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A Working Mom’s Guide for Achieving Work-Life Balance

This week’s blog shares the personal perspective of Bennis Inc employee, Danielle Gouger. Danielle is our PR assistant and photographer and balances the unique challenges of life as a working mother. Learn more about Danielle here!


A Working Mom’s Guide for Achieving Work-Life Balance

A Working Mom’s Guide for Achieving Work-Life Balance

As a newly single mom of a four-year-old spunky little girl, I began working from home in January of this year, and I am still learning each and every day how to achieve work-life balance.

Transitioning from my former position as a photography studio manager where I worked almost every weekend, many late evenings, and was always on call to support to my team, I find working from home and setting my hours has enabled me to re-prioritize and find a better work-life balance.

I was afraid, after leaving my photography position, that I would not be able to find a career that I was passionate about that would still allow me to be the mother I wanted to be. I am so thankful and grateful at this time in my life to have landed a job with a local Public Relations company that is led by a working mom now of two little ones, who understands and has worked hard to balance motherhood and entrepreneurship.

This new position offers me the creativity I need to thrive in my career and also the flexibility to work from home so that I can spend more time with my daughter. But it’s important to note it takes organization and time management to make it all work! Here is my guide for achieving work-life balance as a working mom, based upon my personal experience thus far.

Get Focused

Balancing work life and personal life means being effective with the time you have to work. Simply put, I don’t allow for distractions! Concentrating while working from home can sometimes be challenging with all the distractions of wanting to do other things, so it’s important to treat work time as sacred.

After I drop my daughter off at her daycare down the street, I come home, turn my laptop on, pour a second cup of coffee, and get started with my work day with checking my email. Now is the best time for me to get focused and dive right into my workday tasks. Having a great work environment is proven to facilitate productivity, so when working from home, it is important to create and maintain whatever type of environment helps you focus. I have personally found that having a designated office area in my home has helped me to be more focused and separate my work and personal life.

Schedule, Schedule, Schedule!

I’ve always been a planner, but once you have children it is so much more important to plan and keep a schedule, not only for yourself but kids need a routine, too! The most beneficial tool I use in my everyday life, besides my cell phone, is my calendar. Penciling in appointments, meetings and activities, really gives me a realistic view of my time. It’s important to factor in driving distance between places!

Also, you need to allow enough time to settle into an activity. For instance, when I take my daughter to daycare in the morning, it takes us some time to say our goodbyes to make sure we are both comfortable with her acclimating to her day. One final element I like schedule in my day or week is catch up time. This allows for life’s unexpected moments that, even with planning, can and do happen with work and especially when raising a four-year-old!

Prioritize

Watch for patterns in your day. Are you more productive in the morning or the afternoon? This is an important question to ask yourself when prioritizing your day and week.

I personally get more accomplished in the morning. So in my case, I try and tackle harder tasks in the morning as that is when I get my best work done. I also try to maximize my time by breaking down my day into smaller, bite-size tasks. Doing this allows me to get a lot more accomplished and to stay focused on the task at hand.

When it comes to household chores and errands (yes, they’re a necessary evil), I try and write a list for the week and pick two things to accomplish off my list each day. This prevents these responsibilities from piling up over the week and overflowing into my previous “family time” over the weekend.

Finally, as a single mom trying to balance work and life, you can sometimes forget to prioritize yourself. It’s important to take even 20 minutes for yourself each day, whether that’s catching up on a favorite TV show, going for a walk, or simply sitting in peace. Taking that little time for yourself allows you to be more available and present to do everything else you need to do as a working mom.

Close Down for the Night

There is a saying “every day has a new beginning,” so I believe there should be an end to every night. It is important to try and accomplish as much as you can off your daily to-do list to prevent these tasks from flowing into the next day and making tomorrow more overwhelming than it needs to be.

I try to get my workday accomplished by 5 o’clock now, so that once I pick my daughter up for the day I can focus the evening on her. Right before leaving the house, I will once again go through my emails to make sure I haven’t missed anything and then close down for the day. Once I pick her up, we will occasionally run a small errand or I will complete a household chore before supper. Except for Tuesdays; this is a night fully dedicated to her as she goes to her gymnastics class that evening and I love to be there and watch her in her element!

I now make it a priority to sit down with my daughter for dinner, and the rest of the evening we spend quality time together before bath and bedtime. Once my little one is sound asleep, I will give myself some time to read a book or catch up on a favorite show, as I have learned you deserve some “you” time the close the day. We work too hard not to reward ourselves with this! Finally, as important as it is to close down for the night, on Friday’s after I wrap my day up, I try to close down from work for the weekend, and leave what can wait to Monday.

How do you achieve balance as a working mom? Share your personal thoughts by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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The Necessary Slow Burn of Business Growth

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


The Necessary Slow Burn of Business GrowthConsider this. Each spring it’s common practice to burn the tall grasses of the prairie. The reasons for this man made fire are those to benefit the prairie and it’s natural habitat – to remove old growth, put nutrients back into the soil and promote new growth and abundance. The prairie needs this fire to exist. As reckless and destructive as this once seemed to me as a child, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the prairie’s need for this slow, controlled burn. But now as an adult, reexamining this yearly ritual made me question another aspect of these prairie fires.

Why not just use gasoline, light a quick blaze and take care of the whole field at once? Why does it need to be a slow and smoldering fire – a process that seems to be so needlessly drawn out?

The answer to this question is actually quite strategic and far from needless. The slow, controlled burn of these tall prairie grasses is necessary for achieving all the ecological benefits that it does. Gasoline would absolutely ruin the soil and prevent these tall grasses from ever growing again. And a large wildfire would wreak havoc on other parts of the ecosystem (not to mention holds the potential to easily burn out of control). So why am I choosing to tell you so much about these prairie fires? It’s because I see an important lesson on life and business building within these flames – a lesson that speaks to both patience and strategy.

Letting it burn (slowly)

For anyone who has ever attempted to build a business, the process of growth is unpredictable and unstable at best. We want to believe, that like any model growth chart illustrates, our business will grow with dramatic spikes until we blast off the chart. But this is neither common nor sustainable for 99% of businesses out there. Instead, like a prairie fire, the healthiest and most lasting business growth is a steady smoldering that inches onward day by day. I define this as healthy growth because it’s growth that blazes a new trail while giving us enough time to stay right in tow. We control it; it does not control us. This is also the type of growth that strengthens a business as oppose to a wildfire which could burn it all down. Most importantly and much like the prairie fires, this slow, controlled burn weeds out the old while laying the rich foundation for future growth. It’s a change that moves at the pace of evolution, and it should be our goal to evolve patiently and strategically as such.

Avoiding the temptation to rush

With technology at our fingertips and our society of ever-connectedness, our accessibility to “gasoline” is endless. This causes a great temptation to rush the process of the slow burn just because we have the means to do so. But as ecologists have proven and stressed, this quick and fast method is not always beneficial, and sometimes harmful, depending upon what you’re trying to achieve. For the slow burn of business growth, you’re trying to achieve much more than a burnt and barren field. You want to preserve the ground and burn only what is necessary. Gasoline won’t allow you to do this. We have to avoid the temptation and let things progress on their own. Instead, we often want to ignite the fire with things like an overkill of paid advertising (this is often a waste of precious capital in the beginning) or gimmicky deals (this often pulls in the wrong client base). Such “shoot-from-the-hip” strategies may produce big flames for display, but at some point these flames will cause destruction or someone will get burned. As I’ve mentioned before, such growth is neither sustainable nor beneficial in the long run.

In life or in business, have you ever personally experienced the temptation to rush a critical process? Maybe this is a process of growth, a process of healing or a process of change. While it’s tempting to want to overcome these uncomfortable and even painful moments in life quickly, rushing the process can prevent us from receiving all of the benefits they’re meant to bring. Learn to appreciate the slow fires we have lit and know that they are with the purpose and intent to make us stronger and more abundant.

 

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Declutter Your Life by Asking These 5 Questions

Declutter Your Life by Asking These 5 Questions

I have shared the numerous differences between my husband and me. Though we are both passionate entrepreneurs and collaborate on many different levels, one area of our lives where we often run into conflict is over clutter.

I am the antithesis of clutter. It makes me anxious and unsettled when I am in a disorganized environment. Because I work from home, it’s imperative that we keep our house tidy so I can function at my peak level of efficiency. Even with small children in the house, organization is a daily routine that works for us. However, as my husband recently came into quite a few boxes of “storage” from his childhood home, we both struggled to find common ground as to what should be kept and what should be let go.

Though it required a couple tough conversations and some stress, particularly on my husband’s emotions, we ultimately came to an agreement. What we both learned from the experience is that there are a clear set of questions you have to ask yourself when addressing clutter. Also, everyone involved has to stick to the same standards.

Whether you’re the clutter bug in your family or the exterminator, consider these five questions the next time you’re faced with the dilemma of save or scrap.

Is it serving an immediate purpose?
We live in a culture that urges us to buy in bulk and store things away for a future time when we just might need it. Having excess is a security blanket that can also smother us if we are not careful. If something has no immediate purpose to us (i.e. will be likely used in the next 12 months – which is generous), why should it take up space in our home and in our lives?

If we can’t reasonably say we will use something within the next year, there’s simply no need to have it. There will be plenty of opportunities to find another one, should we need it. But I’m willing to bet that in 12 months you will have forgotten about this object altogether.

How does its current use bring you satisfaction?

This next question is important because it will likely address your concern about the first question. “What if it’s a collectible or irreplaceable?” First, rarely is something in life both irreplaceable and truly needed. Next, even the most valuable collectibles are merely dust collectors if they’re stowed away in storage, never to be seen or enjoyed.

Challenge yourself by asking “How is this object, as currently used, bringing me satisfaction?” Clutter in an attic does not constitute satisfaction. If it’s in storage because you don’t have a place for it in your home, you may want to carefully consider this next question…

Could someone else benefit more from having it?

If you struggle to get rid of something because you believe it has value, remember that selling or donating the item is a great way to pass its value on to someone else. Really, it’s pretty greedy to keep a collection of books packed away in storage because you enjoyed reading them once. Why not share the joy by passing them on to a friend?

Letting go of clutter gets a whole lot easier – and enjoyable – when you feel like you’re doing a good deed. Whether it’s clothes, a piece of furniture or a baseball card collection, think about how someone else might enjoy the use of this item far more than the “joy” it’s bringing you sitting in your basement.

Is the cost to replace it cheaper than the “cost” to keep it?

If there’s one area where even I struggle with clutter, it’s over the effort to save money. We tend to hold onto something because we believe we might one day need it. My husband and I both came to the agreement that if the cost to replace an item is cheaper than the “cost” (meaning the stress, clutter and risk of it getting damaged or going bad) to replace it in the future, then it’s got to go! I can’t tell you how many times this question has helped me to let go of something I never needed again – mostly because I can’t even remember what these items were!

Are you holding onto it for someone or something else?

Finally, this question hones in on the deep, emotional aspect of clutter. We tend to hold onto something not just for ourselves, but for someone or something else. In my husband’s case, many of his items from his childhood were emotionally connected to his father, who passed away. I don’t discount how hard it would be to let go of items that brought back good memories or someone who is no longer with you.

However, after an open and honest conversation about some of these items, my husband found closure with passing them on to family and friends who would appreciate and use them. Items that represent the past can hold you back from fully enjoying your present. Ask yourself why you really want to hang on to an object. If it’s in an effort to directly or indirectly keep a person “alive” in your life, remember that objects don’t accomplish that – but memories do. Getting rid of clutter doesn’t mean giving up the memories. In fact, with less physical clutter, you’re freeing up space for memories, both old and new, to fill its place.

Do you struggle with decluttering your life? What are your biggest hang ups? Share your obstacles and how you plan to overcome them in 2016 by commenting below!

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 29, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Twas the Week of Christmas…

Twas the Week of Christmas

(It’s become an annual blog tradition…a fun twist on a familiar favorite!)

Twas the week of Christmas, when all through the house
not a computer was turned on, not even a mouse.
Their cords were wrapped up in the corner with care,
in hopes that I had strength to leave them there.

Miss Pinot was nestled all snug in her bed,
while visions of toy mice danced in her head.
For once taking cue from my sleepy, gray cat,
I settled my brain for a short winter’s nap.

Is it possible to tune out all of the clatter,
to focus on Christmas and what truly matters?
No doubt it would feel different to completely unwind,
what’s the worst that could happen, we’d have a good time?

So from now until next week, the blog posts can wait
there are loved ones to hug and cookies to bake.
This short disconnect will help creativity to soar
and inspire me to write even better than before!

Until then, don’t worry what to do with your time,
make your own holidays as relaxing as mine.
Here’s my final wish before the exit I make,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a short break!”

Christmas Tree Card 2

 
4 Comments

Posted by on December 21, 2015 in Life

 

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The Struggle is Real: How to Overcome a Slow Wi-Fi Connection (Guest Blog by Sarah Pike)

The following post comes to us from returning guest blogger, Sarah Pike. Sarah is a freelancer and teacher with a passion for sharing innovative ideas about entrepreneurship, productivity and company culture. Be sure to visit her author’s bio below to learn more and connect or read more of her guest blog posts!

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The Struggle is Real: How to Overcome a Slow Wi-Fi Connection

How to Overcome a Slow Wi-Fi Connection

When you’re participating in a professional development webinar, Skyping with a client, or simply emailing journalists—a strong Internet connection is essential. Without it, you’re not getting the most from your Wi-Fi the way you should. Don’t let the slow Wi-Fi struggle get you down. Below are some tips to help you overcome slow Wi-Fi and get back to being on top of your work game.

Cut back on the number of devices using your network.
If you’re running nine devices on bandwidth designed for five, your Wi-Fi will be sluggish. Fortunately, you don’t have to guess at how many connected devices are too many. This tool tells you how much Internet speed you actually need, whether you’re video conferencing, streaming music, or just emailing clients.

There are too many networks in your area. 
There are a limited amount of radio waves that transmit wireless signals in any given area. If you live in a busy city or an apartment building, with hundreds of networks competing for space, your Wi-Fi will be slow. You may be able to reduce interference by changing your wireless channel.

Your router is in a bad place.
The further your connected device is from your router, the slower your connection. Move the router to a central location in your home or the spot where you most frequently need fast Wi-Fi, like a home office, to help improve your signal.

You’re running apps or programs that are bandwidth-hogs.
Some apps, like BitTorrent and Steam, use a lot of bandwidth, but you may forget they’re running. This will slow your connection. On the other hand, if you’re trying to simultaneously download massive amounts of information, upload photos, and watch a video, you’re overloading your bandwidth (and possibly your device’s memory). Stick to one bandwidth-heavy process at a time.

You expect too much from Wi-Fi.
Your Wi-Fi can only do so much, and that certainly isn’t as much as a hard-wired Ethernet connection. If you’re stuck with slow Wi-Fi and need to use the Internet, optimize your browser for a slower connection by viewing mobile or HTML versions of Web sites and disabling images. Take care of tasks that aren’t as bandwidth-intensive and save the massive downloads for a time when you have access to an Ethernet connection or faster Wi-Fi.

Maybe It’s Not Your Fault After All.
Slow Internet may have nothing to do with your routers position, the apps you’re running, or your high expectations for today’s technology. Sometimes your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is having trouble. These may stem from the central office, the connection going into your home, or the cables at the street. If that’s the case, give your ISP a call.

Once you establish what the problem is, whether on your own or by talking with your ISP, take action. The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll be back to work without fear of lagging Wi-Fi interrupting your progress.

Have you ever had the frustrating experience of working through a slow Wi-Fi connection? Share your tips for overcoming this challenge by commenting below!

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About the Author: Sarah Pike is a freelancer and teacher, with a slight productivity app obsession. When she’s not writing or teaching, she’s probably reading about career-pathing and wellness. She also enjoys following far too many celebrities than she should on Instagram. You can find Sarah on Twitter at @sarahzpike.

 

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Tips for Writing Better, Faster Blog Posts

Tips for Writing Better, Faster Blog Posts

Blogging is more than just a popular pastime, it’s becoming an increasingly important part of brand building and business development. Whether you’ve committed to a daily, weekly or monthly blog, regularly fueling its appetite with quality content can feel like a looming task on your to-do list.

So often we don’t stay consistent with publishing to a blog because we feel it’s too time consuming. Before you throw in the towel – and risk losing all the benefits of your blog – begin with these tips for writing better, faster blog posts. The easier and less time consuming this tasks becomes, the more likely you are to find a good routine and stick to it!

Let’s take a look…

Keep a running list of potential blog topics

It can be challenging when you know you need to write a blog post, but you simply don’t have any ideas come to mind. You may waste valuable minutes trying to come up with a topic that doesn’t motivate you to write and the result is a painful writing process that leaves you frustrated and drained. Overcome this hurdle by keeping a running list of potential blog topics. You never know when an idea will strike you, but it’s not likely to be during an ideal moment to sit down and write. Throw the topic into a word doc and then come back to it when you’re prepared to take on this task.

Save a folder of photos and quotes for inspiration

Inspiration comes in all shapes and forms. You don’t even need to have a particular topic in mind, but so long as a photo or quote sparks your creativity, it’s worth keeping in a folder for future use. Then, when you’re ready to write, browse through this folder and see what new ideas come to mind. I love pulling from quotes for inspiration. Most importantly, take a new spin on a quote to make the blog post original.

Start with the title and closing question

Staring at a blank word doc can be enough to signal anyone’s writer’s block. Once I open a new document, I immediately slap a headline up there and also write the closing question (you’ll see these at the end of every blog post I write). This gives me an immediate sense of productivity and also helps to set the tone of my blog.

Outline your sub headlines

Once you have a main headline, continue to outline the core pieces of your blog post with the sub headlines that shape the flow of your article. Many of my posts are lists of some sort, so I use this step to establish how long my list will be and what it will include. This helps me to visualize the full scope of the blog post and ensure I’m not missing any major components.

Leave your intro for last

You read that right. I’m suggesting you write everything else about your blog post then go back and do your introduction. This may seem backwards, but once you do it a few times you’ll see the major time-saving benefit. Once you have written all the other content within your article, you will have a better understanding of how to “preview” your main points in the introduction. Starting here cold will take you much more time to gather your thoughts, plus what you write may not even be relevant by the time you are done shaping the rest of the blog.

Write it all out, then proof read

For this particular technique of “speed writing a blog post,” you don’t want to take any more breaks than is necessary. I know I’m personally guilty of stopping after reach paragraph to proof read my work before moving it. This is a sneaky procrastination trick that we often don’t know we are doing. My rule of thumb for pumping out a quick blog post is to write everything out as it comes to mind and then switch to my editor’s hat and proof read the entire article at once. This is much better for efficiency and should also result in better overall editing.

Write several blog posts at once, when the mood is right

If you find yourself particularly inspired or with a good chunk of time to dive into writing, don’t stop with one blog post! Keep writing as many as you can. Once your writing muscle is warmed up, it’s a great opportunity to stock pile some blog posts for the future. Pay attention to when your creativity and quality of writing may start to wane and call it quits for the day. But push yourself a little further to write more than what you were planning, should you have the motivation.

Short and sweet works for everyone!

Finally and most importantly, avoid the pitfall of making writing a blog post into a far more daunting task than it needs to be. I, too, can get longwinded at times and before I know it I have wasted 2 hours on a blog post that should have only taken me 45 minutes to complete. The end result is a longer, but not necessarily better article. I actively try to get my thoughts out in a paragraph or two per sub headline. If I find I want to dig deeper into that particular topic, I note it as a potential blog post of its own in the future. Trust me, everyone will appreciate a short and sweet blog post that gets straight to the point!

Do you struggle to write quick and quality blog posts that don’t consume too much of your time? Share your challenges by commenting below and I’ll personally offer you an answer!

 
6 Comments

Posted by on November 23, 2015 in Business & Success

 

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How to Stay Productive When Working from Home

How to Stay Productive When Working from Home

More and more people are realizing the benefits of working from home and making the transition into a virtual work environment. The core benefits are obvious, but there are also pitfalls to avoid. The biggest is hitting unproductive roadblocks when you’re in full control (and fully accountable) for your own schedule.

So what are the best ways to stay productive when working from home? Here are my top pieces of advice for anyone working from home and wanting to maintain a productive virtual work environment!

Define a real office space

When working from home, it’s ideal to have a defined and closed off environment that is designated as your work space. I have been guilty of not following this very advice, and can tell you that when you blur the lines between what area is for work and what area is for living, you do neither efficiently in those spaces.

For example, I used to work from the living room sofa. It was comfortable and convenient. But I found it difficult to unplug each evening because sitting in the living room made me feel like I needed to be doing work. It’s funny how easily we are trained!

While a true room to call your office is the best case scenario (for tax purposes too), this additional space is not always available in a busy home. Find an area that you do not tend to use for other “living” at least on a regular basis. Maybe this is a guest room, your dining room table that is only used a few other times a year, or a nook in your bedroom or finished basement that can accommodate a small desk. Just because your office environment is virtual, doesn’t mean it needs to be portable! Establish roots and you will be amazed how much more “grounded” you feel when working from home each day.

Limit your “social” visitors

When you work from home, people can often mistake what you do during the day for sitting around watching soap operas and eating Bon Bon’s. Work of all types and magnitudes can and does occur from people’s homes every day.

While I strive to make my home a relaxing space during my off hours, I am also a nose-to-the-grindstone type of worker when I need to be. The precious hours I dedicate to work are easily disrupted by a social phone call or pop-in visitor. Beyond the actual time conversing, I also lose the time it takes to get back into the work mindset.

Just because you’re at home during the day, doesn’t mean you are available for a mid-afternoon coffee date any more than people who work in a traditional office environment. My advice – schedule even your social appointments like work appointments. You will see how they add up throughout the week and steal productive hours from your day. If possible, save them for the evenings or weekends just like most other people do!

Don’t waste work hours on too many personal tasks

I have the tendency to want to multi-task (even though I know this is not an effective use of time). When working from home, I’m always finding household chores vying for my attention. I can lose hours of my workday to sweeping floors, tidying up and doing laundry. Here and there, these tasks can be fit in when I need a break from writing and help me to free up my evenings for more family time. But I try not to allow them to eat up more than a total of ½ hour of my day.

Another big time eraser is running personal errands. If I tack on grocery shopping after a client meeting, I lose at least another hour of my day by the time I can sit down and get in the work zone again. Inevitably such personal tasks may need to occur on work hours, but try to resist the temptation to use them as a way to procrastinate completing the bigger work projects you are simply trying to avoid.

Meet with clients outside the home

It’s a good argument that getting clients to come to you for meetings is the epitome of efficiency – but is it? I highly discourage hosting client meetings from your home. When you meet in a neutral space like a coffee shop or café, you both have the ability to make an exit whenever you need to.

In contrast, when you invite someone into your work space, you become a hostage to however long they wish to chat. Also, a home environment feels more casual and invites people to stray from business conversations or arrive late because they figure you’re going to be there anyways. All of these little things add up and eat away at your efficiency, leaving you less time for personal time at the end of the day.

Get help with childcare

If you are a hybrid mom or dad who works from home, there can be a lot of pressure to save money on childcare by handling it yourself since you’re =home during the day. The fact is that you already are saving a good bit of money by working from home and it’s not in the best interest of you or your children to try and juggle their care with your work. Someone will always lose.

When my son stopped sleeping the majority of the day, I realized I needed help with childcare. I was never fully present with him or my work. We have a nice schedule where I get four dedicated work days a week and he gets to see a variety of children his age and loving adults who offer him great care. The money I make during the hours he is in care more than offsets the investment. Plus, I am able to dedicate much needed attention to my first baby – my business – which all around makes me a happy mama!

Remember to strive for balance and flexibility – but it’s a work in progress!

Finally and most importantly, be reasonable with expectations for what can be accomplished in a day. Your workday is meant for work, but it should still be enjoyable. And working from home is a real treat that not everyone will get to experience!

Distractions, unexpected illnesses and other setbacks will occur, believe me. They do for everyone. Foremost, try to keep your sense of balance – and humor – before you try to do it all!

If you work from home, how do you preserve your productivity and avoid distractions? Share your ideas in the comments below!

 

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