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Enough!  I have to keep telling myself it’s enough.  In May I was fortunate enough to start a great new job.  It meant shutting down my own business.  It meant not posting to my blog twice a week or even once a week as I had hoped and planned to continue doing.

Time was an issue but the larger issue was figuring out what I wanted to write about.  I mean, now that I wasn’t blogging to attract clients, I could write about anything…and there I got lost in thought for awhile.  I even created a new blog that I called “Raised by Bookworms or, How I Learned to Relax and Love Our Mild-mannered Lifestyle.”

The title came to me on a typical trip to the library on a Saturday afternoon with my husband and my son.  All three of us were perfectly content poking through the shelves, making our selections, and then retreating to a nearby cafe to read and drink coffee (well, water for the 7-year-old who doesn’t yet like coffee).  Earlier that very same week I had been practically apologizing to my son’s teacher during a parent-teacher conference for not exposing my son to more socializing through playdates with his school mates on the weekends.  She must have asked what we liked to do on the weekends and on the spot, I could only think of the things that we didn’t do enough.

But at the library, I could see that what we were doing suited us perfectly.  And the punchline to my funny sense of inadequacy was “What’s the worst thing people can say about my son’s childhood? That he was raised by bookworms?”  It amused me enough to consider blogging about parenting under that title.

But parenting isn’t the only thing I wanted to blog about.  I love blogging about creative time management and making time for a creative practice.  Umm…that’s why I started the business I did.  And although I’ve put the business aside, the passion is still there.  I’m just going to have to follow my own advice and make the time for blogging as my creative outlet, no matter how busy I think I am with the working and parenting and…all the other stuff.

Oh yeah, and I am going to have to keep learning how to relax because I forget every now and then.  I really do love our mild-mannered lifestyle among the library shelves, lattes at the cafe, and artwork at the museum.  It’s more than enough!

You’ll find me posting here in this blog occasionally in between the other stuff.  It’s enough.

My son assembled this robot from a box of parts he's been collecting.

Sometimes being creative means collaborating with your children. It’s important to let them take the creative lead and to just help out with the parts involving the hot glue gun.

My son and I usually start with a question: what should we make today? Sometimes we start with the materials and try to figure out what they want to be. We had an old camera that wanted to be the robot pictured here. My son has a box of art parts and he found the reflectors which became the robot’s laser eyes. The iPhone box with it’s icons that look like buttons and controls became the body and we added some wire for arms and some rolled corrugated cardboard for the feet (not shown in the picture).

Now he picks up interesting robot parts as he comes across bolts, broken electronic devices, and other odds and ends as we walk around town.

How do you like to play creatively with children? Do you make things? pictures? songs or poems? dances? games? How do you start the process?

It's always sunny and green outside the catalog windows.

A blog about making time to be creative definitely needs to include some creative work as well as posts about time-saving strategies, home office productivity, and work/life balance. I plan to continue to post helpful tips for the office on Tuesdays. Fridays will be for “Time to Create” to include photos of work in progress, poetic fragments, and other thoughts around the creative process. It’s a little bit left-brained/right-brained but that is how my mind works!

I remember papering the walls of my cardboard box barbie-dollhouse with pictures from catalogs so that they could live in style and I could pretend that they had all that they could wish for.  I never stopped collecting images or wishing and my current project (wishbooks) considers the allure of catalog settings.  I’d like to figure out what it is we are really hoping for when we are shopping and outfitting our homes with what we want and need.

This wishbook features romantic outside views for those of us who live and work in urban environments often lacking in such beautiful natural ambiance.  I write this as I listen to the street in front of my house being torn up today and can look out and see fences, parking lots, and neighboring buildings.

What do you want to see when you look outside?

Any season is good for making lists, in my opinion.  But the end of the year especially seems to inspire lists.  My son is making a Christmas list and I have a shopping list in addition to a very full To Do list.  I also like to keep a wishlist and am always amazed at how often my wishes, when written down, are granted.  That’s a pretty good reason for keeping a wishlist!

All of these lists tend to look forward to what’s next to do, to get, and to want.  Recently I was reminded that it is just as important to look back on the lists of things that we have done, gotten, or were granted us.  Thanksgiving and the end of the year are an especially great time to make these grateful lists and appreciate that while there may be still far to go, much has been accomplished.

I tried a different kind of list this morning.  Rather than creating a list of what I remember in review from the year, I tried a facebook application (statuscloud 2.0) which generated a cloud of the words I used most frequently over a year of status updates.

I love that the biggest, most frequently used words are morning, enjoyed, and weekend!  That pretty much sums up  2009 as I enjoyed and worked hard every morning online and appreciated my unplugged weekends with my family.

I was especially interested in this status cloud because I had been thinking about making up my own cloud graphic of some of my favorite thoughts and words like gratitude, stillness, lake, peace….  Now I am preferring the simple truth of the cloud included here to the constructed version that I had imagined.

What word or thoughts would appear in your cloud for 2009?

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.

I have to ask myself this question every now and then and the answer is never so simple as one or the other.  My goal is to try to do more things for fun reasons because, let’s face it, there’s enough to fear out there.  The fear channel in my brain is jammed with stuff and the fear would have to be either imminent or very threatening to get my attention and provoke an action on my part.  Relying on the fear factor alone leads me to procrastination which just turns up the volume on the fear channel and suddenly everything seems dire, fight or flight.  I much prefer the fun factor or choosing to do the things I prefer.  In the case of things I just have to do, like pay the bills, it’s more like the make-it-fun factor.

Who likes to pay bills?  I used to dread it.  And postpone it until the fear of not paying the bills on time was greater than the fear of paying the bills.  The result was that I spent most of the month dreading the task and then sacrificed an excruciating evening with the checkbook.  Then I felt relief for about a week and the whole cycle started over again.  Fortunately for me, I got a job paying the bills for someone else.  In a more proactive frame of mind, the first thing I did was to make it routine and the second was to use online bill pay options as much as possible, because I love to play on the computer and the calendar is my friend.  Eventually, I caught on that this process would work for me at home too.  Properly organized, to my mind at least, the task of paying bills was not so daunting.  I update my accounts every Tuesday in Quicken so I know what my balances are (because the underlying fear was that I would not have enough money) and pay bills each week.  For me, using the computer to take care of my bills is more fun and efficient.  And I’ve extinguished the weeks of dread while procrastinating and eliminated the sacrificial checkbook evening, freeing up that night for something that really is fun, like playing a game with my family, watching a movie, or reading a book!  That’s the true beauty of the fun factor.

Just about a year after I left a job to start my own business, I was stuck.  I could remember those first bright months when I was all potential and energy and had the confidence I needed to put up a website, print business cards, write a business plan, and expand my professional network.  I had plenty of ideas then and what I didn’t know, I knew how to learn.  It was exciting.

A year later, I was getting a little nervous that things weren’t turning out quite as planned.  I was working harder and harder and my plan had been to work smarter, not harder. As a virtual assistant, I offer that much to my clients. And here I was, putting in a full day with my son and staying up late to work on my business.   It was exhausting.

Something had to change.  I had to follow my own advice, to slow down and think about the business and to get some help doing that.  That’s when I started working with a mentor for Virtual Assistants.  My mentor’s own successful business was a great model and I was impressed by the way she laid out a program for our working together.  It was inspiring.

Honestly, I  didn’t think I would ever take her up on her offer of a 15-minute “burst” session but after a particularly trying week, I wondered “What am I waiting for?”  We sorted out what I was offering to clients, tasks, and what I really had to offer clients, more of a strategic partnership.  I also needed a little push past some procrastination on my part about buying a new computer before mine crashed.  What was I waiting for?  I dove in and took the time to get a new computer set-up, change my service offerings, and makeover my website.

I even reconsidered my pricing structure to better align with the new mindset proposed for me, that of a business owner rather than an employee.   Letting go of the old made more room for new ideas.  Now I am racing to keep up with them and making the changes that will bring me closer to success in my business!

1. Ask

2. Receive

3. Give

A wise friend gave me the above advice.  I posted it by my computer and still I resisted because it just felt so uncomfortable and unnatural.  Didn’t I have to give first to receive?  And being self-sufficient, I wasn’t sure about asking for help at all.  Of course, I am strong because of being connected to other people: family, neighbors, colleagues, friends.   All of whom can and do help me.  How powerful it could be if I could harness this resource so that it’s available when I need it most.  All I would have to do is ask.

The first person I asked was a friend in business for herself.  How did she do it and why?  Then I asked a mentor, why couldn’t I do it too?  She referred me to an excellent resource located in my neighborhood, the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center.  They offer workshops and classes for small businesses or those who were thinking about starting one.  Under their guidance, I started asking for more help.  I asked friends for their business and referrals.  I asked my family for a loan.  I asked colleagues for advice and feedback as I developed my website.  The help I have received has been incredible!    I am so grateful.  Maybe the third item on the list could be interpreted as give thanks as well as give of yourself.  Thank you everyone.

I love reading Louise Fatio’s “The Happy Lion” to my son. There’s the fun of faking a French accent of course, but there’s also the story of the lion who is greeted with “Bonjour, Happy Lion” by all the friendly visitors to the park zoo each day. And then one day, the cage door is left open and he explores the town, expecting to greet his friends. Instead, of pleasant “Bonjours…” he is greeted by screams and alarm and can’t imagine what has gotten into his friends. All ends well when Francois, the zookeeper’s son, offers a friendly greeting and escorts the Happy Lion back to the zoo.

In my retelling, it’s Francois, the zookeeper’s son who is the happy hero, or the happy bookkeeper. The lion, of course, becomes your numbers, your financial situation, whatever it is about money that scares you. Aren’t we all just a little bit afraid of these kinds of numbers sometimes? There they are, just minding their own business, and everyday you meet them. Your reaction whether it be a warm greeting or to scream and run, does not change the fact of their existence or their business of being numbers representing your financial situation. How much more civilized and pleasant, to warmly greet the lion or the numbers each day while they are tended and cared for in the safekeeping of the zoo or in your bookkeeping system. They are more fearsome if they are left to their own devices: the receipts pile up and the statements need reconciling, and oh dear, there are taxes to consider. Better to be, or to hire help if need be, the happy bookkeeper, who comes along puts them back where they belong, into your books so that you may visit them regularly and happily. Bonjour!

Last week I had the pleasure of accompanying my son’s kindergarten class on a field trip to the aquarium.   We had a great time and it got me thinking about how important it is to get out and about every now and then.  Especially true for those of us working from home offices.  Even just working at a local cafe can freshen things up and lend a new perspective to the task at hand.  Epicenter on Folsom (just around the corner from my local Whole Foods market) offers coffee and a couch with a wireless connection for those with laptops.  A latte and a notepad works for me.

It helps me to think of networking events as field trips too.  It’s better to think of them as little treats that supplement the work week rather than as pills that you have to take because they are good for you.  What’s really going on with the reframing is an adjustment of my expectations of the event.  If I view the events strictly as work, I set myself up for frustration because I can think of more productive ways to use the time.  I can’t quite see them as all play either, because I am attending in order to connect with other business people.  Instead, I’ve started thinking of them as more like field trips, outings that I can enjoy for the most part and that enhance my business.  And really, it is fun to go out and talk shop with peers on a “school” night!