How to End the Year When You’re Broke, Busy, or Burned out

Let’s focus on closing the year on a positive (and realistic) note.


Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

If you believe the memes on social media, this is the time of year when we’re supposed to: 1) take control of our finances, 2) get rid of the negative people in our lives, and 3) let go of the excuses for why we haven’t done 1 or 2. Last call for completing those 2018 resolutions!

People of the internets, we have 25 days left in December. Even if you’re a remote worker with lots of flexibility, you can’t fix a year’s worth of problems in 25 days. Happily, there is a sane way to tie up the old year even if you’re broke or short on time.

What Went Right?

Most of us have a mental mix tape of all the things that went wrong in 2018. Take a moment to write down the things that went right. You can do this all in one session or during small gaps in your day. Some of those positives might be big-a new job, a new relationship—but don’t overlook the small stuff. Did you start a hobby? Try a sport? You may need to focus on very small things, at first, before you can remember some of the medium-sized positives.

Who Cares?

There are good reasons why you need this list. Many people go through an existential crisis at this time of year. They think of all of the things they didn’t do. They think of all the things that went wrong. Don’t let the negative mix tape erase the positives. If you want to make changes to your life in 2019, you need a balanced assessment of where you are. You may not have lost 40 pounds this year, but maybe you kept a roof over your kid’s head. Go you!

Now What?

Once you know where you are, you can start thinking of where you want to be. Putting your list together in December lets you test drive a few new habits before the resolutions craze in January. This knowledge will keep you from getting sucked into activities that don’t mean much to you. Even more importantly, this is a crazy time of year. If you can size your goal so that it fits into your routine now, then it will probably fit into your life when things calm down next month. Plus, you’ll have a jump on the new year. It’s a win-win.

Do the Kids Even Know that I Work?

If you work from home, do your kids register you as a working parent? And other concerns.

How do I model my professional status when I work from a home office?

Mother-daughter selfie

Sometimes I wonder what my kids think of their remote-working mother. They must know I work—I feel like I spend 90% of their summer vacation ordering them out of my home office—and yet they will bypass their dad to interrupt me because he’s “busy.” Is this because of deep-seated gendered biases that they have absorbed from our culture? Is it because they think I’m a softer mark? It’s hard to tell.

Remote work has given me more freedom to choose the type of mother I want to be. Before my daughter was born I decided I would be the mother who cooks. I am also the mother who works full time, but that was a given. I prefer to keep my family in rent and groceries. Ergo, I work full time. Cooking from scratch is my choice. I grew up in a family that showed love through good food. As an adult I equate simple ingredients with health. And so I make time before work, on my lunch breaks, and after work, to do things like make bread or simmer chili. Instead of commuting to work I make waffles.

I love that I can be the mother I want to be. I also worry that my kids think I’m doing it all. Or that they discount the outside work I do because I perform it inside the home. My daughter in particular is trying to show maturity by taking on the domestic tasks that I normally perform. She spent this weekend making salsa and baking bread. She also tries to soothe her little brother when he gets hurt and help him with his homework. I am both flattered that she wants to emulate me and worried that she assumes this is what women do.

I want both of my children to learn to cook good food. I consider it a life skill. But I also want them to know that they can choose what they’re known for. Cooking does not define me, but it is part of the complicated definition of me. I cook because I want to, because I enjoy it, and because I think it’s important, not because it’s expected of me. And so I talk about why I cook, and I also talk about the things I do for work.

The nine-year-old’s first independent cupcake attempt. She says the frosting looks like poo.

I think some of the meta message must be getting through. Grandma recently sent both kids a sum of money. My daughter approached me this weekend with a plan to use that money to start a baking business. Did she approach me because I’m the softer mark? Or did she correctly identify the parent with the business background? It’s hard to tell. All I know is that it’s her choice, and I’ll be supporting her startup any way I can.

Home for the Holidays

Trying to juggle unexpected childcare can be stressful. Here are some tips to ease the stress.

What to Do When Your Childcare Falls Through

The holidays are nearly upon us, and all across the land, children will soon begin winter break. This presents particular problems for remote working parents whose home office is suddenly overrun by small people.

In our book ‘Secrets of the Remote Workforce,’ my coauthors and I discuss ways to minimize child intrusions and manage work expectations. That discussion assumes you have some form of childcare. But what do you do if your childcare falls through during the holidays? Here are some tips for when you can’t just take a vacation day.

Have a preemptive conversation with your boss. It’s easier to get the flexibility you need if you’ve prepared your manager for the possibility. I usually say something like ‘As a reminder, my children will be home during the day for winter break. I have childcare, but if those plans fall through I’ll need to talk to you about my backup plan to get my work done on time.’

Bank time. Unlike sickness, you know when winter break starts and stops. If you can, preemptively work a little later the week before so you can have an hour or so available to focus on the children.

Work early or late. Or both. Most remote jobs have some flexibility build in to them. Some work tasks can be done at any time of the day or night, while others can be done during someone else’s time zone. Most of my coworkers are on East Coast Time, so I’ll drag my myself out of bed early and work for a few hours before my children wake up. This gives me some flex time during the day when I may need it. And if I don’t need it, I now have an excuse for a long lunchtime run. Woo hoo!

Invite more children over. This may seem counter intuitive, but inviting your child’s friend over for a visit can keep both children occupied and out of your hair. Your house may be trashed afterwards but at least you can work in (relative) peace. Obviously this only works if the children are old enough not to put weird things in their mouth.   

Trying to juggle unexpected childcare can be both tricky and stressful. This is doubly true during the holidays, when backup childcare options are limited. Building in flex hours ahead of time is one way to get ahead of the stress. Do you have other tips that work for you? Let me know in the comments.

How to Host a Remote Work Party People Will Want to Attend

Working from home doesn’t have to mean partying alone. With a few tips you can party like it’s 1999.

Photo by Cristian Escobar on Unsplash

Working from home doesn’t have to mean partying alone. Thanks to video conferencing magic, you can host a great virtual party from the comfort of your laptop. My colleagues and I have been holding virtual parties since 2010. If you keep these tips in mind, you too can celebrate with your coworkers like it’s 1999.

Gift Exchange

Get the facts. Running a virtual gift exchange is as easy as pairing people up and sending shipping information. Make sure that people are comfortable giving out this information. If not, consider a gift card only gift exchange. Pro Tip: You will score major points if you buy those gift cards from a country specific chain. While your Canadian colleague will use a Starbucks card, sending her a gift card to David’s Tea or Tim Horton’s says ‘I cared enough to do a little research.’

Build in shipping time. This is particularly important if some colleagues live across country lines. You may also want to do an internet search for ‘postal strike’ before deciding how to ship to a colleague in a different country.

Buy (country) local. Did you know Amazon has 12 country-specific online stores? If you buy a gift for your Indian colleague in the Amazon India store, you will save time and money.

Happy Hours

Respect the time zone. London is five hours ahead of New York. Hawaii is three hours behind California. Your colleague in India may really like you, but he’s probably going to skip a 6am beer fest. Consider holding more than one party if time zones are too far apart. Your colleagues in other time zones will notice and appreciate your effort include them in the festivities.

Signal if alcohol is okay. This is especially true if you are the highest ranking person at the party. This can be as simple as saying ‘Bring your beverage of choice. I’ll be sipping my favourite chocolate porter.’

Bring talking points. Video happy hours can be fun, but you can’t have several conversations going on at the same time. You’ll overwhelm the audio. This can lead to awkward stretches of silence if you aren’t careful. Reach out ahead of time and ask one or two colleagues to help you keep the conversational ball rolling. You can also play ice breaker games if your team thinks that’s fun.

Working from Home Doesn’t Have to Mean Working Alone

Don’t let your status as a remote worker stop you from celebrating with your colleagues. Virtual parties can be a chance to network, an opportunity to build friendships, and a pleasant way to break up the work day. Do you have a great tip for hosting a fun virtual work party? Let me know in the comments.

Can’t Focus When You Work from Home? Try This

If you can’t focus, it isn’t because you’re weak. You need a new habit.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Before you started your remote job, home was a place of rest. Coming home signalled the end of the work day and the start of down time. This presents problems when your place of rest becomes your workplace, too. Are you having trouble focusing now that you work from home? You aren’t alone. Before we talk about what to do to fix the situation let’s clear up one thing.

You Aren’t Distracted Because You’re Weak

Your lack of focus stems, at bottom, from the associations you have about home time. Your brain knows that home is where you relax. If you live with family or roommates, they are used to talking to you whenever. Trying to work in these conditions can seem like an uphill battle. Fortunately there is a powerful technique that will help you focus more easily.

Build New Habits—Visual Cues

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The best way to fight the ‘home is where I chill’ association is to build a new ‘I’m at work’ habit. This looks different for different people. Think of the routine you had when you worked out of an office. Did your commute involve a run to Starbucks? Did you have a set of work clothes? Harness some of those cues.

The second time I went remote, I lived in an apartment in Los Angeles with a husband, a toddler, two cats, and a second child on the way. Getting dressed in my suit jacket and slacks put me in work mode. As I became accustomed to working from home I was soon able to ditch the full suit. Now I work in jeans and a button down shirt.

Build New Habits—Spatial Cues

Try working in the same part of your home every day. I enjoy working from Starbucks, but that gets expensive pretty quickly, so I mostly work at my desk. The ideal desk location will be away from the hustle and bustle in your home, and have some way to lock out family. You may need to get creative.

My desk is in a small alcove in my bedroom, and my bedroom door doesn’t have a lock. Instead I wedge a crutch underneath the doorknob. It’s both funny and infuriating when one of my kids tries to get in by body-slamming the door. Usually they are saying something like “Mom? Mom are you there? I can’t get in.” That is, of course, the point.

If You Build Habits, The Focus Will Come

Above all, don’t give up. Just because it’s hard to focus now doesn’t mean you aren’t cut out for remote work. Try a few things, and give your habits time to develop. Soon you will be focusing on your work like the ninja you are.

Do you have a go to work routine that works for you? Share it in the comments.

How to Set Up Your Remote Office on the Cheap

Besides a computer, the list of must-have office equipment for the new remote worker is smaller than you think.

Photo by Djurdjica Boskovic on Unsplash

Your first remote job is an adventure—complete with the need to gather the right supplies if you don’t want to crash and burn. Admittedly, this is a balancing act. On the one hand you don’t want to over invest until you know that the remote work style works for you. On the other, there are a few key things you absolutely can’t live without. The list is smaller than you think.

Invest in a Great Internet Connection

Wired internet is the gold standard. Many apps take a lot of bandwidth, and you will save yourself some stress if you can plug into a router. That said, if you can’t get a wired connection, get the strongest wifi you can afford. Understand that you may need to find work arounds. Check out the rates for coworking spaces in your area. Some libraries also have wired internet, and private spaces you can reserve.

Buy a Comfortable Chair

This is the one tangible item you should buy as soon as possible. The first time I went remote I worked from my kitchen table. I was a freelance writer in New York City and I was determined to set up my office with money I earned freelancing. I was a hard nosed business woman and that was my hard nosed plan.

Unfortunately my kitchen chair was also hard. A month into my new career I needed a chiropractor. Fixing my bout of sciatica took many chiropractor visits and several hundred dollars, and then I had to invest in a nice chair anyway. My attempt to work on the cheap ended up costing far more than making a simple investment up front.

Clear a Wall

There will be video calls you have to attend. Make sure one wall in your home is work appropriate. A blank wall is perfectly acceptable. You can always add more personality once you understand the work vibe.

And that’s it. There are other things you will add to your remote office eventually, but let yourself settle in first. Some people don’t like working from a desk. Others need their things in a dedicated space. You may not know which category you fit into until you develop your new routine. Give yourself time to figure out what works for you, and you’ll be cruising along on the remote highway in no time.

For those of you who have been working remotely for a while, what things do you absolutely need to be happy and productive? Let me know in the comments.

What People Think You Mean When You Say ‘I Work from Home’

Remote employees have a real job with a real paycheck. Here are three assumptions you need to check at the door.

You are Unemployed

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Okay. We get it. People who get laid off or fired usually have the smarts to grab a few gigs as they look for their next stable job. In these cases, remote work is something to do for now. However, according to GlobalWorkspaceAnalytics.com in this study, the remote working population has grown by 140% since 2005. This number specifically excludes the self-employed. At least 4.3 million US employees work from home at least half the time. Translation: your friend who works from home is part of an army of unseen employees doing real work for a real paycheck.

You are “Working”

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The reasoning goes something like this: your boss can’t look over your shoulder and make sure you’re working, therefore, you are binge watching Netflix. Let’s break this one down a bit. How many employers do you know that will give someone money for nothing? We’ve all seen that guy at the office who surfs his social media all day long, leeches off of other people’s projects, and sucks up to the boss so he can keep him job. This is harder to do remotely. In the online environment, you are the sum of your online actions. People who don’t respond to instant messages or hit their deadlines very quickly become ghosts. No amount of sitting in your chair and “looking” busy will save you.

Remote employees work more. With fewer in-person distractions, it is very easy to get into the zone and work until the wee hours of the evening. Most remote workers have to put processes in place to force them to stop working.

You are the Master of Your Own Time

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Remote employees are not self employed. Our bosses schedule meetings we must attend. Deadlines get moved up. Projects change and we need to throw our schedule out the window and start over from scratch.

We don’t have time to take you to the airport, or pick up your laundry, or host a three hour lunch at the last minute. We could do these things. One of the joys of remote work is having the ability to go on a child’s field trip, or get a haircut in the middle of the day. This flexibility isn’t free. We start work at 5am, or log back into work at 9pm after the kids go to bed to make up the time. Sometimes we do both. If you want a remote worker to do something with your or for you during business hours, it has to be worth the sacrifice. And give us some notice.

Help Us Help You

Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 20–25% of the US workforce works from home with some degree of frequency. If you keep in mind what your friend really means when she says ‘I work from home,’ you will refrain from annoying her, and raise your chances of getting that free ride to the airport.