November 18th, 2014

7 Ways to Release Your Creativity

7 Ways to Release Your Creativity

Keeping up your creative side can be difficult at time when you run your own business. We all hit that slump sometimes where the ideas, of whatever sort we need, just don’t come as nicely. There are ways, however, that you can try to release your creativity when you’re feeling stuck, or just when you need a little boost.

1. Take a walk.

If you’re feeling stuck, taking a walk can be a big help. Get yourself away from working directly on your project and get some fresh air. Around the block, or a hike in nature if you can afford that much time away.

2. Play with play dough.

Fiddle around with play dough for a while. Don’t worry about what you’re making or if it relates to what you need to get done. Just have a little fun and get your mind off your work for a little.

3. Draw.

Draw anything. It doesn’t have to make sense or look good. Scribble if that helps you. Wendy Piersall has been doing one 15 minute art project a day, and has learned a lot about how she works and what she’d like to improve.

4. Write anything.

It doesn’t matter what you write, just write whatever comes to mind, even if it’s one word over and over.

4. Daydream.

Let your mind wander for a while. Trying to focus too long on your work can really kill your creativity. Take that mental break for a little while, even when you can’t get away.

5. Know what you want to do.

It’s easier to be creative if you know more or less what you want to end up with. It’s really hard to get anywhere when you haven’t defined an end point.

6. Look at problems a new way.

If you’re facing a problem, and a solution just isn’t coming to you, find a new way to look at it. This can be as simple as writing on paper something you’ve been working with on the computer, or solving a simpler version of the same problem and seeing if the simpler solution can help you reach the more difficult one.

7. Bounce ideas off someone else.

Talk out your challenges with someone. Even if they don’t really understand what you’re trying to do, it can help, and sometimes they’ll even have ideas that will get you moving in the right direction.

Disclosure: I often review or mention products for which I may receive compensation in the form of affiliate commissions. All opinions are my own.

November 10th, 2014

Have You Installed a Carbon Monoxide Detector In Your Home?

Have You Installed a Carbon Monoxide Detector In Your Home?

A Facebook friend of mine recently had a big scare, one that could have killed her and her family. A carbon monoxide detector saved their lives. Their furnace and stove were both blamed for the problem, after they had the fire department, gas company and building inspector check things out. Especially this time of year, as people start to use heaters and generators more, it’s important to make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector installed in your home and that it’s working.

This doesn’t have to be a big deal. There are a variety of ways to get one. Some are combined with smoke detectors, but make sure you know for certain that your detector has both; don’t assume a smoke detector handles carbon monoxide as many do not. There are also models that simply plug into the wall.

On hearing my friend’s story, I took a look at my carbon monoxide detector. It was plugged into the wall upstairs, near the kids’ bedroom. Now, detectors are only good for a limited number of years, usually 5-7 years. Mine was almost 10 years old, so I am quite grateful for the reminder to replace it, as it probably wasn’t really working anymore.

I selected the Kidde KN-COPP-3 Nighthawk Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Battery Backup and Digital Display, and bought two of them. Not in the two pack but individually, as the two pack at the time was not the better deal. One is for upstairs, the other for downstairs. I like that it has a display where you can see how much CO it’s detecting. It’s easy to mount up on the wall while still leaving it plugged in, or you can have it down at the outlet. There’s battery backup, so you can count on it even during an outage (so long as you replace the battery regularly) – vital if you ever need to use a generator during a power outage!

Placement is important for CO detectors. You don’t want to put it right by something that might make carbon monoxide – that can cause too many false alarms. It’s usually not advised to put one in your garage, especially if you park your car in there. Such places will sometimes have a bit of carbon monoxide buildup for a short time, but it should go away quickly.

You also don’t want to put one in a place where the air doesn’t circulate much. Don’t hide one away behind the furniture or near a vaulted ceiling if you can help it. You want it testing the air you breathe.

Make sure your kids don’t play with your detectors. They probably won’t damage it as such, but you don’t want it to come loose from where you’ve plugged it in, or have the battery come loose if it’s battery powered.

You should test your CO detectors the same times you test your smoke detectors – that is, when you change your clocks each year. It only takes a moment, but could be vital to your family.

Some states require homes to have carbon monoxide detectors. You can get more information at http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/carbon-monoxide-detectors-state-statutes.aspx or from your state or local housing department.

Carbon Monoxide Facts

Carbon monoxide (CO) in the home can be created by anything that burns fuel such as hot water heaters, stoves, ovens, grills or furnaces. This includes anything that burns wood, charcoal, propane, natural gas, kerosene, etc. Visit http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Safety-Education/Safety-Education-Centers/Carbon-Monoxide-Information-Center/Carbon-Monoxide-Questions-and-Answers-/ for more information.

CO is colorless and odorless, that’s why you need a detector for it. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to the flu, and include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. Symptoms will be more severe if the levels of carbon monoxide get too high, and may also include mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness and death. If you’re concerned about your symptoms but don’t have a CO detector or aren’t sure it’s working, get outside and seek medical attention. You will also want to have the gas company test your home for problems.

Portable generators are a major cause of carbon monoxide poisoning, which is why they should never be used indoors or in any enclosed space. If you use one, consider the information in this infographic, created by the CPSC:

COInfographic_600wide

Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we believe will add value to our readers.

October 28th, 2014

How to Balance Volunteering With Working at Home

How to Balance Volunteering With Working at Home

I really like the school my kids go to. It’s a part of the International Baccalaureate program and really challenges the kids. Sometimes it’s challenging for me too – they have volunteer requirements for parents and kids. The kids’ volunteer hours mostly happen at school – they do community service projects at school. But there are still my hours at the school plus we volunteer at the local animal shelter once a week. It can add up.

All this is, of course, far easier to handle when you work at home than when you work outside the home – I have the flexibility to do my volunteer time during the week rather than having it eat up my weekends. On the other hand, it definitely eats into my work time at home. Volunteering is something you have to balance carefully when you work at home. Here are some things to consider.

Benefits of Volunteering

Volunteering is, of course, a good thing to do for your community. It’s a good example for your kids. Sometimes it’s even fun. My kids certainly enjoy their involvement at the animal shelter – the time we spend there is far above what the school requires, and continues through the summer break each year. At their ages, it’s mostly easy stuff – folding laundry and helping to socialize the animals, especially the cats. Taking three kids into a kennel with a dog is rarely appealing – most dogs get too excited.

The benefits my kids have gotten go beyond all the fun they’ve had with the animals – or even the two cats we finally adopted. They’re learning the value of work, and may even be able to list their volunteer time as work experience when the time comes for them to seek paid work. They’ll have references from people who will know what they’re capable of. That’s why we keep at it beyond what the school requires.

Of course, I benefit too. Volunteering can be a form of networking. If I have a need of a reference, these are people who know me. It’s also a time to get out and be around other people, not just my kids, which can be hard to come by when you work at home.

If you’re looking for work, volunteering can help you too. It can be a way to get a bit of experience in a new field. It can be a form of networking. It’s something to put on your resume, especially if the kind of work you do as a volunteer would benefit a potential employer.

How Do You Manage Scheduling?

The big thing with volunteering while you work at home is making sure it interferes with your paid work as little as possible. My volunteer time at my kids’ school, for example, is one day a week in the morning. I prefer to lose time in the mornings rather than in the middle of my work day. I hate having my day broken up – it really makes it harder for me to be productive when I lose hours out of the middle of my day. I use the same day to run any errands I need done.

The animal shelter isn’t as easy to schedule. We used to volunteer there on Saturday mornings, but found it made it too difficult to do other things on weekends. Fridays are minimum days at my kids’ school, so it’s a relatively easy day to go in, as it won’t interfere with the kids’ homework.

These are the kinds of things you have to consider when you schedule your volunteer hours. You may find it best to do it at a time where it doesn’t break up your work day, or you may prefer the break of working on something totally different. Some people find it more refreshing to work on something different for a while, then return to their regular work. Figure out what works best for you.

Don’t allow volunteering to take an excess of the time you have for paid work without good reason. There can be good reasons to take on more volunteer work over time, but without that you don’t want to lose too much time to work on things that help you to earn a living.

If the hours you’re volunteering become a problem for your work, speak up. Most times you can change them around, decrease them, whatever it takes to make it better. Some opportunities can even be done from home. Volunteering from home is more limited, of course, and you don’t get the direct interaction with others so much, but if that’s what works best, that’s what you should do.

Volunteering for a cause you believe in and enjoy working with can be worthwhile in many ways. It’s a good thing to do as a family if you can fit it into your routine.

Disclosure: I often review or mention products for which I may receive compensation in the form of affiliate commissions. All opinions are my own.

October 7th, 2014

7 Drawbacks to Working at Home

7 Drawbacks to Working at Home

For the most part, working at home is great. Flexible, no commute, it’s easier to be there for your kids most of the time… good stuff like that. But it’s not all wonderful. There are drawbacks to working at home you need to be aware of.

1. Isolation

Many people find working at home very isolating, especially if you’ve had a lot of time to interact with coworkers in the past. Most work at home jobs don’t give you a lot of time to interact with other adults, and that’s a difficult thing for many people to deal with.

If isolation is a problem for you, find a way to get some time out of the house and around other people (not just your kids). Some people work at coffee shops for part of the day so they can talk to other people. Others make sure to get out socially with friends more often after work and on weekends. Even picking up the kids from school can be a social time, if a little brief and often hurried.

2. Household chores are hard to resist

It’s really hard to ignore household chores that could use to be done when you work at home. Nothing wrong with keeping up your home, of course – just make sure you don’t let it interfere with getting your paid work done.

I recommend choosing times for housework. Set time limits on it and just don’t let it get in the way of what you really need to get done for the day with your job. Sure, laundry day may really keep you moving, but you can plan for that and pick a time when you can afford to lose the work time for laundry. Cleaning the kitchen, vacuuming, all those other chores can be done when it’s more convenient, and don’t forget to assign some of those jobs to the kids when they’re old enough.

3. Work hours are difficult to maintain

If I were always perfectly motivated, I’d go to the gym after dropping the kids off at school, come home and shower, then get right to work, take an appropriate lunch break, work some more, then bring the kids home from school. It sounds so easy yet it’s so difficult. Breaks can drag on longer than they should, there’s always something fascinating to read on the internet… you know how it goes.

The more you commit to a solid work routine, the easier it gets to maintain it. That includes your time working AND your time off work. Some people find it very difficult to get started working, others find it difficult to stop and have family time or a social life. It’s very important that you separate your work time from the rest of your life. Give yourself time to do more than just work.

4. All the distractions

By distractions, I don’t just mean the kids. Kids are usually huge distractions when you work at home. Pets can be little distractions – my kittens were having a battle on the back of my office chair just a few minutes ago while I was trying to work. Other times they’re so cute they’re hard to ignore.

The television can be a distraction. Maybe there’s a show on you’d love to watch, just to have some noise around, really. Amazing how easy it is to get sucked into watching when you should be working, isn’t it? It’s often better to resist temptation and leave the TV off when you need to work.

People coming to the door can be distracting. I’m very picky about answering the door when I’m working. If they’re trying to sell me something, I try to quickly cut their spiel off and tell them I’m working – most understand. We also often get people trying to sell solar power around here – telling them we rent usually gets them to leave fast.

Friends and family who don’t understand that you’re really working can be the worst distractions. Kids aren’t necessarily the worst – someone who just sees that you’re at home and assumes that means you’re available to chat, run errands or whatever can be even more difficult if you aren’t firm with them right at the start.

5. Productivity can be harder to measure

If you’re working for someone else, it can be more difficult for them to measure your productivity. They can see the results, but if you were dealing with a problem, they may never know what it took for you to solve it. If you aren’t tracking hours, it can be very difficult to prove that you put in a lot of time for the results you got.

6. It’s more difficult to communicate with coworkers

Communication with coworkers can be more difficult when you work at home. Certainly it’s easy to have online meetings or chats, but that’s still not the same as the casual or professional communication you have face to face in an office.

7. You may not get benefits

Many work at home jobs don’t offer benefits such as health care or retirement. Often you’re working for yourself or doing independent contractor work. If your spouse gets health benefits, that’s not too big a deal, but it can be more of a problem otherwise.

There are work at home jobs out there that do have benefits, of course. They’re harder to find, but they are out there. If you absolutely must have benefits, look really hard for such employers.

Disclosure: I often review or mention products for which I may receive compensation in the form of affiliate commissions. All opinions are my own.

September 22nd, 2014

Why Use a Battery Backup/UPS for Your Home Business Computer

Why Use a Battery Backup/UPS for Your Home Business Computer

A good computer is a vital part of your home business. There are few that don’t rely on a computer at least a little. It’s important to protect your home business computer from damage due to power surges and outages. A battery backup or UPS is the best way to do this.

Most people at least use a surge suppressor, but having battery backup is much better, as a surge protector won’t give you time to shut your equipment down correctly in the event of a power outage. This is less of an issue for laptop computers, of course, as they already have a battery, but it’s very important for desktop computers.

How Much Battery Life Do You Need With a Backup?

A backup battery system doesn’t have to have a long battery life when the power’s out. These aren’t necessarily about running your computer through the entire outage – it can be about giving you time to shut your computer down correctly. Most power outages aren’t that long – aside from storms or other natural disasters that knock it out for days – making a long batter life less important. If long term power loss is likely to be an issue for you, take a look at generators and make sure it’s something safe for your computer.

Number of Outlets

You will also want to consider how many outlets you need on your UPS. Most will have a combination of battery backup with surge suppression and just surge suppression outlets. That’s because you not all your electronics will need battery backup. Make sure you know how much you really need. You’ll probably want both your computer and monitor on battery, for example, so that you can handle the shutdown if your UPS doesn’t come with software to do that for you. Your printer probably won’t need the backup – you’ll just have to do any printing after the outage.

You should also be able to plug in the other cables your computer needs, such as Ethernet or coaxial cables.

Warranty

Take a look at the warranty offered with your UPS. It should cover not only the UPS itself but your equipment.

Models to Consider

A good backup battery or UPS is easy to find, but of course the models will change over the years. What I recommend here is good now, but do your own research to pick the right one for you.

Anything APCAPC is the most popular brand of UPS right now. Their BE550G is very popular and reasonably priced on Amazon. Prices change, so of course I won’t be quoting prices. The BE550G runs on battery power 3 minutes at full load, 13 at half load.

If you want to get something better so you can keep working rather than need to shut down completely during an outage, the APC Smart-UPS SMT1500 lasts longer. The product page on Amazon has a chart showing how long it lasts under different loads. This one is quite a bit more expensive than the BE550G, but it’s a very good choice if you need more power during outages. I don’t think most will need this much power, so I would personally stick to the lower price ranges.

There are of course APC models in between these two. Check a variety of models and think about what it is you need before you buy.

Cyberpower is another good choice. I think the Cyberpower CP1500AVRLCD
is a good choice. The price is reasonable and it’s a tower style, so it can fit in a thinner space.

Disclosure: I often review or mention products for which I may receive compensation in the form of affiliate commissions. All opinions are my own.

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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.