May 20th, 2012

The Trouble With New Computers

Well, I did get my new computer as planned. Great deal on it too. But it’s quite a jump going from an old Windows XP to Windows 7. It’s the little changes that make life so difficult some ways, and that’s certainly true in the differences between Windows XP and 7.

We decided to officially call my laptop my main work computer. That’s because it’s true. I only use the desktops when I’m doing work that is simply more comfortable on a bigger computer… or rather a full size mouse and keyboard. There are times when I still prefer those.

The new computer went to my husband’s desk, not mine. His old computer will soon be set up on my desk for the kids to use when they want to play games… once I make the time to clean it off, and the dying computer…, well, it’s pretty near dead. Once I’m utterly positive I didn’t forget anything on it I’ll work on wiping the hard drive. Sadly, it’s not as simple as running a couple of neodymium magnets across it. I could have had fun with that, as we have a couple boxes of BuckyBalls Magnetic Building Spheres sitting on the shelf.

Nope, it’s safer to write random data over and over on the old drive.

The new computer is of course way more powerful than the old. That amuses me because it’s definitely a lower end model we bought this time, but not too low, while the old was a pretty good midrange in its day.

On the minus side, I have to consider whether to buy new software or go open source on some of my favorites. I don’t use it much now, but my old computer had Dreamweaver on it. The version I have doesn’t run on Windows 7, so the upgrade would not be optional if I want it on the new machine. Same for some of my other programs.

Then again, I can delay and use my husband’s old machine for such things. Such are the advantages of updating the house one computer at a time. I still have time to figure these things out and find a solution without being completely depriving myself of familiar programs.

The most difficult part with the new computer has been setting up individual user accounts. I had done that lightly with the older computers, and decided to do so for this one right from the start. Shared documents now go into a Public folder, and it took some time to figure that out. I’m still trying to decide how I want to make it so that it includes all my photos when the screensaver comes on. XP did that just fine, but because my photos are separated into subfolders, Windows 7 considers them to be in separate locations. It’s a small annoyance, but I’ve always loved having my photos rotate through the screensaver so they aren’t eternally hidden away on the hard drive.

Of course, one of the first things I did was install my preferred antivirus program on the computer, Avast. The free version works great. Sure, it came with a 6 months subscription to a different program, but Avast is far better rated.

Still, once I get things going, I know the newer computer is going to be a lot of fun to use. My old computer became so touchy in its old age that I barely used it because I would have to restart it before I could do anything. Be nice to not have to do that anymore.

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.

July 20th, 2011

7 Steps to an Organized Home Office

A well organized home office is a big help when you’re trying to be productive. It doesn’t matter if everything you do is on your computer and you never have to dig through the clutter on your desk – clutter is a distraction. Most people are more productive with an organized home office.

I’ll be the first to admit that my own office isn’t perfect. The kids often drop off their schoolwork on my desk. Mail gets left there. Don’t even ask me  how the random toy parts got there; I probably don’t even know. But when I take the time to clean things up, I still notice that it’s easier to be productive without all the stuff all over my desk.

Step 1: Get rid of the stuff that shouldn’t be in your home office anyhow.

As I said above, my kids put their schoolwork on my desk, and the mail ends up there a lot. That’s because it’s the first flat surface you come to in my house. Makes it an easy target.

While it hasn’t completely stopped the constant flow of schoolwork, it helps that I bought each of my kids a bin to keep their school papers in. I take a look at how they’re doing, but aside from that, they get to choose when to dispose of their papers if they keep them in the bin. Anything left on my desk is fair game for me to handle as I choose. The kids are still young enough to be pretty possessive of their schoolwork, so it doesn’t take much to get them to move it.

Step 2: Consider declaring the area off limits.

If you have a home office area that is a completely separate room from the rest of the house, consider declaring it off limits. The fewer people come into your work area, they less they’ll mess it up for you.

Obviously, this won’t work for everyone. My office space doesn’t have a door, and it’s also where the kids do their homework and crafts. I have a separate desk in there for them, not that they put their papers there often. Since it’s the second largest room in the downstairs area, I can’t keep it just for me. Just wouldn’t work.

Step 3: Separate professional and personal.

It’s not at all unusual to have a lot of your personal papers in your home office, although if you’re going for the tax deduction you should be trying to keep more of a dedicated office space. But separating your personal and professional paperwork and life in general is important for more reasons than that. It helps you to keep a more professional frame of mind if you don’t have too much personal stuff in the way when you’re trying to work at home.

Step 4: Organize your papers.

My office also has the file cabinet where we keep all our important papers – that’s the other reason the mail ends up in there. Shredder is in there too, so I don’t much mind having the mail in there, so long as the “to be shredded” pile and the “needs filing” pile don’t get too out of control.

Set up a filing system so that you can immediately put new papers in their place. The closer you can get it to a “touch once” system, the better.

My system, for example, has a place for important things that need more handling, such as bills to be paid or checks to be deposited. I don’t want to lose those, so they get a special place away from other papers that may clutter up.

Step 5: Organize your computer work space.

Clutter impacts your computer too. How many downloads do you have that you just haven’t made the time to read yet? How full is your email inbox? If someone emails you, how hard is it to spot that email?

I’m a big fan of filtering my email. This makes it easier to find personal emails as well as professional ones from sources which have contacted me before. Sorting those out makes it a lot easier to scan through the rest, deciding what’s worth reading, what’s just spam and so forth.

Do the same for your work computer files. Set up a system so you can find the files you need when you need them. If you run websites, keep separate files for each site, for example. If you have clients, set up a file for each, and subfiles as necessary for individual projects.

Step 6: Make sure your home office is a pleasant place to work.

Your home office doesn’t have to be a bland, colorless space. It’s yours, after all, and you don’t have to obey any corporate rules about how your office should look. Plants, pictures, whatever you like to make your space more comfortable, just so long as they don’t make the place too cluttered to work in.

I have an orchid I’ll be adding to my home office space just as soon as I get a little more clutter off my desk, a birthday present from my husband. A little green is always nice to have, and the blooms are lovely… I hope I can get it to bloom again in future years.

Step 7: Make sure it’s working for you.

Your organization system for your home office may not work for you the first time you try it. If it isn’t, try a new system after giving yourself enough time to have really tried out your first thoughts in the area. There’s no rule saying you can’t change things 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.

August 26th, 2010

How Childproof Is Your Home Office?

One of the biggest disadvantages to working at home has to be coping with the kids. It’s one of the biggest advantages too, but that’s beside the point just now. I’m talking about the times that you just don’t want the kids underfoot.

Especially if toddlers are involved. Home offices and computers in particular need to be protected from toddlers! They may not be able to accidentally download a virus yet, but the damage they can do just by randomly pounding keys is nothing short of amazing.

A childproofed office makes it easier to be productive. You don’t have to worry as much if the kids come in while you’re working, and you may be able to keep them out entirely. The challenge is making it childproof in the first place.

Close the Door

If your home office has a door, closing it is one of the simplest steps you can take to childproofing your work area. Younger kids can’t open it and older kids can be taught not to go into your home office without permission or need.

If you don’t have a door, you’ll need to do a lot more childproofing. Realistically, even with a door you’ll probably want to take more childproofing steps for those times one of the kids gets in there.

Establish Rules About Your Working Hours

If you’re working when the kids are awake, you’re going to need some rules about when they can interrupt you. Younger kids will need simpler rules, and if you’re the only adult in the house when you’re working you need to expect some interruptions.

As kids get older they get better at entertaining themselves and can deal with stricter rules. Tell them they can only interrupt you for emergencies.

Protect Your Computer

The computer is a major asset to most home businesses. It’s not just the value of the machine. It’s all the information on it. You really don’t want the kids messing with it.

If you have toddlers around, make sure they can’t play with the buttons on the front of the computer itself. I’ve gone so far as to cover them with cardboard when I’ve had a computer in reach of a child. The power button in particular often has pretty lights on or near it that draw a toddler’s attention and makes the button irresistible.

You’ll also need to protect your mouse and keyboard. It’s amazing what a toddler can do by pounding on a keyboard, and sometimes it’s hard to undo what they’ve done.

You can also protect your computer from toddlers by setting a password so that you have to login when you’ve been away for a period of time. Choose the time wisely so it doesn’t drive you nuts when you’re using the computer.

If your kids are allowed to use your business computer, set up rules that will protect your computer. Require approval on downloads. Be in the room whenever possible when your kids are using the computer. Talk to them at age appropriate levels about the hazards of the internet.

Not just for kids, but to protect your computer from the hazards of being a computer you will need antivirus and antispyware software installed on it.

Keep Cords and Outlets Safe

Kids find cords fascinating. Outlets are pretty neat too. You don’t want them messing around with either.

Most times they won’t get hurt. I’ve had kids unplug things on me, and it’s just a distraction, not a danger. But you don’t want your kids messing with cords, wrapping them around their necks, chewing on them as they teethe, you get the idea.

Find a cord organizer that works for you. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, just something to keep the bulk of the cords out of the reach of children.

As for outlets, simple outlet covers do a pretty good job. You can buy covers that protect outlets while still allowing items to remain plugged in.

Know Your Noise Limits

Sometimes the amount of noise your kids make while you’re working doesn’t matter. Other times it’s a big deal.

Buy a noise cancelling headset for your phone for those times that you can’t have background noise on a call. They’re affordable and a big help when you don’t want background noises to make it on the call. They may not get everything if the kids are being particularly loud, but they’re a big help.

Noise can also be a distraction that makes it harder to be productive. Talk to your family about how much noise you’re comfortable with when you’re working in your office.

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.

April 29th, 2010

Guest Post – Organizing the Work at Home Office, Kids Included

Working from home can be challenging for the most devoted mom, but add in kids and the potential for problems is increased a thousand fold. Spending time with your kids is of course the entire reason you want to work from home, so preparing for issues that may arise is essential. Organizing your work area, and finding ways to involve your children will help your day go smoothly.

Setting Up Your Office

Whether you are just starting the search for a work at home job, or you’ve been working from home for years now, your office space can probably be spruced up. It doesn’t matter if you have a separate office or plan on working from the dining room table, you need to be organized to make the most of your time. Make a list of the things you will need to use throughout the day, from pens and notebooks, to calculators and phones. Now think about where you need these items to be placed in order to reach them without interrupting your work. Baskets, mugs, and drawers can help you hide things while keeping them in easy reach. If you are running a business with a lot of products you’ll have to consider shelves or other systems to sort and group items easily.

While you are considering the items and space you need to create for your work area, don’t forget to design around the activities your children will be doing while you are working. A small table beside you, or in your line of vision is great for toddlers, while you may want space for a bouncer for a baby. A small shelf area with toys, crayons or craft supplies will help keep them engaged while you complete projects.

Emergency Toys

No matter how organized you are, and what type of space you’ve put together for your children, there will come a time when you really need them to be occupied and they just aren’t interested in their current toys. Keeping an emergency stash with items they’ve never seen before is a great way to redirect their attention long enough for you to finish that phone call or writing deadline. The dollar store is a great place to buy small inexpensive toys.

The Egg Timer

Children are wonderful little beings, but they don’t really have a concept of time. When you ask them to be quiet so you can finish a phone call, they don’t understand how long that will take. Introducing an egg timer will help your little one stay focused as well as yourself. Start with 1-3 minutes and work your way up to 15-20 over a couple of weeks.
If you begin the egg timer training when you don’t have anything important to do the results will be better. Once the kids understand how it works you can put it into actual practice. Start the timer by saying how long you need them to entertain themselves and be extra quiet, give them a project to do or suggest a toy, and as soon as the timer dings make sure you praise them and give them a hug so they enjoy the process.

Get the Kids Involved in Organizing

Keeping your office area organized as well as the kids play area can seem daunting. Kids want to help out, and if you make the organizing time fun they’ll be even more excited. Set aside 10-15 minutes at the end of your day and bring out the egg timer again. Tell the kids it’s a race to see who can pick up the most toys by the time the timer goes off. While the kids are taking care of their area you can put your own items away or create your to do list for the next day.

Guest Post By: ClutterGeeks

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.

April 20th, 2010

When the Computer Virus is Winning…

I’ve had a pretty frustrating time recently fighting a computer virus. Not, thank goodness, on my work computer. On my husband’s computer.

We’re pretty sure this was a real nasty! Hard to tell because not a single scanner of any sort that we tried could find so much as a trace of it. We used programs such as Malwarebyte’s AntiMalware, SuperAntiSpyware, Microsoft Security Essentials, Avast and more, uninstalling programs as needed to let other ones work, and not a single one found a trace of the problem. They all reported us clean, as did every online scanner I tried.

That’s hugely frustrating when you know for a fact there’s some sort of malware on there. The redirect on Google searches alone was a dead giveaway, and the sudden failure of the sound card driver turned out to be a potential symptom of some types of rootkits.

What to Do When Nothing Works

I debated trying ComboFix. That one is considered a bit risky, as it can do other things to your system if you get it wrong.

But the decision came down to wanting to be 100% certain that the damn virus was gone. With every other scanner coming up negative, I decided that I’d rather be certain.

So I reformatted his hard drive and reinstalled XP. Bye bye virus!

Good thing we have a backup of his stuff on my external hard drive, one that hasn’t been updated in months, but that’s a good thing when you’re talking mystery virus that you aren’t sure when it got on board. Good odds the backup is clean, and the data loss is minimal.

Finding the drivers for a computer the age of my husband’s computer… miserable, just miserable! I had to take my best guess for the ethernet card driver. Got it right so far as I can tell, though. There are a number of websites out there that can help you find drivers, although the best source is often the manufacturer of your computer. Safest, too.

Even before installing most drivers must come installing a good antivirus and antispyware. I put on Microsoft Security Essentials because it’s free and is supposed to be good. I know it didn’t find the virus when it was already on the computer, but neither did any other program, so there wasn’t much to do about that.

What to Do After Reinstalling the Operating System Due to a Virus

There’s a lot to be done after the operating system is back up. Lots of programs to reinstall. Data to put back on the computer.

But all that is much less important than a step I had my husband take, and took myself just because it’s a good thing to do once in a while.

Change passwords. And user IDs on important things like bank accounts where permitted.

The trouble is quite simply that there’s no knowing how much data was taken. It might have been a lot. It might have not been any. Without so much as a name for what he had, we just don’t know.

Thank goodness the accounts all look fine so far.

Changing your passwords and making them challenging is a good idea anyhow. I explained to my husband what is considered to be a more secure password these days, which he wasn’t aware of. His original choices weren’t dreadful, but not especially strong either. They should be better now.

I did the same on many of my accounts too. So many of the passwords I have are the same as they were years ago. It was time for a change. And now they’re much stronger.

Most systems now will let you use not only alphanumeric characters, but certain special characters as well. The greater the range you use and the longer the character string, the stronger your password is. That doesn’t mean it can’t be beaten by brute force, but it means that someone else’s password will be easier to crack.

We’re still feeling a bit paranoid about whether or not any information was stolen. It’s hard to not worry when there’s a reasonable chance of it. But at least now we’re aware of it and have taken steps to take care of the situation.

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.