Work from Home, Stay Productive, Stay Sane

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20 days ago

Latest Post Work from Home, Stay Productive, Stay Sane by Jim Christian

More and more of the workforce is going to be working from home over the Covid19 outbreak. For those of us who have been doing this for many years as consultants and contractors, it's a minor adjustment. For many others, it's going to be a complete change of pace. I actually like going into the office where I contract, it gets me closer to the business and interacting with people. I normally work from home one day a week to fit in personal engagements and have Fridays off to spend with my family, so even working from home full time with three young kids (one of whom is most likely going to be off school sooner rather than later I think) is going to take some adjustments on my part.

I'm saving up to three hours a day on commute and prep time, which I'm actually looking forward to getting back - so I intend to make the best of it by not sleeping in and instead going to the shed in the mornings where I have a mat and a medicine ball. I'm going to do a weigh-in at the beginning of the week and see how I feel by Friday doing light to medium exercise each day and ripping through my Audible backlog.

I think that it's very important not to give into the anxiety and depression that are circling the coronavirus situation like vultures. I have four other people in my house, as well as a sister and two elderly parents a few miles away that are going to need help and bucking up in the days ahead. Staying positive is an important responsibility that we all need to take onboard. If I can get in some exercise and a shower before getting the kids up, that's going to be a win for everybody. And we are going to need a lot of wins.

It's important to me to have a physical space that's carved out solely for work. I'm portable enough to work anywhere, but I know that I'm going to be at most productive for high focus work if I'm in my home office, and I've been lucky to have a small office in our last few rentals. I've got a couple of bookcases, and a desk. I absolutely cannot work from the couch. That's my chill out, read a book, play video games and watch a movie zone. I slouch and am geared for downtime. And the kitchen is a hive of activity so that's out of the question. Home office it is.

The command center.

I was lucky enough to snag an office chair a few weeks back for a fiver off of eBay. I'd previously been using one of our kitchen chairs, and the height wasn't working out for me. So I had stacked a few cushions to make it bearable, but it just wasn't cutting it. Health and Safety can't come and assess your workstation, so it's important that you aren't setting yourself up for RSI issues. At the office I like switching between sitting and standing desks, but that's a luxury I won't have at home so I need to make sure that I stand up and take breaks more.

I normally block out my work into two or three blocks during the day depending on meetings. But I have a feeling that I'll be going back to using a Pomodoro app to manage my time into smaller chunks. SetApp has a simple one called Be Focused that will do for now, and there are plenty of other Pomodoro timers available on the app stores.

Be Focused. Go on. Do it.

Ambience

I'm hoping that we're going to be relying on Microsoft Teams more as an active chat space to keep the office vibe going. If that doesn't work, I have a couple of apps that I like to use for background noise. I find that even when I'm working in quiet places like a library, the noise of a busy coffee shop motivates me more. I use an app called 'Noizio' to bring in the noise from a Parisian cafe, for example.

Also available on iOS.

For high-focus sprints I use Binaural and noise-cancelling headphones.

I love listening to music, but if I start playing my favourite music, I'll just end up doing office karaoke all day. So instead I've found some cool lofi hip hop playlists on YouTube that also stream through Apple Music and Spotify. No lyrics, just chill.

Keeping a running log file / journal

I'm used to distraction-driven work, having worked IT support for a number of years in a school, and also from having kids. I use a combination of OmniFocus to capture todo stuff as I work through the day, but I also use GoodNotes on an iPad with the Apple Pencil to write things down and essentially keep a log file as I go through the day. I also use Drafts to keep meeting notes. At the end of each day, anything captured from GoodNotes or Drafts goes into my wiki on Notion so that I can search action items, deliverables, meeting notes etc. Actually writing things down with a pencil on the iPad is great for a quick note when I have to go and change a nappy then come back into the office. I come back look at the screen and know where I need to pick back up again. I think it's a good rule of thumb to be logging what you do as the day goes. At the beginning of the work day I look at the previous day's logs and email and match up what I need to do today. At the end of the work day I collate the log and write out action items for the following day. I get an actual sense of accomplishment to see what I did and didn't achieve during the day, with insights into why. Perhaps a meeting ran long, perhaps I didn't anticipate workload. Either way, it's a learning point that benefits.

Keep a log of what you're doing. You may be used to doing this anyway, particularly if you're in distraction-driven work. However, working from home has its own distractions, and with school closure likely and self isolation for families a possibility, it's even easier to get distracted by high priority issues. Keeping a tail log of what you're working on before you have to and change an emergency nappy will

Information Grid

I'm not sure that the information grid is going to be capable of handling so much traffic from residential locations. And if you've got partners and kids staying at home as well, it's a possibility that it's going to have an impact on local bandwidth. Here are a couple of ideas to help mitigate slowdowns:

Time shift your entertainment

Most of the big streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer - all allow for downloading shows to watch later. Get smart about downloading some of your kid's favourite shows in the evening to a device that can be used in the daytime without impacting your home broadband. I personally use Plex on a Mac mini media server, so everything is available on the in-house network and only requires that Plex's servers are online for authentication (and even that has a workaround).

Be prepared to negotiate data caps

You might be on a home broadband connection that has a data cap on how much you can upload / download in a month. In the states, companies like AT&T are already starting to waive these in light of the outbreak. I keep a 4G Nokia for use as a data tether for my devices. I usually get 20GB for £20 on the months I know I'm going to need it. However, I've just sent out for a free SIM from Voxi that gets me 60GB for £20. It's a data 'insurance' policy.

You decadent beauty.

Speaking of data and not knowing how IT infrastructure is going to hold - I tend to work off server, then re-upload in our Sharepoint / O365 environment. That way if the intranet goes down, I can continue working, and keep local backups.

Helping and staying informed

When my media server isn't streaming Frozen for the umpteenth time, its cycles are devoted to running Folding@Home. Folding is an international supercomputer project that uses your computer to help process data to help cure diseases. It's that simple. You could be using your computer right now to help combat Covid19 and countless other things. What are you waiting for?

Good luck and good health to all of you in the days ahead.

Jim Christian

Published 20 days ago