The Benefits of Working from Home

This has been life over the past ten months
recent changes

Over the past ten months many of us have been working from home full time. Therefore we are spending more time in our own homes. Whilst I am looking forward to seeing people in person again and catching up over coffee or lunch, I think that there is so much to enjoy about spending more of our days at home.

Several years ago I submitted an application to make working from home my norm, but this was turned down by my organisation. Now all of a sudden we have all become home workers. My positive views are probably also reflective of the fact that I don’t have children. This is particularly difficult now when parents are having to home school, often alongside working full-time from home.

If though you don’t have kids or they’re old enough to get on with their school work without too much input from you, then I would really encourage you to consider how you can make the most of this period. How many times in the past have you used the excuse of not having enough time as a reason not to exercise or to justify all those takeaways? Now there are no excuses! Imagine you had a time machine and could jump forward six months or a year. What would that you want you to have done during this time? I’m sure it’s not sit on the couch more and eat lots of cake!

Do you know where your time goes?
how do you spend your time?

I would suggest sitting down and thinking about your average day. What time do you get up? When do you start work? How long do you take for a lunch break? How many hours are there between when you usually finish work and when you go to bed? If you aren’t really sure where all of that time goes, and remember there are 168 hours in a week, try tracking your time for a week. Break the day up into 15 or 30 minute slots and note what you spent most of your time doing in each slot. You can find some more ideas and tracking sheets  here on Laura Vanderkam’s site.

Once you have an idea of how you fill your 168 hours have a think about what your ideal week or day would look like. Then start to make some changes. You don’t have to do it all at once. I don’t expect you to leap out of bed at 5am, jog ten miles, meditate, journal and read a good book, and then cook a three courses gourmet meal in the evening all on the first day. In fact, none of these may be how you want to spend your time. The idea is to intentionally use the extra time that you now have, rather than while away your day scrolling your Twitter feed.

Here are some suggestions for activities to include in your day when you are working from home:

Does your morning routine set you up for the day?
Morning routine

This is an area that I’ve written about before, but I so enjoy my time before work. Prior to lockdown it’s likely that some part of your day was taken up by travelling to and from your place of work. Many people used to spend a couple of hours or more commuting. Now you can fill that time with something that you enjoy as your commute just involves sitting down at your desk and turning on your computer.

If this is an area you want to work on you might want to check out Hal Elrod’s book and/or websiteThe Miracle Morning’. He recommends six personal development practices which he suggests that you undertake every day. These are silence i.e. meditation, affirmations, visualization, exercise, reading and scribing i.e. writing/journaling. You can also see what Natalie Bacon says about routines. For myself, I just practise the silence, exercise and writing. I used to read, but I tend to do that before bed now.

I start the working day with a five minute inspiring podcast
Work routine

In order to start the working day I always make myself a cup of coffee. Up until the end of 2020 was listening to Laura Vanderkam’s very short daily podcastThe New Corner Office. Since the beginning of this month I now listen to the Before Breakfast Podcast, also by Laura. Previously I didn’t always take a lunch break, but now I take at least an hour.

I can keep on top of this when I am at home
Keeping on top of household chores

Another benefit of working from home is that I can do chores in my breaks. I usually put a load of laundry on before I start work. By coffee time the machine has finished and it’s ready to be hung up.

With more time at the end of the day as there’s no journey home I can do some housework. Whilst I know that this isn’t the most exciting thing to do, by spending a little time each day keeping the house clean it helps to free up my time on the weekend. By the time Saturday and Sunday come around I don’t feel that all of my free time is being taken up by getting on top of the housework again. I can actually spend some time doing things that I enjoy instead.

It feels good to get outside whilst it’s still light
Mid-day exercise

I know not everyone likes to exercise first thing. An alternative is to take a longer lunch break and get outside for a walk. At this time of year, when it’s usually dark before and after work, we need to make the most of the daylight hours. Occasionally I can kill two birds with one stone by walking into town in my lunch break to do some shopping or collect some books from the library.

Virtual meetings has increased my capacity at work
Change your working practices

As for work itself, whilst others complain about the virtual nature of our work I am enjoying the ability to be in several places every day without actually going anywhere. I can fit more into my day. As I log off from one call I can immediately join another. Previously this might have involved a 50-mile journey along the motorway.

As I have said before, I am a social worker, working with families. Although I am not meeting anyone in person at the moment there are benefits to virtual working. One is that I can have shorter, more frequent meetings with clients. People who previously I may have only met on two occasions I am now seeing three, four or even more times. This makes me feel that I know them even better than before.

I have also taken the opportunity to do some preparation for dinner whilst listening to training courses or attending team meetings. Chopping veg and cooking doesn’t take much brain power so I find that I am able to concentrate on what’s being said at the same time.

So there we are, a few ideas for you. If it all seems too much effort just think about that future you. Looking back you’ll always wish you had done the hard thing and I know you can. A slimmer, healthier, more organised and hopefully happier you might just emerge from this period of enforced seclusion.

A New Direction

I started ‘writing A Simple Life’ two years ago
Introduction

I have been writing on ‘A Simple Life’ for just over two years. Up until now it has been a blog about saving money, with some ideas about personal development thrown in. I started ‘A Simple Life’ when I discovered FI/RE – financial independence, retire early – as this is what everyone does. Like all other FI/RE seekers I wanted to share ideas about saving money, making money and to monitor my own journey.

As time has gone on my interests have developed into a love of personal development. This culminated in me joining Natalie Bacon’s life coaching programme ‘Grow You’ in February 2020, from which I continue to learn every single day.  

Over the next year there will be some changes on ‘ A Simple Life’
The Way Forward

In 2021 I will be changing the focus of ‘A Simple Life’ and starting to explore more personal development topics. By doing this I want to help you to make positive changes in all areas of your life. I believe that feeling happy and fulfilled is all about examining your life and making positive changes, no matter what life throws at you. Many people blame their circumstances for their unhappiness. I want to share with you how by making simple changes, including having a more positive mindset, it is possible to create happiness without changing anything about your circumstances.

Life should be considered and planned
Living Life in the Precontemplation Stage

I have been a social worker for almost twenty years. I work with people who are trying to make changes in their lives, or those who need to make changes, otherwise their futures look bleak. Unfortunately the majority of the people that I meet don’t think that they need to make any changes in their lives. I would regard these people as being in the ‘precontemplation stage’ of the ‘Cycle of Change’. This is a concept developed by Prochaska and DiClementi (1983). People in the precontemplation stage are unaware of or have a vague recognition of concerns, but at this stage they have not considered that their behaviour needs to change.  

In order to look at a wider definition of precontemplation let’s look at one of the dictionary definitions of ‘contemplation’:

the state of being considered or planned

So precontemplation is a time before you actually consider or plan. Now the reason that I say that the majority of the population live their lives in the precontemplation stage is that they don’t live considered or planned lives. Life is lived on autopilot. Most of us are brought up to think that our lives will follow a certain path and that’s just the way it is. For the majority of people that means school, university/employment, marriage, children, grandchildren, retirement, death.

Do you struggle to get up as you dread the day ahead of you?
Living a Considered Life

Whilst each and every one of those can be amazing (except perhaps the death part!), I want you to make choices about the life that you’re living. Do you wake up in the morning and bounce out of bed, looking forward to the opportunities that the day ahead brings? Are you able to look on the bright side when life doesn’t always go as you expected and accept that there will be good times and bad times along the way?

You may be thinking that the answer to a happy life lies in winning the lottery or making a killing on the stock market and retiring to a beach somewhere. If that’s what you really desire that’s fine, but the answer to happiness lies within you, in the choices that you make, in your attitude to life and in your thoughts. As we all know, particularly from 2020, life is unpredictable and there are many things over which we don’t have any control. What we do have a choice about though is our thoughts. This is the basis of life coaching, or at least the life coaching taught by those who have trained with The Life Coach School .

Many life coaches practise what Natalie Bacon calls action coaching. If you want to lose weight they will suggest diets to follow or if you want to get fitter they’ll recommend exercise programmes. I’m sure that like many people you’ve tried to get thinner at some point and found that the problem is not finding an eating regimen to follow, but actually sticking to it. This is where thought work comes in. Life coaching helps you examine your thoughts about your body, about eating and about weight loss. Once you have the motivation, action is easy. We’ve all heard of people who have tried quitting smoking for years without success, but a scary diagnosis leads them to give up overnight. None of the tips and tricks for quitting have changed, it’s just their motivation that’s different.

Want to manage your time better? Life coaching can help you.
Reasons why you might want to have a life coach
  1. Help you reach/achieve your goals
  2. Control your emotions
  3. Understand your motivation
  4. Improve your relationships
  5. Manage your time
  6. Help you change career
  7. Lose weight

We’ve all heard of therapy, which takes you from dysfunctional to functional. Life coaching takes you from functional to exceptional.

I don’t pretend that I am a life coach and I don’t propose to start a coaching programme here on ‘A Simple Life’. What I do plan to do though is to give you some of that action coaching, i.e. ideas for how to improve your life and also a different perspective to help you perhaps change your thinking about situations. Natalie also has lots of free training on her website and so I’ll make sure I let you know about those, particularly if they’re relevant to the topic of the post that you’re reading.

As a member of ‘Grow You’, Natalie Bacon’s life coaching programme, I have had the chance to become an affiliate and so will be including my link in my posts to encourage you to check it out. Obviously you can just stick around here and read my posts. Hopefully you’ll still get lots of ideas to help you live your best life.

Until next time, take care and best wishes, Sam.

Developing Relationships

crop smiling diverse girlfriends with exercise books speaking on terrace
Topic of the month

As I have mentioned many times before, I am in a coaching programme called Grow You. The topic of the month for November was ‘strengthening relationships’. Natalie Bacon, whose programme it is, prepares a workbook and a video lesson each month. I thought that I would share with you the thoughts that came up for me when going through the workbook and give you a few ideas if your relationships are something that you want to work on.

Friendships

When it comes to friendships I’ve usually been someone who has a small group of friends or even just a best friend. As I’ve written about before I struggle to find people on my wavelength. For example, as I write this we have just gone into tier four and all my neighbours are complaining about their celebrations for Christmas being cancelled. Perhaps because I am not a big fan of the festive season or because it was so obvious what was coming, I found it hard to have sympathy with them.

silver colored heart lock bridge
I tried to be grateful instead of complaining
Cultivating a positive attitude

Instead of moaning I try to find things to be grateful for. I know it’s a cliché, but I really do believe that we spend too much of our lives moaning. I tried to find the positives in our situation:

  • We have a warm and comfortable home.
  • We have food in the cupboards.
  • Even if we can’t see family we can Skype them

You don’t have to look far to find others worse off than yourself. Complaints about the situation being unfair are still ringing in my ears. Unfortunately the idea of fairness is something that society has created. Life isn’t, and never will be, fair. Most of the time life is random and out of our control. We just like to think that we can control it, but 2020 has made us all re-evaluate that. My belief is that we need to focus on what we can control, which is our own behaviour and accept what we can’t e.g. natural events such as the weather or coronavirus. For me, my work is to develop relationships with others who also have a positive attitude.

white beads on question mark sign
I have realised that I asked a lot of questions
New friendships

Whilst working on this topic I had the opportunity to go on a hike with two neighbours, neither of whom I know very well. One of them lives in a very large house, which makes me feel slightly intimidated, but she is very down to earth and I really enjoyed talking with her and getting to know each other. The other neighbour I found to be quite prejudiced and although I was and still am polite to her I don’t feel that we are similar people or that I would want to pursue a friendship with her.

Both that day and other experiences have made me realise that the majority of people talk about themselves most of the time. Even with people that I really like and feel that I could be good friends with, I have found that they hardly ask me any questions about myself. In contrast I have realised that I ask a lot of questions of people. This is because I want to get to know them. I am not sure whether I come across as nosey, but that is not my intention. I am truly interested in understanding what makes them tick, in learning about how they see the world.

Ryan Holiday talks about this phenomenon in his book, ‘Ego is the Enemy’. He suggests that our lives are films and we are playing the starring role. Everyone else just has a bit part and they aren’t as important as we are. We all like to think that we are special, whereas in fact we are all human beings just trying to find our way in this world.

woman wearing teal dress sitting on chair talking to man
Try to listen more and talk less
A few things to think about and try out
  • Do you ask questions of others when you meet?
  • When you ask ‘How are you?’ do you really want to know the answer?
  • Are you just waiting for them to take a breath so you can jump in and start talking about yourself?
  • How about instead of that try to really listen to what they are telling you?
  • Be interested.
  • Ask questions to help deepen your understanding.
  • Refrain from telling them that their exact situation, or something even worse, happened to you and what you did.

So there we are. My current thoughts about relationships. If you’re interested Natalie Bacon has a free lesson here on how to fix your relationship, which focuses on your relationship with your significant other.  

November Review

Life in the Simple household goes on, pretty much as before, no matter what is happening in the world. Despite the chaos outside the front door I am still slowly making progress towards my goals. Here’s how I’m getting on and also news about developments in my coaching programme, Grow You, by Natalie Bacon.

It will be a while until we own our house outright
a change of tactic

November was the first month that I have not overpaid the mortgage in several years. Instead I invested our usual over-payment of £600 in one of Vanguard’s Life Strategy Funds. Despite the pandemic it has already increased in value, although only by about £30. All I need it to do is to make more money than the interest that we would have saved by overpaying the mortgage. My usual savings went into my Vanguard Target Retirement Fund. Again, that increased in value during the month. My total savings at the end of November came to £40, 523.53. This doesn’t including the £8000 put aside for a new car. Without an over-payment our mortgage didn’t go down as much as usual. It now stands at £61,037.35.

The move to investment rather than mortgage over-payment has been a difficult transition for me to get my head around. I know that it makes sense financially, but psychologically I found it easier to see the mortgage reducing. What has helped is a comment made by Sassenach Saving about mortgage neutrality. This is being able to pay your mortgage off in full if you wanted to. I will achieve this some time next year and although it would leave me with zero savings and no money for a new car, it’s quite a nice thought that I could make us mortgage-free if I wanted to do so, but am just choosing not to.

black and silver skeleton key on brown wooden table
Mr Simple has been cutting my hair
basic spending

My food spending came to £134.76. Every month I hope that it is going to be about £100.00 but it never is. I know though that it is better than a lot of people and does include cleaning products, toilet paper, etc. Toiletries came to £40.25; again over budget by £10.25. Mr Simple has also been cutting my hair and helping me with dyeing it, so compared to what I used to spend on keeping myself looking good I can’t complain.

woman girl animal dog
Sadly I don’t have a four-legged friend to join my meditation sessions and I just sit on a chair
extras

My miscellaneous expenses included books, Pilates socks and the Waking Up app . I have been dabbling with meditation for a while now. I did subscribe to Headspace for a while, but I was just paying for listening to long periods of silence. It also got rather repetitive. Waking Up was recommended by Pete Matthew of the Meaningful Money Podcast. It has a daily session of ten or twenty minutes and although there are periods of silence, there is also guidance to help focus your attention. Sam Harris also offers interviews to listen to, although I haven’t taken advantage of any of these yet.

So far I have used it every day for just over a month and am certainly seeing benefits in my everyday life. I think that meditation isn’t necessarily about the peace you feel in those few minutes when you are engaging in the practice, but it’s the effect it has on your whole day. It’s about trying to translate that feeling of calm into other parts of your life. Sam suggests just pausing occasionally before you go through a door or before you stand up. Only for a few seconds, so that you’re not just rushing through your day.

closeup photo of journal book and pencils
Journalling is invaluable in reflecting on your life
personal development

A new coach has joined Natalie Bacon’s life coaching team. Her name is Kirsten Simon. Like Natalie she qualified with the Life Coach School and so uses the same tools. Kirsten hosts a coaching session every Tuesday evening where she spends some time teaching and then offers live coaching afterwards. This coaching programme has really changed my life and continues to do so every day. Natalie Bacon is now offering a partner programme, where members of Grow You can sign up as affiliates of the programme. If you think that you might be interested here is my affiliate link. Take a look, it might just change your life too!

man standing on a rock
There will be a lot more of this in the future
making plans for the future

I have been continuing to work on my future self, as it is called in Grow You. I have written up a financial plan which takes me up to when I am aged 67 and will be able to draw my state pension. It presumes that I will never overpay the mortgage again, just letting it run for the next thirteen years. If things go to plan I will be working three days a week from aged 55, until I get to 60, when I will fully retire. At that age I have two personal defined benefit pensions which I will be able to draw. As we all know, life doesn’t always go to plan, but it’s nice to have a possible road map to what I am calling partial early retirement.

Potentially, four years from now, this will be my last month of working full time. Between then and now we (or at least Mr Simple) has a lot of jobs to do on the house. He’s not one for plans and goals. If I mention deadlines he gets a bit stressed. Nevertheless I have drawn up a rough plan of the main jobs on the house which should be completed before my working hours reduce. When I showed it to him he didn’t start jumping up and down saying that it wasn’t realistic, so hopefully that means that it’s all likely to get done. What that means is that by the time I partially retire our whole house and garden will be fully renovated and we can spend more of our free time doing things together that we enjoy.

This is not to say that life will be put on hold until then. I have still allowed money in the budget for holidays, although I must admit not in 2021 as I can’t see lock down easing any time soon! My usual holiday budget will actually be spent on fitted wardrobes for our bedroom. Although Mr Simple is responsible for paying for the household renovations, when we received the quote for these it was more than twice what he was expecting. He has therefore asked me to contribute £2,000, which I have agreed. I will dip into the money that I have saved for a car and then gradually pay it back each month over the next twelve months.

So there we are, another month over and Christmas fast approaching. I hope that you are keeping safe and well and are able to make the most of what will be a quiet and unusual festive season.

Making Life Run Smoothly

man and woman walks on dock
at home

We all love going on holiday, but how often do you arrive at your destination only to realise that you’ve forgotten something. One time Mr Simple forgot to pack any pants and we had to stop on the way to buy some. Fortunately they are something quite cheap, but if he’d forgotten a more expensive item or some medication we might have had to turn around and drive home.

So what’s the answer?

A packing list. Every holiday is going to be slightly different, so when you create one list, not everything on it is going to be relevant all of the time, but you will be able to adapt it. Whether you’re off for a beach holiday in the sun or a week walking in the Lake District there are basics that you’ll need. If it’s the latter you can ignore the swimsuit, but you will need the rucksac. If you’d like to see what’s on my list I’ve created a Freebie here just to give you some ideas and to get you started.  

woman in yellow tshirt and beige jacket holding a fruit stand

Another example where a checklist can come in handy is when buying groceries. I have a master list of all the items that we buy and when I do the shopping order I refer to the checklist and then see if we are running low on that item. Ideally you would notice when you’re getting low on something and add it to your shopping list as you go through the month, but that doesn’t always happen. Maybe you’re in the middle of cooking dinner and although you meant to do it you got distracted. By using this checklist it means that you don’t do your order and after it arrives realise that you’ve run out of something, but didn’t buy it. Alternatively you don’t get to the supermarket, see a product on the shelf, think to yourself, ‘I wonder if we’re running low on that?’, buy two and get home and find there’s already plenty in the cupboard.

How often do you clean the bathroom and then 30 minutes later you’re lying in the bath and you realise that you missed something – the mirror’s dirty or you forgot to check whether there’s a spare toilet roll in the cupboard. So what’s the solution I hear you ask. A cleaning checklist.

To be honest the possibilities are endless and by taking a little time to think about what areas of your life would run more smoothly and then creating a checklist, you can save yourself hours and make life run much more smoothly.  

books business computer connection
at work

I have also recently started to use checklists at work. I am a social worker. For every case there are certain tasks that have to be done. Previously, each time I was allocated a case I would sit and write a list of what I needed to do. Obviously that meant I would create that same list several times a month. Sometimes I’d miss things off, only realising later on that I’d overlooked a task. Basically, I was reinventing the wheel every few weeks. What a waste of time!

Then I came up with the idea of creating a standard list which I use every time. Now circumstances do vary and sometimes I have to add things and other times points aren’t relevant, but on the whole I use 95% of the list. It is such a time saver and I have shared it with several of my colleagues.

I also use checklists when I am writing reports. Every situation is different and there are certain issues that I need to consider; certain questions that I have to ask to make sure that nothing gets missed. Over the years that I have been doing this job I have developed a list of prompts for myself so that I don’t miss anything. There are occasions, usually fair unique situations or something that rarely comes up, where important points are overlooked and when that happens I add that to my checklist so I never forget it again.

So, it might take a little time to write out, but for many tasks you probably already have a list in your head anyway. Maybe you have written lists in the past and thrown them away. Next time you’re planning your packing or creating your shopping list, write it in a notebook and keep it. Next month, when you’re doing the shopping list again, or next year, when you’re packing for that holiday in the sun, you can just open your notebook and there it is, a list, already written for you!

If you need anymore convincing about the usefulness of checklists take a look at this short video by Matt D’Avella.