10 Ways To Be Productive When Working From Home

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Working From Home

Working from home in your pajamas is a dream of many. Who doesn't want to not go into an office to work or roll out of bed and be where you need to be for your workday?

But working from home has drawbacks that many people don't even consider. I've been working at home since the days of dial-up (cue the 1999 music) as the internet connection, it's been that long. And I've learned a lot of lessons along the way of how to be productive and how not to derail your day.

Here are my 10 tips for working at home and being productive:

  1. Set a schedule. It doesn't have to be a normal nine-to-five schedule but do set times when you are going to be available and work this way the lines don't get blurred of work time and personal time
  2. Chunk down your day in addition to having a schedule it's a good idea to block off chunks of time and work on specific items during that time.
  3. Don't forget to factor in your CEO time. Working on your business is important as working in your business but if you don't schedule the time you will put yourself or your business last.
  4. Create a to-do list of things that you need to get done each day and for the week. Set aside a planning day or time to make that happen so that you're not always putting out fires throughout the week. I like to do this Sunday evening when I'm sitting there catching up on a few of my favorite TV shows.
  5. Work when you are most productive. You've already set your schedule of how many hours you're going to work in a day but you need to determine what your most productive hours are. if you're a morning person, by all means, work in the morning but if you are more creative and productive in the evening it's okay to work then too.
  6. Minimize distractions and set limits on internet distractions. It's really easy to fall into the social media trap where you just go to spend 5 minutes and end up spending 50. Or maybe you're trying to do some research and get sidelined with shiny object syndrome.
  7. Schedule breaks and get up and move. Self-care and health breaks are just as necessary as working on client stuff all throughout the day.
  8. Choose a dedicated space. It doesn't have to be a formal office but you should have an area where you only do work this way at the end of the day you can walk away and leave your work there and it not interfere with other personal spaces at home.
  9. Find an accountability buddy or a virtual co-working environment. Having an accountability buddy will keep you on track with the tasks. Utilizing an online co-working space gives you that same type of a kind of ability by allowing you to focus on the task within a specific time period.
  10. Find whatever motivates you and use that to your advantage. I like to work with white noise so my favorite tool during the day is brain.fm. It allows me to have the productive white noise that I need to get more accomplished while having some background noise.

Everyone is different and not all of these tips will work for you, so find the ones that do work and build them into your day. For some people who are more extroverted co-working might be the thing for you. If you're introverted, coworking could be an even bigger distraction to your day.

Remember at the end of the day it's about staying sane and getting work accomplished. Working from home can be a lonely thing especially when you're used to being around people or in an environment where there's a lot of interaction.

productivity and working from home
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How To Keep Your Sanity When Working From Home

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Do you feel like you never leave your office? Your home office that is.

I've been working from home since 1999 when I was the first to telecommute for a mortgage title company. I thought this experience would be perfect for me as I started my home-based business several years later.

At first, it was going great because, like many business owners, I started as a side hustle to get my feet wet. But as time moved on and I was intent on growing a sustainable business the boundaries began to blur from my home space and where I worked on business.

While I had dedicated office space in all of my homes and even my RV, it didn't affect the hours that I worked or the spaces where I worked. And people thought because I worked from home I didn't work.

tips for working from your home office.

It was costing me my sanity, health (mental and physical) and money. I was wasting a lot of time and time is money.

In early 2012, I forced myself to write out procedures for my office and work environment and treated it like I would for any other process guidelines I've created. As I honed these rules and stuck with them, I've found that I have more balance between home and work life.

Set Working Hours

It's essential to set working hours for your day, so you have some rest and rejuvenation time. Generally speaking, my workday begins at 8:30 am and ends around 4:30 pm with a few nights of working hours from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm to accommodate different time zones.

But I don't work after 9:00 pm because that is the time that I need to start my evening routine, which includes reading non-business books or watching some Netflix. I also try not to work any weekends since we are usually in the RV and I want to enjoy my time with friends and camp family.

It's okay to split your day too. On the days that I have late office hours, I usually stop working around 3 pm knowing that I have a few more working hours left in the day. For our caregiving business owners, this might include knocking off a few hours to pick the kiddos up from school or taking mom to some doctors appointments.

Figure out what works for you and then set your schedule based on that. It might vary day today, but that's okay because it's your schedule and you need to make it work for you.

coworking space is a good get away place from the home office.

Get Out Into The World

I've found that working from home can be a lonely road if you never leave the space day after day. The beautiful thing is there are tons of spaces and places to go where you can still have a quiet workspace. Trust me; this is great for your mental health and productivity.

Cafes and coffee shops aren't the only places to work through. I've found most local libraries have meeting rooms or smaller spaces that you can use to do some work. You can also check out if there are any Chambers of Commerce in the area because they usually have an extra empty desk or meeting room.

My favorite place to go in my small town is the local college. There are lots of common areas that have tables and couches and quiet. Lots of quiet. So think outside the box when you're looking to get out.

Better yet – check out co-working spaces that are becoming popular in many areas. Most have a day or drop-in rates, so you can plan to go there a few days a month to work or collaborate with others who are one-person companies.

The whole idea of getting out of your home office is to combat the cabin fever you might feel but also to give yourself a reason to make yourself presentable. Before I started leaving the house a few times a week I would get up, and get started working and before I know it, it was 2 pm, and I hadn't showered let alone gotten out of my PJs.

Set Boundaries and Routines

When I first started my business, boundaries was the toughest thing I had to do. I was letting everyone else dictate my day and work style, and found that after a while, I was a little bitter and defeated. That's when I realized that I needed a robust set of dos and don'ts in my day.

I generally don't pick up the phone when it rings unless it's a scheduled call. Not that I don't want to talk to people, but I'm usually in a creative space and don't want to lose the mojo. So I changed the message on my office phone to reflect that. And I don't take calls unless they are on the schedule or it's from my family and friends.

And texts. They are reserved for real emergencies and are sparse at that. End of story.

Email is a whole other animal. I took a tip from a friend and only checked emails twice per day. Once late morning and once before I end my day. My clients can get to me on Asana, my project management application. By curtailing distractions, I can better plan my day and factor in any last-minute changes that come up with scheduled client work.

And my scheduling app is the only way you get on my calendar for an appointment. Whether you're a potential client, a new partnership, or a consulting client, if you don't schedule some time, then I'm not available. This helps everyone respect my time, including me. I've set different appointments for different needs, but in the end, this is how I plan my day.

But boundaries aren't limited to clients or appointments. They also include time spent on social media channels, purchases I make for my business, events I schedule for the month. I pick what's important to me and my well being and create a set of guidelines to live by.

If I'm at an event, I make sure that I set aside a little alone time to take in everything I've learned, reflect on the people I've met, and to allow myself some space to recharge. I consider myself an introverted extrovert, so I make the most of the room and the people but then I need some time to put myself and my mental well being first.

And remember I just talked about the 2 pm shower? I have a morning routine too, and that includes getting up, exercising, reading, showering to make myself presentable and eating breakfast before I even considering starting my workday.

set up routines and plans for your day.

Plan Your Week and Your Days

My weekly planning begins on Monday because I find that's what works for me, but I've found that having Sunday as a day of reflection helps me to stay on track. I also use both a paper and digital planning system.

Each Monday, I sit down with my Evo Planner, which factors in both business and personal goals I want to achieve for the week. I use my paper planner for a bird's eye view of my week and my Asana PM space for the finer details and tasks that need to get accomplished.

My Evo planner has a section for favorite moments and what I've learned so that I can always see what's working and what I can make better. The daily section pages allow me to journal which I find important to my daily routine and I can brain dump too.

During my morning planning, I'll also jump into my Asana space and see what tasks I can delegate along with prioritizing my daily tasks to eat my frogs. I find that by having a well-round plan to keep the focus on my day, I am more productive and keep my business growing.

Each day, at the end of the day, I revisit what I've accomplished and started the next day's plan. By treating each day as it's own instead of by client or business projects I've found that I get a better idea of where my distractions are and keep me from getting bogged down throughout my day.

Be Flexible When Working From Home

We started our businesses and worked from home so that we can have freedom in our day and lives. This freedom must allow you to be flexible when you need it to be. So that means if you want to take a day off, take the day off. Or if an emergency arises, like say a power outage, deal with it without stress and anxiety.

When you're a company of one small thing can throw you off, like a sick day. So remember to build in some flexibility time to your week or month so that you can take a few hours for a leisurely lunch with your best friend or spend an extra day exploring the new town that I'm passing through.

Flexibility also means changing up a routine or process to continue to improve it.

Working from home doesn't mean you have to be alone. And if you're struggling or feeling overwhelmed by making things work, start with one change or pick one item from above and make it yours.

I'd love to hear any tips you have to help you keep sane and focused as we navigate the laptop lifestyle. Do you force yourself to get out of the house weekly or walk away from your computer? Do you plan non-work or self-care items into your day? Let me know what works for you.

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Insider Tips To Help Your VA With Blog Posting

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Insider Tips To Help Your VA With Blog Posting.

It’s hard enough to build a thriving business on your own, BUT if you need to shave a few hours off of your blog creation and blog posting, then it’s time to expand your team.

The first move, most business owners make is in hiring a virtual assistant. But hiring one can be just as overwhelming as your to-do list.

Don’t believe me? Look in any of your Facebook groups, and you’ll see TONS OF questions about hiring a virtual assistant for your business.

The number one task, most business owners, hand off to their VA's is blog post management. Specifically, the tasks of uploading, formatting, and promoting blog posts.

Add to the mix; there are many different types of virtual assistants. Some do social media; some do project management while others just offer technical support. But to some degree, most VAs are tasked with handling your most valuable marketing tool – your blog.

How do you level the VA skills field when it comes to maximizing each blog posting?

Simple, with my free, easy to use Blog Post Planner.

To make YOUR relationship WITH YOUR VA fruitful you need to have a STREAMLINED process in place so that your work gets done TO your standards.

This is the reason WHY I created my Blog Post Planner. I KEPT SEEING my clients, AND THEIR VAS KILL IT USING ONE. They were hitting one piece of the blog creation but TOTALLY BLOW IT IN ANOTHER.

Blog Post Planner

The free blog post planner is more than just a planner. In it; I walk you through the process of blog post creation.

When you download your blog post planner, you will see that it contains the following sections: research, basic blog posting SEO, promotion, and visuals.

Each section is designed to make sure you or VA put the best blog post possible.

So, to help you get the most out of your free blog post planner, I've put together my top tips, gleaned from my personal experience working with clients in my business.

I've tested these tips with real businesses and clients that we support in the WordPress Maintenance Packages.

Download the free blog post planner and then hand it off to your VA for blog post success.

Creating The Blog Post

As a refresher let's review the three key components of blog posting.

The first step of creating any blog post is the outline. Sure there is the research, but you ALSO need to have the topic, keyword and general guidelines of what your article should or needs to contain.

With my clients, I found it was best to have another section that set the reader problem and the solution so that when they would write the article (or hand off to their blog writer), it was clear the purpose of the article.

And, NEXT, you need to break down the article to include headlines and sub-headlines. Many people do this for structure and readability of the article but it also provides GIVES YOU some SEO juice too.

FINALLY, Add to that your call to action. YOUR CALL TO ACTION IS A CORNERSTONE OF YOUR BLOG POST BECAUSE IT TELL YOUR AUDIENCE WHAT TO DO NEXT.

As you can see several things go into crafting a great blog post.

With the INSIDE YOUR BLOG POST planner, YOUR VA can either use the Blog Article section to craft an SEO friendly outline. Or AS A PRO TIP: you could give THE BLOG ARTICLE section to your virtual assistant AHEAD OF TIME for the research phase of the writing process.

Formatting, Blog Posting and Scheduling Your Article

Everyone thinks once you've completed writing your blog post, your job is done.

WRONG.

You still need to format your words for SEO and readability. I’ve seen lots of clients write the articles, and then they sit because they don’t have time to get them formatted and scheduled.

Most VAs don't understand how to do this properly. So, to help your VA format like a pro, I added the next section of the planner to hit on HOW TO format the post and add basic SEO to YOUR BLOG post.

Blog posting SEO is the section that we complete for several of our clients because of the optimization factor in the post. Then the client knows that thought is being put into the SEO part of the article.

We also use the article and optimization sections as our guide to the posting and scheduling process of our procedures. Handy for passing this task to our virtual assistant. She’ll know what headlines to use in the article and what to add to the SEO Yoast section of the post.

It’s like a step by step blueprint that allows you to tweak your process to your particular style without having to rethink the process every time.

Promotion of Your Blog Post

What good is a blog post without some promotion?

First, you need to make sure you have images for the different image sizes. Sure some standard sizes work with some of the networks, but I prefer to have the optimal size per network.

With one click you’ll have the sizes you need to create the proper image size for your promotion.

Next, you need to use some diversity in the words you use to promote your post. You don’t want to be only sharing the title and URL. We like to use CoSchedules recommendation for optimal posting by varying with a snippet, question, controversy, benefit, and so on.

And don’t forget your tweetable and hashtags that extend the social sharing of the post on individual networks.

The post promotion section, designed so that we could give the article to our social virtual assistant and she fills in the sections for a balanced promotion plan. Having options and variation provides different eyes to your post promotion since one statement may resonate with one of your potential clients and not the other.

Not sure where to start with planning your articles, blog or resources page? Download the Blog Post Planner to get started in creating a shareable process with your virtual assistant.

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Systems Automation While On Vacation

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automation while on vacation

I love to travel. I love to vacation even more. Many business owners never take a vacation because they are afraid they will miss something important. With systems automation of your business, you don't need to be one of those people.

Prevention Magazine indicates that people who take vacations are happier, healthier, feel younger, and reduce their risk of heart attack by up to fifty percent.

I’ve gone to a lot of remote places during my RV travels. Let me be the first to tell you that the wireless network is not everywhere. If there is a dead spot, I will find it. Once I was at a campground in Clarion County, which while not primitive by any means would not allow for cell reception without climbing a mountain. 

Luckily for me, I have some good systems automation in place, so my business is working for me.

Here are some tips I find helpful when planning to take a vacation from your business.

 Be Realistic

When you work for someone else, you are normally able to forget about work during your vacation. However, as a small business owner, disconnecting entirely is impossible. To have a stress free vacation, you need to be intentional about the amount of time you use for work. 

A good rule of thumb is to set aside an hour or two per day to spend responding to messages and checking on social media accounts. Don’t feel like you need to address every email in your inbox. Only respond to those that include a critical issue or task. If there is nothing urgent, close the email program and get back to relaxation.

Systems automation for your email account can help here. Setting up filters and auto-responders will do half the work for you. This way you can weed out what messages to address right away and what can wait.

Get Organized

When my daughter got married, we went to Las Vegas. The travel agent provided us with all the details and items we needed for the travel trip, and the event planner gave us the outline of tasks to do before our arrival. These things reminded me of tip two.

Start a list of things you absolutely must get done before you go. So that you are sure to get all the items done before you leave, you need to prioritize. Take care of the most important things, For example, write out and schedule your blog posts for the week of vacation and the week after. Doing this will allow you peace of mind before, during and after.

The beauty of WordPress is that you can draft and schedule content release. Use that as a base for system automation of your content marketing. Plan ahead and let your website do the work for you.

Build Your Team

The best thing we did in Vegas was getting the event planner. By engaging with her connections, we were able to make plans and enjoy things we would not have considered if we did not have the additional ideas and recommendations. An excellent reminder for tip three.

As you can see from the tips so far, systems automation is not just about technology but making things work like a well-oiled machine. Having a team or a partner of experts will allow you some clear mind space to enjoy your vacation. 

I have a general admin virtual assistant whom I can have to monitor my email and social media and send me a daily update of items that need to be addressed immediately. She also is a backup to the little tasks that could be addressed while I am sitting poolside. 

I have a project management system so I can also have her add and schedule all the items that need to be done. My system allows tasks to be assigned to any member of my team, so I only need to look in one place to make sure everyone is on schedule and if not send them a quick note to please follow up with the client.

Pick Your Go To Tools

When you spend time in varying places, you learn to rely on tools and apps that make life all that much easier. When thinking about the system automation processes you have also built think about tools you can use to make those tasks work for you.

One of my other favorites is canned responses in my Google Apps mail. If you have messages or responses that are the same time after time, you can create a canned response.  I use Acuity to schedule all my appointments and consultations so whenever someone asks to meet with me I have a standard response that includes the link to the calendar.

With a few clicks and a little personalization, I can send someone my availability so that they can find the most convenient time in their schedule to make the appointment. Better yet, while I am away, this is a task that I can hand off to my support team.

These are just a few of the tools I use in my everyday business.

Go Mobile

If you are a virtual business, you should consider mobilization. There are many quality SAAS or cloud programs that allow you to access information from a variety of devices. There is no reason that you cannot access your documents, update your website or even send a client an invoice.

These mobile or cloud programs are vital to systems automation to make everything seamless across all devices.

My all-time favorite mobile program is Evernote. The amount of information I can store in my notebooks is astounding. Couple that with Dropbox and I always have access to my files and notes when that client emergency arises.

The best part of these programs is that they have easy sharing capabilities. If you need to hand off an item while enjoying your downtime you only need to send your team member or backup person a link to the folder and let then have easy access to notes and files.

Because I embrace automation and technology, you are reading this while I am visiting a winery somewhere. Part of this mini trip is that after enjoying the day with friends tasting I can go back, build a fire and enjoy the rest of the evening with good food and great company while my business runs itself.

Still not sure how to prepare your business for time away or vacations? Let's chat and design a systems automation plan for you.

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More Payment Options with Stripe

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take payments with Stripe.

The world is ever-increasing in new technological breakthroughs. Everywhere a person looks, there's a new tablet or computer or phone or app cropping up somewhere. With so many options for technology to invest in, it's difficult to know what pieces are worth the wait. Fortunately, some of the work can be taken out of this with well-researched apps and companies.

Stripe is a business website that's essential to any laptop solopreneur. It pioneers technology that moves companies into the twenty-first century, saving countless time and money. The site gives any small business owner the tools to manage different business payments quickly and easily.

Stripe dashboard

Stripe provides a series of features that enable anyone to make payments, create an online marketplace, and create mobile apps for their website. It uses APIs to handle your company's needs, with the ability to store cards and process subscriptions as well as the capacity to design and organize a marketplace. Because of this, Stripe is ideal for business owners of all kinds. For anybody looking to expand their online offerings in any way or save time and money, Stripe offers several features that are good for you.

Stripe allows a business owner to pay its users directly by depositing funds directly into their bank accounts. It also allows a person to add team members to their company workspace, save and export accounting data, and organize different aspects of business financing. The website is designed to bring businesses from pen and paper to the internet, saving business owners an endless headache and hassle.

Also, Stripe offers a mobile app called Striped. The mobile app,  created for Android-based phones and is capable of giving all of the Stripe features in a compact and easy-to-use mobile format. Mobile capabilities are essential for any business owner on the go. Whether you frequently travel or your day is simply packed too tightly for extensive internet time, the Striped mobile app allows you to keep track of your Stripe account from anywhere.

Stripe is a great alternative for collecting credit card payments for those not quite ready for a larger merchant service. It gives your clients and buyers an alternative to using PayPal or another source of payment processing.

What are you using to collect payments from your people?

 

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Dropbox: The Pros and Cons of Cloud Storage

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pros & cons of Dropbox.

Having a laptop lifestyle means that you need to have your files and information with you where ever you go. The beauty of Dropbox is you can and will have all the items you put into your box ready with the click of a mouse.pros & cons of Dropbox

For many business owners, we work from our homes, the local cafe, in our cars between meeting and if you're like me on the open road while “vacationing”. The challenge with this business lifestyle is keeping you sane and having access to everything you need on all of your devices.

Dropbox As A Solution

Dropbox provides a solution to this problem by allowing users to store all of their documents in one easy to access location.

A file-sharing application that allows users to upload documents to a cloud environment. The documents are then centrally stored on their servers making them easy to access from virtually anywhere including personal computers and smartphones.

Here are some key features of the application:

Mobility
The primary benefit of Dropbox is that it makes files easily portable without the use of any external devices. This allows you to keep all of your important documents in one easy to find location. In addition to office and personal computers, Dropbox can be accessed using iPhone, iPad, Blackberry or Android devices.

The sync feature allows you to make sure you have all the up-to-date versions on any of your devices so that you can work offline at times when wifi isn't available or sporadic.

There is also the added benefit of transferring pictures and videos to an account for sharing. Users can email an invitation to specified users, inviting them to view the video or pictures.

Security
The Dropbox cloud uses encryption security so that users can rest assured their files are safe and secure. Data transferred using the service are protected by SSL encryption while stored files are guarded by AES-256 protection. The application allows only authorized individuals to view designated files. Users can specify which files are for public viewing and which are to remain private.

Customer Support
One minor drawback of using this application is that customer support can only be contacted via email. With a click of the “Help” or “contact us” buttons, you can submit an email request for help or ask a question. Not to fear, most general questions can likely be answered by their “frequently asked questions” section.

Recap

Overall, Dropbox provides a fast, efficient way to store and share files from nearly any location. Main benefits include:

  • Reliability: Your files are is constantly available on stationary computers or mobile devices.
  • Ease of use: The file-sharing and group file-sharing features are by far easier to use than any other file sharing application to date.
  • Digital Downloads: You can use your account for your giveaway items so that you always have the latest version without having to change or upload files to your server.
  • Synchronization: Dropbox allows you to effortlessly synchronize your files once they have been uploaded to your account.
  • History: The unique “History” feature allows users to access previous versions of their files.

Cons of using the application include:

  • File Location: At times, the lack of specific tabs can make it difficult to locate older versions of files or deleted copies.
  • The service is free for the first 2GB of storage, and you can earn extra space by encouraging others to sign up. After that, you need to purchase space starting at $10 a month.
  • Collaboration: You can add notes and such to a document but you cannot edit in real time.

In conclusion, Dropbox is by far one of the best file sharing apps to date. Though it doesn't solve every problem of the mobile worker it does make life a little easier.

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