Monday, April 28, 2014

Working From Home is Hard Work: 8 Tips to Help You Be More Productive

What would you say you're trying to do here?

I've spent the better part of the past 5 years working from home as a freelance writer, editor, blogger and online content creator. I'm a self-motivated, no-nonsense, disciplined individual, and you would think that I'd be bustin' the productivity. Uh, not so much. At least, not always. 

In my experience, working from home is, well, hard work. I've spent countless hours unmotivated and distracted while cultivating the mindset of, “I’ll do that tomorrow.” It’s hard to stay focused and on track. But here are 8 secrets that I use to boost my productivity.

Get out of the house. Not every day, but maybe once or twice a week. You will be amazed at how a change of scenery can boost your productivity. From cranking out projects to brainstorming inspiration, you have fewer distractions (TV, snacks, laundry, household tasks), and a new perspective. Sometimes that's all it takes for me to get unstuck. Head to the local library, coffee shop, park, museum, wherever. In fact, I outlined this blog at the library and then shifted to Caribou Coffee for a Ho Ho Mint coffee and a hunk of warm monkey bread.

Go offline. When you leave the house, leave the devices (exception: cell phone). Bring paper, pen and your brain. Go old school. Some of my best ideas come from scritching and scratching around on a legal pad. Crossing out thoughts, drawing lines from one idea to another, cramming words in the margins. Trust me. It will get your juices flowing. Then, you can talk it all back to your home office and tap, tap, tap it out. Ka-Boom!

Set some office hours and respect them. This is where it gets tough. Because I’m home during the day, the underlying expectation is that I will do the laundry, cook some food, walk the dog, clean a toilet or two. Define your office hours, and stick to them. My hours tend to be traditional office hours because that's what works with my schedule. Find a block of time that works for you. 

Put your phone out of sight and out of mind. If you’re like me (and the rest of the smartphone world), every time your device rings, dings or sings, you jump. And if you’re like me, most of the time that e-mail or text message is scarily insignificant. Schedule time to check e-mail (every hour or so works for me), but remove the phone and turn it off if necessary. If it’s sitting in view, it’s too much of a distraction. It’s too easy to claim you need a mental break and before you know it, you’ve wasted an hour checking Facebook, rescuing pets, crushing candy or whooping up on a friend with a word.

Speaking of mental breaks, take one. After your butt’s been planted in a chair for an hour or two, give yourself a quick break. We’re talking 10-15 minutes. Walk the dog, do some yoga stretches (but not Camel, never ever do Camel), check Facebook, switch out some laundry. Then get back to it. You will feel mentally and physically refreshed and ready to roll.

Schedule a lunch break. I’m guilty of snacking through the day. I use it as a distraction – "Oh, look! A bag of pretzels. Those would go good with a dab of mustard. And now I’m thirsty." You get the picture. Any reason to get out of my chair when I should be working. At lunchtime, I’m not hungry, but by dinner I’m starving. Everything gets out of whack. I try to make myself take a 30 minute lunch around the same time each day. A real lunch. Sandwich, soup, leftovers. I read a book or check in on social media. When I get back to it, I’m refreshed.

Take a shower and get dressed in real clothes every day. Not a business suit or high heels, but not pajamas. 

Make yourself comfortable. By that I mean your environment. Too cold? Put on a sweater or turn up the heat a notch. Too hot? Open a window, turn down the AC. Go potty the instant you realize you  need to go potty. Taking care of those basic needs goes a long way toward productivity.

These are some tips and tricks that work for me. What works for you? 

Thanks for reading! Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

City Imagineerium - Getting Kids Interested in Math & Science

On Easter weekend, Kansas City's LEARN Math & Science Club hosted its Second Annual City Imagineerium event. After seeing a pic of my peeps' Leprechaun Trap design, one of my Facebook friends thought the event would be right up their alley and sent me the registration link. Boy, was she right! It was the perfect event for their creative big brains. 

For just $10 per child (no fee for parents!), the girls spent the morning building whatever they wanted from a humongous collection of donated and recyclable items. When we arrived, each child received a building permit and a plot of land. They went to town on their towers and had a blast. If you get the chance to attend next year, I highly recommend it!

City Imagineerium
City Imagineerium

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing  ... Keep It Real!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Deviled Eggs-periment

My Ideal Reality
Happy Easter! We spent a rare Easter at home this year. Just the four of us. In preparation, the girls and I colored eggs and baked and decorated sugar cookies. Yes, The Meltdown Bakery of Love was open for business! And yes, I had a meltdown. But let's move on.

On Easter Sunday, I serenaded the family with my favorite hymn, "Up From the Grave He Arose," the girls dug through their Easter baskets and we hosted a egg hunt just for Ruth and Audrey. Instead on filling all the plastic eggs with candy, I stuffed some homemade coupons in a few of them. The girls loved them! In fact, Ruth said, "These coupons are better than the candy!" Score one for mama! The coupons were simple and included treats such as, "Enjoy 30 minutes of free computer time during the week," "Have dinner out with just mom" and "Let's go get ice cream!"

I kept the Easter dinner menu low-key, with the exception of the deviled eggs. I found a recipe for Hatching Deviled Egg Chicks, and decided to try it. The image above is my attempt. Go ahead. Compare it to the pic in the article. I'll wait ...

So, as you can see, mine aren't perfect. I didn't have peppercorns, so I used raisins which resulted in my chicks having rather bulbous, uneven peepers. More true to life, I think. And, I didn't have tweezers handy that I felt comfortable using with food, so I tried to hand-place the itty-bitty carrot feet. I recommend tweezers. Or, put the feet in place before placing the eggs, and the just set the egg on top. And, if you have a horizontal serving dish, use that. Trying to put the itty-bitty parts on the chicks when they are crowded on the plate while avoiding sticking your arm into egg innards or knocking over an egg is tough. Overall, though, I think mine turned out pretty well for my first try.

How about you? Any good (or not so good) Easter stories?

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing  ... Keep It Real.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Trick & Treat: Cookie Dough Hummus

I found this crazy easy kid-friendly hummus recipe in the April 2014 issue of Family Fun magazine. It looks just like chocolate chip cookie dough, and the taste is pretty close, too. One of my peeps loves it, and actually requests it for both her lunch box and her afternoon snack. The other peep is coming around. (OK, that's not exactly true. She's progressed from "This is gross" to cherry picking the chocolate chips. I'll take what I can get.)

In a food processor, blend: 

  • 1-1/2 cups chickpeas
  • 6 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter (the recipe suggested natural, unsweetened, but choosy moms choose Jiff, so that's what I used)
  • 3 tablespoons oats
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda

Once it's blended, fold in 1/3 cup chocolate chips. 

Serve with fresh fruit!

*Personal note
I blend mine for quite awhile, and it still has a slightly gritty texture from the chickpeas. But the chocolate chips and fruit make it seem less so. Also, I think 1/4 cup peanut butter adds a bit too much pb flavor, so I'm going to cut it back slightly next time. (And maybe add a few more chocolate chips.)

And no, I haven't told the peeps they are eating beans. 

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing  ... Keep It Real. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Coffeehouse Conversation: You Look Normal

Sometimes I'll grab my laptop and venture out of  my house to do some writing. The occasional change of scenery boosts brainstorming and productivity. One recent Friday morning, I went to a local coffeehouse, ordered some sort of mocha something or other and perched myself on one of the stools at a high table. 

As I settled in, a man in his late 50s/early 60s began chatting me up. He sported a black leather cap that was pulled down over his eyes, and for some reason he reminded me of Andy Capp. He sat down at the six-seater table next to me and explained he was saving the table for a local mom’s group that apparently meets there each Friday morning.

"Are you with that group?" he asked.

"No," I replied.

"I didn't think so. You look normal."

I sort of grinned, all the while wondering what in the world that meant. I'll admit it. I got a little thrill from being considered as someone other than a mom. I know, shame on me. I love being a mom (Real Reality), but every once in awhile it's kind of exciting to be regarded in a different light (Ideal Reality). It's like having a secret identity that links me back to my time before I had kids.

Apparently, Andy Capp was a coffeehouse regular because he then showed me how to adjust the blinds to reduce the glare on  my screen, pointing out which blinds worked and which ones were broken. He also let me know that I could move my table a bit so I could lean against the wall if I wanted to, and then let me know the optimal places to sit to work throughout the coffeehouse.

Yep, I love venturing out from time to time. It reminds me how much I enjoy people watching and observing the world.

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, April 7, 2014

No, Virginia, Not Everyone Deserves a Trophy


There's no way to avoid starting this post with a "When I was a kid ..." story, so here goes:

When I was a kid, people received awards/trophies/recognition/candy/fill in the blank because they EARNED them. Typically, they accomplished their feats through hard work, effort and determination. Sometimes luck played a factor. If you sucked, you got nothing. If you came in second, nice try. Sure, there were hurt feelings, but you got over it, moved on and  - hopefully - tried harder the next time. Failure was a part of life. I'm a kick-ass individual because of it.

Today, we reward kids for every stinkin' little thing they do. It drives me up the nut wall. When did simple praise and verbal recognition become not good enough? When did we decide that kids need tangible rewards just for doing the right thing or to avoid hurt feelings? When did society decide that occasional failure was a bad thing? Trying to console a distraught, angry or disappointed child is tough. It's heartbreaking. Watching your child fail is no picnic. But, it's necessary.

The other night my daughter left her gymnastics lesson in tears - again.  At just 7 years old, my sweet girl wants to be the best at everything she does. And like her mama, she thinks she should be perfect at everything she tries the very first time. I hugged her, consoled her and reminded her once again that it takes time and practice to get good at something. She can't comprehend that some of the girls have been taking gymnastics much longer than she has and that's why their skills are stronger.She truly works hard during the 1-1/2 hour lesson, and it's a serious practice session. I get worn out just watching them.

As she sat on my lap sobbing, she said, "I just want to be rewarded for all of my hard work. I work really hard and I get nothing."

That caught my attention. "What kind of a reward do you think you should get?" I prodded.

 "A piece of candy."

Nice. That's when I realized that we were headed down a life path that I don't want to take with my children.

And while I could blame this pervading mentality 100% on society, that wouldn't be fair. I'm guilty of giving tangible rewards when perhaps a hug and a "Job well done" would have sufficed. After this latest meltdown and my sweet girl's request for unwarranted recognition, I find myself more tuned in to how I handle similar situations and more aware of how I hand out praise and when.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks for reading! Wherever you are, whatever you're doing  ... Keep it Real.