The only helpful thing about fantasizing about the beach is if it motivates you to work harder. Otherwise, it will just be a distraction.

Office Distractions

It’s the end of July, and nothing is more distracting than a warm, beautiful summer day (even if it is nearly 100 degrees).  Your mind wanders as you gaze out the window and contemplate all the things you could be doing instead of working (well, let’s be honest.  You’re not really working, are you?  You’re fantasizing about the beach.)  Throw in a couple office chatters and the obnoxious sales guy who wants to make sure everyone in the office has his spiel memorized and you might as well go home for the amount of productivity you’re (not) enjoying.

Office Distractions & how to thwart them

Assuming you see these distractions as problems and don’t want to encourage them, here are some tips for facing them head-on.

  • Take your breaks outside if possible.  This will relieve your cabin fever and remind you that it’s blazing hot, so even if you were outside, you’d be miserable.
  • Pack a picnic for lunch, and enjoy it in some nice shade with a coworker. get your chatting/gossiping done then so you can kill 2 birds with 1 stone: 1) You’re outside again, and 2) You are less likely to feel compelled to lean over your cubicle to chat.
  • Try white noise.  You can use a free white noise generator or you can  buy a system that appeals to you and offers some combination of the following features:  portable, nature sounds, tinnitus sound therapy, etc.  What they all should have in common is keeping you attention on work and not elsewhere.

Tip: many workers enjoy systems like the Sonet which are ideal for individual office/cubicle use.  Heck, your boss may even spring for it you ask.

  • When you do go home at night or on the weekends, enjoy that time.  Don’t think about work, and soak up as much “you” time as possible.  That way when you return on Monday, you feel refreshed because you used your time well and you can look forward to doing it again soon.  I’ll even add, (though it may be controversial) quit super-scheduling yourself.  You don’t have to g to every event offered.  If you don’t enjoy something, stop doing it.  Again, this will contribute to your overall well-being.

There's a reason the dinner hour is called the "witching hour."

Office Noise…Noise at Home

Office noise is a problem for many.  You may be one of the lucky few who thrives on chaos and mayhem…if so, you probably love deadlines and working up until the last minute.  Good for you.  For the rest of us, extra noise and stress is just that- stress.  Whether I’m working on a project or just trying to cook dinner, lots of voices in my ears (adult or otherwise) leads to what my husband dubbed “sensory overload.”  Rather than pushing through and finishing my task, I just shut down.  When it’s just dinner on the line, it’s more of an inconvenience than a real problem.  However, when it’s work-related, shutting down isn’t exactly an option.

There are a variety of noise coverage solutions out there.  I’m sure noise cancelling headphones are awesome, but I don’t want to spend $250.  As for ear plugs, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times- at best, they make my ears itchy.  At worst, they make them incredibly sore.  Plus, when I work from home, keeping 2 choking hazards out of reach of my 2-year-old is more challenging than it might seem.  So, I typically opt for a good white noise generator.  I run it loud enough to cover irritating distractions, but low enough that I can answer the phone (or tend to a child’s needs when that arises).  Essentially, I can tune out the world, but still be responsive when I need to be.

Is noise a problem for you?  If so, what do you do about it?

Setting Up Your Work Space

Setting up your work space is one of the most important things you can do to ensure productivity (not to mention sanity).  It doesn’t really matter if you have a corner office or just a corner- what matters is basic set-up and ergonomics.  While you can’t always control for all of these factors, these tips should help you choose and lay out a good space.

  • Allow enough room for a desk to fit and you to fit under it.  I like the close and go desk for small spaces.
  • You also need a little space to stand and stretch occasionally.
  • Keep all essential items within arm’s reach but not too cluttered.  In fact, if your desk isn’t that large, make sure you prioritize all must-haves and let go of less important items (such as knick knacks which can be distractions).
  • For best ergonomic practices, make sure your monitor is eye level, your keyboard in front of you, and your mouse tucked in next to your keyboard.  You might even try a mini keyboard to maximize space.
  • Try some white noise to cover noisy coworkers and other office time-sucks.

Again, you can’t make a small space large or make everyone shit up around you, but you can make the most of your space by with these easy tips.

Hotels

When you think of a hotel, what comes to mind?

  • Room service?
  • Vacation?
  • Time off?
  • Relaxation?
  • Business Trip?
  • Time working?
  • Stress?

Tips for a Pleasant Hotel Stay

For me, it doesn’t matter why I go to a hotel.  Whether it’s business or pleasure, it’s all about the sleep.  If the room is quiet and I can sleep, then I am happy to be there.  If not, then I am not.  It’s as simple as that.  I have had loads of good and bad experiences away from home, and the main lesson I’ve learned is to plan ahead.

  • When I make a reservation, I ask for a room at the end of the hall, off the street, and away from the elevator.  That way few guests walk past my room and ambient noise is dispelled.
  • I also pack portable white noise just in case.  It may be the next door guests watching TV (or doing Lord knows what else), or it may be as close to home as a snoring spouse, but with a little white noise, I protect my sleep.

Whether making a sales pitch or vacationing, good sleep is non-negotiable.  By planning ahead, you can ensure you protect your rest.

Family visits

We moved to Scotland almost 2 years ago.  My husband was incredibly excited about starting his PhD program in the UK with a leading theologian, and I….well, I was surviving.  We left a house and community I loved and moved even farther away from our families.  I was happy to support my husband but devastated for myself.  In all honesty, this move has been amazing for our own family and sense of identity.  We depend on each other more than on our parents, and since we’re in our 30′s, that’s a good {healthy} thing.  However, we both really do miss having family nearby- whether it’s helping with the kids or sharing a meal, we feel rather alone in that area.  Fortunately, our families have made us a priority and both have chosen to visit us each year.  Their visits are the highlight of our time here sometimes because it just feels so natural.  Stuff that might normally be annoying just isn’t because we cherish our limited time together.

Having family visit for 3 weeks has been stretching, too.  I am not exactly flexible sleep-wise for the kids, and I have always been terrified of rooming them together.  We have usually managed to avoid that nightmare by sleeping Luke in his happy tent in odd spots, for example, but this time we decided to put the 2 kids together.  I dealt with my anxiety about the upcoming ordeal by not thinking about it.  {Yes, that’s called denial.}  But the first night did come and we survived.  Here’s what we did {keep in mind that they are 2 and almost 4}

  • Hey- at least I didn't pop noise canceling headphones on them...

    Moved the 2 year old’s crib to a spot the 4 year old wouldn’t have to walk past if she got up to go to the bathroom, etc.

  • Slept 2 year old in the crib in the new spot for nap, so it was not a surprise for bed.
  • Also had the air mattress positioned so both kids could see where everything would be.
  • Made sure they were really sleepy, but not overtired.
  • Talked about them “getting” {not having} to share a room and how fun that would be!  {Do you hear my happy tone?}
  • Got them ready for bed together.
  • Read their bedtimes stories and did their prayers together.
  • Plugged in2 white noise generators- 1 by each of them since it is a decently-sized room.  {Two may have been over-kill, but I don’t care.}
  • Practiced with 4 year old on how to get up and let herself out quietly.
  • Said good-night to both and shut the door.

Well, that’ what we did.  Here’s what I wish we would have done better.

  • Told the 4 yar old to ignore the 2 year old and sleep through his fussing.  {can you really do that, though?}
  • Not let the 2 year old bounce on the air mattress, adding to his growing belief that the air mattress is obviously where all the cool kids sleep.
  • Not used a night light.

Truth be told, they did great, though!  Each night it got easier and the younger one asked for the air mattress less.  The lack of extra light also helped keep them both asleep through the night.  Practising with the older one was definitely a good idea, and we praised her for being such a good {and quiet!} big sister!  Obviosuly, you know my love for white noise, so the generators were clutch in covering toddler sleeping sounds, as well as 2 extra adults going up an down the stairs, etc.

Now I am just wondering if they’ll want to go back to separate rooms?

White Noise for Window Installation

What could you do with an extra couple hours?

I think our landlord got tired of paying a carpenter to not fix the leak in our bathroom.  Our apartment had gotten incredibly drafty, and not in a good way.  In an apartment sans air conditioning, closed windows are not okay.  So, when we did try to open the windows, we had to use our entire bodies to muscle it ajar, only to find them gaping open, a veritable death wish for our 2 small children who know nothing of mortality, as well as ourselves dreading having to close them again.    So, long story not so short, we got new windows!  Thousands of dollars worth of new windows.  (Fingers crossed that our rent won’t go up…wishful thinking?)  Anyway, the guys came yesterday to install said windows…right when it was my 2 year old’s nap time.  I’m not sure about you, but massive amounts of hammering window frames, breaking glass, and loud drills are not exactly conducive to good sleep.  I kid you not, I turned on the white noise, and the kid was out!  3 hours and a million drills later, I woke him up.   I don’t think it’s possible to completely drone out drilling and hammering a room away, but the way white noise works allowed his brain to ignore it.   In all honesty, I don’t care how it works, as long as it worked.  I can do a lot in 3 hours.

What could you do in 3 hours?

  • Catch up on laundry
  • Call a friend
  • Update your blog
  • Read a book
  • Take a nap
  • Cook dinner
  • Work from home
  • ???

Tips for Maximizing Time

I'm not sure why she's smiling...working from home and being a mom at the same time is not that easy.

These days it’s all about being productive.  From productive parenting to being productive at work, efficiency and good use of time are essential.  Since I am a mom and I work from home, I am doubly focused on, well, being focused.  I have learned that keeping a 2 and a 4 year old on track while also balancing a work schedule requires a lot of planning and discipline.  Here are a few of the things I do that really help me maximize my time:

  • I do not work when the kids are awake unless my husband can be with them.
  • To make the above work, I have to be really intentional about getting the day started.  It’s easiest for me to work ahead- whether it’s washing and drying dishes or picking toys up off the ground, I prefer to get it out of the way rather than leave it for an already hectic morning.  That way when morning dawns, I don’t start the day behind.
  • Similarly, I work ahead for my actual job.  Since most of it is writing, I try to do all the writing for the following week THIS week.  This one is two-fold: 1) Deadlines are stressful and accomplishing something early motivates me and 2) If one of us gets sick or something comes up, I have some slack time and still get a pay check.
  • Lastly, I minimize distractions with white noise.  My husband jokes that I get sensory overload and shut down.  It’s true- too many noises or voices at one time completely derail me.  I need a quiet, peaceful work space for maximum productivity.  (I also use white noise for my kids’ rooms so they can sleep through my phone calls and the seagulls squawking.  If they’re not sleeping, I’m not working, and nobody gets to eat.)

Those really are the keys to my success.  Now if only someone would buy me this sit or stand work station, I’d really be lengthening my invoices.

2 Free Resources You Need!

I work from home while I take care of a toddler and a preschooler.  Sometimes my mind gets muddled in menu planning, teaching numbers and letters, potty training, and changing diapers.  Often, it’s hard to separate my personal life from my work world.  However, I am committed to being an excellent stay-at-home mom who works successfully during “down time.”  Being productive without going crazy, while essential for mothering and pulling in a pay check, can be tricky.  I’ve posted before about working from home, and the importance of white noise like this free white noise generator, but I thought I’d share another tip that keeps me on top of my schedule.

Each week I…

  • plan a menu
  • work on keeping my daughter accident-free
  • schedule our family activities
  • and try to keep track of work expectations and deadlines

That’s a lot of planning and thinking ahead.  One wall calendar just doesn’t cut it.  I have started using a free online printable calendar 3 different spots in my home:

  • If I want to jazz it up, I print it off on colored paper. Wild, I know.

    in the bathroom for a potty chart

  • in the kitchen for meals and family activities
  • by my desk for deadlines

For the potty chart, we put stickers for dry days and nights.  For the meals, I just write down what we’re having when and with whom.  My husband enjoys checking what’s for dinner.  For my work calendar, I use different colored pens/pencils to write down when work is due for what company (I write for several different groups).  I then highlight the more important ones, and since I usually work ahead, I always check off what I’ve accomplished so that I don’t get confused.  It’s a great system, and I finally am not missing important deadlines, nor do I have a million things written on 1 tiny square!

We have written before about ways to improve your sleep. Recently, National Geographic published a handy little quiz that will tell you if you are getting enough sleep at night and offer tips to help increase the amount of sleep you get if you aren’t getting enough.  (And according to surveys, you probably aren’t.)

After you take the quiz, feel free to peruse back through other helpful articles we’ve written in the past to remind yourself about techniques to improve your sleep.

2 Types of People

I’ve had some interesting conversations recently that have led me to believe that there are two types of people.  {Actually, I am quite sure there are many more types than that, but discussing them would ruin this post.  Fair enough?}  Back on topic- there are two types of people.  Techies and tech-snobs.  Take me- I used to be a tech-snob.  I was sure there was a “right” way of doing things, a more natural, organic way that didn’t involve technology.  I was sure I didn’t need a typing class in high school {There were several attractive members of the opposite sex in the computer class that typing was a pre-req for.  Taking typing meant I had to drop the class with the cute boys.  To this day I hint and peck….I’ll let you guess what choice I made.} Case in point- think of Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail.  She had the cute little book shop and refused a computer in lieu of a type-writer.  That’s a tech-snob.  Purists.  {In their minds anyway}.

I said I was a tech-snob.  What changed?  I married and electrical engineer.  I should have known my tech-aversion was doomed when my husband-to-be started making spreadsheets to keep track of our registry.  Little by little, my husband wore me down and I now embrace technology as a help rather than a hindrance.

Two of my favorite tech-devices are GPS/Sat Navs and white noise generators.  We use both on a weekly, if not daily basis- for travel to new places and for sleep {in strange places and for the kids not to hear each other}.  This has drawn not a little attention from our nosey friends, who, if you must know, fall into 1 of 2 categories: techies or tech-snobs.  All the techies have also purchased Sat Navs  and sound machines and the tech-snobs are purists, sure that these devices defy nature and the way things are supposed to be.  They’ve brought up a few concerns I’d like to address:

  • GPS/Sat Navs make you forget how to use a map.  This is ridiculous.  The main advantage Sat Navs have is helping you not get lost.  Whether it’s a clear map or a recalculation based on a wrong turn,  a GPS doesn’t erase your memories or abilities.  If you’d rather suck it up on a too-large, impossible to fold map in the car and get lost a lot, then more power to you.  But you’re not a purist- you’re a glutton for punishment.
  • White noise generators just make more noise and make it to where you can’t fall asleep without them. I can only speak for my family, but we started using white noise because we were having trouble sleeping.  Now we don’t.  Plus, neither of my children struggles to sleep without white noise.  I use it to block their own noise from each other, but they are fine without it.

Lastly, if anyone is worried about not having a GPS or a sound machine on hand, I’d like to remind everyone how small and easily portable both devices are.  Even on incredibly restrictive flights, we’ve never had a problem packing either or toting them to a friend’s house.  Just sayin’…