June 28th, 2016

How to Make Your Work at Home Day More Productive

How to Make Your Work at Home Day More Productive

One of the great challenges of working at home is all the distractions. You sit down at your computer, and the whole internet is available to you. It’s all too easy to start off with something fun rather than something productive. But when you want to have a productive day working at home, you need to do your best to start off right.

Set Your Browser For Productivity

One thing that I have found works for me is to have my browser open up to pages that are productive for me to start on. Right now that’s my work at home job board administration page and a job search page. They aren’t what I need every time I open my browser, but what page is?

Those are the pages where I start my day. If I were to start my day out writing, I would start out in Google Drive, as I do most of my writing there.

The idea here is to make sure that you aren’t starting on a distracting page. Don’t start out on Facebook or any other social media unless you know you will start out working there.

Where’s the Caffeine?!?

If you need coffee to start your day, have your coffeemaker ready to go for the morning, or go get it as soon as possible if you prefer to buy it at Starbucks or some such. Don’t sit about delaying things over something you have every day – get moving.

The same goes for breakfast. Make sure you have the supplies on hand and easy to get together. You don’t have to eat breakfast right away if that’s not your routine – if you get up earlier than the rest of the family, you’re probably waiting for them – but make time for it in there somewhere, and make it convenient to prepare. Or teach the kids to do it once they’re old enough.

Plan for Distractions

You work at home. There are going to be distractions, that’s just the way it is. But you can decide which ones you will allow to distract you.

Kids are generally a distraction, especially when they’re babies. If your work can’t allow you that kind of distraction, have someone available to care for the baby.

As kids get older, you’ll probably need less help with the kids, at least if you don’t need a totally quiet environment in which to work. Teach them age appropriate ways to decide if they can interrupt you or not.

Try not to let basic household chores distract you beyond what you’ve planned for. I do laundry on certain days, and that’s when I know I will be getting up regularly to deal with it. I won’t touch it other days – if someone has an urgent need to get something washed, pretty much everyone here is old enough to handle it themselves. I only handle laundry at all on weekdays because I like our weekends free for family stuff, even when it’s just working around the house.

Sometimes you won’t be able to avoid interruptions. If something has to be repaired around the house you may not be able to decide what the best day is, or have your spouse home to deal with it. But when you have time, try to make sure such interruptions are planned for in your goals for the day.

Close the Door

This is one of the things I love about our new home – I can close my office door. We haven’t had a room that could also be a home office before.

Closing the door when you’re working is a good way to tell kids, spouses and pets to leave you alone as much as possible. Okay, maybe not the pets. At least, my cats consider a closed door more an invitation than a barrier. We’re working on that part with them.

Plan for the Next Day

Plan out your work day the day before. It’s a good way to wind down each work day. It helps you avoid indecision first thing in the morning.

If I have to stop in the middle of something and have a bunch of tabs open in my browser for it, I’ll bookmark the group to make it easier to continue the next day, or just leave the browser open. Bookmarked groups are dated so that I know when I did it if I don’t get back to it right away or forget to delete the group once I’m done.

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

May 24th, 2016

Pinterest Is Allowing Affiliate Links Again. How Should You Use Them?

Pinterest Is Allowing Affiliate Links Again

Pinterest has decided to allow affiliate links again. They’re now confident in their ability to decide what’s spam. That’s great news if you’ve wanted to share affiliate links on your Pinterest boards. Now you just need to make sure you aren’t spamming your affiliate links.

This brings up the question of just what is spam on Pinterest anyhow? It’s pretty obvious that if you’re pinning nothing but affiliate links, they may be flagged as spam. An occasional affiliate link here and there, will probably not be flagged. What you need to consider is where pinning affiliate links crosses that line.

Much of that will probably depend on the type of affiliate links you pin. If you’re pinning questionable business opportunities, poorly tested alternative medications and other ethically dubious things, they’ll probably be flagged as spam. Pin that hilarious shirt you found on Amazon, it probably won’t be a problem. It’s all up to Pinterest’s discretion, of course, not mine. I can only guess.

Pinterest had been a good source of income for affiliate marketers who did a good job of pinning things people wanted. With this news, I’m sure it will be again.

The key to doing well I expect to be understanding why people come to Pinterest, and to your boards in particular. What gets a lot of clicks, likes and repins? You can get some ideas from this post about what people are searching for, or check the popular board. In general, food, fashion and ideas for around the home seem popular. People want ideas when they come to Pinterest; how are you going to to give them ideas?

That said, you don’t have to pin affiliate links just because Pinterest says you can now. I prefer to have more control over my links, so I will probably stick to using affiliate links primarily on my websites rather than on my Pinterest boards. I prefer the greater control that gives me. A blog post where I can change out the links if something goes wrong is more appealing to me.

Obey the Rules

There are a few rules you must obey if you pin affiliate links… or use them anywhere, for that matter.

The first has to do with disclosure. You must always obey FTC rules and do a disclosure. A hashtag such as #ad, #aff or #affiliate is generally considered acceptable, although there is no FTC guidance saying if that’s enough or not. Make sure it’s prominent. Just the word works too. Alternatively, make a statement about your connection within the text of your pin.

You also must make sure that you’re obeying the rules of your affiliate agreement. Know if you are allowed to share your affiliate links with each company on social media or not. Not all companies want you to do that. If you’ve read the policies of the program and you still aren’t certain, email the company and ask. You don’t want to lose a valuable account because you didn’t realize that you couldn’t share the links directly on social media.

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

May 13th, 2016

A Much Overdue Update on Cutting Our Cell Phone Bill With Ting

A Much Overdue Update on Cutting Our Cell Phone Bill With Ting

Nearly two years ago, my husband and I decided to drag our phone numbers off his parents’ account and switch to Ting. We had realized that it was beyond time to get onto smart phones, not to mention onto our own service. We signed up with Ting, having determined that it was likely our best option. The monthly cost of service with Ting, we figured, would be less than what his parents were paying for cell phone service that lacked both data and texting services.

So, how has it gone?

Great, I would say. We’re still generally light users, although we do sometimes hit the medium level for one service or another with Ting. Our most recent bill came to $39.43 – our biggest ever! This past month was a little on the busy side, and there’s good reason why that one came up higher than usual.

Our bills mostly run in the low $30s. I’ve included a screenshot of some of our bill totals so you can see. That’s pretty good considering that we added our teenage daughter to the plan last year, making it three smartphones on our plan. She doesn’t talk on the phone a lot, but does she ever text with her friends! Fortunately, most of those go over our home wifi, and don’t impact the cost of our plans. She uses the iMessage app on her iPhone, which defaults to wifi texting whenever possible. With how much she and her friends text each other, that’s a very good thing.

Ting screenshot

I am considering upgrading my iPhone 4 later this year – the screen is just a little smaller than I’d like. Considering that I bought it for $227.45 on Amazon, I’d say I’ve done well to avoid having a contract. My overall costs have been quite low. My current phone will go to my son when I upgrade, as it’s still a decent phone.

Ting has changed some in the past two years. They used to only offer service over Sprint’s CDMA network. They now offer GSM service as well, and the great part is that you can have phones on different networks but still be on the same plan.

Service at our new house isn’t quite as good as it was at our old one. I really need to look into getting some kind of a booster for it. I just need to make the time to figure out what the right solution is, probably an Airave. Coverage at my address is on the weak side with most cell phone coverage maps I’ve seen, so this isn’t a surprise.

As you can probably imagine after reading this, I definitely still recommend Ting as a cell phone provider, especially if you’re not a heavy user. Go over your old phone bills, check your usage and see if you’d save money too. If you’re not trapped in a contract, it may be worth the switch. You may even be able to bring over your current smartphone if it’s not under contract. You can check the BYOD link on the Ting website to be certain.

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.

May 11th, 2016

7 Healthy Habits to Remember When You Work at Home

7 Healthy Habits to Remember When You Work at Home

Working at home gives you great flexibility in your work hours, but like most jobs, it can make it easy to build some unhealthy habits. From sitting at your desk too long each day to having unhealthy snacks readily available, these things can take a toll on your health. Here are some simple habits to add to your day..

1. Work on your snacking habits.

There are a couple of things to consider with your snacking habits – what and how much.

What you snack on may be the more important of the two for many people. Are you snacking on potato chips or carrot chips? Candy or fresh fruit?

Quantity matters too, but it can be harder to overdo it on healthier foods. Let’s approximate a one ounce serving of potato chips as having 152 calories and 10 grams of fat.  One ounce is not much of a snack, especially when it comes to potato chips, so you probably aren’t satisfied. When was the last time you ate that little of a package?

Compare that to carrot chips, where a 3 ounce serving is 38 calories. That’s a bigger serving, but a lot fewer calories and no fat.

I don’t count calories in my own diet, but I do try to be generally aware of when I’m making a more or less healthy choice in what I eat.

You can make choices at home to make healthy snacking easier. Have chopped vegetables that you like available in the refrigerator. Keep fresh fruit around. Don’t buy chips or candy too often, so they aren’t in the house and readily available. Unless your resolve is better than mine, temptation will get the better of you too often if you keep unhealthy treats around the house.

2. What are you drinking?

What are you drinking while you work? Coffee’s a fair start to the day, depending on how it’s made. It can be healthy or unhealthy, depending on what you put into it. Coffee can have a variety of health benefits, although you still should not overdo it.

Now, if you head out to the coffee shop and get a blended coffee of some sort, it may not be so good for you. Just think about all the added calories and fat. Some of these drinks can run 500 calories or so, and really add up over time.

Water is generally your best choice. I keep a bottle of water at my side when I work. It’s the simplest way for me to stick to healthier drinking habits. My bottle is insulated so my drink stays cold and doesn’t sweat all over the place. The straw top means even spills are minor if I knock it over accidentally. It helps control what might otherwise be a very bad soda habit – I never developed a taste for coffee or tea, so if I want caffeine, soda is usually my choice. I try to not have it in the house too often because I know I will give in eventually.

3. Take an exercise break.

You should not sit at your desk all day if you can help it. Getting up to deal with the kids isn’t usually exercise, and the interruption doesn’t come at a good time when you’re working. Your exercise breaks should be something that come when the break makes sense.

Think about the kinds of breaks you would have in a job outside the home. 15 minutes every few hours is a nice start. Get away from your desk and take a walk or do a simple exercise routine. A little bit of time being active can have a lot of benefits.

4. Consider a sit/stand desk.

One of the purchases I’m excited about for my new home office is my sit/stand desk. I’ll be receiving it later this month. The price was great, and I will be able to sit or stand throughout the day, which I hope will be good for me. I’m considering a balance board for those times that I can afford the slight distraction, as even a little motion is better for you than standing still.

A standing desk may or may not have health benefits. It may not even be that much better than sitting. Some feel that they are more productive when they’re standing, however. The price I got on my desk was good enough that I feel it is worth a try – I would have had to pay a similar amount to get a good quality desk that I could only sit at. A cheaper desk would no doubt have to be replaced in a few years.

Make sure you understand the ergonomics of using a standing desk. The height of your desk should be set so that your elbows are bent at a 90 degree angle while you work. Too high or too low puts a strain on you body.

You probably should not stand all day at your desk. It’s better to sit part of the day and stand part. Mix it up based on what you’re doing and which works better. And don’t forget to walk around – that’s even better for you.

5. Look at something other than your computer monitor.

Focusing for too long on your computer monitor puts a strain on your eyes. Make sure that you look away periodically throughout the day, and focus on something at a distance. A window in your office can really help with this.

6. Stretch.

This one is easy to combine with a sit/stand desk, although you can do it regardless of your furniture. Stand up occasionally during your work day and stretch.

7. Take a nap.

This one can be hard to do, but there are benefits. Not only can napping help you relax and feel less fatigued, it can improve your work performance.

You don’t need a long nap. 10-30 minutes can be plenty. Too long may leave you groggy. And if you can’t nap, don’t worry about it – it’s not for everyone.

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

April 27th, 2016

How Not to Burn Out as a Stay at Home Mom

How Not to Burn Out as a Stay at Home Mom

As discussed in the previous article, it’s easy to burn out as a stay at home mom. It’s not the easy job many people think it is, at least not all the time. We all have good days and bad days. Being a stay at home mom can go from the best job in the world to sheer drudgery in a short time, often in the same day.

1. Teach your kids to help

Teaching your kids to help out around the house is not always fun. It often makes the jobs take longer, and it takes kids a long time to learn to do the jobs as well as you’d like them done.

Kids are generally very willing to do some jobs, and very unwilling to do others. I encourage you to teach them to do both types. It’s a huge help to not be the only person in the house dealing with dishes, laundry, cooking and so forth.

Of course, your spouse/significant other should also be doing a share. Being a stay at home mom doesn’t mean you have to take care of it all, day and night, 7 days a week. Come to an agreement about responsibilities so that one parent isn’t taking the bulk of the load when both are home and available.

2. Don’t put your kids in more activities than you can handle

It’s not just parents who decide that kids go in a lot of activities. Sometimes kids want to do it all… soccer, ballet, baseball, karate, art, music lessons… the list goes on. It gets worse when you have more than one child, especially if their interests are different. You can do a lot of truly exhausting and time consuming running around if you aren’t careful.

There’s a balance to be struck between what you want your kids to do, what they want to do, and what you realistically have the time and/or money to do. All of it matters.

I suggest first taking into consideration what activities your child wants to do and deciding if it’s reasonable given the time and money required. My oldest, for example, wanted to join the local swim team, but after reviewing the cost and time commitments, we agreed that it wasn’t going to happen. I have since heard from other parents that you tend to get nickel and dimed a lot for swim team stuff, over and above the monthly fees, so I’m glad we didn’t join.

If there’s still room for more activities, next consider what you would like your child to do. I don’t suggest putting your child into something they’re strongly against without good reason, but sometimes it makes sense to tell your kids that they will try out a sport or a musical instrument, and decide together which is the most interesting, and how long they have to try it. There are good reasons for children to get involved in sports or music for a time, even if they don’t see it.

3. Learn to say no

Schools need volunteers, there’s no disputing that. In fact, I encourage you to volunteer at your children’s school when you have the time. I volunteer at my kids’ school one day a week for about an hour and a half, plus occasional field trips or special events.

I’ve even done walking field trips with classes that none of my kids were in just because I knew the teacher and she was short on volunteers. She asked me if I could go along the morning of the field trip because she knew I was flexible. We walked the classes to a local coffee shop so they could see their art displayed (the kids were allowed to buy a snack or a drink if they had money), then walk back. This took the place of my gym workout, so the time spent wasn’t a big deal, but really helped the teacher out. All together it was about 5 miles of walking, because I went with both of her classes.

If I hadn’t had the time, I would have declined and she would have understood. Most people will, although some will pressure you to volunteer when you don’t want to or shouldn’t. You have to learn to say no and mean it. That’s not easy if you’re used to helping out, but important when you realize you’ve been doing too much.

You may also need to learn to say no when friends or family ask for help and it’s not a time that you can do it. Do things for others when it’s reasonable but don’t demand the impossible from yourself.

4. Have fun with friends

One way you can make time for yourself is to go out and have fun with your friends once in a while. Not only is it good for you to have a social life, it’s good for your family to see you have a social life.

5. Get enough sleep

It’s easy to skimp on sleep. There’s so much to get done throughout the day, and it can be easier to get things done when everyone else is asleep. Early mornings and late nights add up, and leave you exhausted.

If you have to stay up late or get up early to get things done as a stay at home mom, you may need to have your husband and/or kids help out more. It is not all your job and you shouldn’t feel as though it’s all up to you. The other people in your family can help as appropriate by age and other obligations.

6. Do things away from home

I don’t mean just grocery shopping, although sometimes grocery shopping is a fair break. It’s not a great one. You should do more than that away from home.

Getting away from home doesn’t have to be without your family. It’s good for all of you to do things elsewhere. Head out to a park or museum, go for a hike, do something fun. A part of enjoying your time as a parent is doing things as a family as well as on your own.

7. Get away from your electronics

It’s easy to be overly attached to your smartphone or computer, but it’s not a good thing. Neither is watching too much television. Take time every day away from your electronics, especially close to bedtime. The light from electronic screens can make it harder to get to sleep.

If you are using your electronics at night, take a look at f.lux, which is a free program that changes the lighting on your computer screen. I really like it. I can’t promise that it will make it easier to sleep, but I like it on my computer.

8. Make time for yourself

Take time regularly to do things you enjoy, whether at home or out of the house. Read, work on a hobby, get out to the gym, whatever works for you. Not only is it a break for you from being on as “Mom” all the time, it shows your children that being a mom doesn’t have to mean losing yourself, and that’s good for them too. You deserve to be a priority.

9. Make time for your spouse/significant other

How long has it been since the two of you have been on a date? I know my husband and I often go too long without getting out alone together. It’s very easy to skimp on time for each other.

You don’t have to be fancy about this. You don’t even have to get out of the house, although I think it helps quite a bit. But if money and/or time are tight, find things to do at home together. You can watch a movie, which gives you the option of going out to the theater, grabbing a rental, or watching something you own or something playing on TV. You have have a special meal at a restaurant or something special together after the kids are in bed.

Doing things around the house together can be good too. My husband and I have a lot of fun just walking around the front and back yard of our new house, planning out how we’re going to change the landscaping to suit our needs and California’s drought.

10. Relax

Sometimes just kicking back and doing nothing is good. Really good. Maybe in a nice bath.

11. Consider getting a work at home job

I am a huge fan of at home moms and dads having a work at home job. The work I’ve done at home has helped keep our family afloat. If I didn’t work at home, we would not have been able to buy the house we are now in. I earn more than my husband now, so I definitely consider it worthwhile.

Not only does working at home give you more financial stability in a crisis, it’s a good example for your kids. It’s a lovely thing to be able to say that you trust your spouse to provide for your family, but too many families get hammered by realities which cannot be prevented. Death, disability, divorce, unemployment… I’ve written about these before but it bears repeating. Working at home is a way to protect your family financially while being there for them.

Having a work at home job will increase some stresses, of course, but I think the benefits are well worth it, especially if your family would otherwise be in a financial crisis.

Doing all of this won’t mean that you never feel burnt out; we all go through frustrating times in life. But it will help you to deal better with the challenges of being a stay at home mom. Don’t expect to be happy all of the time; that’s just not realistic. If you take care of yourself as well as your family, odds are you’ll enjoy your time raising your kids overall.

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.