Remembering why

I pause on the kitchen step, watering can in hand.  The sun is dazzling.  Nothing can be more beautiful than a spring day.

I take in a parcel for a neighbour and chat to her when she calls to collect it.

I speak to a client about the work her charity is doing – work that I’m helping to make possible.

I stop work at 3pm to walk up the road and collect the boy from school.  I’ll only be doing this for a few more short months.  I savour them.

I remember why.

I didn’t go freelance because I wanted to be an entrepreneur.  I didn’t start my own business to make waves, or to make millions.  I didn’t want to be a businesswoman; I wanted to be here.  In living and working at home the purpose, for me, is to live.  To notice and enjoy the everyday moments.

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How often do you stop?

Can you ever stop when you work from home?  When clients rely on you for your work and your family relies on you for food and clean underwear, can you really stop?

And if you did stop, what would you do?  Could you actually do nothing?  What does “stopping” look like?

I’ve been trying to stop.  It’s taken me a week to work out how.

Lessons learnt from a minor ailment:

Working from your bed isn’t the thing to do, despite what I tried to tell youSleeping in your bed is a much better idea.  It’s actually not possible to do decent work when you feel inhuman, and as well as potentially making yourself worse, you’re simply wasting time that you could be spending recovering.  And quite possibly making stupid mistakes that you’ll have to fix later.  (Of course I would never do this.  Ahem.)

If someone offers to help, say yes.  Whether it’s the school run, making dinner, doing the shopping – if someone else is able do it, and is volunteering to do it, say yes even if you think you could probably manage.  Don’t even think about saying to yourself, “but I should be able to cope”.  Says who?

If they don’t volunteer, ask.  They’re only not volunteering because they don’t realise you need the help, because you always manage.  Don’t be a martyr.

Giving yourself time off is hard.  That’s why you need to take more of it than you think.  I promised myself I’d take at least four days off to recover and spent two of them working the whole time because I just couldn’t switch off.  Now I’ve got that out of my system, though, I’m beginning to work out what “stopping” involves.  I just spent a whole day pottering: walking, writing, reading, trying to sleep (this one still needs practice) and a good helping of staring at the sky.  I saw a fox on my travels and did a lot of not thinking.

Perhaps you can’t do as much work as you think you can.  Not forever, anyway.  Or maybe just not now.  Not if you want to be well and to notice and enjoy the spring that’s just beginning.  Perhaps it’s time to stop, just for a while, until you work out how much work is enough work.

Comfort zone? What comfort zone?

  • The day begins with internet connectivity problems.  This is not the IT department’s problem.  There is no IT department – there is just me.

I end up having conversations I barely understand with people in different call centres who contradict one another.  Then it starts working again of its own accord, at least temporarily.

  • A client hasn’t paid on time.  This is not the Finance department’s problem.  There is no Finance department – there is just me.

I spend ages trying to word a polite but firm email which encourages action without sounding begging or threatening.

  • I’m not feeling motivated or something about a task is annoying me.  This is not something I can moan about over lunch or coffee with colleagues.  There are no colleagues – there is just me and whatever random leftovers I can cobble together into something resembling a meal.

I end up venting to the husband and the boy over dinner later on.  They are (well, one of them is) politely sympathetic.  The other continues to tell us in great detail about a computer game that neither of us has ever played, or wanted to play.

  • Someone points out a spelling mistake on the company website.  (Which has been there for years.  Oh the shame.)  This is not the Marketing department’s problem…

You get the idea.  I’m not complaining, mind.  I wouldn’t change my situation for the world.  (And I do happen to have a pseudo-IT-department in the shape of the husband, to whom I’m very grateful!)

My point is that sometimes I start to feel as if working from home in this way is a bit too comfortable, a bit too easy.  I do something I enjoy and feel is worthwhile, and I get to do it at home and be at the school gates for the boy every morning and every afternoon.  I start to feel that I should get out of my comfort zone and do things which challenge me a bit more.  Then I realise that I do – most days.  Because there’s only me, all of the jobs are mine, whether I’m naturally good at them or not.  This comfort zone can get pretty uncomfortable at times.

Of course, what I’m best of all at is knowing when I absolutely can’t – or won’t – do something.  Then I’m brilliant at either finding a reason why it doesn’t really need to be done, or finding someone else who’s better at it than me – and paying them.  Enter my accountant – who doesn’t chase late payments (I can do that, even if I don’t enjoy it), but who does sort out my accounts and tax returns (which would drive me round the bend).

Then there are the times when I’m asked, “do you do such-and-such?”, where ‘such-and-such’ is something which I’m sure I could do if I put my mind to, but have never actually done before… and I hear my own voice say, “yes, I can do that.”  Then there’s no-one except myself to blame for the huge learning curve I suddenly have to embark on.  That’s pretty uncomfortable, and very good for me.

It is enough

How easily we tell ourselves that we haven’t done enough, that we aren’t enough.  But stop and count it up, and you are enough.  Even if all you did today was get from one end of the day to the other, you are enough.

Take one of my recent days, for example:

A poorly boy was tended, nurtured and loved.  He was brought soothing drinks and cuddles, and tucked up tight at the end of the day.

A family was fed healthy meals.  (The ones who were able to eat!)

Writing obligations were kept, and new opportunities were followed up.

A week’s worth of laundry was washed, dried and put away.  (And the remainder piled up for the husband to iron. No need for us to carry all the burden ourselves, remember.)

Clients were responded to, meetings arranged and more obligations kept.

Body and soul were held together for another day.

It is enough. It is more than enough. Living and working: together they make a rounded whole.

Practice: do it

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing (Walt Disney)

The boy complains that they learn the same things over again at school. “We did multiplying and dividing last term!”

I tell him that practice makes perfect, and sometimes we have to learn a lesson many times before we actually put it into practice.

Then I realise that this pearl of Mummy-wisdom is one I should be taking to heart myself. I read books and think, “I knew that already”. But reading is not the same as doing, and remembering something when you read it is not the same as knowing.

I already know that focusing on the most important job first thing in the morning is the way to get things done. (So why is it already 2pm and I’m still not settling down to it and am complaining about being behind?)

I already know that early nights and relaxing evenings mean better sleep, and better sleep means better health. (So why do I stay up late?)

Bookshops, the internet, our friends and family – they are all full of advice on how-to-do-just-about-anything-you-can-think-of. But here’s a little secret:

 

You have to actually do it.

 

If I’m going to write two blog posts a week, I have to actually sit down and write.

If I’m going to get that new client, I have to actually make contact.

If I’m going to eat healthily, I have to make that choice every time I set foot in the kitchen.

 

I know this is not rocket science.  I know you know this already. But maybe, like me, you could do with a reminder to just do it.

By the way, it turns out that relaxing evenings (in my case, lavender baths with a book) really do help you sleep better. I finally tried it.

Simplify: how clients and children can be similar

There was once a boy who travelled from his sleepy East Anglian village to the great city of London and had many adventures*.  Fresh from the sight of Big Ben, the life sized blue whale in the Natural History Museum, Hyde Park, the Science Museum and a live magic show, he was asked what he enjoyed the most.

“The film,” he said.  Er, that would be the internationally-available superhero film which he could just as easily have seen in the cinema few miles from home.

It’s right that we give our children exciting experiences when we can.  But it’s also comforting to know that (like their parents), they are simple souls at heart and are generally happy with the small things in life.

I suspect the same goes for our clients in the world of work.  They don’t want fireworks and amazement every day of the week.  They don’t want spectacular promises.  They want stuff that works and is delivered on time, preferably with a nice smile (or the virtual equivalent).  And the things which impress them may not always be the things we expected to impress them!

I think what I’m trying to say is that simple is good.  We can sometimes over-complicate our business offering and try to do too many things, or things that are too big for us.  It’s often better to do a few things well (picking the right film, only seeing the blue whale and the dinosaurs and not trying to fit in the whole enormous museum, working with two clients at a time instead of ten) than to try and do everything.  We can’t be all things to all clients, but we can pick the film they want to see.  Metaphorically speaking!

*He also asked a lot of questions, and you can read about one of them here.