November 20th, 2017

Working At Home During The Holidays – How Do You Balance It All?

Working At Home During The Holidays - How Do You Balance It All?

Here comes the holiday season. A wonderful time of year to see family and friends, share good meals and have fun together. When you work at home, however, the balance between work and family can be especially challenging. Working at home during the holidays can be more challenging yet.

Sometimes the balance must be tilted one way or the other. You may have a work at home job that requires you to work certain hours on a holiday. People who work outside the home face that same problem. Your boss says you have to work, you work if you want to keep the job. It can be that simple.

Other times it’s harder to find that balance. You need to make a living, but you want to form those happy memories as a family during the holidays. Everyone wants you to join in the fun, but you can’t spare as much time off work as they’re asking. Working at home isn’t necessarily as flexible as some think, after all.

Treat Your Work At Home Job As A Real Job

Your work at home job is a real job; prioritize it. Sometimes your work shift will require that you miss the family dinner or whatever. If you’ve ever worked retail, food service, public safety, or healthcare jobs, you know that routine. It’s a part of the job and you deal with it, even if some family members don’t understand.

It can be particularly difficult to explain that your work at home job isn’t always flexible about these things. You may find that some family members still don’t understand that a work at home job is every bit as real as any other job and that it puts certain demands on your time.

Let family members know when you can see them as early as possible. This gives them time to get used to the idea that you may not be able to show up when they want you to.

Don’t call in sick on a holiday if you can help it. It will make you look bad with your employer unless you’re really sick. This is particularly true if you have a seasonal work at home job. If you’re hired to work just for the holiday season, you are probably required to work the holidays themselves.

If you must have holiday time off, ask for it as early as possible. Some jobs won’t give it regardless. Holiday shifts may be required. If a holiday is a busy time for your employer, you’re pretty much stuck. It’s one of the disadvantages of working at home during the holidays.

It’s no fun missing out on family events, but it can be worse to miss out on income your family needs.

Prioritize Your Home Business

Your home business may be extra busy during the holidays, or things may slow down. This depends on the kind of home business you’re running.

If things slow down, you may have it easy when it comes to making family time, so long as nothing comes up. You take the time off and have fun. Make up the time as needed a little later.

If your home business is busy during the holiday season, you need to work on it as necessary. As it is your business, you may at least be able to schedule yourself around the big family celebrations. That’s not true for all home businesses, but it is for many.

Then again, it might be time to consider hiring a virtual assistant. Start using one before the holiday season starts so that they are familiar with your needs.

Prepare In Advance

If there’s anything you can do to prepare things in advance, do so. If you have a blog, work some extra hours before the holidays to set up your blog posts. Load up your Hootsuite account to handle appropriate social media posting for you.

If you ship out physical products, organize and package them so that all they need is a mailing label and postage when it’s time for them to go. The more you do in advance, the less time it will take you when you would rather be with family.

Sometimes you will need to lose some sleep to get things ready in advance. A few late nights or early mornings can greatly increase your family time during the holiday season.

Are You Hosting?

If you’re hosting family events, all of this gets even more complicated. Do your best to avoid hosting during times that you might have to take calls or otherwise need a quiet workspace. The more people there are in your house, the harder it will be to get them to be quiet for you.

If you must have quiet work time, talk it over with your guests before they arrive, especially if children are involved. It’s so hard to keep excited children quiet, and kids are always excited at family gatherings. Make plans for how the noise level will be kept down and everyone will be kept out of your way while you work.

If your home office is the guest room, these discussions are particularly important. You don’t want someone coming in to grab something from their suitcase when you need to work. Even if you don’t need quiet in that moment, they’re all too likely to want to stop and chat a while.

Make Your Celebrations Flexible

I grew up with very flexible family holiday celebrations. Combine divorced parents with grandparents who would like a visit, and these things took days sometimes. Christmas gatherings could take until New Years sometimes.

To be honest, sometimes that was a part of the fun. Lots of parties, food, and presents over many days isn’t a bad thing. Tiring, especially for the adults, but not bad.

Accepting that some of your holiday celebrations may not happen on the day itself can take some of the stress away. Do you really have to see everyone right on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, or any other holiday?

Come to an agreement with family and friends on when you will see them. It may take some time for some family members to accept that they don’t get to see you at their traditional time, but that’s often the way it has to be.

Your religious observances may be more difficult to move, but as your work rarely takes the entire day, you should be able to find a way to manage that part of your holiday celebrations.

Know When To Say No

Family holiday celebrations often come with a lot of requests, even when you aren’t hosting. Bring this, make that, you’re in charge… you know the routine.

If people start asking you for more than you have time to handle, say no. It’s not always easy, especially when it’s something you have done in the past. Saying no, however, can greatly decrease the stress you feel over the holidays, and that’s a huge help.

Relax And Have Fun

Finally, when your work schedule allows, relax and have fun with your family. One of the best parts of working at home during the holidays is that you don’t have a huge commute to get back home. You’re there.

Close your home office door if you have one and make some real time for your family when you don’t need to work. Leave your social media alone. Focus on what your family and your holidays mean to you. Time enough to think about work later.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

November 16th, 2017

Kid Gifts to Encourage Creativity

Kid Gifts to Encourage Creativity

Buying kid gifts is one of those things that can drive me up the wall. My kids are old enough to want a lot of things, and what they want keeps getting more and more expensive. That doesn’t mean they always get what they want – far from it – but it does make finding appropriate gifts within a budget challenging at times.

Kid gifts that encourage creativity are among my favorites. Kids enjoy movies and such, but creative toys really encourage them to explore. What works well varies quite a bit with age, of course.

One of the challenges can be that a lot of creative activities are messy. Painting, for example. My kids have a lot of supplies to allow them to create, and it does create a mess sometimes. But it means I know they’re having a good time expressing themselves.

Younger Kid Gifts

Magic CabinMagic Cabin isn’t itself a gift – it’s an online store. Their toys, however, are wonderful for encouraging kids to be creative. They have building toys, toys to encourage kids to play make believe, art supplies and so much more. It’s so much fun just looking at what they have.

HearthSongHearthSong is another online store I love to look at. They have wonderful creative play and outdoor play toys. Some of their exclusives look really amazing.

Cardboard Playhouse – One of the best gifts that my husband ever gave our kids didn’t cost any money at all, just time. He got a two layer cardboard box from Home Depot by having the night crew save it for him. He taped it closed on top, then cut appropriate doors and windows for a playhouse. This allowed the kids to color on it as they liked. The double thickness of cardboard meant that kids could safely climb on top.

If you like that idea but don’t want to cut one out, there are cardboard playhouses available at Amazon.

LEGO – When you’re talking about kids gifts that encourage creativity, you can’t skip LEGO. There are so many things kids can do with them. There are LEGO sets to go with just about anything your kids like. Personally, I’ve always loved the plain block sets where the kid gets to decide what they’re making. The sets where you’re supposed to make a particular item always struck me as a little limiting.

My Wall EaselMy Wall Easel by ALEX Toys is a great idea. Your kids can have fun drawing, and it doesn’t take up floor space. Kids can use a roll of paper or the chalkboard. The one problem I’ve always had with easels is the floor space they take, so this is great.

Perler Beads – It amazes me how long kids can sit and play with Perler beads. One year they even made homemade party favors with them for a Minecraft themed birthday party. Perler beads were perfect for that job.

These obviously require some adult interaction when the kids are too young to use an iron on their own. If you get more than one board, you can iron out a few at once rather than waiting for the kids to finish something.

Snap CircuitsSnap Circuits are one of the best toys we ever got for my son. My daughters played with them a little, but not like my son did. He was in second grade when we got them, and quickly mastered them. He has even done demonstrations at school with his Snap Circuits, and this is my quiet kid who hates to speak up in class.

If your kid ends up loving Snap Circuits, save on batteries and get the Battery Eliminator. It connects to the Snap Circuits set in place of the batteries. It plugs into the wall instead.

Garden Tools – Age appropriate garden tools are great for kids. They love to dig!

When possible, I’ve given my kids their own place to garden in the yard. They decide what to plant, if anything. They can just dig if they like. My oldest loved fairy gardens for a time when she was little. My youngest has a thing for marigolds. Whatever the kids do, it’s fun to just let them do it on their own.

Play Kitchen, Tool Bench, etc. – A play kitchen, tool bench or whatever suits your kids will encourage a lot of creative play. Children love to do things similar to what they see adults do.

If you want to get more realistic, go for an Easy Bake Oven or real cooking tools they can use in your kitchen. Real tools to make things are great as kids get older too.

Art SuppliesArt supplies of all sorts are ideal for encouraging creativity. We have a cabinet where the kids keep all their art supplies. Crayons, colored pencils, pens, paint, all kinds of paper, clay, play dough, glitter, craft foam – the list goes on and the cabinet gets cluttered. But that’s all part of the fun.

Lessons – What does your child want to learn? Art lessons, dance lessons, music lessons… what do they want to do? Learning how to do these things can help them quite a bit with their creativity, and makes great kid gifts. There are often good classes available locally.

Teen And Older Kid Gifts

As kids get older, they are so much harder to shop for. They also have a better idea of in which direction they want to direct their creativity. Some will make it difficult, however, and insist that they aren’t creative at all. Don’t believe them! Everyone can be creative; it’s just a matter of figuring out what type of creativity they enjoy.

YouTube videos can be great for helping teens improve their skills. There are lots of “how to” videos for just about anything your teen can imagine.

Art Supplies – Just because the kids are older doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy the right art supplies. My oldest daughter still loves to draw, so better quality colored pencils are good for her. My son is into steampunk, so supplies to work on that are better for him.

Drawing Tablet – Art on the computer may be more fun lots of kids, and a drawing tablet is a huge help. My oldest daughter has one, and she likes it. It’s a great tool for drawing on the computer.

Musical Instruments – While some musical instruments for kids could almost be considered instruments of torture, things improve as the kids get older. They get better at playing their instruments and may appreciate something of better quality.

Tools – As kids get older and reach their teenage years, real hand tools are definitely in order. Teach them to use the basics such as hammers, screwdrivers and glue guns. Then take it farther, depending on your own skills with tools and what you have available. A good set of tools that is all their own may serve them for life.

Soldering Kit – Take an interest in electronics up a notch from Snap Circuits and teach your child to solder. It’s also a useful skill for a teen who wants to make jewelry.

Camera – A decent quality camera all their own can be very encouraging to the older kid or teen interested in photography. It’s a creative skill that can be a lot of fun to practice. Younger kids enjoy this too, but a teen who enjoys photography can easily be encouraged. A cell phone camera is good enough for a lot of photos, but it’s not the same as having a camera that is just a camera.

Lessons – If your child has been taking lessons and enjoying them, keep them up. If there’s something they want to start, go for it.

Independent Outings – Make sure your older kids and teens get out and do things on their own. Gifts to encourage this could include movie tickets or gift cards to places they would like to go. They’ll be adults all too soon. They need to get used to acting independently so they’re ready to head off to college or career when the time comes. If they’re used to creative thinking and problem solving, so much the better.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

November 13th, 2017

Is Medical Transcription Still A Viable Work At Home Career?

Is Medical Transcription Still A Viable Work At Home Job?

My very first work at home job was as a medical transcriptionist. There weren’t as many people working at home then, and I considered myself quite lucky. I had so many people asking me how to get into medical transcription that I started this site, so I could more easily share the many work at home options. But times have changed, and the question has become whether medical transcription is still a viable work at home career.

That’s a tough question.

Looking at the Occupational Outlook Handbook, medical transcriptionists will not be in as much demand as other medical professionals, with a 3% decline currently expected from 2016-2026.  Compare that with medical records and health information technicians, where the outlook says an employment increase of 13% is expected. That category includes medical coders and cancer registrars.

This doesn’t mean you can’t become a medical transcriptionist. It means you will need to be prepared for transcribing with current technology. This includes voice recognition software and electronic medical records.

Most medical transcription jobs now are editing jobs. You make sure that the transcription created by voice recognition software is accurate. This means that it requires fewer transcriptionists to get the work done.

Medical Transcription Training Is Vital

If you want to do medical transcription, you have to get trained. This isn’t something you can do on your own. That was possible once, but not now.

You need to consider schools accredited by AHDI. There’s a list of approved schools on their website. Graduating from a program approved by AHDI is a huge help in finding work after graduation. Many employers require it.

The school I have long recommended is Career Step, which is on the AHDI list. The company I worked for when I was a medical transcriptionist (then Medquist, now M*Modal), still hires transcriptionists who have a certification from an accredited transcription school, and that includes Career Step.

The training through Career Step is self paced, within reason. There is a maximum time you can take, and if you’re serious about your training, it should be plenty of time. Training at home is great practice for working at home.

You Need A Good Workspace And Equipment

If you’re going to do medical transcription at home, you need a good workspace and the right equipment.

The workspace is important due to patient privacy. You’re working in medical records. Your training will help you to understand HIPAA and what it requires of you as a professional.

Employers may or may not provide equipment. You don’t need a lot beyond what you probably already have. You need a computer, monitor, foot pedal, headphones and high speed internet. Your internet connection may need to be wired, not wireless, for security reasons.

Your employer will often provide the software required. If they don’t give you a text expander, however, I strongly recommend getting one. There are many words and phrases that you will type over and over again as a medical transcriptionist. It’s much faster to type a few letters and have them expand into the word or phrase you need.

Reference books can also be important. When you know where to look online, you can find quite a bit of information on the internet, but sometimes a book is easier to use, as well as more accurate. You will get some books with your training, but you may find others necessary as you work.

Work Hours

Medical transcription work hours may be flexible, but you will need to check with your employer. Some only require a certain number of hours, while others expect to know exactly when you will be working. You may still be able to set your schedule in those cases, but you will need to do so in advance. Other employers may set your schedule for you.

Part time and full time positions are often available.

Overall, I still consider medical transcription a viable work at home career, provided you are aware of the changes in technology and can keep up. The expectations employers have of their transcriptionists have changed over time. You need to keep up to be certain that you are ready for any future changes. Get good training, and it may qualify you for the work at home job you want.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

November 11th, 2017

How To Distract Your Cats When You Work At Home

How To Distract Your Cats When You Work At Home

When it comes to work at home distractions, cats can rank right up there with kids. An affectionate cat may not settle for a mere lap – they want your keyboard, or maybe that spot right in front of your monitor. It can be very necessary to distract your cats when you work at home.

Closing your home office door isn’t always enough, either. Cats find closed doors quite intriguing. They’ll scratch or meow at it enough to be a distraction for you as you try to work. They don’t necessarily want in; they just want that door open so they have the option.

I have four cats here. Three are completely loyal to me, and it’s common to have all four in and out of my office as I work. If I don’t have things set up, they walk across my desk, across me, use me for a scratching post (gently), or sit on my head and chair headrest. That last gets a bit awkward, but it’s kind of funny too.

Set Up A Cat Trap (Bed)

Setting up a place for the cats to sleep in my office that isn’t on me or my desk is one of my most effective techniques. Give them a comfortable place to sleep, and cats probably will. Cats love to sleep, so it’s the perfect way to distract your cats.

We have a sherpa blanket from Costco that we joke is the perfect cat trap. My cats cannot walk across it without stopping to purr and knead. I just plunk it on my futon and let it attract the cats. It’s absurdly effective.

I also keep a small blanket on an out of the way corner of my desk, for those cats who need to be close. It’s not as nice as the sherpa blanket, but sometimes a cat will pick it.

Alternatively, put a piece of paper on the ground. Cats can’t resist that for some reason. They may not stay long, but they will sit on the paper.

sleepy cats

Give Them A View

If the cat trap doesn’t work, an open window blind might. Cats love to have a view.

At the very least, make it easy for them to get to the window through the blinds. I usually have to open them or the cats will work noisily at getting past them, or come complain to me that they can’t. They love watching the birds and lizards outside, as well as glaring at evil interlopers, such as stray cats or a dog walking by. One of my cats even growls at the mailman.

If the weather is suitable, cats are even happier if you open the window so they can smell the world outside. That doesn’t work so well in hot or cold weather, but it’s great on mild days.

Keep Their Toys Out Of Your Home Office

Just as with children’s toys, you’re best off keeping your home office clear of cat toys. Cat toys aren’t usually all that loud, but the cats can get quite active playing with them, and it’s a distraction.

Instead, keep a good supply of cat toys elsewhere. We have these little mouse toys with feathers that the cats all utterly adore. We used to get them at Walmart, but these days Amazon is our only choice. The feathers and the fur make all the difference in comparison to other mouse toys, which my cats completely ignore.

Beware that one cat who must display her “kill” to you. My cat Melody has to go around the house when she catches a toy, meowing loudly to announce her kill. We haven’t been able to teach her that it’s rude to talk with her mouth full.

Set Up A Cat Tree In Another Room

Cats love to get up high. A nice tall cat tree in another room will encourage them to go there for their climbing and scratching needs.

It won’t be entirely effective, most likely. One of my cats likes to scratch (gently) on my jeans for attention, while another likes to see how far up the back of my office chair he can stretch. But it helps.

melody and river

Have More Than One Cat

I always get cats in pairs. They’ll bother you less when they have a friend to play with. This is easiest to do when you initially adopt the cats, but it is possible to work a new cat into a household. If possible, have a friend be the one to carry the cat into the house – your cats might blame the friend rather than you for the interloper.

Get A Fish Tank To Distract Your Cats

We call our fish tank “cat TV.” The cats love to watch the fish and are eternally convinced that they will someday catch that algae eater. He’s their favorite target. Fish are a great way to distract your cats and to get a few laughs watching the cats trying to get the fish. We put tape sticky side up on top of the tank to keep the cats off.

cat tv

Let Them Storm The Castle

My cats have inherited a popup castle from my kids. They play in it far more than the kids ever did. The only hard part is keeping the castle standing. One of the cats is named Storm, so there are always jokes about Storm in the castle. It makes a great place for the cats to wrestle each other.

Have fun, Storm in the castle

Play With Them When You Aren’t Working

Get your cats used to playing with you when you aren’t trying to work. My son’s cat (she chose him, she’s the only cat not loyal to me here), demands her playtime with him every evening around nine or so. She goes to her murder hole (the space between the seats on our couch recliner) and waits for his fingers to appear so she can attack. It’s utterly adorable watching her wait for him to notice her, and then attack. It looks ferocious, but it’s gentle.

Few things will distract your cats completely when you work at home, short of closing your office door, and even that can be only so effective at keeping them quiet. You can, however, make it easier for them to choose to be out of your way. Most of them will also generate endless cute moments with your cats, which you can always enjoy.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

November 8th, 2017

How To Start A Productive Work At Home Day

How To Start A Productive Work At Home Day

Being productive is one of the great challenges of working at home. There are a lot of distractions, and usually no one to tell you to get to work. You may not even have an exact time that you have to be logged on, depending on what you do. It’s all too easy to let things slide. If you’re serious about your work, you need to plan to have a productive work at home day.

Treating your work as seriously as you would any other job is vital. You wouldn’t take random time off work in an outside the home job, at least not if you expected to stick with it. Don’t do that with your work at home job or home business, or it won’t get you anywhere.

Tips For A Productive Work At Home Day

There are a lot of little things that go into a productive work at home day. I don’t worry about what I wear, although some find it beneficial to dress professionally. That’s one of those “do what works for you” things.

Eat First

Have something to eat before you start working. It’s hard to be productive when you’re hungry and all too easy to take an early break if you haven’t eaten yet. A good meal or a solid snack, depending on the time of day you start working, will give you the energy you need to get off to a good start.

If you prefer to start your day off with some coffee or other caffeine, get that too. You may prefer to keep your drink with you at your desk, but you can prepare it before you start to work. I keep a bottle of water at my desk so that I always have something healthy to drink.

Settle The Distractions

Who or what is likely to distract you while you work at home? The kids? The pets? Laundry or dishes? What about the television? Do what needs to be done to handle these distractions.

With kids, you may need to have childcare to keep them happily out of the way while you work. This may be as simple as having your spouse or other family member take care of them, but it could also mean paying for daycare. Older kids can simply be told to let you work during your work hours and to only interrupt if necessary.

Stuffing your kids in a box will only keep them busy for a little while

Household chores shouldn’t be allowed to mess up your productive work at home day. Best is if you can handle them at other times of the day, or assign them as chores to the kids. Your spouse should also be handling an appropriate share. How these things are handled depends on the ages of your kids and your spouse’s availability, of course.

Get Some Exercise

A little bit of exercise before you start your workday can make you more productive. I used to walk my kids to school each morning, but we no longer live that close to the school. Two hilly miles in each direction is a bit much, especially for the kids. Exercise has to be more planned now.

A quick walk around the block or a short trip to the gym may be a good plan. You can also exercise at home with little or no equipment.

Define Your Work Hours And Stick To Them

Having a defined work schedule is a huge boost to your productivity. Starting on time is especially important. A late start makes it too easy to let other things slide.

Your Browser Can Help With A Productive Work At Home Day

Your internet browser can make it easier or more difficult to be productive. I have mine set up so that it opens with the pages I like to start my work day with. No irrelevant distractions the instant I start it up, just what I need to work. I may not always choose to start work with the pages my browser opens for me, but at least they aren’t giving me a chance to go in the wrong direction.

Don’t let social media distraction you. If you need to set up posts and reply to work related things, that’s one thing. It’s entirely another to start socializing with friends on social media.

Have A Plan

The more you know about what you need to get done, the easier it is to have a productive work at home day. You’ll spend less time sitting and staring at the keyboard, trying to figure out what to do.

There are many ways to plan for the next day. If you have a work at home job, what you do may be defined by the job, no need to plan on your own. In a customer service or technical support job, for example, your plan is probably to log on and help customers.

If you run your own business or have a more creative job, you need to plan. You can write out what you need to do each day, for example. You might have a daily or weekly routine you go through. A day might be set aside for a particular task that isn’t a part of your routine.

Having something of a daily or weekly routine is a huge help. Many bloggers, for example, will write blog posts in batches and schedule them out. This leaves them free for marketing and promotion the rest of the week. Others will prefer to write and promote every day. Your routine is something you create yourself and test to make sure it works well for you.

Some things will be of higher priority than others. Get these done first, even if they’re not your favorite part of the job. Sometimes especially if they aren’t your favorite part of the job. You still have to get everything done. Consider what’s most important to get done each day when you make your plan.

Keep Your Work Space Comfortable

Having a comfortable place to work helps a lot. This includes a good office chair and desk, along with pleasant decor. If clients never see your office, it can be all your style. If others do see your office, even if only over video, you need to to be comfortable, yet professional. Your decor shouldn’t get in the way of your productivity, of course.

Don’t Multitask

Multitasking is not effective. Don’t try to work on two things at once. It’s not a good use of your time.

If you need to write something, write. Don’t have a chat with someone open – you’ll lose your train of thought. Background music is fine, but don’t try to watch videos while you’re working on something else, even if the video is relevant to your work. You won’t benefit as much as you should from the video, and your work will progress more slowly than it would otherwise.

Don’t Let A Bad Start Ruin The Rest Of Your Day

We all have bad starts to our days sometimes. The key to having a productive work at home day is to not let it ruin the rest of your day. You may have started work late due to a sick kid, your internet going down or other household emergencies, but that doesn’t have to keep the rest of your day from being productive. Do the best you can to work around problems as they come up.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

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Disclosure: Home with the Kids is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. I also review or mention products for which I may receive compensation from other sources. All opinions are my own.