open studio and 2 simultaneous showings of her work at Napa wineries Mondavi and Hall came into my inbox and sat there.  Had it been a blog entry, it could have taken up residence on the web for browsers to find.  I wanted to tweet about it and announce to my Facebook friends that Nancy’s art was on display and would make a great weekend trip.  But none of this information was on her website so there was no place to send twitterers or my Facebook friends for more information or the details.  Does this sound familiar to any of my artist friends out there?

Meanwhile, I just learned about Posterous during a social media workshop here in the city.  Looks like all Nancy, or any artist or busy entrepreneur, needs to do is email photos and text which the site posts for an instant blog effect.  You can check it out for yourself at posterous.com (for the casual blogger).  This may be a great solution for someone like Nancy who has great things to say and the photos to back it up but no place to put it all on the Internet.  Our plan is to test-drive posterous this week with some photos from her first weekend of her open studio show.

Writing this blog post is at the TOP of my To-Do list today.  Which is why I found myself thinking about the bottom of the list.  Hmmm, let’s see, what else could I be doing?  Rather than completely indulging myself in procrastination by doing the item at the bottom of the list, I settled for the lesser evil of doing the next small step.  I have been meaning to send a case of wine to my newly wedded niece since before her wedding in June of this year.  All I need to do is find a wine online, order it, and it will be shipped directly to her with little effort on my part.  The hang-up is deciding what wine to send.  The solution? Ask for a recommendation.  So I twittered a wine expert and will be able to proceed from there next week.

I am saving the time it would take me to do the research and in the end, make a guess as to what the newlyweds would like.   Today’s action, or distraction, took a minimal amount of time on my part but allowed me to do something from the bottom of the list so I could stop procrastinating and get back to the TOP of the list, where the really important priorities are.  My point?  I just needed a little warm-up action.  Athletes stretch before exercising and similarly, I just needed to do something to transition to action mode at the computer today.  Once my brain and fingers were in motion at the keyboard, I was just a couple of clicks away from here, where I needed to be.

Items at the bottom of your To-Do list are still there because they are important.  If they weren’t, you would take them off the list, right?  Some items on to-do lists qualify as good ideas at the time but are not important and not urgent now.  These items should be removed from the list completely.  The urgent items always seem to get done; thank deadlines for that.  But those important but not urgent items tend to fall neglected to the bottom of the list.  They make great warm-ups.  Just take a look at the bottom of the list and decide the next step needed and take that step.  It could be to delegate the task or to ask for help or to do some research.  Eventually it will get done just as the things that are important and urgent get done.  And let go of all those nonimportant and nonurgent items!  They do not belong on your to-do list.

My family went into the Labor Day weekend with all sorts of plans.  I know that I was planning to work on Saturday while the boys went out to play.  On Sunday, we’d all go out and enjoy a family day together.  Monday would be my husband’s catch-up on work time and I would take our son to hang out with family friends.  What’s interesting to me is how much time we planned to work over our holiday weekend because there never seems to be enough time during the week to do it all.  If I were working for a client, my advice would be to take the time to enjoy the weekend and approach the work with fresh eyes the next week.

But the work was for me and I don’t always follow my own advice.  By noon on Saturday, I realized that I was carrying my work into my free time unnecessarily.  Probably because I had not planned anything better to do.  So I sat for a moment and made a list of things I like to do when I have free time.  Then I was able to choose how to spend my time rather than working because I felt like I had no choice.  I was then free to enjoy my weekend and my family.

Instead of playing on Saturday, my husband had spent the day on housework, bless his heart.  We always have plenty of this sort of work to go around too.  I wanted to share my discovery with him so I left him on his own on Sunday and took our son to the zoo, one of our most favorite things to do.  With a little time and space and some anime cartoons, he came around to seeing my point of view and we were able to spend Monday, Labor Day, as a holiday together.  We met some friends in a park to watch a performance and we got to hang out in the sun.   After three days of our weekend, we were finally relaxed and rested, ready to do the work we love the next day.

So nothing went quite as planned and we were all better off for it.  What I’d like to take into future weekends is an an appreciation of  the good fortune to have our weekends free to spend together.  The time is ours to plan and unplan as we like.  And some gratitude for our good work during the week.  Thank you Labor Day for this valuable lesson about labor and love!

Everyone talks about great customer service.  But what is it?  You know it when you get it and you know it even more so when you don’t!   How can you tell if you are giving it?

Repeat business is the short answer.  Clients are going to relate to you as a person first and will want to continue to do business with you if they like you.  Providing a great service is part of the process but really, everything you say or do for the client matters.

As a consumer, I am always very excited to find a great service that I can rely upon when I need it.  For example, San Francisco has many fine bike shops and I tried quite a few before I found my bike mechanic.  I have only an occasional need of his services but am always delighted when I bring a bike in for a tune-up or just to change a flat.  Every time, he takes the time to stop what he is doing and listen to what I need.  No matter how small or trivial my request, he gives it his attention, usually right then and there.  He’s up front about the cost and when the repair can be completed.  I have always been satisfied with the work and am always pleased by his manners.

Sadly, last time I took my bike to the shop, another mechanic was there.  He took in my son’s bike, gave me an estimate and a pick-up time and I thought all would be well.  The day I was supposed to pick up the bike, he called me.  Did I want repairs that would cost me more than the value of my cheap bike?  No, not really.  But what was a cheap bike to him was a very valuable story in our family lore.  You see, my son had “won” that bike in a raffle we had entered when he was only a year old.  We had held on to that bike for 5 years, just waiting until he was old enough to finally enjoy his prize.

So my son and I went to pick up the bike.  The mechanic had not tuned it up and in fact, reported that the rear brake had broken off when he adjusted it.  He returned it to us with no charge and advised us not to waste our money on this one but to get a good bike.  I know that he meant well but he had just violated rule #1 of good customer service.  Rule #1 should be that all problems that a customer or client brings up are important problems and should not be dismissed.  I’ve experienced such an attitude in bike shops before.  And, from quite a few tech support people too.  The “I know better than you do” attitude does not win repeat business from me, or from most people, I suspect.  Rule # 2 should be to do no harm (um, excuse me, you just broke my bike that I brought in to be fixed) if you can’t help.  When on the phone for tech support, the harm is often the time wasted waiting for the support person to figure out that the problem really is the one you called and reported, and not what he thought it must be.

If rules 1 and 2 come from a lesson learned at my expense, the following rules are from the far more enjoyable experiences with MY bike mechanic, the one I will use again and again.

#3.  Be a good listener.

#4. Deliver on time and on budget.

#5. Be courteous, no matter what kind of day you are having or how busy you are.

Anything else to add?