Right out of college, Andrew and I got married. And for the majority of those years we have worked side by side building businesses.

For many years that meant going to work at our 1200 sf commercial location, then heading home at the end of the day. It was easy to separate work life from home life because we had a physical location for each.

As our Internet presence grew and we no longer needed commercial space, we moved everything home. We each had our office space, separate desks, separate areas. Yes, we still met in the kitchen for lunch, with just a few feet separating us at any given time. But we had our own space to do with as we pleased.

Then we got this new idea – our gap year idea. Why not downsize our living quarters and travel more? Sure, why not? Except that meant decreasing our living space from 3300 sf to 1200sf. And our office space from separate areas, to existing together on the dining room table. Our few feet of separate space has now been reduced to being a few inches apart. I literally can reach out and type on his computer if I choose to do so.

A lot of people laugh uncomfortably when they hear about our working situation. I’ve had more than one person say “I would kill my spouse if we were that close all the time”. And I get it.

For us, it’s a natural progression; it’s a part of our flow. Over the years, we’ve developed a relationship that allows us to live both at work and at home without too much stress. And along the way we’ve learned a thing or two about keeping our sanity in the process.

Keep separate space

No matter how small your workspace is, you still need separate space. My computer is my space; his computer is his space. We don’t invade that space without asking, and we don’t tell each other how to organize the way we work and what we do.

I’m a neat freak; Andrew, well lets just say he likes to live by the pile method. When we had desks, I could tell if someone moved my stapler; Andrew had large separate piles for everything he did. That didn’t change just because we downsized. But for the few files, business card collections, random papers and other materials we manage to accumulate from day to day, I bought us each a file box from Ikea, and we can manage our own individual boxes any way we choose. For the most part all of our data is on our computers, so we didn’t need more than a box. It works perfectly for what we do.

Allow separate space to work

Trust me when I say that no matter how you split out your separate space, eventually your partner’s space will start to bug you. A neat freak will always be a neat freak, right?

Let me show you two pictures of our Ikea boxes from today. Can you guess which box is whose?

Living and Working Together as Business Partners

Yes, you can never get a person to change. That’s okay. Especially when it comes to your work life, it’s important to allow a person to work in an environment that is comfortable for who they are. And if you’re a neat freak like me … just let it go.

We have a new phrase in our life that pretty much sums up letting it go. “Why dust if you can go to the beach?” In other words, why worry about things that simply don’t matter in the grand scheme of things? Why indeed.

Fit work life into your life

Working from home means you’re always at work. And it can easily become a 24/7 thing with our modern technology.

Yet because you can easily work when you desire also makes it just as easy to step away whenever you desire. Work days no longer have to be 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. You can choose to do whatever interests you most, both as individuals and as a couple.

Andrew likes to take off around 3 on Wednesday afternoons to head out sailing with friends. I have a writing group I’m starting to work with on Thursday evenings.

When you work from a computer, it’s easy to work all the time. Even sitting at a concert it’s easy to check in on Facebook and make a connection or two.

Yet it doesn’t always have to be about work. Do what’s best for each of you. Not only does it allow you to stay active in the things you like to do, it also pulls you away from the norm of working side by side.

Listen, Stop Talking

Are you the type that always has to get your point across? After twenty-eight years of marriage, I can say we’ve both had our share of back and forth discussions where we each want to be the last one making the point.

But working side by side means living side by side. And at some point the winner no longer feels like they’ve won. Over the years, we have both learned to listen more and stop talking before we say things we may regret later. If something comes out wrong, say so immediately. Communication always improves when you listen twice as much as you talk.

Set Up Systems

A few years ago, after I asked for a client status for the “hundredth” time, Andrew looked at me and said “stop with the nagging, I’ll get to it.” Yep, major meltdown on my part. And the “discussion” began.

He had his own schedule in his mind. Yet I needed things to be completed on a certain time schedule to meet my own demands. And I had no way of finding out the status other than asking. So I began “nagging”.

Once you discover the problem, the solution is usually just as easy to discover. And in this case, we had a solution in place in just a few hours. A simple client management system allows you to schedule in client work, update tasks, keep status reports, and even create messages as things are completed. We’ve worked with a variety of systems since that time; you can keep it simple with things like Google docs and calendar, use Dropbox, Glip or any number of other systems that allows you communicate in a way that “nagging” is a simple check in with a system.

Separate Your Time

On an average day, you’ll find me typing away on my computer around eight hours of the day. Andrew does the same from his side of the table. All day long we go back and forth with questions and ideas, depending on the job at hand. Yet because we’re in such close quarters, it’s hard to brainstorm and plan for future growth. Which is why we step away from this environment on a regular basis.

Coffee shops are a great way to gain new perspective. You can get caught up in the energy of other business owners meeting all around you. But if you really need some thinking and planning time, one of the best places we visit is our local library. Most have meeting rooms you can reserve for free an hour or two at a time. They come with a whiteboard and markers, and a quiet place to think outside of the box.

Our only requirement is leaving our mobile devices at home. We have brought in our laptops to take notes, but having access to email and the Internet (social accounts) can be a drag on creativity if you feel the need to “check in” every once in a while.

Separating out your time every few weeks will help clear the space and allow new ideas to come into play. It’s also a great way of avoiding the humdrum life of always being in your home.

Become Idea Machines

Over the last few months, I have become a huge fan of James Altucher and his wife Claudia Azula Altucher. In James’ book Choose Yourself, he shares an idea he used to pull him up from depression and failure, one he still uses to this day. Every day he creates a list of ten ideas. One list build on another, each helping him see his ideas in new ways.  That message was carried forward in Claudia’s book Become An Idea Machine. (Yes, I recommend both.)

If you want to be a better writer, you have to write. If you want to be a better salesperson, you have to sell. Whatever you want to be better at, you have to do it more. That concept holds true for ideas. Ideas don’t come unless you practice the art of coming up with new ideas.

So every day we work to create idea lists of how we can become better at what we do. I do this separately, but we also create lists together as well. This is how we came up with our gap year concept. This is how we decided to slow travel in the coming years. This is how we sold off a portion of our business, and started building towards a new dream. This is how we’re currently building all the things we want for our new business.

It also allows our dreams to stay fresh in our minds, and to keep excitement in our lives both as business owners, and also as partners in life.

Feed Each Others Dreams

I met with a coaching client today. I love chatting with my clients because I always walk away with just as many ideas and as much energy as I give back.

She is currently attending a 30 day bootcamp and has started asking herself every day:

My life works when …

How would you fill in the blank? Do you have an answer? Do you have goals and dreams to put that into perspective?

If you work with your spouse or a partner, do you ask each other that on a regular basis? Not only does it work for business, it works for personal as well. Very quickly I came up with several phrases as a response:

My life works when … I rise at 5:30 to enjoy meditation and journal writing before I begin my day.

My life works when … I take long walks with my husband to enjoy the fresh air and a little exercise before we begin our days.

My life works when … we stop at a predetermined time every day in order to split business life with home life.

I have very specific things that give my life meaning and direction. This process is easy for me. And we’ve incorporated it into our business life, and life as a couple as well.

If you’ve never tried it before, use it may seem a little daunting, especially if you are stuck in a rut. Yet if you start asking yourself this question every day, you will quickly see it defines who you are and what gives your life more meaning.

Try it now. Ask yourself:

My life works when …

Write down ten responses today, tomorrow, and for the next week. Use your responses to change and grow.

If you consistently create a list in response to this question, you’ll gradually see trends start to happen, and that will guide you to do what you truly desire to do.

Then let me know via a comment – I’d love to hear how this one action step helps change your life.