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Emergency preparedness was something I had checked off my To-Do list five years ago.  Thanks to a neighborhood workshop, I had stocked up on bottled water and power bars and other supplies and hadn’t thought about it again in a long while.  Fortunately, there hadn’t been an emergency and we didn’t really need to think about it, right?

And yet, when the need for a flashlight arises, I begin to wonder, are we really ready?  For example, when my husband turned off the power to install a lighting fixture, where were our flashlights?  My son found the one by his bed but it was just a penlight.  We found a lantern in the camping supplies but the battery was dead.  As it happened, our neighbors stopped by to say hello and their six-year-old daughter had a flashlight in her pink power purse!  We were grateful to borrow it to finish the job and get our power turned back on.

The real light bulb moment for me was that emergency preparedness is a continual process, not just a one-time thing.  And for really getting ready for an emergency, I was fortunate to have some help from another friend, Tina Costa Delaney, a personal concierge with a package, a TLCD Concierge Emergency Kit. NERT-certified (NERT is the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team trained by the fire department), Tina not only knows what you need but offers the service of getting it for you.  Tina helped us inventory what we had on hand and got us to organize it all in one place where we could find it when we need it.  She also got us to think about what we would really need to eat as a family of three over the course of three days (powerbars alone weren’t going to cut it) and to provide supplies for our pets.

Then she shopped for the supplies that we didn’t have and found us the best flashlight ever (a 3in1  Tripod flashlight, just right for our family of 3) and stocked us up on extra batteries so we will be prepared.  And that bottled water from 5 years ago had expired so we had to re-stock that too. Tina’s service includes reminders…when the batteries need to be checked, when the expiration date on the food needs to be checked, when the fire extinguisher needs to be recharged…all the things you don’t want to think about when there’s a need for the emergency supplies.

The hardest part of the emergency supply preparation wasn’t a supply, it was a plan.  For the first time, my family talked about where we would meet after an emergency and who we should call out-of-state if something should happen.  It got us talking to our son’s school about their emergency plan because something could happen while we are away from home and our emergency supplies.

Again, I am grateful for the help from a friend!  Her guidance help me prioritize emergency preparedness, something I knew we needed to do but didn’t know how to do efficiently and couldn’t find the time to do on my own.  Best of all, now I know where my flashlight is and have working batteries even!  How’s that for ready for anything?

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?

Business owners need to know and track some basic financial information in order to make smart business decisions on a daily basis.  For a service business, the most important number to know is how much to bill for time on an hourly basis.  That number has to add up by the number of billable hours worked each month to a bigger number that covers expenses, self-employment taxes, and the owner’s draw.  Expenses include computer equipment, professional services, office supplies, rent, cost of medical insurance for owner (and employees), etc.  Those numbers add up quickly so it’s important to keep track of them.  Remember these numbers when speaking to potential clients and resist the temptation to offer discounts to bring in more business.  Be fearless about defending that number and your time!

I almost want to write that last line over again, just to let it sink in to my own head.  From the beginning, I have been on top of the dollar numbers and the hour numbers.  In my eyes, the number of hours worked were even more valuable.  And while I fearlessly defended the financial numbers, I starting slipping on the numbers of hours I was working.  More time put in to the business would make it a better business, right?  Only that wasn’t my vision driving my work and business.  How could I sacrifice my own family time to the siren call of just one more thing to do at the computer for my business?  I didn’t want to help others find their balance unless I could help myself first.  Over the New Year’s holiday, I resolved to be fearless about defending my time and making a real choice to stress less, even if it meant taking on the challenge of finding a job and letting the business just sit there on its own for awhile.

Job hunting?  How is that not stressful?  Once I started looking for a job, I created a whole new category of things to stress about it, if I let myself do that.  For the most part, I am trying to still be the fearless business owner by focussing on what I want and going out and getting it.  I just plug my ears and think “I can’t hear you” whenever someone tries to tell me how tough it is out there right now.  Believe me, I already know!  I am more interested in thinking and talking about what to do about it.  Here’s where I need to remember my own advice: be fearless about defending your number and your time.  Because it’s tempting to accept less just to get working and to get some money coming in.  But it just makes it harder to find and be open to what I’m really looking for.  So I went to my temp agency with my number and my hours.  I know that they are in a tough spot too and am glad that they called with some offers, even if they couldn’t match my numbers.  I had to say no, thanks to some of the temp work.  And I had to adjust my own expectations, this really was going to be a challenging process and going to take longer than I had hoped.

In the end, knowing my numbers as a job-hunter helps me make smart decisions about what opportunities I should pursue and which ones aren’t going to cover my monthly bills.  It’s never just about the numbers, of course.  It’s about my values, skills, and interests too.  I use all of these factors to filter all the possibilities out there and really focus on what I want and what I need and those positions that exist where those two overlap.  It ends up saving me a lot of time, my most precious resource.

My South of Market neighborhood here in San Francisco gets pretty busy this time of year due to it’s proximity to Union Square and all the surrounding stores and parking lots.  The rush can be exciting and part of the landscape of the holidays but mostly it’s just hectic.  One year I was rushing along, shopping bags in hand , pulling along a 2-year-old because I had to be somewhere and had to get through the crowd to get there when I passed by a store and saw something that made me pause and think.  It was a fancy store, selling cigars from a special smoking chamber, and it was mostly empty except for the staff and a couple of shoppers.  One of the shoppers was sitting on a couch and reading a newspaper as his companion consulted with the sales person.  I must have pressed my nose against the glass and stared to see the sight.  I didn’t want the fancy cigars or any of the other luxuries offered by the boutiques in that neighborhood.  The luxury I coveted was the ability to sit and relax while Christmas shopping.  Was that something only available to the wealthy?  Did it have to be?  How could I get some of that in my life?

The first thing I did was keep that image in mind the rest of the shopping season.  I slowed down my own pace.  I carried fewer things around at once.  I found benches to sit on with my son and relaxed while he played while the rush kept on going past me.  I felt incredibly rich and prosperous as I gave myself the gift of taking time to do things or to not do things.  What did it cost me?  Not much.  I could easily afford buying fewer gifts.  I allowed fewer events on my schedule; where once I would have seen room for 3 events, I decided that one would suffice and then I had to pick and choose which one I wanted to attend.  Instead of making appearances at 5 holiday parties, I carefully selected the one party that would make me feel most festive.  I would just imagine myself to be a connoisseur of the calendar, like the gentleman in the store, enjoying the luxury of time.  It felt decadent by comparison to the rushing around I was used to tolerating.  Now every holiday season when the urge to do more to celebrate better comes upon me and everyone else, I resist.  I remember what I really want and that it is there for the taking, if I can just allow myself the luxury of taking time.

What do you plan to give to yourself for the holidays?  What luxury would you like to allow into your life in the new year?

It’s an interesting exercise to consider your own Thanksgiving history.  How have you spent the holiday with family and friends, past and present?  What do you enjoy most about it?  I remember one friend who loved the holiday because she got time off to get ahead as she could keep on working while everyone else took the time off to celebrate.  Personally I tend to get a bit wound up about the details of where we are going and who we are going to be with and can end up feeling a bit burdened by a sense of obligation.  But then something always brings me to my senses.  What a great holiday Thanksgiving is!

I love getting outside into the weather on Thanksgiving.  I remember when I was pregnant and joyously walking along with my husband on the path by Crissy Field one sunny Thanksgiving morning.  Another year that meant pitching a tent in the rain but we still had a great time grilling our turkey hotdogs on Thanksgiving day.  Mostly it means creating a new family tradition rather than knocking ourselves out trying to live up to that Norman Rockwellian ideal of a large family gathered together around one table, sharing a feast.

So once again this year, I am avoiding the airport and travel and connecting with the family at large virtually!  You will find us creating a new tradition with a Thanksgiving picnic at a park with our neighbors and their children.  The kids will be free to run around outside and shout their hearts out.  And I’m sure there will be plenty of delicious food, more than we need so we may enjoy the leftovers all weekend.   If I’m really lucky, maybe there will be a game or two of Scrabble or even Spite, a card game that I remember playing for hours with my family when I was younger.  That’s what I always loved about being a kid in a family, the hours and hours of just playing games together.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Even doing just one small thing at a time does make a difference.

Yes, we are all too busy.  I am so busy with clients that I don’t have time for marketing. So busy building my business that I don’t have time for myself, much less taking on a hobby.  And yet, I found the Klutz Knitting kit impossible to resist!    I found those little bits of time that would have been lost otherwise and took them for myself and slowly but surely, stitch by stitch, they added up.

Personally, I find it gratifying to see how all the little things I do add up whether it’s knitting or marketing my business.  In fact, as I knit, my mind is at work, thinking about my business and the next steps I need to take.  So often I find myself rushing ahead on a list of tasks that it’s rewarding to slow down a bit and think things through, re-prioritize as needed, and ultimately save myself time.

Just for fun, can you imagine a Klutz start-your-own business kit?  Here’s what I came up with:

1.  First of all, it would be fun.  And why not?  Aren’t small business owners pursuing their passion?  Aren’t they turning what they like to do for fun into a business?  I hope so.  A great guide would capture that enthusiasm and adventurous spirit.  And there would be purple yarn included.

2.  And it would break a rather complicated, time-consuming learning process into simple steps.  Business planning involves tackling the complexity of the big picture, but breaks it down into the small steps that are do-able and puts them on a schedule that moves the business forward.  Marketing in particular challenges me with so many options to do it better or more.  But, thanks to a marketing action plan, I know that the next thing is something simple, like adding a sign-up form to my blog page.  Every little stitch counts.

3.  It would be put together by experts who have learned from their own mistakes.  It’s not going to prevent me from making any but it will offer  me some strategies for turning mine around.  If I drop a stitch, I can learn how to pick it up again.  And sometimes, the best thing to do is to unravel a few rows and start it over again.  If anything, taking the time to do things right is a great lesson for knitters and entrepreneurs.  If I keep on knitting and ignore a mistake, I’m going to end up with a lumpy sweater that I won’t want to wear.  If I rush to throw up a fancy website, I am going to end up with errors that undermine my professional image and does not appeal to the clients I am hoping to attract.  Instead, since I am doing it myself and know that I can make it great, I am going to have to proceed slowly to do so.

That’s just a start.  What else would be essential for a start-your-own business kit?

I found myself watching the classic Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory this weekend with my son and have been singing along to our life ever since.  As in “I want a bus.  I want the whole bus.  And I want it NOW!” in true Veruca Salt-style.  It doesn’t make the bus come any faster but it does make my son laugh and pass the time a little more colorfully.  When I have my wits about me, I can use laughter to defuse many would-be-meltdowns while waiting with him.  Being just six, my son exhibits all of the character traits of his parents, just more obviously and larger than life.  Impatience is one that I cringe to see as I both recognize it in myself and find his display of it rather uncomfortable.  He’s just learning to replace the word NOW with please and to turn down both the tone and volume of his delivery.

And that’s one of those lessons that I re-learn even as I try to teach it.  As adults, we all know better than to stomp about and demand NOW.  So we resort to more subtle displays of our impatience.  I sometimes find myself in a hurry and this sense of urgency seems to mask my impatience.  So I’ve just been starting to notice what I am doing when I start to hurry.  What a difference in my day it makes when I replace this NOW sense of urgency with either a laugh or just a mindful moment and a breath to turn down the volume on myself, just a bit.  I relax and feel better and end up at my destination on time but feeling much happier than the impatient version of myself.  I’ve also noticed that sometimes I am hurrying along for no real reason, it’s just a habit.  When I catch myself at that, I really have to laugh and switch gears.  Impatience doesn’t really make things happen any faster.  In fact, it can make things seem like they are taking much longer.

Now, business feels so much more competitive to me than the bus stop.  But I need clients NOW I may catch myself thinking and stomping my foot.  Since business is really about building relationships, there is really no advantage to hurrying that along.  There’s just taking the time to do good work and to find good fits with clients.  In fact, on the advice of my marketing instructor, Allison Bliss of Allison Bliss Consulting, I have been using C.J. Hayden’s book Get Clients Now! as a guide to building my business and growing my client base.  The NOW in the title appeals to my sense of urgency but the program presented in the book is about setting up positive and proactive routines to consistently practice authentic marketing for small service businesses.  What a great habit to establish in place of feeling impatient or overwhelmed (the other thing I feel as a start-up business owner)!  I keep the book in sight to remind me that I do have a plan and can breathe easier as a result.

And I remember that Veruca Salt gets kicked out of Wonka’s factory as a bad egg.  It’s the honest and polite Charlie Bucket who gets the whole factory!

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!

My son started first grade this week.  He was eager to go back to school but also somewhat nervous.  His father shared some good advice, “Just breathe.”

He was prepared.  He had a backpack and his crayons, some pencils, lunch and bus money.  He’s familiar with the morning assembly routine because he was a kindergartner there last year.  We were all wondering what his new teacher would be like and who would be in his classroom.  He was even dreading, just a little bit, the amount of homework first graders can expect (more than he had in kindergarten is all he knew).  All he had to do was show up on time.

And that’s pretty much all any of us need in order to begin.  Whether going back to school or starting a new job or business, I remember to be prepared, be excited and just breathe to cut the anxiousness that can go along with the thrill.  Oh, and to show up on time.

And what was I doing while he went off to school?  Facing a blank page and an imminent deadline.  How to begin my project?  You’d think I’d follow my husband’s advice.  But I checked my email and decided on a second cup of coffee before starting to write.  Horrors!  No more milk!  I couldn’t drink coffee without it and how could I start without coffee?  That’s when I caught on that I was probably procrastinating and a bit anxious about the project.  So I packed up a notebook and headed for the nearest cafe, ordered a latte and just started.  That’ll have to do for showing up on time.  I was prepared as I had been taking notes and brainstorming about the project for over a month.  Once that pen started moving across the paper I was excited to discover what I had to say.

It all ended well both for me and my son.  So we rewarded ourselves with our favorite things, frozen yogurt and a trip to the library.  Every great beginning deserves as much.