When people discover that I own my own consulting firm, one of the first questions they ask is, "What is the best part about working from home?" While it is cool to be able to write e-mails dressed in my pajamas or do a load of laundry as I hammer out a strategic marketing plan for a client, nothing compares to what I feel is arguably the best part of working at home: having a dog as a business partner.
Penny the Wonder Dog, a 62-pound hunka Goldendoodle love, is an indispensable member of my team. Nay, she is the boss.
She sets the schedule, waking me early for a walk so that she can do her business and I can meditate on the hours ahead. It's the one bit of quiet time I can count on each day to sift through and prioritize what needs to be done; it allows me to focus on the extremely important rather than the merely urgent.
Penny is a canine human resources department, giving me a nudge with her nose when she thinks I've been sitting in front of the computer too long without a break (that these nudges occur at the exact times of her morning and afternoon chewie treats, I find purely coincidental).
She is a one-dog mailroom, personally announcing then overseeing all front-door deliveries from the post office, FedEx, and the evil brown truck that she can hear coming a quarter-mile away.
She handles conference calls with ease (usually sleeping under the desk), and is not afraid to stare someone down (usually me) when she feels a meeting has gone on too long.
She has been the uncomplaining audience to hundreds of rehearsals for speaking engagements, giving a tilt to her head only when I finally deliver an opening sentence with the punch she's looking for.
Most importantly, she's a presence. She reminds me that when you're an entrepreneur, there's a delicate balance between personal and professional life that must be maintained, especially when you work at home. And it's never the work part that suffers. It's too easy to forget that play is just as important for the head, heart, and soul as work; Penny the Wonder Dog reminds me of that each and every day.
Work/life balance? You can keep your day planners and how-to books -- give me a dog and I'll be just fine.
What can a baby teach you about management? As it turns out, a lot. Here's a little story.
My wife, Kate, is a trusting woman. She is very smart, and yet she still thought it would be OK for me to take care of our 16-month old daughter, Susie, for four days while she was out of town.
On Thursday morning, she left to go to her sister's bachelorette party. I was in charge for the next four days. Fortunately, we already had help arranged during the day on Thursday and Friday. On Friday night, after Susie went to bed, I thought I was halfway done. The easy part was over -- now it was just the two of us for two days.
My plan was simple -- keep Susie entertained all weekend long with lots of things to see and do. We got up, went for a walk with the dog, jumped in the car, and went to Costco and the grocery store. Back home for a nap, a quick lunch, then to every little girl's favorite store, Cabelas. (Come on, they have stuffed animals, a huge fish tank -- it's not that bad. And she did enjoy it.) On the way back home, we stopped at the best BBQ joint I've ever been to, Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas. We came home and she fell right asleep.
At this point, I was singing my own praises. With my brilliant plan, she was stimulated and kept busy, no time to miss her mom and get bored. "This parenting thing isn't that hard," I thought. I went to bed excited and proud of my brilliance.
The next morning, I was back in go mode. We got up, had breakfast, and got back on the road. We went to a store -- and then to my office. Hey, Dad has to work sometimes. But as soon as we got to the office, Susie saw my five-foot-tall Homer Simpson statue and lost it. It wasn't a typical "I want some candy" crying. This was a full-on freak out. I quickly packed up and headed home.
On the way, I came an important conclusion. Everyone has a comfort zone of old and new things. We all like tradition and normalcy to a certain point, and we all like new experiences. I was only half correct with my plan for Susie -- the new stimulations were necessary, but I needed to give her some consistency too. By introducing too many new things all in a short period of time, she was over stimulated. This freak out was all my fault.
As soon as we got home, I tried to put her down for a nap. No dice. She was pissed, and there was no easy solution to it. As I realized that we had to get back to familiarity and basics, we sat down and read her favorite book. Eleven times. Then we played with some of her toys, read a few more books, and just played quietly until bedtime. Monday morning she was back to normal. And I have a new plan for my next weekend alone with her.
Lesson learned. More accurately, relearned. Everyone (kids, employees, readers of this blog) all need new things, but also need some consistency to stay happy and at his or her best. Too much new or too much old and you stagnate. Remember this when you're doing big picture planning for your company -- if you're making some wholesale changes, be sure to keep some very familiar things for everyone too. Find the balance and you'll find happiness.
My sister thinks I have a chromosome imbalance, since I'm not a "shoe freak" like so many women we know. I think I have a total of four pairs in my closet (and that includes my bunny slippers).
Instead, my fetish is bags -- purses, totes, backpacks, slings, briefcases, messenger bags. I can't help myself. At odd times, I find myself lusting over cool new designs and search for the "ultimate" bag like Ponce de Leon did for the Fountain of Youth.
To put a finer point on it, laptop cases are at the top of the list. But there are way too many ordinary, utilitarian designs out there for me. Fortunately, designers are getting the hint and producing some hip, stylish, yet functional bags for businesswomen.
If you're a member of Totebags Anonymous like me, or know someone who is, here are some fabulous websites to get your fix:
- Acme Made -- The perfect blend of hip design and chic professionalism
- Melissa Beth Designs -- Her "Pocket Full of Puter" is on fire
- Clark & Mayfield -- High-end designs that reflect the latest trends in fashion
- Kolobags -- A terrific site that brings the best of designers together in one place
So if you think it's impossible to find a case that takes care of business and does it with flair, think again!
Hi everyone. You might know me from my Inc.com blog "By The Book." Well, the good folks here recently asked me to get a little more personal -- and share a few of the everyday ups and downs that come with being an entrepreneur. What it means to live the Inc. Life, so to speak. So here goes.
I travel a lot. Somewhere between 100 and 200 flights a year, about that many hotel stays, and I still drive a lot of miles. It would be fair to say that I've learned a few tips and tricks over the past 10 years of heavy travel. Since my daughter was born, we haven't really missed a beat -- she's 17 months old now and has been on about 50 flights. What follows are the three best tips I can give you for travel with (and without) a little companion.
Get Loyal. Loyalty programs make travel somewhat bearable. My best advice is to pick a program for an airline, and another for a hotel, and stick with them. You don't get much benefit from bouncing between every air carrier you can find, or to the cheapest hotel for the night. I've found that the marginal savings of going with a Priceline hotel aren't worth it when I can pay a bit more for a hotel where I have status. Same goes for airlines -- saving $10 on the flight isn't worth it if I can get a free or cheap upgrade because of my status. With the many partners each chain or company has, it's easy to find a hotel in the right price range for every trip.
My personal choices are Continental and Southwest for air and Marriott for hotels. I'm platinum on Continental and Marriott -- both give great incentives for their highest level of status. I have the Southwest Companion Pass which you get if you fly 100 flights in a year. I can pick someone (my wife) who flies free anytime I board a SWA flight. Nice benefit given the crazy cost of flying lately.
Get Tipping. There is a big internal battle I fight every time I'm in a tipping situation. On one side, I see the benefit of tipping people who work hard. On the other, I'm really cheap. But when I'm traveling, I always err on the side of tipping. To take a line from Steve Martin in My Blue Heaven, "I tip everybody. In fact, it's not tipping I believe in, it's over tipping." Well-placed (and timed) tips will really help you get what you need and want during your travels. Tip freely and you'll find that travel isn't nearly as complicated.
Get Entertainment. When my beautiful daughter Susie is traveling with me, I demand two things. First, that everyone forgive any outbursts she may have. (I haven't been very lucky in this department -- I think it's karma getting me from all the times I used to complain about crying babies on planes.) The other demand is one that I can control -- entertainment. My wife and I like a three-pronged attack: many varieties of food, some basic toys, and DVDs. For the first three months of her life, flights were really simple. She slept. After that, it was more and more complicated. She is more active, stays awake, and hates being cooped up. Add her inability to pressurize her ears during takeoff and landing, and you've got a difficult situation. We practice lots of distraction, we feed her, and we let her watch DVDs during the flight (not a common occurrence at home). Airlines will let you fly with a lap child until the age of two. I'm coming to the realization that if your kid is active, you should get an extra seat somewhere between 12 and 18 months.
If you follow these three tips, you'll find that extensive traveling is much easier than you'd expect.
So now that we're under way here, I'll do my best to share stories from work and from home -- including my beautiful wife and daughter -- into this blog to make it more fun for everyone. And if there's something you'd like to ask or see on the site, or just want to share your own travails, drop me a comment here.
Hi, my name is Michele Miller and I'm excited to be the newest contributor to the Inc. Life blog. Some of you may know me as a Marketing blogger for Inc.com. What I love about this blog is the opportunity to "get a little more personal."
One of the biggest challenges I face as an entrepreneur, writer, and speaker is trying to maintain a healthy balance between work and personal life. (Sound familiar?) In fact, as I write this, my bags are packed and I'll soon be heading out the door to Maui on my first vacation in five years. That's right, five. My definition of vacation is travel without a laptop or cell phone -- which, if you know my almost desperate need to stay connected, is a noteworthy feat (do I hear a trumpet fanfare?).
My husband and I decided that if we are really going to relax and refresh our mojo, we're going to completely disconnect. This includes:
No Internet. Mo stopping in cyber cafes to check e-mail or for a quick hit of CNN.com.
No TV. The sound of crashing waves is far healthier than the babble of talking heads.
No Newspaper. Unless it's earth-shattering news, we don't need to know about it. And if something major does occur, we're sure to hear about the good, old-fashioned way -- word-of-mouth.
So, I'm outta here for now, but I promise to share the results of my "Vacation: UNPLUGGED" experience when I return. And I definitely look forward to sharing other bits of my life (and yours!) as well. In the meantime, if you've got some secrets for cutting the cord or want to share some of your own vacation-less horror stories, drop me a comment here.
- An Entrepreneur's Best Friend
- Babies, Business, and the Bottom Line
- Think There's No Such Thing as a Cool Laptop Case?
- Travel Made Easy
- I'm Off to Maui!
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