Work & Homeschool 5 – Simple Systems

Continuing my series of short posts on Work & Homeschool,  here is another practical tip ~ Create Simple Systems

If you missed the previous Work & Homeschool posts, pop over to read 1. Start Early &  2. Manage Interruptions & 3. Take Messages  & 4. Office Hours.

I run our family business, the Lucerne Tree Farm,  while I homeschool, and it has been a stress and a juggle to do both at times.  Over the years I have found some simple methods that keep the day running smoothly and keep me fairly sane.

Create Simple Systems 

You all know that I love practical plans and simple systems!  Here are a practical, simple business systems that have helped me work more efficiently ~

  • To quickly answer detailed emails, I created canned responses that cover almost every topic and question, so that I can take just a few minutes to reply to emails and personalize that reply. (I will give a tutorial on this in my next blog post.)
  • Image result for empty inboxI love an empty inbox and so I created several email folders and I immediately move new emails to these folders once I have read and answered them so that I can keep my inbox as empty as possible.  For me personally, there is nothing more draining than opening up Gmail and seeing long lists of emails in my inbox.  An empty inbox at the end of a day is very satisfying.  Obviously, there are some emails that remain in the inbox until an issue is addressed or processed, but generally, all the emails live in folders and not in my inbox.
  • I have very simple physical filing systems – a file with an index and plastic sleeves where I can store all slips and papers.
  • I keep a running client order list in the front of my diary/ order book. This helps me have a “bird’s-eye view” of orders, invoice numbers, clients that have paid or require follow-up emails, etc.  By the end of the year, I have the entire business summarised on just a few pages.  The date is the reference back to the diary page where all the details are noted, and the invoice number takes me back to the document on the computer.  It is so simple, yet so effective!
  •  I use coloured highlighters on my running list to keep track of payments, tracking number, special delivery notes etc..  At a glance, I can see everything!
  • I number our invoices by numbers first and names second: Year + sequential numbers + names; or Month+day +name+abbreviated titles, so that the saved documents are kept in numerical order.  I have set my computer files to read from the most recent to the last.  That way, new orders are always on top and easy to find.
  • I have pre-written invoice templates in MSWord where I can simply add the invoice number, client information and date at the top and the specific order information in the body.  I open the template,  Select all (Control +A), Copy all (Control +C), Open a new document (Control +N) and Paste the copy (Control +V) and in 4 clicks, I am ready to fill in the invoice.
  • Image result for dropbox logoI save everything to Dropbox.   This has saved all our business information when my laptop crashed a few years ago.  It is also a fabulous way for my hubby and me to work on the same documents from different computers or tablets or smartphones.
  • I created a very comprehensive business website and refer clients to the website rather than spend 2 hours talking through specific, detailed information.  Most new clients’ phone calls and email questions cover the same information, so I also include hyperlinks to the website in emails because the client can view the photos and detailed information there instead of having to write everything out.

I hope that these practical tips help you.  If you need any more information or have helpful suggestions, please share in the comments below.

Blessings, Nadene

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Work & Homeschool 4 – Office Hours

Continuing my series of short posts on Work & Homeschool,  here is another practical tip ~ Keep Office Hours

If you missed the previous Work & Homeschool posts, pop over to read 1. Start Early &  2. Manage Interruptions & Take Messages.

I run our family business, the Lucerne Tree Farm,  while I homeschool, and it has been a stress and a juggle to do both at times.  Over the years I have found some simple methods that keep the day running smoothly and keep me fairly sane.

Keep Office HoursImage result for office hours

When I gave up my teaching job to stay home to look after our new baby, I ended up working for my hubby in his engineering firm.  Working for him became an area that caused a lot of conflict in our relationship, especially during our early married life.

While we were working hard to establish his new business, he expected me to do business all day and any time he needed at night.Image result for overtime  There always seemed to be work to catch up after hours when my hubby came home from work.  I became increasingly frustrated trying to be professional while breastfeeding at the office.  I hated the noise and engineering mess of my hubby’s workshop and eventually decided to work for him from home.  This was back in the 90’s where we only had a fax and a landline.   We had many miscommunications, many last-minute orders to process, and many late nights when I knew I had a baby who would still wake me a dozen times all night for feeds as well.  I was super-stressed!   On one particularly bad day, late at night, I think I resigned 5 times!

I decided that for the health of our relationship, the professionalism of our work and for the most important job in the world – to be a mommy to my baby, my hubby needed an admin or personal assistant, and so he hired a secretary.  She never worked after hours, and certainly never at 11pm at night!  I realized that there was a simple boundary in her work conditions = office hours!

Fast forward to our current business, and with some years of maturity and experience behind us, I decided that establish office hours to do our admin and especially to answer and make phone calls.   We have early morning meetings to confirm plans, make arrangements, delegate duties, confirm payments and orders, and to book appointments on our calendars.  As a married couple and business partners, this helps us remain in unity and to keep our business running smoothly.

Unless there is an emergency or something really special and vital, I do not work after 5pm or on weekends.  This “rule” protects our private and family time and gives me the much-needed break from constant work demands.

Image result for yesI believe that we have to know what our big YES is for this season in our lives.  Is it motherhood, homeschooling, keeping a home?  Is it a professional job?  When you know what your YES is for your life in this season of your life (the focus may shift and change), then you are better able to say NO to the rest.  You can say NO to taking phone calls during school time or during family meals.  You can take time off to be with your children, family, friends and church ministry separate from work.

I hope that these practical tips help you.  If you need any more information or have helpful suggestions, please share in the comments below.

Blessings, Nadene

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Work & Homeschool 2 – Manage Interruptions

Continuing my series of short posts on Work & Homeschool,  here is another practical tip ~ Manage Interruptions

If you missed the previous Work & Homeschool post, pop over to read 1. Start Early

I run our family business, the Lucerne Tree Farm,  while I homeschool, and it has been a stress and a juggle to do both at times.  Over the years I have found some simple methods that keep the day running smoothly and keep me fairly sane.

Manage Interruptions

Interruptions cause the most stress and lack of productivity in almost every work environment.  Many homeschool moms write to tell me that this is one of their worst issues in their homeschooling.Image result for interruptions

In our early years of homeschool and work, I set up some simple boundaries for our family and friends.  Make sure that friends, neighbours, and close family recognise that you have a serious job during the mornings, i.e. homeschooling.  Explain that you will not be able to read social media, answer texts or take unscheduled social calls or visits during the mornings.  It also helps to mute notifications or put your cell phone on silent during school hours.

Image result for interruptionsIf your children know that you are very easily distracted, guess what?  They will be easily distracted.  Moms, we set the tone!

Commit yourself to an hour of homeschooling with no interruptions to get the basics covered.  Have a tea-break and quickly follow-up any urgent work issues, and then back to school.  Maintain the focus as a professional with your children and they will also learn to take their work commitments seriously.

In our business, we do occasionally have clients that come to our farm, but my husband deals with them during school hours.  Of course, I may quickly pop out to meet and greet them, but I generally do not host them while it is school time.  This was an important boundary for me, as I answer almost all the phone calls which are a terrible intrusion and interruption for me.  (I’ll share more about managing this issue in Part 3.)

Now and then, clients may visit where I am expected to assist with tea or coffee or keep a wife company while my hubby attends to the client, but even then, I politely explain that my children need me at the schoolroom.  If there are sales, I may have to stop to create invoices and complete some of the transaction, but I have independent work for my children during these times, which is really helpful.  (More on that in Part 6)

Image result for cellphone chargingWe live in the age of distractions!  Interruptions, social media notifications and media distractions are quite possibly the greatest threat to a focussed mind and a calm soul.  Our children are part of this generation who battle with short attention spans and significant restlessness.

My hubby is very strict about cell phones.  We have a NO PHONE during school time policy!  Our children have to dock their phones in our bedroom at 9pm at night and can only have their phones again after 2pm when schoolwork is done.  During the weekend they have fuller liberty with computers, cell phones and DVDs.  Somehow, we should, in our homeschooling and in our homes, be mindful about how to create a calm, focused and productive environment.

Here’s wishing you interruption-free homeschool days!  Be strong!

I hope that these practical tips help you.  If you need any more information or have helpful suggestions, please share in the comments below.

Blessings, Nadene

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Work & Homeschool 1-Start Early

I run our family business, the Lucerne Tree Farm,  while I homeschool, and it has been a stress and a juggle to do both at times.  Over the years I have found some simple methods that keep the day running smoothly and keep me fairly sane.

Here are a few practical tips in a series of short posts for homeschool moms who also work~

Start Early

There is nothing worse than starting the day late, feeling that you are behind, and chasing your tail all day!  I have found that the day actually starts the night before!  It helps to clear desks, pack away things, pack out things, and plan ahead the night before.  From the shiny, clean kitchen sink to my uncluttered desk, I love to meet the new day with a clean slate.

Image result for quiet time early in morning

Although our family start our day late by most farming standards, I always like to start the day early.  I make tea for the family and go somewhere peaceful for my quiet time. If I start my day with the Lord, I find that I am not running on empty and that I have the grace to face most of the challenges and demands of the day.

Me hand-milking Milly our Jersey cow.

I have farm chores to attend to.  I hand-milk our dairy cow, process the milk, feed my chickens, collect their eggs, and water the vegetable and herb gardens, etc.  My husband moves the livestock, prepares feed, moves electric fences for grazing management or starts his watering and irrigation for the day.  We are quite busy running around for the first hours after waking up!

I then come in and start my work on the business emails, orders and any administration that requires my attention before breakfast and before our school day starts.  My hubby and I often discuss business at the breakfast table.  It is good to have clarity and unity before the day really starts.

We only start homeschooling after breakfast and chores, well after 9am or 10am, and my teens sometimes start even later.  Over the years, I tried to force an earlier schedule, but this is our most natural family rhythm and it is far less stressful if we flow according to this later start.

Once schooling starts, it is hard for me to catch up with business work until after lunch, so I always feel more in control if I have tackled business first.

My afternoons are mostly quite free so I can do almost all the rest of my business, or work out in the vegetable and herb gardens, do my sketching or hobbies and other activities in this time.  By 5pm I usually stop all my computer work and hobbies to prepare dinner and then spend time with my hubby and family.  We always eat together and our family meals are a celebration and a social occasion.  We don’t have TV or cable, so we often head to bed early to read and talk.  I do my evening workouts and stretches and we generally go to sleep early.  It is a wonderful simple routine and a lovely lifestyle.

It is important to work diligently and to still be able to celebrate life with family.  We all need to find the balance between work, school and family time.   I encourage you to start early and have the upper hand in your day!

I hope that these practical tips help you.  If you need any more information or have helpful suggestions, please share in the comments below.

Blessings, Nadene

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