• School
    Productivity Tips For Work At Home Moms

    Busy September with Kids Back to School? Time to Outsource!

    September generally means back to school. Whether you’re homeschooling or your kids go off to school during the day, those first few weeks can be stressful.

    Movies and magazines might have you believing that the first week back to school is great for parents who need to get stuff done during the day. Who are they kidding? It’s a week filled with paperwork signing, sports physicals, applications, shopping for additional supplies like extra flash drives and fancy calculators for geometry and searching the city for the last pad of graph paper, not to mention the registration for activities, clubs, sports, picking up band instruments and football equipment. And if you’re homeschooling then you have new curriculum to plan out, worksheets to print off, supplies to get, paperwork with the state, and a bunch more to-dos on your list. By Friday you’re wishing it was summer again and not just the weekend.

    It’s no surprise to me that September is when a lot of the outsourcing happens in online businesses. I’ve been doing freelance work online for 10 years now and September through mid-October is almost always my busiest time of the year for me. Not only is it back to school time, but it’s also when people are organizing projects and marketing efforts to be done before the big holidays at the end of the year. Huge end of year goal pushing is happening in this quarter of the year too.

    On one side of the coin, if you’re a freelancer this can be a great time to pick up some extra work or take on new clients. Of course that means you are going to be extra busy too. On the other side of the coin, you might be looking to outsource a bit of your own workload. So let me tell you a virtual assistant secret. Even virtual assistants have virtual assistants – we know more heads are better than one and having a team of people working together will get the job done. We network, we team up, we get things done so we finish in time to attend back to school night. It’s pretty darn awesome.

    So what can you outsource this month to save yourself some time during this busy back to school month?

    My suggestion is to think about the things that are not your favorite things to do, the things that take you the longest, the things that you will procrastinate on and put off because you just don’t like doing them. Those are the things to outsource.

    Struggling with customer service? That’s an easy enough thing to outsource. Let your VA put out the email fires and monitor your customer help desk.

    Need marketing materials put together but don’t want to spend days fiddling with fonts and graphics? A VA can knock that out of the park in a few hours.

    Need some new articles or blog posts but don’t have time to sit down and write? A freelance writer or virtual assistant can write those up no problem.

    There are hundreds of things that you can outsource. The best feeling is when you find someone who has a strength in the little things that make your day feel long. Then you’re both done with work early, your project is a success, everyone gets paid and the to-do list is checked off.

    If you have questions about outsourcing or working with virtual assistants – drop a note in the comments section and let’s talk about it.

  • Productive
    Productivity Tips For Work At Home Moms

    Avoid These 3 Morning Time Suckers to Kick Off a Productive Day

    Morning is viewed as a fresh start to the day and a chance to start anew. So why is it that we get sucked into our most distracting time wasters first thing in the morning? It’s crazy.

    Facebook – Just don’t open it in the morning. Skip it, save it for later, outsource it, whatever you need to do to avoid opening the bottomless pit in the morning. Twitter, Pinterest and other social media is also guilty of time sucking, but Facebook seems to be the one with the power to make you disappear for three hours in the blink of an eye. I’m starting to think that Facebook has some voodoo spell on it that pulls you into it’s time warp, like the island on Lost.

    Email Inbox – Not quite as much of a time warp as Facebook, checking your email usually starts out as a productive task with good intentions and quickly turns into doing a whole lot of nothing. Do you really need two hours to go through all that email? Probably not. I find setting a time limit on this really helps. I’ll spend maybe 15 minutes on my email in the morning, and then I won’t check it again until after 2:30 in the afternoon. Closing that Gmail tab during the day has proved to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. Email rarely needs an immediate response from you, so close it up and go get stuff done.

    Watching the News – (or Charmed, or Angel, or whatever else is on in the morning…) You turn on the TV for background noise in the morning and you turn on the coffee pot. Walking back to your desk from getting a nice hot cup of coffee and something catches your attention and you sit down “for just a minute” and the next thing you know it’s nearly lunch time. Seriously, watching a television program of any kind in the morning is almost as bad as visiting Facebook, the time just disappears away from you.

    Okay, so that you’ve successfully avoided these three obstacles, get to work and be productive. I dare you to not open your email until after 5:00 PM today (no peeking on your phone either.) I bet you’ll get at least three things done off your to-do list if you can handle the separation anxiety from your inbox 😉

  • Quest
    Productivity Tips For Work At Home Moms

    My Quest for Inbox Zero

    I always see people posting about how they are down to “Inbox Zero” and I get a little jealous. My inbox usually runs between 100 and 200 messages, depending upon how much I have worked in a given week, whether I am in the middle of a lot of promotions, and the shopping season. The closest I ever got before now was around 70 (specifically it was 69, but I sound like a perv for remembering that).

    In my forever quest for Inbox Zero, I have come to realize that it may not be 1) practical, or 2) even desirable given the way that I organize my email. I’m sure that we all do it differently. Some of us use a lot of labels/folders; some very few. Some of us are email packrats; others delete anything over 24 hours old. Some of us use a lot of rules and filters to separate the email; others send everything straight to the inbox.

    My technique has always been to use my labels/folders as long-term storage and my inbox as short-term storage. If something comes in that needs to be done, I keep it in the inbox. If I set it up as a task instead, I could move it to my tasks and delete it from my inbox. Boom! One email closer to Inbox Zero. But that’s not how I do it.

    Right now I am down to 41 messages with a goal of Inbox Zero by the end of the day Friday. That’s literally my one work goal for the week. Do the other crap that needs done because it is important but focus on the inbox. It’s a great week to do it because I’ve already done all of the end of month/start of month/start of quarter stuff. A lot of people are out of office for the July 4th holiday. And it’s a pretty easy week as far as kid stuff goes.

    Can I do it? I hope so. But even if I don’t, I am feeling pretty good about the progress I have made. Nothing is hiding in the inbox anymore that risks me missing an opportunity because I didn’t see it. Nothing expires this week that I have to remember to jump on quickly. It’s just a lot of work that eventually needs seen to or discarded based on priority.

  • Vacation
    Productivity Tips For Work At Home Moms

    4 Vacation Tips for Mompreneurs

    As a business owner, I know the feeling of being constantly swamped with work. Running a business isn’t easy, whether you’re in the early stages of a developing a new company or celebrating your 10 year anniversary.

    Reaching a point where you can reward yourself with a vacation is a great treat in itself and I’m about to do just that, when I leave this weekend for a 2-week wine-tasting vacation through Italy and France.

    But, since work as a business owner never ends, in order to create this dream vacation for myself, I’ll be putting in some extra work before I leave.

    A big part of this preparation is readying my businesses to function without me, even for just a short period of time.

    Here are four tips that I recommend that have helped me successfully plan and enjoy a vacation without hurting my businesses:

    Get Your Staff Ready

    No employee is going to do well when his or her supervisor up-and-leaves without any notice or preparation. You’ll need these workers to take on some of your duties and know how to respond to tasks and needs without your authority. For their sake and the sake of your business, you need to take steps to prepare your employees.

    Making these preparations can be a lot of work, especially when you leave your business for the first time. Employees and contractors need to be trained on where to get the answers to everything they need. They need to know how to handle various tasks that you normally do, and this requires establishing training time. In a sales environment, you might want to hand off customer interactions responsibilities to some of your workers and observe them for a period of time before you leave — this will give you reassurance of their performance even as you help them polish their own skills.

    Ultimately, you’ll probably need at least a week to get things ready, but consider your unique circumstances and adjust accordingly. You might need several weeks or even a month to get everything together.

    Travel in the Slow Season

    Most businesses see peaks and valleys in terms of how much work they get throughout the year. Sometimes this changes on a weekly basis, with weekdays or weekends seeing a decline in sales. Other times it’s a particular part of the calendar year that tends to be slower than the rest. Whatever the case for your particular business, try to plan your vacation around these periods to keep yourself at work when you’ll be needed most.

    Maintain a Line of Communication

    Most business owners would love to cut the cord and be completely disconnected from their businesses while they’re on vacation. But that’s not always practical, and the isolation could actually make it tougher to enjoy your escape from real life. Despite your desires, it’s smart to keep a line of communication open between you and your business. Whether this is email or phone is up to you, but it reduces the anxiety of having to cover every last detail while making you available for any urgent or emergency needs.

    In some cases, simply knowing that everything is running well will be reassurance enough to let you get back outside and work on that tan.

    Create a Back-to-Work Plan

    If there’s a downside to going on vacation, it’s usually waiting for you when you return to work. Business owners typically return after a period away to find themselves swamped with work and overwhelmed. It’s hard to erase those obligations, but you can create a system to better address those needs.

    For starters, set aside time upon your return to attend to the work that has piled up. Keep your schedule free of obligations on that first day as you catch up with your business. Meet with employees to discuss operations while you were gone and get a sense of your duties in the coming days. Once you’ve re-oriented yourself in your environment, you can move ahead with scheduling meetings and getting back in the swing of things.

    By taking the proper precautionary steps, you should be able to enjoy a stress-free vacation while your business floats on without springing any leaks. It’s not easy for hands-on owners, but even a short getaway will be rejuvenating for you and good for the business.

  • possible
    Productivity Tips For Work At Home Moms

    Maintaining Focus When It Seems Impossible

    The last couple of weeks have been a blur to me. One of my daughters finished elementary school. Another finished intermediate school. Every day there was some kind of recognition ceremony or Field Day or talent show. It was my birthday. Then the Indy 500. Then Memorial Day. We had company in from out of town. I didn’t know what end was up but was expected to be in multiple places at once. Trying to work seemed impossible!

    This week should be better, right? Quite the opposite. The kids are home and we are trying to establish a new routine. I am behind on work from the last 2 weeks. And I am frantically trying to prepare to go away on vacation for the next 2 weeks (including a week without Internet access).

    Part of me just wants to panic and curl up on the couch with a book and ignore everything. But then there is the other part of me that likes to afford a room over my head and food. That part of me understands that I need to get focused and get everything done. How to do it? Here’s what has worked for me in the past and will hopefully work again!

    Make a list. Or lists. I have a Packing List, a Family To-Do List, and a Business To-Do List. I am constantly adding and subtracting from them as the days go by. It’s the only way that I am going to ensure that something doesn’t get left out.
    Block out chunks of time for certain types of tasks. I am a multi-tasker by nature, but sometimes it is more efficient to group work together to get it done. For example, I’ll play 3 hours worth of errands and only leave the house once in a day. Or I’ll shift focus from work to packing for 2 hours and completely block out email to keep from getting distracted. Then when it is time to work, I’ll shut my office door and pretend all that other family stuff doesn’t even exist.
    Let other people do things that you don’t absolutely have to do. Delegate things out so that you can keep focused on the most important tasks that others CANNOT do for you.
    Get enough rest. I know you just want to keep working as late as you can when the house finally gets quiet. However, if you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t be able to focus tomorrow. It can become a vicious cycle.
    Turn off. Lastly, and most importantly, turn off the distractions. In an ideal day we get to keep our TweetDeck open and listen to the radio and answer the phone and still get all of our work done. But when other distractions like kids and company and house work are already getting in the way, you need to cut out as much of the other “noise” as possible.

  • Inspiration
    Productivity Tips For Work At Home Moms

    4 Tips for Writing a Blog Post When You’re Out of Inspiration

    Some days the words flow like a river. Other days they’re stuck behind a dam. But if you’re running a blog, you don’t have the luxury of waiting until inspiration strikes. A successful blog depends on consistent, original content that keeps its audience engaged. That means even rainy days need to be answered with some sort of blog post.

    But, bloggers are also keenly aware of the importance of quality in their content. Even one bad post can cause readers to reconsider whether they want to devote their time to your regular blog postings. A lack of inspiration isn’t an excuse to publish a post that provides nothing of value to readers. So how do you overcome this paradox?

    For beginning and amateur bloggers, this is a serious challenge. But seasoned bloggers and content managers all have their tricks for maintaining quality content even over stretches when the passion is reeling, whether from exhaustion, stress or a dry well of creativity. When you reach these obstacles, there are at least four things you can do to press on in a meaningful way.

    1.Compile Q&As

    If you have a steady stream of readers, you have a great blog post to fill gaps. Encourage readers to send you questions and let them build up until you’re ready to publish an entire post dedicated to responding to those questions. I take a similar approach on AskMissyWard.com, where questions related to affiliate marketing can be submitted for future blog posts.

    With the questions submitted by readers, your format and content are essentially chosen for you. All you have to do is fill in the blanks.

    2.Offer commentary on recent industry news

    What’s the latest buzz in your industry? What about new innovations, companies, opportunities, etc.? Just by keeping up with the news that’s relevant to the blog you’re curating, you should be able to cobble together some quick paragraphs that brief your readers on industry news while offering a space to editorialize. Once again, the industry’s recent news creates the format and directs the conversation for you.

    3.Create a post covering tools and resources to solve a specific problem

    If you want to flex your expertise without draining your creative drive, focus on a single problem or challenge within your industry and provide readers with a game plan for overcoming that challenge. Identify tools and resources both online and offline, as well as any professional guidance you can offer. As people flock to search engines in search of answers to their current problems, you could earn a lot of traffic over the coming months and years.

    4.Curate a weekly roundup

    Whether you offer commentary on industry news or not, roundup blog posts are both easy to write and valuable to readers. By keeping a pulse on the industry, you can put together a weekly post that condenses the biggest news and articles from across the industry into a single post on your blog. This helps solidify your status as a viable news source while keeping your blog active and fresh.

    Running an effective, useful blog isn’t always the easiest job, but it’s rewarding when you can continue to deliver valuable content to your readers. Use these tips to keep things fresh, even when you’re short on ideas.

    Do you have any other tips for creating content when you’ve hit a brick wall?

  • books
    Productivity Tips For Work At Home Moms

    Juggling the Holidays While Working From Home

    Yesterday I was scheduling appointments for November and was suddenly reminded of the nearly three weeks in November and December that there is no school.

    No school means my boys are home. All day. And although I cherish the moments we have together since I’m on the road a lot, it can really put a dent in my working schedule. (Not to mention the days when no work will get done because of holiday parties!)

    This year I am determined to not let it make me crazy. I’m going to do some preparation to make sure that I have a decent amount of time to do my work without going bonkerz or missing deadlines, and I also plan to keep my expectations reasonable.

    Here’s what’s on my Got-To-Do-First-List that helps me organize my Really-Have-To-Do-List:

    1. Plan playdates NOW.

    I know, all of the holiday breaks are still weeks away, but guess what? Everyone is busy. Book your playdates early! I know when my kids have a playdate I can work in my office while they have fun. Sure, it’s not a time where I can give full attention to highly detailed work, but it’s a great time to catch up on email or your RSS subscriptions while staying near the playing kids.

    2. Change Your Working Schedule.

    Some of us are early birds, and some of us work late into the night, and some of us prefer working typical business hours. The key to surviving the kids being home for long stretches is to be flexible with your schedule. You might have to get up before they do, or work after they’ve gone to bed. You might have to play with them for an hour or two, and then pop in a movie so you can work a bit. Whatever you do, flexibility is the key.

    3. Say No – or at least say LESS.

    It can be mighty tempting to accept every invitation, or agree to volunteer for each event, but think it through. How much work time are you willing to give to these events? Most of us that work from home lose income if we don’t work, so while you might want to bake your famous pies for the school bake sale, how much income are you willing to sacrifice?

    Trust me, that neighborhood potluck will survive if you bring bakery cookies instead of homemade. Promise.

    4. Delegate.

    If your partner is able to take some of the kid wrangling off your hands, go for it – particularly if that partner has paid vacation time (most of us work at home moms do not have paid time off, alas!). Otherwise, make other accommodations. Maybe let the kids do some of the holiday decorating.

    If you have a big project, it might be worth hiring a housecleaner for the holiday season so you can give that work over to someone else. Order groceries delivered instead of going to the store. There’s plenty of stuff that doesn’t have to be done by YOU.

    5. Have reasonable expectations, and let some stuff go.

    The thing about the holidays is they are FUN. It’s fun to shop, to see family, and to enjoy traditions. Postpone projects that don’t need to be finished right away if you can. Be sure to keep your workload reasonable for the time of year – you’ll likely find that your clients are doing the same.

    If your work is seasonal and you can’t postpone, be sure to schedule post-holiday time off. And when it comes to your schedule, make sure you include time for both yourself AND your family.

    After all, this is the most wonderful time of the year, right?

  • Products
    Productivity Tips For Work At Home Moms

    Must-Have Products, Aids, and Resources for WAHMs of Special Needs Kids

    If you are a work at home mom of a special needs kid, you have been charged with a special task. You have to keep your business afloat while also providing your child with the extra support and assistance that they need.

    Instead of getting discouraged by everything that is on your plate, keep in mind that you are a superwoman.

    However, even superwomen need a bit of help from time to time, and the following resources are must-haves for WAHMs of special needs kids.

    More Than a Mom
    More Than a Mom: Living a Full and Balanced Life When Your Child Has Special Needs, is a Mom’s Choice Award winning book by Heather Fawcett which shows moms how to lead a fulfilling life when their child has special needs.

    The book is full of personal stories collected by over 500 moms of special needs kids, but it is also full of practical strategies for managing your life with a special needs child.

    Thanks to the author’s extensive research, you can learn how to find specialized daycare, how to stay organized, and how to advocate for your child.

    Got Milk?
    Remember the Milk is a critical organizational app for anyone with a busy life. It allows you to organize your to-do list based on how important the tasks are and whether they are for work or for home.

    You can even even look up items on your to-do list based on where you are at that moment. for example, if you are dropping off your son for his occupational therapy session, Remember the Milk can remind you that you need to make copies of a work document at the copier that’s just around the corner.

    Food Shopping Zen
    In addition to caring for your child and running your business, you also need to feed everybody, and that can be challenging even if you are not running a business. Zip List helps you keep your grocery list and menu plans in order.

    The app links to several recipe sites including Martha Stewart and Food.com. Once you have chosen your recipe, the app will download the necessary ingredients to your shopping list. This is critical for moms who have special needs kids on special diets. If you want a similar app that also focuses on saving money, check out Grocery iQ instead.

    Duplos to the Rescue
    The classics like Lego have endured the test of time for a reason. Duplos are simply large Legos that can be easily handled by kids who haven’t mastered their fine motor skills. Your child can build, destroy, follow plans, sort by color, and more with Duplos.

    Along with art supplies and sensory toys, Duplos are a must-have for any mom but especially for moms of special needs kids.

    Seek Out Champions
    When you have a child with special needs, you need all of the champions you can get for your cause. The National Association of Parents with Children in Special Education (NAPCSE) can be an invaluable resource. This organization has a reference library, resources that can help you understand your child’s rights, and forums where parents can share ideas, accomplishments, and struggles.

    Financial Help
    Possibilities is a financial resource for parents of children with disabilities. This organization has over 100 parents centers located around the country, and at those centers you can learn more about your child’s disability and about financial resources that may be available in your community.

    A Tablet
    Tablets are critical for all sorts of skill building and are great when you need something to occupy your child’s time while you work get some work done. There are tabletmany affordable tablets on the market and several that are durably made especially for children. If a new tablet is out of your price range, look for a used iPad or repurpose an old phone into a gaming device for your child.

    While you child can use the tablet to watch movies or play games, they can also use it to build valuable skills. There are all kinds of apps for special needs kids, and they focus on everything from communication to social interaction to reading and math skills.

  • hat
    Productivity Tips For Work At Home Moms

    Swimsuits in the Snow (Or: Not Planning Ahead)

    This weekend I took a picture of my kids in the snow holding their brand new swimsuits that we just bought at Target. I thought that it would be a funny picture showing the juxtaposition of the weather and what we were shopping for. The more I thought about it, it was actually a snapshot of how you deal with a lack of planning and what the costs might be.

    We’re heading to Florida for part of winter break. In Indiana, it’s REALLY cold right now and actually snowing more than usual. My tween/teen daughters all of a sudden told me that their bathing suits from last summer do not fit anymore. But we leave in less than a week!! Where were we going to find swim suits in the middle of the winter in Indiana?

    I tried shopping online but that was a bust. The girls are at ages where their sizes are in limbo between kids and adults. Anywhere that shopped online that could get it to me quickly might not even have the right size when it arrived and then we would be stuck.

    We tried local places we thought might have them. The lady at JCPenney looked at us like we were crazy. Dick’s Sporting Goods had a selection of about 4 different “Sporty” suits that my girls refused to wear and I refused to pay a fortune for.

    I ended up going back online and searching for places that might have local pickup. I got lucky that it looked like Target had a good selection. I was able to narrow down the selection online to try on in-store plus use my new Target REDCard to save a little on the purchase. The kids didn’t LOVE them and I didn’t get a huge deal, but they like them enough to wear them and my husband didn’t choke when we bought them.

    Because I didn’t plan ahead at the end of the summer season (knowing that we were going to need summer clothes in December this year), I ended up spending a lot of time and extra money on something in a week where both time and money are precious commodities.

    It’s a good lesson about running a business as well. When you plan ahead for what you know is coming down the road, you will save yourself both time and money. Whether that is pre-writing blog posts and emails, paying annually for services rather than monthly, or not letting little tasks pile up, one of the best things that we can do for our future business is to plan better today.

    And what about those times that you do not plan ahead? You do the best that you can to work smart. You do a little research but might have to cut your losses when you come to the understanding that you just have to get it done. You pick an option that may not be the best you could have come up with if you had started earlier, but still one that you can live with. Then, you don’t look back! You are okay with the fact that not everything in life can be planned perfectly.

    As for us, fortunately all the shorts still fit and there is plenty of sunscreen in the closet. All I need to find are some sunglasses and flip flops and we will be on our way!