Photo by Mikayla Mallek on Unsplash

This week hasn’t started out like we all thought it would. Things have been escalating pretty quickly and none of us were prepared for how this would play out.

Jenni and I are extremely fortunate in that we’re used to this routine. We already work from home and we homeschool our 12-year old. Yeah, we’re those people. No, we don’t bring prune and hemp bars to parties or hand out little end-of-the-world pamphlets at the bar, but admittedly we are outside the norm.

I know you’re dealing with a lot of shit right now that you’re not used to. Maybe you’re not exactly sure how this whole working from home thing is supposed to be done. Your company probably wasn’t prepared for that, either. Do you wear pants during video conferences? Do you still shower every day? Maybe you’re stuck somewhere between what’s the proper protocol and how much can you get away with?

I know, let’s throw kids home from school every day into the mix! Yay! It’s like a snow day that seems like it will never end. Schools weren’t really set up for this situation, either. So now all they want to do is play Minecraft and watch Frozen and you feel like crap because you really should be helping them get an education but you still aren’t even sure how to use Zoom or Slack for work.

And let’s not even mention that you bought everything you needed for the next 2 weeks except extra peanut butter and it’s the ONE THING that would make the day seem slightly more sane.

Deep breath. 

This sucks. You are not alone. You are going to get through this.

It may help you to know that as homeschoolers (technically “unschoolers” to pile on a little extra weirdness), we aren’t always getting it right, either. We do our best but we still have to wrestle the kid away from YouTube sometimes. He’s 12. He doesn’t always want to read the stuff we assign him or work on the project he started (ironically, he was working on a thing about the Black Plague. heh). Some days are tough. Some days are easy.

Forgive yourself.

This situation is nowhere close to normal, so don’t try so hard to make it that way. Let it be weird and unpredictable and not ideal.

Do your best to get through the day, figure out your own work routine. The kids are not going to miss out on Harvard because they spent a week at home without an established curriculum. Don’t try to replicate the experience of sitting in a chair and being attentive for 8 hours a day.

Forgive yourself.

Do what you can to stay healthy, stay sane and make sure the house doesn’t burn down. If you can do that over the next eight weeks, you’re doing an amazing job.

And hey. If you need to unload or ask a question or whatever, reach out. I’m @workathomedj on twitter, or you can send me an email: dj at workathomegeek dot com.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

My First Space, or: The 90s Were Rad

When I first decided that I wanted to create animated films, we lived in a tiny 1-bedroom apartment in central Phoenix. We had a toddler and a baby on the way. If there was a space in that apartment that didn’t have wipes and stuffed toys in it, I don’t know where it was. Maybe the tiny patio.

I don’t know if you know anything about making animated films, but a crucial part of the process involves the use of a flat surface, bare minimum. Also a chair, if you’re really serious. Being short on those things, I had to make do with our kitchen table and sometimes a coffee table and no chair. We also had a computer and a desk, but because this was the 90s, our computer monitor was the size of a VW Beetle. Not a lot of space left for drawing things.

I had to make something work. The only option was to just not do it and since I couldn’t imagine myself working as a bank receptionist into my 30s, I made a space for myself. Thankfully, Jenni was supportive and knew that I needed it. So even though my working surface shifted around, I had a little file box dedicated to my drawings and ideas. My animation studio was housed in a little magenta accordion file thing. I still have it somewhere.

Getting that file box and making it mine was a little thing, but it made me feel like I was really going after my dream. After a few years of hard work using any available flat surface and my file box, I got a couple films into festivals, did some freelance gigs and eventually got hired at Nickelodeon.

Start With Your Space

When you’re starting a side hustle or business (freelancing is a business), it’s tempting to think that you first need a business plan, or maybe some capital, or like all really real businesses, a Costco membership. You don’t. Those things are for later. You can get stuck in those steps because they’re big steps. 

The first thing you start with is your space.

Tell it to Your Brain

When you start by creating your own space, you’re basically telling your brain that yes, you really are doing this and no, we can’t get a Costco account yet, no matter how much you would love a 10-quart jar of pickles.

Maybe you tell yourself that you’re going to start your thing every hour of every day. That’s great, but the problem is that your brain doesn’t believe you. Your brain yawns and says, “Mmm, pickles.”

When you plant your stake in the ground, when you carve out your own space for your thing, your brain wakes up a little and says, “Oh, you were serious about this! Well, that pickle jar is really too heavy anyway.”

No Desk, No Problem

Maybe you have the wherewithal to dedicate an entire room to your thing. That’s awesome and you should take advantage of it. Get rid of those funny beer cans you kept from college and make it your space.

If you don’t have an entire room, it’s totally okay. You can still do this. Hey, I had an accordion folder, and those things have come a long way since the 90s. Okay, actually they haven’t changed at all but if that’s what you’ve got, you can make it work.

You might have to share a room with a sewing machine or a yoga mat and that’s fine, too. The important thing is that you claim your territory. Whatever it is that you choose, it must be dedicated to your business. Tell your brain you’re really doing this.

Sacred Ground

Now that you’ve claimed your space, it’s time to burn some sage in small, concentric circles to get rid of the bad jou-jou. Just kidding, although if that’s your thing, go for it.

You don’t have to do a ceremony or host a ribbon-cutting (although that could be fun), this space is now officially yours.  

It’s a good idea to tell the people around you that it’s off-limits for other activities. Establish rules right up front so there’s no confusion. This also tells the other brains in your home that you’re really doing this thing. You will likely get more respect and support, and possibly even help carrying that 10-quart jar of pickles when it’s time.

Photo by elizabeth lies on Unsplash

Today was kind of a weird day for me. It’s Monday, and usually coming off of a weekend (wait, what’s that?) I am all kinds of productive. For me, Mondays are my git-er-done days. I don’t really know why. I drink just as much coffee on those other days that don’t start with M.

But some days I’m just not feeling it and today is one of those days. I don’t know why, maybe my chakra is misaligned with the snow moon in my seventh house of cards. No real reason I can point to. But there it is.

I still got the work done. I had client work that I couldn’t just ignore, because there are other humans counting on me. Of course I had to do that work. But my moving-forward stuff, my hustling, my passive income-building activities are just kind of floating around my head like drunken bees singing, “I don’t wanna work, I just wanna bang on me drum all day…” I didn’t even want to write this post, but it’s on my calendar so if I don’t, I’ll probably have nightmares about notification badges pounding on my front door. Wouldn’t be the first time.

One of the things that people don’t realize about starting a freelance career is that it’s not all watching YouTube makeup tutorials in your underwear and sipping expensive teas from Mawlamyine. If you get kinda lazy on the 9-to-5, you can usually get by without anyone noticing – sometimes for a few days, even. But when you freelance, any time you spend being lazy is time lost bringing in new clients or marketing. Then you have to make it up later, and no, you don’t get overtime because it’s a national holiday, like Super Bowl Sunday or the Oscars. No soup for you!

So yeah, I’ll do the stuff. Maybe today won’t be one of those Shining Glorious Mondays where I accomplish ALL OF THE THINGS and still have time to invent a better method for stirring natural peanut butter. But at least I’ll know that I am moving forward, one step at a time. There will be another day where I can channel a carpenter ant on an endorphin high. Today is more… sloth on espresso.

Looking at you, Tuesday.

A Super Simple Method for Tracking Your Monthly Income

Do you know how much money you have coming in this month? I mean, from all sources. Your paycheck, your business, your side hustle, poker nights, all that yarn you have on eBay… whatever.

If you have one job or contract and you collect a regular paycheck, it doesn’t take much mental energy to get a sense for how much you’ll have to pay your bills and keep your cupboard stocked with chocolate and whiskey. When you work consistently, you typically get paid consistently and that’s super cool.

However, when you work on multiple projects, and you’re not working under any longterm contracts, your pay may not be so regular and it can be harder to know. Suddenly it’s the 28th and you have to check your account balance to figure out if you can pay to live another month. I hope that’s not the case and you have so much money coming in that it’s a no-brainer. Still, documenting your earnings and knowing what’s coming down the pipeline is a good practice.

I’ve been freelancing on many different projects for the past 12 years. Like all businesses, my income has had its share of highs and lows. For a long time I spent a good part of my weeks obsessively tracking my billable hours and worrying about when my next project would start. I never had a clear picture of what the next few months would bring. That was stressful and I wasted a lot of time worrying about stuff I could actually track.

Then I learned about tracking my monthly income using a pipeline spreadsheet. I’ve been using this method since 2014 and it’s made things much clearer for me.

As you’ll see, this thing is super simple. Each month is laid out in columns. In the first column under the months, you list your different sources of income, each with its own row. In the next columns within those rows, you enter the amount of income you expect to have come in that month.

An important distinction is that you’re not listing what you hope you’ll make, but what you actually have coming down the pipeline. As in, what you’ve already earned and is either in your checking account or on the way.

The last columns and rows calculate totals for you. At a glance, you can get a really good picture of what you’ll be paid in the very near future. As a bonus, when you look back over the year you can analyze your earnings. Because I’m a geek, I create charts of income for different categories through the years.

If you’re a spreadsheet wiz, you can make this yourself pretty easily. The formulas are simple sums. If you hate setting up stuff like this, I created one for you as a Microsoft Excel file. It’s a free download right here: Pipeline Spreadsheet

How it Works

I’ve added all kinds of fancy arrows and callouts in the image below, but I’ll also give you the rundown.

The top row is just the months of the year. Easy peasy.

The first column is where you will list your sources of income. You can see from my example that I list four. This is really up to you, you can split up different contracts or projects or just combine them all under “Freelance.”

In each monthly column, you simply list any income you know is coming for that category. I update this every time I have something new come in. Below that, I list each client and the amount I expect to receive from them. It’s not necessary but I find it helpful. Again, the amount you put in the income cell is only what you know is coming in that month. Not what you wish will come in or a lofty guess. This is for any money that’s going to hit your account for sure.

Note: I have a separate spreadsheet for all my passive income sources. I think I mentioned that I’m a geek.

On the far right in column N is the sum of your monthly income for each category. This calculates automatically because there’s a formula in that cell that tells it to. If you edit the cells in column N, they will cease to function and you’ll have to go old school and add them up yourself.

Similarly, Monthly Totals and Year Total update automagically, too. Isn’t that fun?

That’s really it. Super simple. As you do this throughout the year, I think you’ll find that you can better predict what’s coming and you’ll lose a little tension about it. Even if you see that June is looking a little weak, at least you’ll know that you need to do something about it. “Knowledge is power,” as the inventor of the spreadsheet famously said. Yes, I just made that up. But it feels true.

If you have any trouble with the download, the spreadsheet, or just frikkin’ making it rain every month, let me know. I’m here to help.

A brief history of why my email made me cry

A while back, I wrote about how to think differently about email and make it work better for you. Right after I wrote that post, I found myself in the middle of an email crisis of a different kind. After 12 years, I decided to abandon Gmail.

Over the course of a few days, my Gmail stopped checking other accounts and was suddenly, mysteriously throwing just about everything into my spam folder. It was a total work nightmare. Clients weren’t getting my emails, I wasn’t seeing their replies, and not a lot was getting done outside of me cursing and troubleshooting. I tried to hang in there, but they completely lost my trust. I was finally just done with Gmail.

So, now what? I needed a desktop email client that at the very least didn’t make me want to cry. The quickest, most logical choice was the low-hanging fruit called Apple Mail. I’ve used it in the past with varying degrees of reliability. I decided to give it another try, thinking that maybe things have changed in ten years. 


After a week or so of troubleshooting why my accounts were only syncing sometimes and why my flagged emails were disappearing, I was back on the hunt for something that actually worked for me.

Finally, I landed on Thunderbird. It’s a desktop email client from the good people at Mozilla. I can’t believe I’ve been doing without it for so long. Here’s a quick rundown of some features that made me fall in love:

Easy Setup

I’ve been around the block when it comes to setting up email accounts. Even if you aren’t a wizened old email witch/wizard like me, it’s super easy. It’s simple as clicking File>New>Existing Mail Account. What’s even cooler is that the app will do some for the heavy lifting for you by attempting to configure your server settings for you. You only need your email address and password.

I admit that I’m a control freak when it comes to setting these things up, so initially I didn’t trust it and attempted to set up my first account manually. And… I did it wrong. After that I wiped the smug look off my face and let Thunderbird do the rest for me.

Clean UI

I am a sucker for simple. Overbloated software is one of my pet peeves. Some people really love their Outlook, but it’s way too much for me to look at all day, every day. Thunderbird is super simple, neat, and tidy, like my desk. Attention Virgos: this UI will have you feeling right at home.


One morning, I opened up Apple Mail one morning and got a spinning wheel. No biggie, I figured my laptop just needed coffee like I did. So I got my own coffee going, wrote in my bullet journal and came back to… a spinning wheel. This happened so many times in a week that it was killing my productivity. And I have a deep need to be efficient (see Virgo mention above).

That’s one of the first things I noticed about Thunderbird, was it’s speed. It’s crazy fast. When I had IMAP accounts set up in Gmail, I would get client emails in those accounts sometimes hours after they hit my Dreamhost server. Not cool. In Thunderbird, it’s almost like chatting. Yeah. It’s that fast.

Buh-bye Ads. Hello privacy.

One of the things I love about Mozilla is their commitment to online privacy. It’s baked in to Thunderbird. There’s no one mining my email for mentions of Birkenstocks so they can hit me with ads for fuzzy socks later.

Okay, I’ve been sounding like an ad myself here, but I really do love it. When I find something that works, I become an instant evangelist. I’ll hit pause on singing their praises, here’s how to make Thunderbird work for you.

How to do Thunderbird Mail

First, I hope you’ve read my post on organizing email. It will change the whole way you think about email and possibly save you from a life of sadness and pain. If you haven’t, give it a read and come back here. If you have read it, awesome. Let’s get you set up.

Download and Setup

Thunderbird is a free, no-strings-attached download. If you just go to you’ll see a big green download button. Click it and you’re off to the races.

Depending on your system, you will have different steps to take to install.

Mac OS:



When you open up Thunderbird for the first time, it will prompt you to set up an email account right away. If you skip this part, don’t worry. You can go back and do it later (which you’ll need to do if you have multiple accounts anyway). In the menu bar, click File>New>Existing Mail Account. Like I mentioned before, it will even do the configuring for you, just have your email address and password handy.

Using Thunderbird

If you’ve ever used email before (pretty sure you have), the app is fairly intuitive. You can send and receive emails like you always have. If you set up your accounts using IMAP, you should see your existing folders and emails on the server start to show up. If you used POP, I don’t know what to do with you. Just kidding. Here’s a tutorial, weirdo:

Underneath the simple, clean interface lies a truckload of powerful tools for searching and organizing your email. One of my favorites (you may have guessed from my post) is tagging. Similar to stars in Gmail or flags in Apple Mail, tagging helps you keep your email organized in a way that works best for you. See Message Tags in Thunderbird for the full tutorial.

There’s an additional step to take if you want to use my personal method of organization. You need to set up folders using Saved Searches. It takes a little bit of work up front, but once you set up those search folders, Thunderbird does the rest. Here’s a peek at mine:

Add-ons and Customization

If you use Firefox, you’re already familiar with the extensions they offer. Thunderbird has those, too and they’re called Add-ons. In your menu bar, click Tools>Add-ons and you’ll get a new window of choices.

There are also themes you can choose from. Personally, I like keeping it basic, but if you like things like walnut or metallic, you can change the look.

Thunderbird also comes packaged with a calendar function that you can sync with iCal or Google Calendar (among others). It’s also a news, RSS and chat client.

At the time of this writing, there’s no Thunderbird smartphone app, but I don’t do much emailing on my phone except for urgent stuff. If you know of a good one, I’m taking suggestions for iOS.

Email is here to stay

My prediction is that we’ll all be using email for the foreseeable future. It’s a platform-independent way of sending electronic messages to each other. I don’t see it going away anytime before I’m gumming my vegan burger bites.

If you’ve been frustrated by lame ads, losing your privacy, or just things not working in general, you should give Thunderbird Mail a try. If you use it, let me know what you think! Or, share your tips and tricks in the comments below or on twitter.