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Home Office Q&A: Torn Between Work and Family

Balancing work and family tests our emotions and our organizational skills. Our Home Office expert offers some reassuring advice.

Torn Between Two Loves

Q: I left the corporate life after 18 years and do freelance work part-time. I enjoy what I do, but find myself getting sidetracked often. I want to expand my work assignments but at the same time want to spend more time with my children. Help!

A: Being torn between a career and your personal life is common and frustrating. Only you can decide what will work for you, but a good way to clarify your thinking is to set goals. As simple as this sounds, it's amazing how many people avoid setting goals.

An easy way to set goals is to look at the big picture and make a list of what you want to accomplish long term. Then write the date three months ahead and write your goals for that time frame. Do the same for six months and one year. When you're finished establishing your goals, take a look at your to-do list. Do your goals match your tasks and vice versa? If not, either change your tasks or change your goals.

As the old saying goes, "If you don't know where you're going, how will you know when you get there?" setting goals will set you on the right path to achieving what you desire in your business and personal life.

There Aren't Enough Hours in a Day

Q: I always feel that I'm playing catch-up. Whether it's soccer practice for my daughter or karate class for my son, we're always late. My homebased business has grown over the years, but as I try to juggle my schedule, either my business or my family suffers...sometimes both. How do I get ahead instead of falling further behind?

A: One of my clients once told me that she felt she couldn't stop "running in place." She was on the go constantly, but felt she never accomplished anything. A few of the suggestions I gave her were:

  • Spend money to save time. If you're stuffing envelopes or entering information into your computer, you can hire someone else to do those tasks for less money than you could earn during that time.
  • Use errand-running services, the Internet and merchants that deliver, to handle shopping and other personal needs. Another option is to hire a teenager to run errands for you. He or she could use the money and think of what you could do with that extra time.
  • Don't overschedule yourself or your children. Some schools require children to limit their after-school activities to one or at the most, two. The same could apply to you. Between working, volunteering and chauffeuring, how much time do you have for yourself? If you or a member of your family wants to add another activity, make it a rule to drop one activity in favor of the new one. Teaching your kids this valuable exercise may set them on the road to a more organized adulthood, too.

You can't create more hours in the day, but you can lighten your load to be able to accomplish more.

Old-Fashioned Day Planner

Q: I admit it...I'm old fashioned. I've fought the trend to buy a Palm or other electronic organizer and instead use my trusty paper planner. The problem is that as my business grows, my kids have more after-school activities and my family and clients need more of my time, deadlines are slipping through the cracks. Do I need to change the way I plan my day?

A: There's nothing wrong with continuing to use a paper-based system, but don't limit yourself to one method for planning. You can use a paper-based system in conjunction with your computer.

To keep track of clients, a contact manager, for example ACT! or Goldmine, is a good way to manage client information. You can print information from either of these programs and slip them into your planner. Ideally, any correspondence from you should be stored electronically (and backed up regularly) instead of printed and stored in a file cabinet. A common habit is to store names and addresses in three places: a Rolodex, inside a planner and on a computer. Consolidate your contact information within a contact manager and print important names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses to fit in your planner. At some point, you may want to switch to a handheld organizer, but if not, you can still stay organized.

Lisa Kanarek is the author of Home Office Life: Making a Space to Work at Home.

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