A taste of things to come

It’s 8:45 am.  I’m at my desk, fresh cup of tea to hand and fingers at the ready.  But I’m 45 minutes too early.

The boy had to be at school early this morning, so our morning routine was brought forward by 45 minutes and that gave me this gift of extra working time.  But it’s also a glimpse into the future.  Come September, the boy will be on a bus at 8am without me even needing to get dressed, let alone leave the house.

And so things will change again.  A working day of 8am to 4pm starts to line up with the ‘normal’ routine of the outside world.  l don’t want to sleepwalk into this change and, without thinking about it, find myself working (almost) nine to five.  (As a wise woman once sang, “What a way to make a living!“)

I came into this live and work at home life so that I could build work around life instead of the other way round, so I could be present for my family and have time for myself.  Until now, my work time has been boundaried by someone else’s needs (nap time was the only work time for a good while) and by the outside world (school hours, clubs and activities).  That’s not going to end completely, but slowly the potential work time is increasing and I need to make some conscious decisions about how much work I can take on and still be true to myself.

I chose this live and work at home life.  I choose it again now.  I choose to mix work and home, work and play, responsibilities and freedom.  The challenge is in finding a new way to make it work, for everyone.

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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.

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.

The joy of chopping an onion

I may be chopping an onion but these are tears of happiness.  Everything is back to normal.

A few days working away from home could seem quite attractive sometimes: no meals to cook; no cleaning to do; the ability to focus on the job at hand without feeling torn in several different directions; the possibility of whole conversations without anyone mentioning computer games or Greek myths or superheroes.

And it’s true that the return home can be a bit shaky.  Aside from the happiness of seeing the family again, it’s a shock to have to deal with the unpacking, the mountain of laundry I seem to have brought home with me (I’m sure I didn’t wear that many clothes), the meal that everyone is somehow expecting me to produce for dinner, the two school trips requiring packed lunches that we all seem to have forgotten about, and whatever this week’s boyish obsession happens to be.

But it’s the routine and the regularity and the sheer normality of home that makes it such a special place to be.  Once the bags are put away and everything’s settled down, there is something very right about standing in the kitchen, in my usual spot, watching the knife in my hand slice through the shiny skin of a red onion.  I’m home.  This is where I should be.

Top tips for finding motivation

It’s the first thing a lot of people say when they find out you run a business from home.  “Oh, I couldn’t do that.  I wouldn’t have the motivation.”

I find remembering that if I don’t work, I won’t get paid is pretty motivating.

For the days when that doesn’t work, I’ve created a new page of Motivation tips to help us all get the ball rolling again when it’s stuck in the gutter.  Take a look, and if they help, or if you’d like to add your own motivational secret, please do leave a comment on this page or on the Motivation tips page.

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.

The most important job

Yesterday I said something to the boy that I shouldn’t have said and didn’t mean.

What it was doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I said it because I was distracted from my most important job – Being Mum – and I messed up.

Life is full of good things at the moment: interesting work; exciting writing; fascinating learning (about coaching: I’ll tell you about it some time); fun exercise; time with friends; even rollerskating!

I had been congratulating myself on doing it all, but the truth is that something always gives.

It’s not just about how you spend your time, but where you put your mental, physical and emotional energy.  Of course I need to put energy into my career, my hopes and dreams, my health and fitness – but I also need to save some (a lot) for conscious parenting.  The boy needs attention – and he generally gets plenty of that – but he also needs guidance and discipline, and those weighty things have to be thought through and followed through by us, his parents.  Plus, there must be energy left over for fun and silliness!

Going through life is like riding a bike: a constant balancing act.  Sometimes you lean one way, sometimes another.  You’ve got to keep pedalling, and you’re constantly making adjustments to the handlebars, the gears, and looking out for obstacles in the road.  Sometimes you wobble or fall, but you have to get back in the saddle.  And you need to remember where you’re going – and why.

This Live and Work at Home life is for me – but it’s also for my family.  Being Mum is my most important job.  What’s yours?