Tag Archives: productivity

Tirades from the trenches (or couch, rather)

I have completely taken over my couch and coffee table.  It’s my new favorite work space.

The scenario: My Dell Vostro on my lap, feet on the coffee table,a glass of iced mineral water nearby, the iPod hooked up and pumping LCD Soundsystem through my earbuds.  Awww, yeah.  This is what I call working!

Yes, it’s true I have a wonderful, dedicated desk and computer in my office, with three monitors — one of which is wide-screen.  I like it too, but I’ve found that I’ve fallen in love with my laptop.  It’s small, portable and it makes it easier to pay attention to Madeline, rather than holed up in my office.  I also kind of FEEL like I’m working offsite — even though I’m not.

I think I’ve finally found that tenuous place between caring for a baby and taking care of clients.  Madeline has many times throughout the day when she’s content to play in her bounce seat or nearby on a play-mat.  As long as I’m in view she’s cool.

Still, I put in most of my web hours after she’s gone to bed.

I haven’t slept much lately.

How to manage the baby-work balance

I’ve been easing back into a regular routine for the past three months, ever since the birth of my daughter.

I’m finding it exceedingly difficult.

Here’s my question: Can there be a balance between working from home and taking care of a baby?

I wish I knew the answer.

I have found that baby care threatens to overshadow working at home.  Try as I might to find balance during the day, the fact remains that I am her primary caregiver and her needs must be met.

But just because there’s no 50-50 balance doesn’t mean it’s impossible.  It IS possible to do both if you finagle things just a bit.  Here’s what I’m trying to do:

  1. Ask for help
    I used to find this really hard, but over time I’ve grown up.  A LOT.  And I’ve realized that everyone needs help now and then, even those of us who have a strong urge to go it alone.  I need help getting everything done, and I’m really fortunate that I have a supportive family and friends.  So I lean on that support network for watching baby when I have meetings or deadlines to hit.
  2. Rethink working hours
    I would absolutely LOVE to put in my work hours between 9 and 5, but that just isn’t going to happen at this stage in baby’s life.  I can do some, but not all.  So I try to think creatively.  When the kids are awake and active — household chores!  But I work on projects at night, early in the morning and on the weekends when the kids are asleep or otherwise occupied with Dad.   It’s quiet.  It lets me think.  Yes, I do lose out on a little sleep, but not so much that I suffer.
  3. Email is a mom’s best friend
    I try to do most of my communication via email, when it doesn’t matter if you answer at 2am.  Also, clients can’t hear the baby crying through email.  It’s awesome!   If I have to take calls, I try to schedule them when there’s little chance the baby will wake and start crying.

It’s not easy having a baby and trying to run a business, let alone work.  But I’m managing.  In the end, I love both of my jobs (mom and business owner), and I can’t imagine giving up either.

Reflections on 2010

2010.  Oh my… what a year!

Every year — in the week between Christmas and New Year’s — I find myself in that thoughtful place of transition between the current year and the one to come.   I find myself eagerly anticipating the new year, as if a slate is to be wiped clean and the possibilities of dreams I have not yet realized are closer.  All too often, I forget what amazing things I’ve already succeeding in accomplishing.

It’s easy to brush aside the past year as we set new goals, but I think it’s also important — if not necessary — to look back.  Sometimes I can be a bit hard on myself when I think of what I haven’t done, and assessing the past year is a good way to appreciate all that I HAVE accomplished.

Here’s what I did in 2010:

  1. Left KVUE to pursue web design business full time
    This was a major goal in 2010, and I’m proud that I finally had the courage to take this step.
  2. Secured 3 clients — 1 of them new
    It’s not as much as I aimed for, but it’s a start.
  3. Had a baby
    The birth of my daughter was so momentous.  It’s tremendously difficult maintaining that balance between work and family, but I’m so glad I’m able to work from home and be there for my kids.
  4. Learned to use Quickbooks
    OK — I’m still struggling with this, but I know enough to get by for the time being and aim for hiring a bookkeeper in 2011.
  5. Went to SXSWi
    South by Southwest Interactive was an amazing experience for me.  I learned so much about technology, trends, the industry and the business of the industry that I was able to venture out on my own with a bit more confidence than I otherwise might have had.
  6. Continued my education
    It’s imperative for people in my chosen profession to stay in the know, and I did my best to advance my knowledge.  I started learning as much as I could about PHP and how to design and develop with Joomla, Drupal and WordPress
  7. Connected with other small business owners
    Through the City of Austin Small Business Development Program, I started meeting other people who could potentially help me or hire me in the future.

Now that I’ve looked at my 2010 accomplishments, I can get down to business making goals for 2011, and those goals can be specific and build upon the foundation I’ve already laid.

Happy goal-making!

Out of Office: Finding a place to work away from home

I love my home office.

My chair is the bomb.  You’ve gotta have a good chair.  It’s essential to feel comfortable when you’re working.

I love that I can listen to music, see sunlight through the windows, and I’m just a short walk away from the kitchen, where I often trek to refill my water glass.  I also love that it’s mine.  I share only with my husband, and he’s not a bad office-mate.

But sometimes, it’s not possible to work at home.  For the past week, I’ve been driving Luke to a camp near Zilker Park every morning.  Instead of taking 45 minutes- 1 hour out of my work day to drive back and forth, I decided to set up shop nearby.  All I needed was an Internet connection and a chair.

It was not as easy as I thought it would be.

Here’s what I hate — “free” wireless networks that require a password.  That is incredibly annoying.  Two different coffee shops I tried  had that kind of network — one didn’t even post the password (I guess you had to go ask the barista), and the other (The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf — which is essentially Starbucks) said it would log you out for 10 minutes every 2 hours so you could join the real world.  Or get up to buy another coffee, perhaps?  Sneaky.

No thanks.

But I did finally settle on a decent place to work: Austin Java.

OK, so there were downsides.

  1. The chairs aren’t all that comfortable.  They’re wooden.
  2. The music was loud.

But there were plenty of upsides to make up for the negatives.

  1. Wireless was easy to access
  2. Coffee (I only tried the decaf) was good and bottomless
  3. Food wasn’t bad
  4. Good place to meet business contacts and clients
  5. Clean bathrooms
  6. Decent music selection (Yeah, it was loud, but at least it was good!)

I ended up getting a ton of work done, and never once did I feel like I was missing something from my office (other than my awesome chair).  It was also nice to work around other people for a change.  I was by no means the only person working there.  Many other people sat down and pulled out their laptops during my time there.

So to the good folks at Austin Java on Barton Springs Road who handed me my coffee mug with a smile and brought out my bowl of fruit — you folks rock!  Thanks for the hospitality!

To ballpark or not?

One thing that I have feared is giving a ballpark estimate for a site and scaring off a client.

Apparently, I’m not alone.  A lot of freelancers, especially when first starting out, worry about giving a ballpark figure right from the get-go.

But I read a great blog post about why giving a ballpark is actually a good idea, and it all revolves around the idea that TIME is your most valuable asset.  If you spend a lot of time with a client who will later balk at your price, then you’ve lost precious time that you could be using to develop skills or other client connections.

I really recommend reading the post from Freelance Folder: Why You Must Quote a Ballpark figure.

Fighting distractions

When it comes to distractions, I tend to fail more than I conquer.  Not only am I a mom trying to work from home with a very active 3-year-old, but I’m also prone to being distracted.

I’ve been fighting it my entire life.

I mentioned in my last post the tools I use to stay on schedule.  This morning, I read an article on one of the blogs I follow about fighting distractions.  It’s a good read and worth a look if you’re anything like me.

You can read the full post here.

‘To do’ tool

I’m the kind of person who keeps lists.  Lots of lists.

I have notebooks full of lists of things to do.  But over the years, those lists have become unwieldy, and unless I’m sitting right in front of that piece of paper all of the time, I’m unlikely see what I wrote down that I have to do.

Hence the reason I’ve tried to bring the To-Do list to my iPod Touch.

What genius to have a To-Do list on the one piece of technology that’s always with me!  Right?  Who’s with me?!

Alas, it was not to be.  I tried numerous apps, and all of them… well… sucked.  Still nothing got done.

(To be fair, I did not try any paid-apps.  I’m cautious about spending money on a program that may or may not work for me.  I tend to test out the free version for a while, and then pop for the paid version if I really like it.)

Finally fed up, I gave up, and the To-Do list on my iPod languished.  Until…

Remember the Milk.

I found this To-Do list site while killing time on my iGoogle page one morning, looking for new items for my dashboard.  I started with the free version, and absolutely loved it.

This is why I really like Remember the Milk:

  1. It’s easy to add a task
  2. Tasks can be added through the website, through the iGoogle gadget or through the mobile app
  3. Tasks are updated on the main site, no matter where you enter them.  All you need is Wi-Fi or Internet access and it’s done.
  4. You can tag tasks.  So, say I have a ton of tasks on my work list, but some are for one project, some are for another… I can tag them and search via the tags so I can find everything for that one project with the click of a button.
  5. Completed tasks don’t disappear.  That drove me CRAZY about one of the iPod apps I downloaded.
  6. You can add notes to tasks and even locations, which would be handy if I had to travel for my job.

Anyway, I found myself getting so much out of Remember the Milk that I popped for a pro account so I could access the iPod Touch app for free. That’s the only downside — the mobile apps only come with the pro account.  But it’s a very reasonable $25 a year, so it’s not a bad deal.

What has been your experience with To-Do lists?  What solutions have you found?