My new work from home computer system

How this set up has made me happier

My Apple Air laptop lasted me around 8 years of solid use. When it started beeping at me and refusing to start, I rang the Apple Helpdesk to be told that there wasn’t an option for fixing it and I should upgrade. I then started using my husband’s MacBook as my main computer – it was really heavy but the screen was a decent size and this has worked brilliantly for me in the last two years. The downside was it was set up for my husband – so I had to use memory sticks and email a lot of things from my phone to be able to use them on the computer. No linked iCloud for me. It was also too heavy for travel which meant I would use my iPad instead but if I’m being honest, I couldn’t get nearly as much work done on my iPad than I could with my laptop. Adding a bluetooth keyboard did help but it was something extra to lug around.

How I used to travel and work with an iPad and bluetooth keyboard
How I used to travel and work with an iPad and bluetooth keyboard

So I decided to bite the bullet and visit John Lewis on Oxford Street when I was last in London. I knew they would have a good range of computers for me to look at and wouldn’t be intimidating. I really do not get excited about tech – it is the end to a means and I find the Apple store too daunting.

I was looking for a new laptop that had a decent sized screen (anything small really does give me a headache and sore eyes) that I could use at home and whilst travelling. I’m also an Apple devotee – simply because I have always had a good experience with them and a lot of people in publishing use Macs. I’m programmed to use them!

My previous way of working - with a huge MacBook that belonged to my husband.
My previous way of working – with a huge MacBook that belonged to my husband.

My heart sank a little when I saw what was on offer – small screens only for laptops or I would need a desktop one. Neither appealed because as mentioned previously, I like to work in my kitchen during the day. I don’t have an office because although technically I could set one up in a spare room, I like being in the kitchen. It really is the heart of our home. Its warm in the winter (hello Aga!) and weirdly cool in the summer. It also has viewing points to the front and the back of the house so I can see any deliveries arriving.

So I need tech that I can put out in the morning and put away at night – my husband’s laptop was brilliant but still not right for travel. After a long conversation with the chap at John Lewis, he suggested an Apple Air laptop but also a monitor that I could plug into the laptop. A bit cumbersome in the morning but really the best of both worlds. I’d still be flexible with my workspace but I would have a screen that wouldn’t give me a headache. Monitors are very slim and lightweight nowadays and I could stow one away each night without much bother.

I went away and thought about it for a long time. The extra incentive was that John Lewis was running a 0% interest loan on Apple products with a small deposit. It wouldn’t be a huge outlay of cash instantly – which defiantly appealed to me. Plus they could deliver for free. No lugging of expensive equipment for me!

My new set up with Apple Air laptop and a Dell monitor.
My new set up with Apple Air laptop and a Dell monitor.

So that was what I did – I visited my local John Lewis in Nottingham and bought an Apple Air (the new one but in grey – I wasn’t about to spend an extra £100 for Rose Gold!), an adaptor to plug the charger, monitor and memory stick into and a Dell monitor. Why Dell? I went round the displays and lifted them up until I found the lightest. They all seemed the same to me and that was the best way to differentiate them.

Oh my I do love my new system! I’ve been able to take my laptop out with me but when at home, its plugged into the monitor quite happily. I’ve had zero headaches. Result!

This system means that I can have a mouse and a keyboard.
This system means that I can have a mouse and a keyboard.

Extra exciting is my husband has now linked up my bluetooth keyboard and mouse as well! This means that when at home, I can use the keyboard and mouse and not really use my laptop. Its just a hard drive powering everything else.

So my advice when looking for new technology when working from home:

  1. Write a list of all the things you need to be able to do
  2. Go and see an expert – find somewhere that you feel comfortable. I didn’t get any joy from just looking online.
  3. Don’t buy instantly, go home and have a think.
  4. Measure everything – lift everything so that you know that it all works.
  5. Find a spot in the house that you can put it all away each evening so that you can switch off from work each evening.

And that’s it! This isn’t sponsored at all by Apple or John Lewis but I hope it might be useful if you are looking at tech solutions. What do you currently use?


Here is what I now use:

Looking to know more about how I work? I wrote a blog post last year that explains my work! Please click here.

Why I reject work potential projects

Be a voice not an echo
As soon as I saw this quote, I realised that saying ‘No’ is very important. It might not be what others want to hear though.

This has to be one of the hardest lessons I have learnt, and one that still makes me cringe and feel terrible. Why? Because as a freelancer, I am reliant on clients asking me to work for them and saying ‘No’ to them feels as if I am turning down cash that quite frankly, I need.

It stays with me as well – that ‘No’; it lingers for at least a couple of days because I am a people pleaser – I want to say ‘Yes’ to everything but I am learning that it is best for my business (and sanity) if I work on projects where:

  1. I like the clients. This is really important. Are they polite? Will working for them make my day go better? I’ve spent too long working with people that are rude, demanding and ungrateful which always ends with me hating my work and sometimes myself.
  2. Does the project excite me? I work in PR and although I’d like to think that I can promote everything, if I get excited about the book, author, artist, gallery or publisher then that really helps me.
  3. Do I have the time? Yes I mainly work 9am – 3pm but also how long is the project? Does it fit into my schedule? I tend to like having a 4 week and a 2 week project running simultaneously as it means that I’m speaking with contacts about more than one topic.
  4. Will I be paid on time? Last year was the first time that I wasn’t paid for a project for almost 8 months. It was stressful and I felt embarrassed chasing my fee which was foolish (that is a blog post I should write!). I had done a great job but wasn’t a payment priority. I now ask for at least part payment upfront.

If any of these questions is a ‘No’ then I can’t take on the work. I have spent time working on projects that didn’t excite me but I found the client really inspiring and I learnt a lot. Great! When I work where time is an issue then that flows into my family life and it can get tricky…

Photo of Laura@the9to3
I have worked hard to learn to say no to potential projects that won’t make me smile!

How I work around this guilt is I spend time looking for work that is a big YES to all of those requirements and more often then not, it comes through eventually. I’m always on the look out for new clients and by pushing me out of my comfort zone by attending say a new networking group or cold calling an author whose book I love, then that NO gives me that extra push I needed.

How do you deal with saying “No’ to potential work?

How I plan my long-term goals

Recently I mentioned on my Instagram account that I was going to set some time aside to plan long-term goals for my business. This was because after my declutter of office stuff, I came across my old folder and found the notes from the last time I set them – which was in 2016. Eek!

I find this quote oh so true…

I have started setting myself goals for my personal life and short term goals with the business but nothing too major. No scary aims and being honest with myself about my ambitions. I wrote a post awhile ago about how I had decided to take a step back from the amount of work I was doing because it was having a negative impact on my family life. I also think I wasn’t inspired by all the work either. And it is so true, if you love your job, then it won’t feel like work. I am lucky enough to say that 85% of the time I do love my job.

Taken during my ‘semi-retirement’ days

In 2016 things were a little different – we had moved from London in 2014 and I had basically taken a year of ‘semi-retirement’ to settle our daughter into our home life. I worked a bit but not that much. We had a shock when my husband was made redundant and suddenly I realised that I needed to step up my business. My business goals were quite simple – to earn money for our family whilst my husband job-hunted. We had a scary Autumn of that year but he was back in employment from January. In the meantime, I had refreshed my contacts and had work projects to do. My 9 to 3 really started.

Since then, I’ve been on a treadmill, accepting new projects when they come my way and I’ve since realised that not everything was really making my heart sing. So when I sat down in John Lewis Oxford Street cafe (it was half term), I started with a blank page in my notebook titled: Goals. Scary!

I decided to focus on 2 goals for the next 3-5 years:

  1. To earn more each year (I have set myself an annual income target for each year)
  2. To only work 9am – 3pm 5 days a week but allow for 1 evening work session

I then asked myself the following question:

  1. In an ideal world, I would like to…?

Swiftly followed by:

2. How am I going to do this?

These questions really gave me room to be honest with myself which was a bit scary because I realised that I wanted to work in areas that I haven’t for awhile and also gave me a steer on how I could achieve those wishes. I’ve learnt from Just a Girl and Her Blog website posts that if you break down a goal into smaller chunks, they don’t seem so terrifying. Whether that is a turnover ambition, saving for a car or learning a new language (hello coding!), if you break them down into bite size pieces, suddenly it isn’t too overwhelming.

I then broke down each goal further by setting myself time limits to action each intention. I’m really deadline driven and by setting myself targets, I know that I’ll do them. How can I be so sure? It worked for me in 2016 and it worked for me last Autumn when I told an ex-colleague that I wanted to start writing this blog by the October half-term. So another tip is to really know yourself – if deadlines aren’t your jam (as they say on Instagram) then find a way to tick those goals off that does work. It is all very individual.

What happens if I don’t achieve those goals? I’m not going to beat myself up because I know I’ll get there in the end. We can never be too sure of what’s round the corner but I hope by giving myself a bit of focus, I’ll be improving my chances of reaching those goals.

I’m not yet finished working on the how but I do have something that resembles a plan. Wish me luck!

Recommended reading/watching:

How I crush my goals – Abby Lawson- Just a Girl and her Blog

The Ultimate Guide to Small Business Goal Setting

An Edited Life by Anna Newton

Ted Talks on Goal Setting

How to find your 9 to 3

How I got to working the 9 to 3

One of the questions I get asked the most on Instagram Direct Message is how to start working 9 to 3. It is also one of the hardest to answer! For me, I decided that this was the only way I could work and be the parent that I wanted to be. I make no judgement on anyone that needs to work longer or actually prefers to work. I’m all for the idea of ‘do what feels good’ for you. (thank you Adriene Mishler for that great quote!)

My example was set by my Mum who worked as a playgroup supervisor when I was little, before coming a Teachers Assistant whilst studying part-time through the wonderful Open University and finally qualifying as a teacher when I was 14 years old. I always took her presence for granted – she was there for every assembly, sports event and after school group.

Open University

We weren’t loaded and I understand now why we weren’t taking foreign holidays or why I attended the local community college and not a private school. These things didn’t really matter to me – my mum was there when I wanted her.

So when Amy was born, I felt that if I could, I wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps – minus the teaching bit. It took time though, I went back to work 3 days a week 3 months after she was born and that increased to 4 days a week for a bit before we moved to the countryside and I went fully freelance (i.e. I was the main childcarer). Do I regret any of it? Not at all.

“The courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”

Coco Chanel

Here is my biggest takeaway from my decision – it hits your financial outlook massively. I now earn less than half what I did when I was full-time but my income is growing year by year. It is scary and we should budget a lot more then we do – I am getting better with meal planning so not to waste food/money and we aren’t having meals out every week, let alone every month. We choose carefully where we spend our disposable income – which for us is travel. Our holidays and trips are very important to us as a family and therefore I can *just* about handle not having the wardrobe all my favourite Instagram accounts seem to have. (where do they put all their clothes?).

Don’t get me wrong, I would like more £££ but I’m playing the long game – time with my daughter will fly by so I’m willing to keep my business ticking over and then hopefully step it up as Amy gets older.

So… here are my initial questions when looking to go 9 to 3:

  1. Are you currently employed? Is there room for movement with hours?
  2. Are you qualified to work in a particular area?
  3. Did you LOVE your job/previous employment?
  4. Can you work from home?

Then my next set of questions would be:

  1. Do you want to still work in the same/previous industry?
  2. Are you able to take a refresher course/update your skill set?
  3. How much do you need to earn to keep you afloat?

Finally, I would ask:

  1. What is it that I really want to do with my time?
  2. What are my passions?
  3. What are my dislikes?

After that, I’d look through my answers and see what I could do. Look for examples of people doing the work that you want to do. With publicity, I’m able to work from home, yes, I do travel sometimes and I am trying to look for more local clients instead of travelling to London every 6 weeks. I love reading, admire all creatives and I know I’m good at selling their book/exhibitions to editors. I’m enthused by it. So when I was thinking about my 9 to 3, I knew that the job I already had, really was the best one for me.

If you are unsure or haven’t been working for awhile, I would recommend that after answering the questions above, that you consider:

I have a neighbour that trained as a beautician when her daughter was at pre-school to supplement her income as a personal trainer and another that trained as a Teachers Assistant and volunteered at a local school to get experience. It may be that that job you find yourself doing isn’t what you want in the long-term – that’s absolutely fine! My friend cleans houses 3 days a week but ultimately intends to be a Veterinary Assistant. The cleaning helps to pay her course fees AND gives her a bit of extra income too. I was considering setting up an Ironing business until I remembered that I hate ironing and I’m terrible at it.

It is a bitch but time really does make a huge difference. Plan what you want and then execute it with small steps and realistic expectations. You might not earn vast amounts but hopefully it will help to supplement your lifestyle and get you living the life that you want.

Resources to look at:

  • The Open University offer courses for you to do part-time.
  • I discussed in a previous blog post how I have used Future Learn to help update my skills. These are free online course. Read the post here.
  • 923 have a great blog which feature ideas on how to work 923. You’ll find my post here.
  • I’ve just come across The Early Hour which I’m really enjoying. The creator of the site, Annie Ridout has just published a book, The Freelance Mum that I’m hoping to read soon.

Guest post for 9 to 3 jobs!

923 jobs logo

Recently I was asked for my advice on how to work from home by 923jobs as part of their #25dayflexup campaign. I was completely thrilled to be asked because I think what they are offering is really great. Just recently I was talking to the cashier at my local Morrison’s who told me that she was able to work 9am to 3pm because she had been an employee at the store for so long. “Hours like that, aren’t really an option for newcomers” she said.

Anyway, please do go and have a read. Their blog is great!

https://www.923jobs.com/blog-9-2-3/2019/1/11/how-to-work-from-home-by-laurathe9to3