Wednesday, 29 January 2014

A sense of community

Helping others is not only good for them and a good thing to do, it also makes us happier and healthier too. Giving also connects us to others, creating stronger communities and helping to build a happier society for everyone.  Action for Happiness

There are countless articles online about the connection between happiness and getting involved in your community.  One promise upfront: I am not going to try to convince you that you should give up large chunks of your time or money. Most of you are very busy people, who I'm flattered are taking the time to read this post.

Instead, I'd like to focus on the amazing little things that are going on in your community right now - and that you are quite possibly already a part of!  If not, I hope there's something in here that might catch your imagination and make you think, "Actually, that's do-able for me."

Supportive shopping
You may have read a bit about food banks, and the growing need for them, in the media of late. Perhaps there's one near you? Here's an idea: Why not take advantage of a 'buy one get one free' offer when you are out shopping and donate the 'spare' to your local foodbank? Keen to know more? I've included the link to my own local foodbank for those who live in my little corner of Aberdeenshire. Do take a peek - you'll see that they even provide you with a list of the items they are looking for.

You can make a difference (sorry, bad pun alert)
Charity clicks
Lots of charities and good causes, including community groups and schools, use a scheme called easyfundraising to help them make a little extra money via online shopping.  It works in much the same way as a cashback website. In this case, however, you click on your favoured charity's easyfundraising page before clicking through to the retailer's normal website. The charity then gets a small percentage payment from the retailer (it doesn't affect your own outlay). Don't know if your pet charity has a page? Why not ask - or even suggest that they set one up?
Back to school
If you have school age children, chances are that you've already spent some time in their place of learning. Schools nowadays are always looking for parent helpers. Perhaps, like me, you feel a wave of guilt when you can't help out due to work commitments? Don't despair. There are nearly always some out of hours opportunities to support your school, such as school discos, weekend football festivals and even just turning up when the school organises forums in the evenings for parents.  Don't beat yourself up if you can only manage to attend one event per year - it all counts!

Love thy neighbour
How well do you know your neighbours? If you're lucky, you live near people who you also count as friends.  Knowing that there's someone a couple of doors away who will take your wheelie bin in or feed the cat when you're on holiday makes a big difference to the ease with which we navigate our busy lives.  A friend recently confessed to me that she doesn't eat many sweet things herself. She does, however, love to bake and then distribute the results among her neighbours.  She enjoys both the process and the knowledge that she's brightened up their day. Who wouldn't want someone like that to live next door?

Pay it forward
There's a really positive initiative doing the rounds on social media right now, which involves making a pledge to do something nice at some point throughout the year for the first five 'volunteers'. It doesn't have to be expensive - suggestions include a book, a ticket, a visit, something home grown/made, a postcard, absolutely any surprise.

The five volunteers must then make the same offer on their own status and distribute their own joy. As the initiative states: "Let's do more nice and loving things for each other in 2014, without any reason other than to make each other smile and to show that we think of each other."

Caring cuppas
There's been a bit of controversy about this one but if you are a Starbucks regular, then it may be a good 'fit' for you. Last year the coffee giant became the first British chain to sign up to a goodwill initiative allowing customers to buy a beverage and reserve one for the homeless. Others chains have undoubtedly followed suit since. If you like a luxury cuppa and have some spare change, why not check out what happens in your coffee shop of choice?

And there's more...
This article could go on for ever because, contrary to the impression sometimes given in the mass media, there's an awful lot of good stuff going on out there. Small daily acts of support, often performed automatically, knit the fabric of our communities together:
  • It's the local independent retailers who team up to create special events and loyalty schemes (and the customers who make that extra little trip out of their way to support them). 
  • It's the mums who pick up one another's children when someone gets stuck in a traffic jam, or has to work late. 
  • It's the little 'uns who know their lollipop man by name and give him a home-made card at Christmas. 
In my admittedly average opinion, the combination of all these little things is what really makes a community work.

Is there something great that people do for one another in your community? If so, I'd love to hear about it.

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Sunday, 26 January 2014

The power of the humble list

I'm addicted to lists. There, I said it. (Please don't all run for the hills!) I have to confess, though, that it wasn't until I started writing this blog post that I realised just how heavily the humble list features in my daily life.  Where on earth would I be without it?

Now, I'm not sure that all of my list uses will appeal to everyone (not given my list-tastic tendencies!). But, as ever, if there's just one suggestion that you find useful, then I'll consider this article a good job done.

Off we go....

The  master 'to do' list

Everyone has one of these in some shape or form, don't they? On a week day, this sits beside my desk with a list of categorised tasks. Paid for work comes first (needs must) and nowadays I might have another heading below for 'blog'. Then, if I'm feeling really efficient, I might include another section for the humdrum stuff I need to remember about - paying bills, making an optician's appointment, etc.

I work from a hard copy notepad but I know that some people like to save desk space and keep their work task list on their computer.  Between you and me, I think mine has always remained as a hard copy for two reasons:  Firstly, I have a tendency to remember about something important just after I've switched the laptop off.  Secondly, I really love the process of physically ticking a checkbox once I've completed a job. (So much more satisfying than clicking a mouse.)

Oh - and one more thing. Sometimes I'll write up my 'to do' list the night before, especially if the next day looks really busy.  It helps me to switch off a little and get some sleep. Otherwise, I risk a jumble of tasks swirling round my head at 3am.

The mobile list

I don't carry my beloved 'to do' list notepad about with me.  If a great idea for a work project springs into mind while I'm on the go or, more likely, I have one of those dreaded "Oh no, I've forgotten to do XYZ" moments, then I need to find some other way of capturing it.  Sadly, my average - and at times below average - memory can not be relied upon to retrieve the information later. This is where my trusty mobile 'phone comes in.  As a list lover, I've enthusiastically investigated lots of task list apps. My needs are fairly basic though, so I've found that most of them are too sophisticated. As an iphone owner, I use both the standard notes app and the reminders app (if the job is time-sensitive). The combination of the two is perfectly adequate to meet my on-the-go requirements.

The menu planning list

Or, as it is known in my household, the 'meals for the week' list.  This goes hand in hand with my weekly shopping list. Both get written up at the same time - usually at the weekend or on a Monday, by which time the cupboards are looking a bit forlorn.  By deciding what we're going to eat in advance for the next seven days or so, the shopping list becomes a bit more focused and there's less risk of impulse buying and wasted food at the end of the week. If hubby's home first, he can (in theory!) see which meals we have planned and start cooking in the knowledge that all the ingredients should be to hand. For this reason, I'll occasionally jot down a reference to the recipe book and page number alongside the planned meal. Note: Sometimes real life does get in the way, so the menu plan is not always adhered to rigidly. An element of flexibility is essential in my household!  The menu planning list is usually a scribbled affair that is attached via magnet to our fridge or notice board (of which more below).

The day-to-day family list

Not so much of a list, as a noticeboard.  My eldest child really likes to know what we're doing, what we're eating and who's at home on any given day. (Hubby works shifts so he's sometimes around after school, sometimes not.)  Kept in the kitchen, our family noticeboard is written up (usually by me, sometimes by the kids) the night before and stops me getting impatient answering the same, inevitable daily questions.  Again, things don't always go exactly to schedule but at least there is the intention of order among the family chaos! What's more, I think it gives my daughter a sense of security in what's becoming a fast-paced, ever changing world.  Given that hubby's a shift worker, it also reminds him what the plan is if he comes home to an empty or sleeping household.

The children's checklist

I realised the other day that this really needs an overhaul in our household. The original version was produced some years ago and my two children's capabilities have since moved on. However, as some of you might have younger children - and since we found it useful - I'll include it here anyway.  Pinned on the inside of our coat cupboard door, we have a simple checklist for the kids with pictures alongside.  Getting them out in the morning for nursery or school used to be really stressful (and, to be frank, it sometimes still is).  This checklist was designed to encourage them to develop some independence and to stop me asking the same questions day in, day out. You know the ones I mean, "Have you packed your swimming bag/show and tell project/recorder/water bottle?" and "Have you brushed your teeth/hair?". If you have access to any kind of word processing software like Microsoft Word, it's well worth the half hour to set up, print out and - if you have the equipment - laminate a list like this. I remember it working really nicely in the first few weeks (novelty value?), after which time some of the daily procedures were becoming ingrained.

Cautionary note: Don't leave it to languish like I did once the kids have got the hang of things! My next step should have been to move things up a notch and produce a new list. Perhaps one that includes some additional morning jobs that my two are more than capable of doing.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I might feel another list coming on...

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Shared on Works-For-Me-Wednesday (WFMW).

Friday, 24 January 2014

The best things in life are free

Who doesn't love a freebie? I know I do. Given that we're slowly and painfully creeping towards the end of a very loooonnnngggg January, freebies right now are particularly welcome.

Now, I can already hear some muttering at the back along the lines of, "There's no such thing as a free lunch". To a certain extent that is true.  Some of the things I'll mention below are most definitely being offered up for nothing in the hope that a) it will gain the company some positive publicity or b) the freebie will encourage you to return in the future as a paying customer.

I will state right now that my snapshot list of freebie favourites is quite diverse and most certainly not exhaustive!  As with many of the posts on Average and Proud, I'm simply trying to pinpoint a variety of things in the hope that there's something in here that will appeal to most folk.

So, without further ado...

For families

In terms of indoor entertainment during the winter months, many museums and art galleries can offer a different day out for the family and free entry is something of a bonus.  It's not strictly free but the major cinema chains also tend to offer heavily discounted tickets for early viewings on Saturday and Sunday mornings. These can be a low-budget lifesaver during a wet winter weekend. 

Check out facebook too and make sure you like any facebook pages that highlight up and coming events in your area.  Our nearest city is Aberdeen and I've found out about a number of really great family events via the 'Aberdeen for Kids' page, which is dedicated to highlighting "cheap, free and fun things to do with kids in and around Aberdeen." Parents throughout the north-east of Scotland owe the page manager a huge debt of gratitude.

For the bookworms

If you're lucky enough to own a Kindle, then you've probably realised you can quite easily search the store for the top free books.  Within the last day or so, I've downloaded for free the e-book 'Frugal Stuff That Works: 50 Tips To Make the Most of Your Money'.  It's now priced at 77p after being free initially, however I consider this a double whammy: A free book in January that tells me how to save more pennies. What's not to like? Many thanks to the good ladies of the Mortgage Free in Three forum, whose tips have been used as the basis of the book.

For the gadget lovers

This is more of a reminder than a revelation.  If you own any Apple products, you're probably well aware of free apps.  I know I'm guilty of forgetting to have a rummage around to see if there's anything new out there that could help me to get more out of my iphone or ipad.  January is the perfect time to go and have a look, particularly if you don't have much cash on your hands but you do have some spare time.

For the foodies

This blog has previously mentioned several wonderful websites such as BBC Good Food, AllRecipes and Pinterest, where you can find a whole host of recipe inspiration, costing you nothing more than some of your monthly internet allowance. 

If you fancy perking up your lunchbox in 2014, why not try out a free sample of healthy goodies via Graze?  At the time of writing, the Graze website was offering the first box ordered for half price, however this company is well-known for running promotions where your initial order is completely free.  Check out popular deals and voucher code sites (more on these below) to see if you can find one, or keep an eye on the main site.  Just remember to cancel if you decide that you don't want to continue to order on a regular (and paying) basis.
For the business world
One of the most valuable and stimulating pieces of communication that arrives in my inbox is the free monthly trend briefing that I receive via  Packed full of inspiring advice and case studies, it's a must-read not only for those who work in marketing or communications but for anyone who has an interest in consumer behaviour, technological advances and "the next big thing".

For the real bargain hunters

Where to start? Websites such as freecycle and freegle have an enormous range of pre-loved items up for grabs so that one person's trash can become another's treasure.  It's generally acknowledged that it's good practise to give as well as receive. Having done both in the past via my local freecycle group, I would thoroughly recommend it.

Another source of potential freebies, although more in the "buy one get one free" category, are the many voucher and discount code websites.  Popular ones include and  The wonderfully useful MoneySavingExpert website also lists all the hottest deals right here. (Or simply sign up for MoneysavingExpert's weekly email and join the eight million people who get all the latest freebies and offers delivered directly to their inbox each week.)
For the spenders
If freebies for spenders seem contradictory, bear with me.  If you are about to book your summer holiday at the beginning of the year, this final hint could prove useful.  Cash back sites are a great way of getting some 'free' money back on a purchase that you may well be making anyway.  My personal favourite is TopCashBack but there are several other biggies.  It's not just holidays that you can earn cash back on - many of the major retailers have now signed up to these schemes.  The cash back may take a while to come through - and you shouldn't base a purchase purely on what you might get back (cash back websites have been known to fall by the wayside). It is, however, well worth a try, particularly for larger buys.  All you need to do is click through from the cash back site to your retailer of choice, then order as normal.  One final cautionary note: Once the cash back has come through, move it into your own bank account asap. Don't let it pile up, just in case the cashback site doesn't last the distance...
Do you have a favourite freebie that I've missed here? Feel free (no pun intended!) to comment and share with the rest of us!

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Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Let us give thanks...

Interestingly, a number of my favourite online writers have recently touched on the subject of being thankful.
If you happen to be reading this at the end of one of those horribly long drudge-like days, please don't navigate away thinking "this isn't worth reading right now". In actual fact, the best thing you could do is read on.  I know, because the exact same thing happened to me the first time I read one of the blog posts that I'm about to refer to!
The aim of each of the ideas below is to stop us focusing on all the negative stuff that happens (because it does and will continue to do so). Instead, we're encouraged to realise that, even on the worst of days, there is always something - even something tiny - to be grateful for.  I repeat, if you're feeling a bit "bah humbug" about this, please stick with me!
The first article I read on the subject (when I was in a really bad mood) was written by Amanda Alexander of Coaching Mums.  The post title caught my eye as it was entitled 'The 3 ½ Point Emergency Action Plan for When Life Sucks'.  Amanda suggests in point two of her article that you keep a daily gratitude journal, writing down a list of at least 20 things that you are thankful for at the end of each day. Now that's quite a lot, so you're really going to have to think hard but - hey - how much better will you feel after listing them all?
If you know within yourself that you just won't have the time or energy to make a list as long as that, why not try Elaine Colliar's pared down version of the same type of approach? In her refreshingly honest blog post 'Keeping Your Chin Up', Elaine confesses that the idea of a gratitude journal is too much like homework for her.  Instead she uses her general-purpose trusty notebook, marking out just one line per day to make a quick note of something positive that has happened.
Simple notebook =  quick fix gratitude journal
If you'd like to do something a little more visual - or you want to involve the rest of the family - another twist on thankfulness exists in the form of the gratitude jar.  This is something that many households do on an annual basis. It is an idea that is simple yet effective.  The basic premise is that you take a jar, pop it somewhere nice and accessible, and fill it throughout the year with short notes outlining the good things that have happened.  Some people save opening it up until the year end, however I'm certain that taking a sneaky peek during any rough patches would provide a great spur to keep on going.
For me, the one-liner in a notebook is the method that works best. Even then, I confess that I lapse occasionally and fail to write things down.  I do believe, however, that the daily discipline of being grateful for all the nice little things that happen (and there really are quite a lot of them) has helped to change my mindset for the better.  The "woe is me" moments are less frequent - and that's something that the rest of my household is grateful for too!
Feeling cynical? So did I.  Why not see if one of these approaches could work for you? After all, there's nothing to lose - other than that lingering bad mood....

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Thursday, 16 January 2014

Making more of the great outdoors

Before I get started,  I acknowledge that writing a post about going outdoors in January might seem a little odd. However (deep breath), I think there are lots of good reasons why now is exactly the right time...
a) When the weather is kind enough to co-operate at this time of year (as it has done today in my little corner of the world), then we really do need to make the most of it.
b) Money tends to be tight in January and indoor activities usually cost a bit more (notwithstanding some of the excellent art galleries and museums that may be free and within reach if you live near a city).
c) Doing some exploring now means that, come Spring, you'll have a host of tried and tested outdoor spaces to return to!
Although this post is meant to be family friendly, you don't need to have children to take up most of these suggestions.  I've based them on what's available in my local area but hopefully there will be equivalents near you too.  So, without further ado....
If you go down to the woods today...
If there's a cold breeze, then a woodland walk can provide a bit of shelter while still letting you get some much-need fresh air.  I was lucky enough to grow up near woods and the smell of pine needles and the feel of a springy forest floor brings me back to my childhood every time.  Check out the Forestry Commission website to find nearby trails for all abilities. If you have small people with you, it's worth taking a quick peek at the Nature Detectives website before you depart.  This site has a range of excellent downloads, such as spotter sheets, scavenger hunts and woodland log books.
Climb every mountain
Well, perhaps not every mountain and maybe a hill instead if you have little legs accompanying you!  If you strike lucky with a crisp, clear winter day, then there's no better feeling than reaching the summit, admiring the view and saying to each other "yay - we did it!".  One of the most popular hills to climb near me is Bennachie, which also falls under the management of the Forestry Commission.  The routes are clearly marked and there's a great visitor centre where you can learn more about the area's history. There are sometimes even orienteering courses available for little (and large) explorers to try out.
Take it on trust
The National Trust for Scotland has properties throughout the country; these are often situated within extensive grounds which - you guessed it - tend to offer some very pleasant walking trails.  As with the Forestry Commission routes, these are usually clearly marked and a 'map' at the start often gives an indication as to the difficulty of the terrain and the time you should allow yourself to complete the walk. Even when the properties themselves are closed over winter, you should still be able to gain access to the grounds.  Take some change with you if you're not a member though - many of the larger properties charge a small sum for parking (as do some Forestry Commission sites).
Exploring a nearby National Trust trail
Life's a beach
Don't leave the seaside until the summer - beaches are worth a visit all year round. Just wrap up well! Check out sites such as Nearest Beach and the Marine Conservation Society's Good Beach Guide for inspiration.
Modern day treasure hunting
If you're still struggling to motivate the kids (or indeed yourself) to get outside, you can add an extra sense of purpose to your walk by signing up for geocaching.  Most easily described as a modern day treasure hunt, you simply sign up on the website, then search for geocaches in the area you're intending to visit (or use the geocaches locally to provide inspiration for your next walking destination).  Although you can look up geocaches online before you depart, it's even better fun if you have a GPS-enabled 'phone. That way, you can track your progress towards the cache (and the little 'uns just love counting down the last few metres).

Wherever you decide to explore this season, I hope you have some great adventures.  Here's to winter sunshine!

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Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Role models: How to find a good one

Q: What makes a good role model? 

A: Someone who inspires you to be the best person you can be - in terms of your behaviour, capabilities, attitudes or all of the above. (This isn't a black and white definition by the way, it's a definition from the dictionary of Mrs Average...!)

So where do you find these people? Well, they might just be closer than you think.  While we may read or watch people achieve amazing things in the newspapers or on television, this is not where I draw my personal role models from. Instead, my own cluster of role models (I'm lucky enough to have several) are among people I know...

  • It's the friend who encouraged her husband to switch jobs and train for his dream career, taking on the role of main bread winner without so much as a peep (it's her husband who tells this story to others by the way, not her).

  • It's the friend who is renovating a house and actively fundraising for a children's charity but who still manages to support community activities and other friends' social events.
  • It's the friend who contacted me to express her sympathy after a family bereavement, despite the fact that we haven't seen one another for several years and she's overwhelmingly busy running a successful business.
  • And it's the friend who, for no financial recompense, makes the time to organise jogging training for all the other neighbourhood ladies who want to get fit but who lack the confidence, experience or motivation to do so on their own.

I could go on and on but I'm sure you get the picture.  If you look closely enough, you'll realise that you are most likely surrounded by amazing people who show great strength, gusto and compassion for others in the way that they approach their daily lives. (Did I mention that all of the above ladies have jobs and young children too?)

When I'm having a bad day or facing a big challenge, I think about my role models and ask myself "How would SHE react in my position?" It's a great way to stop myself going into meltdown and helps me to give myself a shake, get on with things and make better decisions.

So, to all my role models out there - thanks a million. I don't know what I'd do without you! 

Mass media isn't always the best source of inspirational role models

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Thursday, 9 January 2014

Beating the January blues

There's been so much in the media recently about the January blues that it seemed wrong not to give the topic some blog space.

Here in my little corner of the world, we've been exceptionally lucky over the past few days with bright skies and crisp, clear days. If anything can help me shake off the blues, it's getting out into the winter sunshine. I'm aware, however, that a) the weather won't always be as good here b) the weather has been pretty terrible elsewhere and c) there's often a lot more to the January blues than the dull, dark days of winter (click here to see my thoughts on the latter subject).

Money money money
Money, or the lack of, is a major concern for many at the start of the year.  The excesses of the festive season tend to leave bank balances looking rather the worse for wear. I'm no financial guru but if belt tightening is the order of the day - or even the next few months - hop on over to the Mortgage Free in Three website, where the wonderfully upbeat Elaine Colliar is rallying others to join her 'Thirty Days of Thrift' challenge.  Simply sign up for Elaine's emails and you'll get some great daily advice - along with the camaraderie of others - to help you through this tough lean month. 

If your financial woes run deep and long-term, you should also try checking out Martin Lewis's Moneysaving Expert site.  It's stuffed with advice on how to make the best of your financial situation - however dire - and his free budget planning tool is perfect if you've decided that now is the right time to take a long, hard look at where your cash is going.
Piling on the wrong kind of pounds
January generally means a loss of monetary pounds and a gain in the ones that cling to your hips. BOO! Some people like to treat January as a fresh start and tackle hard core diet plans with gusto.  I do not fall into this category.  I find it exceptionally hard to survive on a strict daily regime of salad when the weather's bitter outside and I'm craving warm, comforting foods.  The good news is that these foods don't necessarily have to compound the inevitable Christmas weight gain.  For me, this is the season when soup comes into its own!  Not only is it nutritious, it shouldn't break the January budget either. What's more, there's an eye-popping variety of different types that you can make.  Can't justify a new recipe book? Pinterest, AllRecipes and BBC Good Food have excellent, easy-to-follow recipes that are just a click away.
A hearty bowl of soup can be a January saviour
Getting off the sofa
It can be pretty hard to get motivated about exercise when you're cash poor and not feeling like your svelte self.  Yet this is the time we need it most! It's likely that a private gym membership is out of the question, so it's time to be creative about what you can do instead...  If you're not really in the habit of exercising, try to think hard about what type of activity will suit you and work around your other demands, whether these be your job, your family commitments or both. If you're new to exercise, walking is a safe and often sociable way to get started, provided you can persuade a friend to join you.  If you swap your regular coffee outing for a walk with others, you can save money, catch up and get fit - all at the same time.  But what about the bad weather I hear you ask? If you want to get moving indoors, why not dust off any old exercise DVDs you have, or press the Wii back into service? I also love a Yoga app that I can use from my iPad. It cost very little to download and offers access to a whole variety of workouts, which vary in length and intensity.

Arranging to exercise with others will help you off the sofa

Depending on when you're reading this, you've already made it through at least part of January. Congratulate yourself for getting this far, grit your teeth and beat off those blues as best you can!

Related posts: Dealing with the dull dark days of winter

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Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Would self employment suit you?

A good friend of mine asked me for some advice on self employment yesterday which, in turn, has spawned today's blog post.  Of course, there are a raft of things to consider before you take the plunge and go it alone (particularly if you are giving up secure paid employment to do so).

There are many useful sites dedicated to guiding you through the nuts and bolts of setting up in business - and I've included links to a couple of such websites at the end of this article. Instead of trying to re-invent the wheel, my own post is a more personal round-up of the positives and pitfalls I've come to associate with working for myself...

Who's really the boss?
During the early years of my career in communications, I worked for a small PR agency.  One day I asked my boss whether it was nice to be "her own boss". She warned me that when you become self-employed - particularly in a service company like her own - all you are really doing is swapping one boss for lots of bosses (her clients).  I now understand what she means. Of course you have an element of control when you are self-employed - after all, you can actually turn down a project if you feel it is a bad fit.  You are, however, still answerable to your clients - and each and every one of them will want to be treated as though they are your priority.

Time is money
You need to really know your strengths and weaknesses to make self-employment pay.  It's all too easy for distractions to creep in and the hours to slip away.  Try to figure out when you are at your most productive - and structure your meatiest projects around this time.  I'm a morning person and tend to wilt as the day goes on, so I need to discipline myself to tackle the tough stuff first thing.  If you gain momentum as the day goes on, save the big jobs until later. Even when we love our work, we all love our time off too. If possible, stay focused and keep on track. That way a six hour shift won't end up lasting 12 hours instead...

Try to figure out when you're at your most productive
Easily distracted?
Distractions were mentioned above, however they merit a section all of their own! One of the upsides to self employment (particularly if you are based from home) is the flexibility to shove on a load of washing while the printer is churning out a document. Just beware of then realising that the kitchen floor could do with cleaning or that - wait a minute - it's the perfect day to do some jobs in the garden.  Be strict with yourself and find a balance.  I love to get out in the fresh air and, when the weather's great, it's almost irresistible.  My solution? I let myself use my 'lunch hour' to go for a run. Sounds pretty rigid, I know, but it works for me.
Boring bits
It may be stating the obvious, but although self-employment might give you the chance to do what you love, there are always going to be boring bits.  For me, as with many others, it's the book-keeping, filing and administration that I find a chore (apologies to all you clever numbers folk out there!). It doesn't ever go away so, from bitter experience, I would recommend that you tackle it on a 'little but often' basis. That way, you can avoid the prospect of a paperwork mountain - and sleepless nights in the run-up to self-assessment deadlines...

Still keen?
There's so much more to explore about self-employment or freelancing - and I hope to write some more posts on the subject soon. Meanwhile, you can read my earlier post on how to make your home office work for you here. The following links may also prove useful:

HM Revenue & Customs: First Steps to Register as Self Employed

Business Gateway

Whatever you decide, I wish you all the luck in the world!

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Friday, 3 January 2014

Resolving to keep it simple

Happy New Year one and all!  The festive season is, as ever, over in a flash and suddenly we are surrounded by 'New Year, New You' advertisements and shops stuffed with low fat ready meals and fitness equipment.
By now, most of you have probably been asked whether you've made any New Year's resolutions.  Hmmmm. While I agree that it's great to set goals and challenge yourself, I'm not quite sure that I'm a fan of the New Year's resolution.  After all, the short grey days of January are often among the toughest to start some ambitious new exercise regime or to decide that you're going to give up chocolate forever (as if!).
I do, however, like the feeling of looking forward that goes hand in hand with the hanging of a brand new calendar on the kitchen wall.  I enjoy mulling over where we might spend our next holiday, what kind of new activities I want to try, which new books I'd love to read or even (yikes!) how I might manage our family's budget a little better.  After the downtime of the holidays, I've even found that some new ideas have popped into my mind, unbidden, for a few of my current work projects.
In terms of turning my family, social and work ideas into reality, my starting point will be to write them all down.  I do love a good list! The next stage will probably involve research and discussion with the others involved - hubby/children/colleagues/clients. If the idea is deemed a "goer" then the real plan-hatching and implementation can commence.

Above all, however, my ideas are just that - ideas.  They are not set in stone and there will be no self-flagellation if they don't work out.  Resolutions dumbed down? Perhaps.  But if there's real intent behind them, they may well prove just as effective, if not more.

Here's to a great 2014!

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