N is for Noise

work-at-homeBelieve it or not, I’m referring to desirable noise.

From time to time, I like to have some background noise while I work. For years, my background noise of choice was public radio. But in the last few months, I’ve found I just can’t listen to it anymore.

The news is too grim, and the programming is dominated by health reporting - if they aren’t talking about disease, they’re talking about treating disease, diagnosing disease, or preventing disease (can you say aging demographic, anyone?)

I’ve fallen out of love, but some days I still need the noise. So I found myself resorting to something I never thought I’d do – turning on the TV.

Wow, is daytime TV awful. 800 channels and I can’t find anything that’s even tolerable as background noise. I can’t begin to think what weird picture of us a being from another planet would have if all they knew about us was what they picked up from a satellite feed. We’re nuts. If you can believe the TV. Which you can’t.

The only programming I’ve been able to stomach is the steady stream of home improvement shows dominated by young, first-time home buyers with seemingly bottomless budgets, and desperate-to-renovate couples with tiny, boisterous children and unrealistic expectations. I’ve done enough home renovation that I like seeing the walls come down, and seeing what a finished project actually looks like since most of our household projects hit about 85% done and stay there until we need to renovate again.

It’s sad, I know. But I’m just not used to the quiet.

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M is for Monday

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I know, it’s Tuesday, and I’ve written about Monday before – but really, can you say too much about Monday? And since this is also Tax Day, doesn’t it feel a bit like a Monday?

We all know what Monday feels like. And worse, that feeling creeps into Sunday. I don’t think there is an employee out there who hasn’t experienced the onset of the Sunday blues, that sinking realization that within hours, you will be at your desk steeped in the horrors you abandoned on your desk on Friday.

I don’t feel that way anymore. Haven’t felt that way since I quit my corporate job. Even though I have to prep the rest of the family for Monday, it often comes as a relief to me. Yes, our weekends are busy, and yes my crew often leaves a disaster in their wake, but at least I get the house to myself for a few hours.

As I say to my family most Mondays, with the highest level of affection, “I can’t wait to see the backs of you people today.”

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L is for Leftovers at Lunch

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When I left my office job one of the key reasons was this: I wanted to put a decent dinner on the table every night. No more running to the grocery store on my lunch hour in a frantic effort to head off a dinner disaster. No more greasy carry-out. No more staring into the refrigerator in desperation at 6:30 with three hungry, whiny kids in the background.

I am happy to say that of all the goals I had for working at home, this is one I’ve achieved. We eat healthy, home-cooked food, and there’s a side to this I didn’t anticipate – we have great leftovers.

Most evenings, I squirrel away a nice, lunch-sized portion of whatever we had for dinner. The next day when I want lunch, I meander up to the kitchen and dine on homemade soup, or stew, or the last of the big kale salad – and the last cup of coffee. Not bad.

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K is for Karate

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And dance. And baseball. And all the other activities that make it seem impossible for me to hold a “regular” job. Since my husband travels for work, most of the transport for activities falls to me.

It started with one preschool dance class. I would dress my daughter in a tiny leotard and take her down the street to the studio where I would pretend to watch her from the parents’ waiting room while instead chasing two toddler boys up and down the hallway for 45 minutes. Aggravating, but manageable.

But karate started the scales tipping. Karate meant two (and for a brief while, three) kids in activities. It required a drive in rush hour traffic, and it took place during the dinner hour, which made is seem overwhelming at the time. Little did I know I would pine for the days when we had just dance and karate.

Now, my schedule requires the precision of launching the space shuttle – one blip and you have to scrub the whole mission. Here’s what the kids’ activities looked like this week:

  • Monday – two dances classes, and an orthodontist appointment
  • Tuesday – dance team practice, two lacrosse practices, and a dance class
  • Wednesday – two lacrosse games (away), and a dance class
  • Thursday – dance team practice, and one baseball practice
  • Friday – nothing, wow!
  • Saturday – baseball field clean-up, one baseball practice, dance team practice, two lacrosse practices, and an outing to a professional lacrosse game – makes up for Friday
  • Sunday – one lacrosse game, and a dance competition

And then it starts all over again. Once baseball season is in full swing, there are several nights we have a total of four activities on the calendar, all during the same timeframe. Obviously, we won’t make them all. I’ll be throwing a few darts.

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J is for Jammies

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You know, pajamas – the uniform of the self-employed. That’s what everyone thinks, right? That we all sit around in our pjs all day.

Well, I guess I’ve done that a few times. It usually happens when I get an early start on my day and then find hours later that I haven’t left the desk long enough to get dressed. Now that’s devotion to the work!

But most days you’ll find me in yoga pants and a ratty sweatshirt, thank you very much. I’m much too respectable to wear my pajamas all day long.

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I is for Influenza and Other Illness

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If you’ve read my recent posts, you know I had a bout of influenza in March that knocked me out of commission for almost two weeks. I was lucky that my workload was fairly light at the time. I was able to drag myself out of bed now and then to answer email and revise a few projects that were in review.

There are no paid sick days when you are your own boss, but you can manage through illness. You can shift work to accommodate the times you feel really crummy. You can wrap yourself in an afghan, make a hot toddy, and type away. You can return calls at the end of the day if your fever abates – after all, business contacts don’t know if you spent the day in meetings or in bed with a cold compress on your head.

It’s perhaps worse when you have a sick “other” at home. A mildly ill child might be content to sit on the couch a few feet away from you and watch Scooby Doo all day, but if you have a kid who’s seriously under the weather you’ll be on your feet fetching apple juice, pain reliever, the thermometer, home remedies, and weird food items (at least at my house).

Of course, it’s never easy having a sick kid. I once facilitated a strategic planning session for a client while my oldest child was home sick. I told her to text me if she needed anything, and let my client know she might be in touch. I didn’t realize that her interpretation of this would be to text me such important facts as “I’m headed to the bathroom now,” and “I just saw a fox outside the window.”

It was a terrible interruption. Plus, I was mad I missed the fox.

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H is for Housework

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About half the time when you mention to someone that you work at home, they say something like, “It must be wonderful to be able to get some housework done.”

By which, they probably mean laundry, the great burden of every parent, whether you work out of the home or not.

And yes, it is nice to be able to take a break from the desk, and cycle the laundry in and out of the washer and dryer leaving yourself with vast stacks of the stuff to fold after you’ve put in a day of work. But more often than not, I find the housework to be a giant distraction.

I don’t work well in disordered space, which means I spend at least part of every day picking up the messes of others so I can focus. Breakfast dishes, toys, dirt they’ve dragged in on their shoes. And the laundry – it really never ends. Shirts, shorts, jeans, socks, gear and outerwear produced by an active family of five who between us participate in at least seven different athletic activities.

I could do nothing but laundry all day and night and there would still be unspeakable items lying around. It is a recipe for crabbiness. Oops, gotta run, the dryer’s buzzing…

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G is for Garbage Day

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That would be Monday here. What does garbage day have to do with a home office, you ask?

We live in a municipality where homeowners must contract for their own garbage pick-up. On my walks to and from the school bus stop on Mondays, I’ve counted five different carriers that serve just our cul de sac.

That means on any given Monday, here’s the traffic I can expect to swing around the cul de sac right outside my office window:

  • Five (5) trucks picking up the trash
  • Five (5) trucks picking up yard waste
  • One (1) truck picking up recycling (the city contracts for that)
  • One (1) truck picking up the neighbor’s organics recycling

That’s twelve trucks every Monday that pull up to the end of our cul de sac, and because they can’t quite make it around, execute a three-point turn with a loud, beeping racket so they can head back up the street.

Blissful, it is not.

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F is for Filing

work-at-homeWhen I worked at my last corporate job I was one of the lucky few who still had an office. Even though most of our company had converted to executive cube-land, we were the little corner time management forgot.

My office had two, large, wonderful file cabinets that could hold just about anything I chose to retain. That is not the case in my home office. I have room for exactly one file cabinet. So periodically, I must go through and decide what to keep and what to throw out.

To help decide what to save, I use this valuable rating scale when I review my project files:

  1. A good, solid project that resulted in high-quality deliverables that I can probably leverage again. Keep.
  2. An OK project. I learned something, there might be a few items I can retain, and some I can discard.
  3. Definitely not memorable. I can get rid of most, if not all, of this.
  4. A horrendous project. Burn the file now! Why did I even keep it at all! Ugh,the memories – make it stop!

There, that should clear up a little space.

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E is for Exercises

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One year when I was still managing a team, I came across an article on “deskercises” – that is, exercises you could do while seated at your desk. Knowing how little opportunity my team had to move throughout the day, I thought these would be a great thing to bring to a staff meeting.

So I put them on the agenda. My team was used to my eccentricities, and while they dutifully learned the deskercises, I’m sure it was fodder for some amused break-room discussion at my expense.

I’ve long forgotten the deskercises, but as a firm believer in moving around, I have a few exercises I try to do on a regular basis adapted for the home office. I like to think of them as “Exercises in Futility”:

Cat stretches

Rise from your chair. Walk ten feet. Let the cat out. Return to your chair. Rise from your chair. Walk ten feet. Let cat in. Repeat 20 times.

Stair climb

Walk up a flight of stairs. Forget why you left your desk. Descend stairs and return to a seated position.

Deep-knee bends

Bend to front-loading washer. Remove laundry. Rise to stacked dryer. Stow laundry. Repeat until there is no more laundry or until your knees give out, whichever comes first.

Sprints

Run for office phone that is ringing at the other end of the house.

I’d love to hear of any additional exercises you have to share. After all, some days an Exercise in Futility is the only exercise I’m going to get.

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