Money To Live

August 30, 2010

Vacations with and without full time jobs

Filed under: career,travel — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

I am currently on my honeymoon. Scheduling our honeymoon was not easy. We sandwiched it in between some of my jobs, and we bought more expensive plane tickets in order to be back in time for me to start a new contract.

A few weeks before my wedding, a friend wrote this in an email:

I am working pretty hard at work this week because my boss went into a panic when he realized how soon it was before I went on vacation for two weeks.  Note: I originally told him about this vacation in May. He is worried that he is going to get a request for something while I am gone and not know how to use my tools to produce the requested results.  I have been offering to teach him and other people for months, but it hasn’t happened.  Now in addition to everything I have to finish before I leave, I also have to write a mini how-to for my toolkit in case they need to run something while I am gone. Hopefully, this paragraph will make you enjoy not having a regular job.

While there are many perks about not working full time, there are still many drawbacks. Right now, vacation seems to fall into the category of a drawback. While I don’t have to check in with a boss to take vacation, I do not get paid for any vacation time. I had to turn down a job that would have conflicted with my honeymoon, which would have made up a significant portion of my annual salary.

A benefit of not working full time is the flexibility in designing my workload. My friend does not have much of a choice — she has to work a ton before leaving for vacation, and there isn’t much she could have done about it before (except work long hours in the previous weeks).

So, which would you rather have — flexible workload but no pay on vacation or less flexible workload and vacation time?

(Yes, this is a false dichotomy. There is a lot of flexible, contract work that can be done from anywhere.)

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August 16, 2010

Challenge for the coming year

Filed under: Uncategorized — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

Currently I have a few part-time jobs that each last from a few weeks to a few months at a time. I am working in two very different industries, and I like the variety. The work is interesting, I like the people I work with, and my schedule is fairly flexible.

While I really enjoy my current work, it will not get me where I want to go. This was a big realization for me — yes, I’ve got gigs lined up and I am making enough money to live — but it’s not what I want to do forever. While there is some promotion potential in my current work, I am not interested in most of these jobs. Two of my part-time employers have already offered me permanent contracts, and in each case I turned the offer down because I wasn’t interested in the specific positions.

I can imagine full-time jobs that I would like to have, and my current work does not lead to those. Which leaves me with a decision: do I go get a full-time job that is on a promotion-path I am interested in? Or do I get creative and manage my own career to make sure I develop skills so I am ready for an interesting position when the right opportunity arises?

Based on my past experiences, I am skeptical about working full time. My past jobs have not panned out: research lab temporarily closed, hedge fund lost $6 billion dollars, consulting firm lost major clients. Even if I took a job with great promotion potential, I do not trust that the company (or my division/group) would still exist when I was at the right stage for promotion.

For now, today (at least), I am leaning towards a different path: seeking out projects that will help me develop new skills. I made a list of skills to develop, and I will either create my own projects or find short-term contract work to practice these skills.

Last year, my personal challenge was to see if I could be financially successful without a full-time job. For the coming year, the challenge is to see if I can also develop new skills without the structure provided by an employer. I am sure I can do it — the biggest challenge will be staying focused.

These are some of the general skills I am thinking of working on:

  1. Writing software – I am working on a personal finance program right now! I’ll announce it here when it is released.
  2. Project management
  3. People management – There is a volunteer program I would love to be a part of, and hopefully I can manage a group of volunteers. Part of what I love about working flexible gigs is that it leaves time for non-paying work that I care about.
  4. Statistical analysis
  5. Writing – That is part of why I am posting here regularly, and also I have a totally different writing project in its early stages.

August 9, 2010

The depest of intimacies — merging files

Filed under: family finances,productivity — by moneytolive @ 6:00 am
Last summer, I ordered the FreedomFiler. I heard about it on unclutterer and wrote about it here.

Over 12 months, it has proven to be as wonderful as it was initially. The structure makes it easy to file papers that I probably will never need again (i.e., the water bill) without letting them become clutter (in two years, I will shred the water bill). At the same time, important papers are not lost in the jumble — when I needed to send paperwork to our insurance agent recently, I could quickly find the exact papers needed.

I am particularly impressed with the FreedomFiler system because it allowed for the seamless integration of  R’s files — his education records, medical records, bank accounts, tax records, house documents, auto records, … The system is just as easy to navigate for two people as it was for one person. There is only one set of paperwork that we are intentionally not merging — his immigration papers (R has a green card and expects to apply for citizenship in 2-3 years). I am afraid to touch those papers because I would feel awful if I somehow messed them up. For now, these very important papers can stay where they are in a fire-proof safe. Assuming R becomes a US citizen in a few years, we will merge these very important documents into the FreedomFiler.

To be honest though — sorting and merging a lot of papers and files is not a lot of fun. We have merged our files over several months because we both get sick of it after a few hours. The task could probably be completed in a long weekend, but we would be bored and the shredder would wimp out. Instead of devoting a full weekend, we find times when we can both sit in the home office for a few hours. R selects one of his old file folders and starts sorting — some files will be shredded, some are easy to file in the new system, and some need a new home in the new filing system. I add new folders as needed and otherwise let R sort his papers as he wants to.

A key part of the merging of our files has been shredding — shredding 7 years of bank statements, shredding brochures about insurance from the UK in the ’90s.
“I just shredded 7 years of bank statements.”
Are there any sweeter words said by a fiancé?

August 2, 2010

What makes a good to-do list?

Filed under: productivity — by moneytolive @ 6:00 am
Over the last few weeks, my to-do lists became manageable again – I was completing over 90% of what I wanted to each day, and I felt like I was not perpetually behind. It happened for a few reasons – I kicked my organizing into high gear and I reduced my obligations and time commitments (my AmeriCorps term of service ended in June).
With breathing room in my to-do list, I have time (space) to resume writing on Money To Live. For the past several months, I have been writing little posts, but I did not get around to actually posting them. My life has changed a lot over the last year, and the changes are intertwined with my finances. So, there will be a different focus here — more on finances in a relationship, home ownership, and working independently (i.e., freelance).
Back to to-lists! Lots of people will tell you what makes a good to-do list:
  • be specific (someone other than you could read it and know what to do)
  • use action verbs
  • protect it (only put the really important stuff on it).
I like the guidelines of being specific and using action verbs (what do I need to do for each item on the list). I add that my to-do lists are thorough. Feeding the dog is on there (because we forgot to give him dinner once — sorry, Winston). If it is not a part of my usual routine, each step of crucial tasks is laid out (pick up form X, gather info for form X, return form X).
David Allen of GTD fame says to break tasks up by context (i.e., computer, phone, errands, …). I definitely see why he says this, but in the era of cell phones and internet everywhere, I do not find it necessary to break up my tasks at that level of specificity.
To keep track of everything, I now have three sets of to-do lists. I have a weekly to-do list that I write on Sunday evenings and carry with me nearly everywhere I go. Detailed timelines for my biggest projects are posted over my desk. I use Remember The Milk to keep track of other ongoing tasks that need attention (i.e., household, wedding, personal, long-term career). On Sunday evenings, I pull up my now-hopefully-finished weekly to-do list, remove what is done, and add new tasks after reviewing my calendar and other sets of lists.
The weekly to-do list is fluid — items are added and removed as necessary. The list is really a chart with 7 columns for each day of the week and (currently) 12 rows:
  1. R (my partner)
  2. Personal
  3. Home
  4. Wedding
  5. Health
  6. Financial
  7. Client #1
  8. Client #2
  9. Project #1
  10. Project #2
  11. MTL
  12. Winston (my dog).
This level of detail might drive other people crazy, but I find it helps me stay focused all day. I work outside the home just one full day a week (and two half-days), so the rest of the time, my personal life and work are deeply intertwined. That’s why the to-do list (really, I should call it a to-do chart) works for me — my personal and professional commitments are all listed together, and I can work on them as is appropriate. If my work for Client #1 takes less time than expected, I whip out the vacuum and get ahead on my household tasks.
Financial tasks get their very own area in the chart. As R and I have combined our finances, there are a million details to take care of — I am carefully tracking our bills and income now so that nothing falls through the cracks as we fiddle with our accounts. We’ve opened new bank accounts together, combined our insurance coverage, and have paid large bills on house renovations (new roof, deck, and outside paint).
This is what works for me, right now, today. Maybe it won’t work in six months. A good to-do list is what works for you today. It will undoubtedly change over time as new commitments are made and old ones fall away.

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