Four business rules to use when you travel with kids

In the past four years, we’ve driven over 6500 miles with our kids. Sound like a living nightmare? Strangely, it’s not. My kids are good travelers. But I’ve also put some rules in place that make things go a lot more smoothly.

  • Have an agenda. Kids don’t like ambiguity. Actually, neither do most adults. I always map our route and make our hotel reservations in advance. Even though it takes some time upfront it’s a great relief to have a plan when we get in the car and I’ve found it contributes greatly to marital harmony. (Of course you don’t want to talk to me in those days I’m making arrangements. Crabby.)
  • Use a repeatable process. Years ago I decided I couldn’t pack for five people.  I made a list (yes, it’s in Excel) that we use every year when we pack. I hand the kids the list, they gather their stuff and I give it a quick check before they put it in their suitcases. During the trip, I keep note of things we could’ve used and things we forgot and add them to the spreadsheet when we get home. That way I’m ready for the next trip.
  • Give them a budget. I don’t know about you, but my least favorite part of the trip is the begging. You know, for every piece of junk or trinket they see along the route. I no longer want to police their purchases. Nor do I want to feel like a human ATM machine. I put aside an envelope with cash in it for each child. Once we’re on the road, they’re free to spend it on whatever they like – but once it’s gone, it’s gone. It usually takes one episode of buyer’s remorse for them to get the hang of it, but once you get through that it’s a great system.
  • Make a two-year plan. This is my best tip of all. If you can, have your next year’s trip in mind while you’re on the road. We typically travel the same way (west) which makes it easy. Along the way, I pick up maps and information on interesting site and activities. When we get home I have a folder full of stuff for my next year’s planning.

We’re gearing up for another trip in August. And I’m planning to enjoy it.

Have any tips for travel? Send them to – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.

Relax and enjoy? How?

When I started my practice of yoga many asanas ago, the hardest thing for me to do was the end-of-class relaxation exercise. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should be doing something else. It’s clear I don’t have a restful mind. I’ve been known to craft limericks during meditation. I don’t think I could manage even a desktop zen-garden. You know, the ones with the tiny rakes? Too concerned one of the cats would use it as a litter box.

So here it is, July in Minnesota and six weeks into my experiment with the no-nanny summer and I just can’t seem to relax and enjoy it. Whether I’m working in my office, copywriting at the bowling alley (the kids bowl, not me) or taking a few hours off at the beach with a good read, I can’t shake the feeling I should be doing something else. Really, isn’t this what the self-employeds among us strive for – the flexibility to take life as it comes? So why doesn’t it seem like enough?

This is where I usually offer my take on ways to manage so I’ll attempt it again with this caveat – I’m still working on them myself:

  • Prioritize. Every task has its place in the hierarchy and honestly, some can wait until fall. If this is a struggle, see my nifty method for bouncing items off your to-do list.
  • Enjoy it while you can. As every parent knows, the endless soccer games, summer camp programs, and recorder concerts will be over before you know it, and you’ll miss them when they are. (OK, maybe not the recorder concerts.)
  • Relax your standards a little. Summer throws every parent off-base, regardless of how your work and life are structured. So what if the kids watch a little too much TV (there, I said it) or we don’t seem to have the laundry done? It’s not like that laundry is going anywhere.

So once again, I resolve to enjoy our fleeting summer. The alternative isn’t any fun, is it?

Happily, I’m now able to indulge myself in the end-of-yoga-class relaxation. Perhaps I’m aided by exhaustion. I sometimes fall asleep, so soundly I actually dream. Just hope someone nudges me if I start to snore.

How do you relax and recharge? Post your comments or send them to – if I use them I’ll feature your business.

Fostering independence

As my kids get older, they are testing some new-found independence. Going places on their own, making purchasing decisions, trying new things. It got me thinking about those of you venturing off into entrepreneurship for the first time. Nothing, in my experience, feels more independent! But the heady feeling that comes with having no one to tell you what to do can lead you down some pretty uncomfortable paths. There’s no lesson like one learned by experience, but some of those experiences can be pretty unpleasant. As we in the U.S. celebrate our collective independence, a gentle reminder:

  • With independence comes responsibility. Trust, once earned, is not a given. Demonstrate through your actions and words that you understand the trust that’s been extended to you. Your customers trust you – keep earning that trust.
  • Independence does not mean making your own rules. There are still conventions you must follow and basic fundamentals that you should adhere to. You can’t ignore your financial results (or the IRS).
  • Independence doesn’t mean toughing through everything yourself. Why not take advantage of the lessons learned by others? The best managers seek out people who know more than they do – not to tell them what to do, but to present them with options and ideas.

It’s nice that my kids are more independent, but I still lay down some rules:

  • At any given time, be where you are supposed to be and with the people you are supposed to be with.
  • If we didn’t let you do it last week when we were with you (ride your bike without a helmet, hang out with kids you don’t know, buy a 16 oz. Coke at the ballpark an hour before bed) we probably won’t be thrilled to find out you did it when we weren’t there.
  • If you need help, ask – I always tell my kids, “I can’t promise I won’t yell at you, but I can promise that when I’m done yelling , I’ll help you fix the problem.”

Enjoy your independence today – the pomp, the partying, and especially  the fireworks!

The work-at-home personnel manual

Even though I have a business office I frequently find myself working at home, especially when the kids are off for the summer.

“It’s great,” I say when asked, “It’s easier than dragging my stuff back and forth and I can throw in the occasional load of laundry.”

But the truth is, there are days it is anything but great. To get me and other work-at-home parents through the summer, I am issuing the following personnel policies:

Business Hours
Scheduling is to be determined strictly by me with consideration of meetings, work assignments, sports activities, medical and orthodontic appointments, lessons, camps, workshops and haircuts. Requests for a modification to the schedule must be submitted for approval in a timely fashion especially if it involves my driving you somewhere.

Standards of Conduct
Our brand is important to us, therefore it is critical to maintain a professional image at all times. That means you may not knock loudly on my office door, nor burst in yelling, “Mom, he hit me in the (privates),” when I am on the phone with a client.

Use of Company Assets
Do not borrow my tape, stapler or scissors, and do not use my good laser printer paper to make scavenger hunt maps, “flames” for your make-believe campfire, or drawings of elaborate military installations. That is what the giant box of scrap paper is for.

Use of Facilities
Please clean up after using the lunch facilities, including washing your dishes, cleaning the microwave, and replacing all food items including milk, mayo, yogurt, and cottage cheese, or anything else that might give the rest of us food poisoning if left out. Toilets are to be flushed and towels hung up after each use. Keep the floors clear of clutter by stowing Legos, dirty laundry, books, and shoes in their proper location.

Technology Policy
Use of video screens including mobile devices, phones and televisions will be limited to two hours per day (I mean it!). Use of my wi-if hot spot is strictly prohibited – violators will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including having to pay the overage fees on my cell phone bill.

Security and Safety Guidelines
Keep walkways and stairways free of clutter. Do not leave doors unlocked and/or wide open when you leave home. Do not insert a knife or other metal object into the toaster; also do not stand idly by while your friend sticks a metal object in the toaster. Wear adequate sun protection at all times. Management is not responsible for sunburns, sun rashes, and/or peeling skin. Immediately report any evidence of smoke, blood, or standing water to the management.

Dress Code
Personnel shall exit pajamas and put on regular clothing before the hour of 10:00 a.m. Those leaving home should ensure their heads, behinds, feet and bra straps are adequately covered for the activity at hand. “It’s in the dirty laundry” is not an accepted excuse for inadequate dress.

Anti-Harassment Policy
Making derogatory statements, yelling and issuing threats are strictly prohibited unless they are a component of an action visited upon you by me. Fighting is grounds for immediate termination.

What did I miss?

Playing well with others (or, choosing your partners wisely)

Maybe it’s the continual rain these last few weeks, but my boys don’t seem to be able to get along for any length of time. It’s not too surprising. Even though they generally enjoy a good partnership, they have different personalities, temperaments, and often different goals for the activities they take on. As kids, they don’t always navigate these differences (and the conflict that inevitably arises) very well.

As an adult, you assume you can use your judgement, reason and experience to bridge any gaps you may have with a business partner, but this isn’t always the case.  Partnerships typically start out well – you like each other, have similar interests, and readily see how you can combine your talents and resources to grow your business, serve a broader group of clients, or divide the labor. Sometimes partnerships are born out of a need for camaraderie. And it’s all great, as long as you don’t ignore the differences that can drive you apart later.

Some sources of potential conflict:

  • One partner needs to draw more money from the business than the other to support their family or lifestyle. This forces the other partner into an uncomfortable decision – do I accept a lower level of compensation than my partner? Or do I take out the same amount, understanding that we now must sustain a higher level of revenue to pay two higher salaries? If this is an issue for you and your potential partner, discuss it upfront and make sure you understand the financial reality for each of you (and for the business as a whole) before you enter into any partnership.
  • One partner brings more to the table than the other. Perhaps they have a higher level of investment, a larger group of clients, or a better industry reputation. This sets up an inequity than can lead to bad feelings later. One of the most obvious ways to avoid this is not to share ownership 50/50. Acknowledge upfront what each partner brings to the relationship and reflect this in the ownership percentages. Sure that means one person has more say than the other, but believe me, when the inevitable disagreements arise, someone will need to have the final say or you cannot move the business forward.
  • The partners have significantly different personalities or work styles. Sometimes personality differences can be a tremendous asset; other times, they cause conflict that you cannot breach. If you are a Type A, work-all-night kind of professional and your partner leaves at 4:30 and turns the cell phone off over the weekend there is no doubt this will breed resentment – and fast. Make sure you are compatible. Take a personality test if necessary to find out. There’s nothing quite as uncomfortable as going to work each day with someone you no longer like.
  • The partners have different definitions of success or long-term goals. It’s really awkward to sit in a strategic planning session where one partner has a 5-year plan to sell the business – and the other partner is not only completely clueless, they’re in it for the long haul. Make sure you completely understand your partner’s long-term vision. You don’t necessarily have to share the same goals, but your planning and your structure should be able to accommodate them if they differ.

And please, have a formal partnership agreement in place from the day you open your combined business! It’s easy in those early days (when you still like each other) to ignore your differences, but a partnership that doesn’t work out not only leads to feelings of disappointment, anger and betrayal, it can also financially devastate both parties. Approach this with the same caution with which you’d approach any major life decision and line out how you’ll handle any problems that arise.

My boys did not choose their partnership; it was thrust upon them by the accident of birth. Fortunately, they can usually resolve their differences and move on. If not, I’m there to intervene – and I clearly have the final say.

Any tips for terrific partnerships? Post your comments or send them to – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.

Learning to win and lose (a disclosure: I hate to lose)

After watching my young sons lose yet another lacrosse game, I worried that they were not going to be too enthusiastic about the upcoming summer season. But I was wrong. Thanks to a good coach and healthy attitudes, they were able to celebrate the fact that they’ve improved greatly as a team, even if the win-loss record doesn’t reflect it.

Maybe I was projecting because I hate to lose. I can’t even let my kids win in Scrabble. I’ll happily beat them by 200 points and sleep soundly after I do. Not a nurturing attitude, is it?

It’s sometimes hard to shake the feeling that winning isn’t everything, but people who must win at all costs sometimes do dumb things – cheat, bend ethical guidelines, hurt others. I can honestly say I’ve never stooped that low, but I have been known to stay away from certain pursuits (think golf) solely because I’m not any good at them. It’s not that I’m ashamed or embarrassed by it. I just don’t find it any fun.

But there’s no doubt losing can teach you a few things:

  • It can show you areas and skills you need to improve
  • It can steer you away from things you’re not good at, and toward things you are good at
  • It can remind you that you’re human – and that others are, too

The lesson I try to convey to my kids about winning is to celebrate, but be gracious about it. Don’t be arrogant, don’t talk trash, and don’t take success for granted. The difference between winning and losing is often one goal, and you can easily wind up on the other side of the equation.

Of course, winning feels better. I’m not denying that. But if you’re going to have a rich human experience,  prepare to lose. But maybe only once in a while. And not at Scrabble.

What have winning and losing taught you? Post your comments or send them to – if I use them, I’ll feature  your business.

Relaxing standards – how much is too much?

My mother is a sympathetic soul. When she sees me in the midst of my frenetic life, she often offers up this sage advice: “Maybe you should relax your standards a little.” Oh, if only she knew how far my standards have fallen!

For years I’ve told my kids, “You can be clean, clothed or fed – pick any two.”

As a high-achieving sort , I hit adulthood thinking I could accomplish anything I wanted. It was the 80’s after all – wasn’t that what we were told? I hit my first brick wall with a job that required 100% travel. Life on the road definitely limited my options. There were some weekends where I felt like all I did was unpack my suitcase, do my laundry, repack it again and leave for the airport.

It hasn’t improved over the years. I am now a self-employed mother of three with a husband who frequently travels for work. Talk about relaxing your standards! There are days I arrive at appointments and check to make sure I’m completely dressed before I go in. And days where I can’t even think about the evening activities in the morning – I operate with a view to about the next 20 minutes of my day.

Like many others, I’ve spent time exploring (the myth that is) life balance. And like many others, the challenge for me continues to be letting the little things go to focus on the big things. I’m somewhat coachable, so with the help of others, I’ve worked to identify my core values and in my personal life, I do adhere pretty well to those:

  • Exercise and take care of my health
  • Feed my family good, wholesome food 90% of the time (the other 10% of the time I look the other way while they eat a hot dog at the ballpark)
  • Experience things with my kids, even if it means a whole day at a museum in the midst of a project, or a two-week driving vacation neither my husband nor I really have time to take

Oh, and I’m big on sleep. I seldom burn the midnight oil.

It’s harder in my business. I complete client work, and get the little tasks out of the way but never seem to get to the big, important ones like  revising my website or upgrading my technology. It’s not that I’m avoiding the big tasks, it’s that the little tasks seem to be all I have time for. But I have gotten better about two things – saying no and asking for help, neither of which comes very naturally.

So here I am racing toward the end of another busy week. It’s a beautiful day, I have a ton of work to do, and my house is a mess. I need to cobble together something my family can eat for a dinner on the run, iron a shirt for a piano recital, reschedule a weekend appointment, perhaps tackle a few of the items on my endless to-do list. Which standards should I relax today?

Is life balance a myth? Post your comments or send them to – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.

Of laundry, and other things I won’t finish

Last week I attended an online nonfiction writers conference which was fabulous, but consumed a lot of time. Because I’m too antsy to sit for several days (and because I am perpetually behind on the laundry) I decided to multi-task. It seemed reasonable to me that in the course of three days I could sort, wash, fold and put away whatever laundry life threw at me while listening to the conference speakers and taking notes.

Turns out it wasn’t reasonable at all.

I washed sheets, towels, uniforms for two sports, dark clothes, light clothes and assorted socks and underwear. But at the end of three days I had laundry everywhere and I wasn’t close to “done”. And, of course, the uniforms were dirty again.

This is yet another example of how I set myself up for failure, by taking on more than I can accomplish in the time allowed. Or maybe I should say I set myself up for feelings of failure because who am I really measuring myself against, anyway?

To counter this, I’m trying out a new technique for sorting my tasks. I’m calling it Now-Later-Never.

Now tasks are pretty self-explanatory because they require immediate action – cleaning up cat vomit, taking a phone call from a key client, digging a dirty baseball sock out of the utility room 20 minutes before the game.

Later tasks are things I can put off for some amount of time without negative impact – scheduling routine appointments, filling out summer camp forms, outlining a presentation I’m not giving for two months. Admittedly, over time, some of these will become Now tasks.

Never tasks are my favorites. I just don’t do them at all because:

  • I miss the events or deadlines (so how important could they have been?)
  • The level of activity in my life ratchets up, so some things don’t seem as important anymore
  • Someone else can do them – provide dinner, empty the dishwasher, submit my business tax forms

It’s true that by subscribing to this method there are times when I’m doing only what is required to get by. For those you in start-up business mode, think minimum viable product. Not very ambitious, perhaps, but it gets me by.

And granted, this doesn’t always work with the laundry – I’ve only opted to throw clothes out instead of washing them a couple of times. I’ll spare you the details.

What’s the Never task on your list? Post your comments or send them to – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.

The cat crushed my homework – now what?

I’m a problem solver. As soon as I  confront an obstacle my brain instantly switches into “how can I fix this” mode. That’s why I panicked only briefly when my son and I heard an ominous crunch. It was the sound of our large, “traditionally built” cat extricating an elaborate book report – a 12-sided, three-dimensional figure – from a grocery bag, and then sitting on it.

It takes a long time and a lot of tape and glue to assemble a 12-sided figure. And wouldn’t you know, he was even set to turn it in on time! We were not able to return it to its original condition but we did pop out the dents and retape the corners. It’s not perfect but it will have to do.

When you’re faced with a business problem, your first reaction might also be panic – or pain, disappointment, despair, disgust…any number of wonderful emotions. But after the initial hit, ask yourself this:

  • Can I restore this to 100%?
  • If not, how close can I get?
  • What are my options for repairing this?
  • Are there any long-term ramifications?
  • If yes, can I lessen them or head them off?
  • Who can help? What do I ask them for?
  • What’s the worst-case scenario? And is it really that bad?
  • Will I care as much about this tomorrow as I care right now?

A natural proclivity toward problem-solving isn’t always a helpful thing. After all, there are some things you can’t fix – but you sure can expend a lot of energy trying. If something is truly unrecoverable it’s best to remember one phrase. Repeat after me: “I will cut my losses and move on.” It’s not perfect, but it will have to do.

What’s the best “fix” you ever came up with? Post your comments or send them to – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.