How to deal with interruptions

I love this image: this is me every day!

I’m cooking breakfast.

A kid spills a glass of milk and makes a huge mess.

I sit down to work on a writing project for a client.

A simmering pot bubbles up and spills all over the stovetop.

I’m trying to do some yard work.

A neighbor drops by and engages me in conversation over the fence, totally oblivious to the dinnertime pressure the late afternoon hour means for me.

Life is full of interruptions – especially when you live in a house with kids who cry, fight, don’t want to do their schoolwork, and constantly mess up their surroundings. You might feel like you’re about to tear your hair out in frustration when you know all you need is an hour to finish a project, but you can’t even get 15 quiet minutes.

So how do I still handle things without going crazy?

Answer: I don’t. There are days when I feel I’m about to crack under the strain, but I do find that a few things help me keep the balance.

  1. I get up early in the morning. At least, I try, as tempting as it is to get a few more minutes of shut-eye. I have found out that my best chance of getting stuff done is early, before anyone else is up. But to do that, I need to go to bed early the day before – if I push myself to be productive after only 3-4 hours of sleep, I’m groggy all day long and won’t be much good for anything.
  2. I expect interruptions. I know I won’t have long quiet stretches of time throughout the day, and set realistic goals.
  3. I break up tasks into increments. Rather than say, “OK, I have an article to write/closet to rearrange/kitchen to clean and it will take one hour,” I say, “Now I write a few paragraphs/clean a couple of shelves, and it will take 15 minutes. After that, I’ll go on if nothing’s in the way.”

Even if I’m super organized and set my priorities just right, I can never do all I’ve planned – but usually, I have something to showcase at the end of each day, which is better than nothing.

When being too frugal keeps you stuck

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I am a big proponent of doing more on less, living modestly, and implementing creative frugal strategies. In this post, however, I’m going to talk about how taking it too far can actually keep you broke rather than lift you up to a better situation.

A couple of years ago, our financial situation was pretty bad. Actually, we were in a crisis following a long period of my husband being out of work, coupled with some bad financial decisions. We were on the brink of not being able to afford to maintain the household another month without getting into debt. There were no longer any cushions or savings, and we were free-falling into poverty. 

I was very conscientious and very dedicated, and my mind kept looping and looping in endless circles, trying to come up with even more efficient ideas for saving money. I gave up on showering when there wasn’t enough sun for the solar heater to do its job, stretched one sack of chicken feed for months, and put off grocery store trips as long as I could.

All of these things helped, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t enough and I knew it. I felt helpless. I tossed and turned at night, wondering whether it would make a difference if we unplug the extra refrigerator and what to do if the thrift store doesn’t carry shoes in my kids’ sizes, because theirs all had holes.

What I should have done at that point was getting more proactive about getting paid work, selling my books, and building professional networks that would be useful in the long term. THAT makes a difference. Whether you choose a slightly cheaper oil for baking doesn’t.

True, I was limited. I lived in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of kids, with no reliable transportation and no steady internet access. I remember sitting for long minutes waiting for the HTML version of Gmail to upload and cursing under my breath when it wouldn’t budge.

But apart from that, I was a prisoner of my own rigid conceptions of a father of a family being the sole breadwinner and the mother stretching the income to make sure it’s enough. It’s a great way to do things, but if it doesn’t work for some reason – and it might fail at any time, temporarily or permanently – and you aren’t prepared for the possibility, you’re up shit creek without a paddle. I’ve learned that the hard way.

It took me a long, long time to face the fact that, while I can make a little go a long way, I do need that little. I can’t make do with nothing, or nearly nothing.

And that’s a key point of successfully overcoming financial hurdles. In a crisis, you should sit down and make a realistic, bare-bones budget of the minimum you need to live. If you aren’t reaching that minimal income, you need to focus on getting there. It’s that simple. Otherwise, you may tighten and tighten that belt until it chokes you, and it still won’t make a difference.

It’s GREAT to have the ability to go without frills. So many people have an entitled attitude and would rather live in debt that do without. But the primary focus should still be on not being poor. I wasted a tremendous amount of time on researching ways to pinch a few more pennies, while I could have used my efforts so much better looking up ways of working from home.

I have tried several things and it’s certainly been a learning curve, until I got into editing books for authors (quite accidentally) and acquired a few loyal and happy clients. I also do some content writing and, after a long time, began seeing profits from my own books, especially fiction.

I regret nothing. Whatever hard-earned lessons I had, I’m making the most of them.

For most people, financial wellbeing and resilience will have these two components – making enough money to live and staying within a reasonable budget. Sometimes, when you’re just hunkering down and trying to survive, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

If you’ve been skimping and saving and pinching for a long time, you might be so mentally exhausted and so, for lack of a better word, poverty-wired, that it can be hard to step back and evaluate ways that might actually help you improve your situation on the macro level.

Try to take a piece of paper and pencil and brainstorm for a while. What are your strengths? How can you utilize them to earn more money and become more financially secure?

Remind yourself that though things might look hopeless, they will improve. You won’t be stuck forever. You won’t be poor forever. This mindset, I have come to discover, is the most important element in pulling out of the quagmire.

Freelancing: when enough is enough

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I work as a freelance editor, proofreader, and copywriter, besides authoring and publishing my own books. When I first started freelancing, I was unfamiliar with the platforms, didn’t know anybody, had no experience, and had to hunt and hustle for every project. Thankfully, I am not in that place anymore, and usually have more incoming work than I can reasonably commit to, so I have to be choosy and know when and how to say no. 

It isn’t always easy when a client asks specifically for you and you value that professional relationship, but I do have one principle to guide me: I chose to freelance and work from home, rather than opt for more traditional employment, because I wanted the freedom and flexibility to be with my children. I wanted to be there to teach them, take care of them when they are sick or need me for other reasons, and to have a flexible schedule that would enable me to set work aside for a while and just go out to enjoy the sunshine on a nice day.

The problem is, when you are an independent entrepreneur, you don’t have set hours. You don’t just punch a card and you’re done for the day. There are always new projects to check out, books to work on, clients to communicate with, emails to send, research to do… And it’s quite easy to get caught in all that, so that you get annoyed with life for getting in the way of work – which is not very reasonable.

My top tips for maintaining a healthy balance are as follows:

1. Know and accept you will never be able to do it all or to please everyone. There will always be projects and clients you miss – but the good news is, life is dynamic, and there will also be new ones.

2. Be realistic. How many hours a day can you reasonably commit to? Without overworking and compromising the quality of your work? Without snapping at your children? Without pulling half- or all-nighters?

3. Be your own boss, but as if you were the boss of someone else. I mean it this way: if you were employing someone, and that someone had no time for lunch break or recreation or adequate sleep hours, would you consider yourself a very good employer? Would you expect high productivity and quality work from a harassed, overwhelmed employee? You see my point. Treat your body and mind with kindness and respect, and you will enjoy a routine that is both more peaceful and more productive.

How to Work from Home (with kids) and Stay Sane

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Last year had been a busy one for me. I have focused on editing fiction for clients, and though I was and am extremely grateful for the constant flow of work that enables me to go on doing my thing without hustling for jobs all the time, working from home comes with its own challenges when you have kids around (like I do).

For the good of everyone, I have had to implement some sanity-saving strategies, which I’m going to share with you now.

1. Be realistic. Although working from home frees you of commute and gives you flexible hours, there is no magic – whether you’re working on your own product or providing services for clients, you will have to put in the hours. How many hours per week can you work? Be real. Are you counting on the hours when the children are asleep in the evening? Or the early morning hours before the house is awake? Make a plan. Obviously, there will be shifts (flexibility is kind of the whole point), but your strategy will be different in the scenario of having 20 hours a week to devote to your business, vs. only having pockets of time that amount up to 4 hours a week.

2. Set limits. As important as it is to define your working hours, it’s equally vital to decide when you are not going to work. You may decide that your weekends are going to be totally free. Or that your afternoons and evenings are going to belong entirely to your children until they go to sleep. When you work from home, it’s easy to let hours and days blur together with no definite limits between work and rest. You don’t want that to happen.

3. Nurture yourself. It can be extremely difficult even if you’re “just” a stay-at-home mom – which is a full-time job in itself! If you’re also building up your own business or freelancing, it can seem next to impossible to carve out time to do things that refresh and rejuvenate you, but it’s so, so important because otherwise, you might wake up one morning and realize that your well has run dry and that you have nothing more to give – to anyone. A walk, time with a friend, a quiet half-hour with a book will do wonders for your emotional wellbeing.

In my case, I make sure to carve out time to work on my own books, not just other people’s. I also set aside some time each day, even if it’s just a short while, to do things like crochet and read for pleasure, or watch a video on something that interests me. Usually, I do it at times when I’m naturally less productive, rather than push my brain to do things it can’t anymore.

The latest bout of sickness the kids have gone through reinforced my outlook on the benefits of working from home. Being there in times of crisis – without having to beg your boss for time off or look for a babysitter for sick little ones – is a huge advantage that outweighs pretty much any other consideration in my eyes. No stranger can adequately care for children when they are not feeling well.

If you are determined to work from home, setting your own schedule and being your own boss, you can do it! With some planning, you will find your balance, and begin to pave your way towards an independent lifestyle.

 

Finding the balance: working from home with your kids around

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Stay-at-home moms are on call all the time. There’s always something to do at home – it’s more than a full time job! Between settling sibling fights and washing another never-ending stacks of dishes, it’s no wonder most moms of little ones are ready to collapse at the end of the day.

If you throw in home education and extracurricular activities, you get an even busier life.

And if you are also trying to set up a home business or establish yourself as a freelancer? While it may seem (and is often true) that working from home is a family friendly option, enabling parents to still be there to take care of their kids and save time and money on commute, it does come with challenges of its own.

Many work-at-home parents still have hired childcare, which basically makes it no different from any other job – they do have set office hours, it’s just that their office happens to be right where they live. But if you, like me, choose to work from home so that you don’t need to hand your children over to anyone else, your hours become very fluid. You may find yourself locked up in the upstairs bathroom having a video call with a client because that’s the only place where you can be sure of privacy and you really, desperately need those three minutes right NOW.

It may seem extremely difficult, next to impossible, to find time when you seemingly don’t have any, and I’ve had to become very disciplined. I don’t remember the last time I have watched a movie. I only read for pleasure on Shabbat (as a copyeditor, I basically read for a living during the week). My friends (the ones I have left) often complain that I don’t return calls. I often get up early and go to bed late, and I still have to struggle with guilt for having to do some things during the day when my children are awake and need me.

I have implemented early bedtime, even for Shira who will soon be 11, and have also gotten my kids used to the idea that I’m not always available for whatever it is. We have a home office, but I don’t use it because I can’t leave little ones unsupervised during the day. So if I do have work to complete during daytime hours, I settle with my laptop in the living room and my children know that I’m there for any emergency, but not for fixing sandwiches, reading stories or helping them make beaded bracelets – not for the next hour or two, anyway.

The older kids are encouraged to have quiet time while the baby is napping so that I can work. This includes both my own books and my paid job, though my books often find myself having to wait as I focus on a deadline for a paid project.

I still think I have got a pretty good deal. I am there when a child is sick and needs extra care. I choose my own hours and decide how much work I can take up (the more I do, the more I get paid, but one can only do so much). I run errands whenever it is convenient, I have no commute, and I can always take time off for family occasions.

A few insights:

1. Simplify. Opt for less stuff, less commitments, and simpler meals. Clutter is your enemy, especially when the whole family is home every day and all day long.

2. Avail yourself of any help with kids and/or housework you can get. If you live near family that is willing to help, so much the better for you. Don’t worry, no matter what you do, there will still be more than enough work left over for you.

3. Avoid the guilt loop. While my husband walks into our home office to take care of his stuff and make phone calls without interruption, I have often felt guilty for saying no to sitting on the carpet and coloring because I’m working to a deadline. At other times, I’ve felt guilty for neglecting the deadline and sitting down to color.

You can only do your best. If I find myself struggling with feeling I have not done enough, I look back at the end of the day on all the things I’ve done for my family – from cooking meals to giving baths, from wiping noses to paying bills, and earning the money to pay those bills, too – versus the “me time” (usually a stolen 20 minutes to work on a book, some crochet at the playground, and texting a friend for a bit) and I realize I have absolutely no reason to feel guilty. In fact, I even can and should become my own cheerleading team, applauding all my efforts and appreciating what has been achieved.

Should you turn your hobby into a business?

There are many success stories of people who have turned their passion into a successful business venture, and it can be extremely tempting to imagine yourself doing just what you love and making money from it.

Except, you know, it never quite works this way.

Let me explain for a moment, OK? I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade. In fact, I’m a big fan of playing to your strengths, choosing something you enjoy doing and finding ways to make it into a source of income. It’s just that you must be aware of the changes that come once your hobby is no longer a hobby, but a real business with commitments, deadlines and clients.

I love writing and am absolutely thrilled with building myself up as the author-publisher of my own books. I also work as a novel editor, which is in the same field. It’s all fantastic, but sometimes I miss those good old times when I would curl up with a pen and notebook and dive into my imaginary world, spinning tales whenever and however the whim would hit me, and not worrying about how many people might reauulistically buy my book, when would be the most advantageous time to release it, or how many days I have until deadline.

Nowadays, I do still have that creative happy place, or I wouldn’t be able to write, but I also need to take care of formatting, cover, marketing, and tax information. I need to be consistent and disciplined and can no longer allow myself to jump from idea to idea.

Is it worth it? Absolutely. But it’s a mistake to think that doing what you love means doing what you LIKE, all day and every day.

I also believe some things are meant to remain hobbies, healthy creative outlets that offer us a place to de-stress and unwind with no pressures and no expectations. One such hobby for me is crochet, and people often tell me, “Wow, I’ll bet you could sell that stuff!” – which is very flattering, but considering how long it takes me to make every item, as well as my love for working with quality materials, it would be impossible for me to so much as break even. And I bet I’d soon be unable to look at my hooks and yarn out of pure disgust.

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Making one crochet pillow is fun. Making twenty crochet pillows for a craft booth would probably be enough to put me off crochet for a good long time. So at most, I would consider giving a community class in the basics.

Another thing to consider is the initial cost. I know people who have wanted to start a homemade body care product line and are now stuck with boatloads of shea butter and beeswax nobody wants. Fiber artists naturally need to buy yarn for crocheting, knitting, felting, etc. Writers and other entrepreneurs often spend money on expensive courses and conferences.

My insight could be summed up as following:

1. When you consider turning your hobby into a business, know it won’t always all be fun and games. At some point, and my guess is that it will happen sooner rather than later, your business will involve doing things that must be done rather than ones you enjoy most.

2. Leave something in your life as a hobby, something for pure enjoyment and fun. We all need things like that. Not every hobby is meant to grow into a full-blown business.

3. Consider the wisdom of any initial investment. As tempting as it could be, many businesses fail. It’s better to start small and grow gradually, investing your profits (however small they might be) back into the business.

Freelancing – pros and cons

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Do you have what it takes to work as a freelancer? And, most importantly, should you do that?

Work-life balance is something many people struggle with immensely. Even before I was married, I knew I didn’t want to be part of an unceasing rat race that would not leave me time to raise my children in a calm, unhurried way.

A simple, quiet life was a priority, and for years I had thrown myself wholly into the sustainability lifestyle – making, growing, bartering, salvaging, fixing rather than buying, raising livestock, and living out in the boonies. It was a rigorous life, but I loved our adventures, which included a boxful of chicks scattered over the living room floor, and goats chewing on the laundry I hung out on the veranda. I learned so many valuable lessons that I still profit from every day.

The thing is, though it is doubtlessly possible to do more on less and stretch every little bit of money, and you definitely should learn all those great skills that will enable you to become more self-sufficient, you still need some money to get along in the modern world. A time comes when you just can’t retrench further. You tighten and tighten the belt until it snaps.

I had come into my marriage (as my husband did) with traditional gender role expectations. We had trusted that my husband’s job would provide for all our needs. A string of unemployment, underemployment, and some very, very unwise financial decisions did away with that illusion. For a long time, my only thought from morning till night, the only prayer on my lips, was “What can I do to bring in some money? God, help me earn money for my family”.

My number one challenge was having shot myself in the foot to begin with. I lived in a remote place with no transportation, no steady phone signal, and no stable Internet access. Basically, it was like I had burned all the bridges and made sure in advance that I would be extremely hard-pressed to earn money if I ever needed it.

I am not bitter. It was a lesson I thoroughly deserved, and I learned it well: always leave room for plan B.

I had started to rally bit by bit, making some money from articles I wrote, publishing my books, and taking on clients for proofreading and editing services. What really enabled me to fuel the whole freelancing thing up, however, was moving here, where I have steady Internet connection and the ability to work with Google Docs.

I was lucky enough to soon find a good client with a steady work stream on Upwork (that was before Upwork started with their greedy policy of charging for connects), and for the past several months, I have been working with them almost exclusively in the position of a copyeditor. I also continue working on my own books.

Although I feel incredibly lucky to be able to work from home at this season of my life, setting my own schedule and choosing my own hours, I still have to deal with some challenges, the biggest of which is a blurred line between work and home.

I don’t have my own office space, and if I did, I wouldn’t be able to just barricade myself there with a houseful of kids. I work in the living room, in the epicenter of all the action and mess that go on here daily. Because I home educate and don’t have help with childcare, I can be interrupted any moment to deal with a sibling fight or a spilled drink.

On the flip side, I sometimes check out the work chat app at odd hours and places, because most of the people I’m in daily contact with are in very different time zones.

I think that every person who thinks of setting themselves up as a freelancer should remember the following:

– Work from home is still work. It’s not a free pass, and you need major self-discipline to get anything done.

– Freelancing, at least initially, won’t make you rich. The main benefit here is flexibility. Don’t despise humble beginnings and be prepared to work your way up.

– Learn to set limits. Be realistic as to how much you can do in a certain period of time, and know how to deal with clients who want the job done by yesterday.

– Take care of yourself. Freelancing with small children in the house may often mean working early in the morning and late into the night when everyone is asleep, skipping meals and showers, and dodging calls from friends. Burnout is a real thing, and there’s only so much one can handle.

Despite any challenge I might face, I am tremendously grateful for the technology that brings our world closer together and enables people to work remotely with more ease and convenience than ever before.