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

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.

September 10th, 2014

Will You Be Able to Get Back Into the Job Market After Being a Stay at Home Mom?

Will You Be Able to Get Back Into the Job Market After Being a Stay at Home Mom?

The time comes for most stay at home moms that they consider getting back into the job market. Maybe it’s because the kids have gotten older and can go to daycare or to school, or maybe the family’s situation has changed and you need the income. Or maybe you’ve decided the change is the right thing for you. Whatever your reason, you should have a plan for how you’ll get back into the job market after being a stay at home mom.

What Do You Want To Do?

Knowing what you’d like to do after being a stay at home mom will help you get there. You might want to go back to your old job or career, or you might want to build your skills to get into something new.

Having a goal allows you to focus on the important parts of getting back into the job market. A goal helps you know what you need to work on to improve your chances of finding a job after the gap caused by staying at home.

How Will You Get There?

What will it take to make you a good candidate for whatever job or career you’d like to have after staying at home? Do you need to update your skills? Are there entirely new skills you need to acquire?

The time you’ve spent at home can be used to build the skills you’ll need later. You can attend classes at a local community college or online – just make sure you make good choices with your education. Too many online colleges are a complete ripoff. It’s possible to find a good one, but you need to really do your research before you spend any money or time on it.

In some industries, freelancing is a viable way to keep working while staying at home. It also keeps you using your skills and makes it easier to keep your skills current. I’m not saying finding freelance work is easy – it may not be – but it can be worth the effort to keep up your skills.

Have You Really Looked at the Difficulties You’ll Face?

Sadly, it can be incredibly difficult for a stay at home mom to get back into the workforce. The gap in employment can be a huge deal, especially if the industry you’d like to be in has changed a lot in the intervening years.

Working from home or part time may help matters, but they may not be a complete solution. You probably won’t have the skills or history that people who continued to work full time will have, yet you’ll have too many skills for many entry level positions.

I’m decidedly not against working at home or finding part time work to keep your skills up. I believe it puts you in a better position overall for a variety of reasons. If nothing else, they’re a way to keep money coming in until you find the work you really want. Sometimes they even turn out to provide enough money for your needs. In my own situation, for example, I earn more working at home than my husband does outside of it. At this point in my life, there’s no thought of returning to work outside the home.

But that’s not true for many stay at home moms or dads. If you aren’t ready for the difficulties you’ll face, they can be overwhelming at a time you really need to focus on bringing in an income.

Build Your Network

No matter the job experience you have, networking is often the key to a successful job hunt. Keep in at least occasional contact with former employers and coworkers. Use LinkedIn. Talk to people about your job hunt when you’re looking. You never know where that perfect job lead will come from.

Be Ready to Earn Less

It’s a sad fact that many stay at home moms earn less after returning to work than they did before they left. It’s a result of not having recent experience, and of course you’ve missed out on all the raises you would have gotten throughout the years if you had continued to work. It’s one of the tough realities of being a stay at home mom that many people don’t prepare for.

Don’t be too ready to earn less, of course. You shouldn’t feel as though you will absolutely earn less. If you see an opportunity for better earnings, go for it!

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

August 29th, 2014

Encourage Your Child’s Creativity With Destination Imagination

Encourage Your Child's Creativity With Destination Imagination

It’s the start of the school year, and my kids are talking about which clubs they want to join. My son does 100 Mile Club because he likes to be active. My oldest daughter does Destination Imagination, and it’s a club I really recommend if you want to help your child be more creative.

Every school year, Destination Imagination puts out a variety of challenges for teams of children to work on. There are regional and state competitions in many areas, and an annual world competition for teams that make it that far.

What’s really wonderful for the kids’ creativity is that the work must be entirely done by them. Adults shouldn’t even give them ideas for what to do. The kids sign a statement at competitions saying that all work is their own – having an adult help can disqualify the team. Adults can teach kids skills needed, but the kids have to figure out what they need to learn and ask for it.

The challenges the kids can choose from change from year to year. There are some basic types – fine arts, technical, scientific, structural, improvisational and service learning, as well as a challenge for younger elementary kids. Each challenge will require a variety of skills – the fine arts challenge may still involve building a device. The technical challenge may still involve storytelling.

The solutions the kids come up with are amazing. The kids not only have to present their solution to the challenge they picked, they have to solve an Instant Challenge as well. Teams practice for the Instant Challenges at team meetings, but you never know what challenge your team will face. There are penalties for revealing what happened at an Instant Challenge after you’ve taken it, and the revelation can impact more than your own team, so keeping the secret until after the World Competition is a huge deal, even if your team isn’t going that far.

There is an adult managing each team, but the job is to help them keep focused, not build, not give ideas, etc. I did that job for my daughter’s team last year, and I may or may not do it again this year – depends on if they need me. It’s quite the commitment. Interesting to do, and you get to see things the other parents won’t.

One thing I really have to emphasize is the need for parental involvement. Not in what the kids are doing, but in making competitions possible. Each team has to provide volunteers at competitions – how many depends on which competition. Destination Imagination runs on volunteers, so if you want your kids to do this, you need to step up as well. It’s sometimes hard to get enough parent volunteers per team, even though the competition volunteer requirements are just for the days of the competition, plus training days. Make sure your team gets volunteers as soon as possible.

Parent volunteers may be chosen to appraise challenges. My husband keeps ending up with this role. He’d like to just watch sometime, but as I said, it’s tough to get enough volunteers, so he keeps ending up with it, being less reluctant to help out than others. Not that appraising isn’t interesting – he really enjoys it – it’s just that he’d like to see our daughter’s team perform too some year. Only time he got out of it was when he developed a kidney stone a day or so before the competition and was in too much pain to help out. The DI folks were really understanding about that.

If you aren’t a team manager, your role as a parent with a child in DI probably isn’t all that difficult. You may need to help buy supplies – don’t worry, the budget is really reasonable so you shouldn’t have to spend a fortune. Some team managers handle buying all the supplies, but I preferred to encourage my team to be more resourceful so the costs didn’t all fall on me when I was a team manager. But most of the building will take place during team meetings, probably weekly after school until the competition gets close and the kids realize they’re way, way behind, then they suddenly need you to get them to meetings on weekends at the manager’s home, and they’re scrambling to get it all together. Somehow it usually works out just fine.

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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