Making a Study

If you’ve got a spare room in your house, you’re enjoying a luxury few have! Rather than waste it by simply filling it with dusty boxes you never got around to unpacking, you can clear the room out and make it serve a more productive purpose that will make it an asset to the house.

Today we’re looking at the steps you need to follow create a study you can really work in, whether you run a business from home, or simply want somewhere you can work on your life admin in comfort.

The Blank Canvas

The first thing you need to do is make space. If you can, unpack any of the boxes you have stored there and give the items a home, or arrange to donate or dispose of them. If you’re making a study you need a place you can shut out the world and focus, and a cluttered environment actually creates stress, rather than promoting calm.

If you need to keep some of your clutter, or don’t wish to permanently get rid of furniture you’ve cleared out of your nascent study, you might consider considering local storage facilities. byStored storage in London offer additional services like the free collection and delivery of your stored items that mean you don’t have to worry about actually driving your boxes and furniture to the storage facility can get on with the important business of decorating your new study.


If your room is large and well lit, decorating it with pale, restrained colours may make it appear bland. If you’re not trying to make a strong statement with this room, and simply want somewhere you can focus, this may suit your purposes. If you’re trying to stamp a little more personality onto this latest addition to your home, it’s worth picking out one wall (likely the one facing the largest window) to feature a more vibrant colour, or a strongly patterned wallpaper.

In a smaller room, bright colours can be overpowering so it’s worth going for lighter colours to create more of a sense of space, and placing mirrors to reflect light.


When the paint has dried, you need to gather the necessary equipment, so you can do all the work you need to. A desk and chair are essentials, and it’s worth taking the time and spending the money to some you can use in comfort for extended periods without causing back or neck pain.

It’s also worth getting a printer so you can print important documents without using offsite facilities, and stocking a stationary cupboard as you would at work. If you need to make an unscheduled trip to buy more printer ink, that’s a chance to get distracted and not do the work you urgently need to in your new study.

How Much Time For Side Work?

how-much-time-side-workI’m off to the Financial Bloggers conference today (I’m writing this on the bus – the Megabus, actually!), and I’m trying to get at least a few hours of productive time in today while I travel to Chicago. That got me thinking: how much time do I actually spending working on projects outside of my job?

Today, my question for you is: how many hours a week do YOU spend on work, not counting a job? This could be anything from freelancing, writing, blogging, consulting, or other side work, etc. If you don’t have a job, simply include all the work you do in a normal week. If you don’t know, challenge yourself to track it next week.

I don’t usually know the exact number of hours, but I’m going to guess it’s about 12 hours a week, depending on how much I can fit it on weekends. I’m going to track this myself for the next week or two and see if I’m spending the amount of time on it that I think I am.

The second part of my question: how much time do you wish you were spending on this work?

Even with a job that I’m at for 40 hours a week, 12 extra hours a week doesn’t sound like a lot. There’s roughly 6 hours a weekday when I’m neither working nor sleeping.  On the weekends, there’s about 32 free hours total. That adds up to a whopping 62 hours of non-working, non-sleeping time each week. It’s extremely unrealistic to assume I’m going to get work done and be productive for all that time (hey, I have to eat, enjoy a beer, and watch football sometime!) Plus, it’s easy to get distracted and find other things to occupy my time.

Here’s what I think I can realistically do in a typical week:

9 hours of work on weeknights (Monday-Thursday)
6 hours total on the weekend (assuming I’m not traveling)

Total = 15 hours.

I can do more if I need to meet a deadline or just have something that I’m really motivated and excited to work on, but I want to avoid burnout by trying to squeeze in too much. Plus, I can get a lot accomplished in 15 hours if I really do solid, productive work. The actual quantity of time doesn’t mean a thing if you’re just goofing off when you’re supposed to be doing work. But I think the number of hours that you’re attempting to be productive is a good starting point for how effective you’re actually being.

Next week, I’m going to shoot for 15 hours of solid side-work and do my best to track it with my accountability journal. If I can earn roughly $25 per hour (which is what the minimum I think my time is worth) during these 15 hours, that would be an extra $375 a week that I can bank for meeting my $10k savings goal. I haven’t hit this mark yet, but I think the potential is definitely there if I work at it.

Again, here are my questions for you:

1) How many hours of work (or anything described as a business) do you do a week, not counting a job or other employment?

2) Are you satisfied with this amount? Or do you wish you could fit in more or get away with less?

Have a great weekend, and see some of you at FINCON!

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photo by: Dee Adams

Ask the Readers: ‘Short Bursts’ or ‘In the Zone’ to Get Things Done?

get-things-doneI’m totally a sucker for posts and tips on increasing productivity, conquering procrastination, and being more efficient with time. There are a lot of different opinions out there and plenty of strategies. I’ve heard a couple recurring themes out there, and most people seem to fall into one of two camps.  Here’s the two I hear about most:

#1 – Work in short bursts.

A variation of what I consider short bursts may also be referred to as the “Pomodoro Technique.” The idea here is that people work best when breaking up work into short, manageable periods (Pomodoro calls for 25 minute periods, but I’ve also heard some call for up to 50 minutes at a time). The idea is that you have a goal or task for that period, you set a timer, and then work to get whatever it is accomplished. The timer puts some pressure on you to get the stuff done within that period, rather than simply prolonging the task when you’re not paying such close attention to the time. At the end of each work period, you take a 3-10 minute break before starting to work again (again, the Pomodoro Technique has more specific break suggestions, which you can read about in the guide). Because of this, I would consider this strategy to be more structured, with set goals during fixed amounts of time.

To hear more about this, check out the Foolish Adventure Podcast: Episode 34 – How to REALLY Get Things Done. Tim and Izzy do a good job covering it here and make a good case for why it works.

#2 – Get in the zone.

I would describe “getting in the zone” to be working in periods of an hour or longer at a time (and sometimes much longer). To me, this involves getting much more concentrated on my work, such that I basically lose track of time. I’m extremely focused on the task, and I’m so into what I’m doing that I just keep going and going.

When I think of getting in the zone, I think of this post on The Simple Dollar or this post from Smart Passive Income (see the “After Lunch” section).

Both techniques do have some overlap. Each discourage all forms of distraction (email, phone, internet) while you’re working, and really just getting into the task you’re doing.

What works for me

I think #1 is the most effective for me on a regular basis, although I’ve definitely had success with both. When I don’t have a lot of time, cranking out lots of tasks in short bursts tends to me most effective for me. I find that my “bursts” work best closer to the 50 minute range (like when I’m writing a blog post).  I ofter schedule my tasks in 30 minute blocks on my Google Calendar during the times I need to be productive.

I do find myself relying on strategy #2 when I’m really under the gun to get something big done. This mostly makes me think back to my graduate school days when a marathon session was necessary to get that paper in the next morning.  However, I find it harder to implement #2 when I don’t feel as much urgency and I’m not up against a deadline.

What works best for you?

Do you have a preferred strategy for managing your time? Is there another way other than these two options that you find more effective? I’d love to hear your tips and strategies in the comments below

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photo by: mlpeixoto

Ask the Readers: What Are the Best Online Personal Finance Tools?

There are tons of personal finance tools out there now.  I’ve tried a whole bunch, some that I’ve liked and some that haven’t caught on with me. But I’m always curious if there’s anything great out there that I’m missing. Here are some that I like best:

Credit Karma – This is my favorite way to get a truly free credit score (no credit card required). It’s not a FICO credit score, but you get a Transunion score, which is often very close to your FICO score. You can check your credit score any time with Credit Karma, and it’s super easy to use.

Tax Slayer – I’ve filed my taxes with Tax Slayer for the last 4 years and have always found it easy.  It’s a good deal cheaper than Turbo Tax (I paid $20 where Turbo Tax would’ve been over $100) and produces the same results.  Tax Slayer doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that Turbo Tax does, but it suits my needs just fine.

Google Docs – Although not technically a personal finance tool, Google Docs are so versitile that there’s a lot you can do here. Personally, I use Google Docs to track my spending.  I found a great monthly budget template, and I like using Google Docs because I can easily access it from anywhere that I have internet.

Award Wallet – This might not quite qualify, but I use this to track my frequent flyer miles that I earn from the Travel Hacking Cartel. It’s free and it’s easy to see what I have available for miles as well as when they expire.

I like the idea of Mint, but I’m not ready to add it to my list just yet.  I currently don’t use Mint myself (that might be shocking to some), but I’m planning to give it another serious try soon. I’m also curious is Adaptu (disclosure: I’m a freelance writer there) takes off and gives Mint a run for it’s money. Adaptu has more of a community approach, which I like, and some other cool features, too. (I’ll have some sort of review and comparison of each soon).

Here’s my question for you:

What tools do you recommend? These could be websites or iPhone applications or anything like that.

Are there any sites you don’t recommend?

Share your advice in the comments below.


Here’s some of my favorites, submitted by the readers (so far):

TaxACT Online (from Georgene)

Amazon Cloud Drive (from Ross at GoBeRich)

Yodlee (from Justin at Money is the Root)

Ashley from Money Talks and Dave from Money in the 20s have both tried Mint (like me) but have also chosen to stick with spreadsheets. However, No Debt MBA still uses Mint.

Money in Your 20s recommends SmartyPig to save and earn interest.