Category: Organization

5 tips to make working from a coffee shop more productive

OrganizationTelecommutingWork From HomeWorking Remotely

When you work from home you’re bound to get stir-crazy every now and then. You’re in the same space, all day, every day. You’re there before, during, and after you login and logout; Monday – Friday, Saturday and Sunday. You sleep, eat, and relax there. You get the point. Yes, while it’s certainly nice to be in your own space, when you’re there all the time it can take a toll.

The good news is if you’re a remote employee you likely have the option to take your work on the go and get out of the house at times. Shared workspaces are popping up more and more which are a great option but if you’re not keen on paying for a place to work (or don’t want to be in an office) there’s nothing like a bustling coffee shop for a change of pace and to get your creative juices flowing. But since coffee shops are not your own space and because they’re all a little different, there are a few things you should take into consideration before planning to tackle a whole, or part of an, 8 hour workday at one.

Here are 5 tips to have the most productive day possible when you work from your local caffeine watering hole:

  1. Don’t do it when you have a ton of calls. Coffee shops are great. They have freshly brewed specialty drinks and make drip better than you probably do at home, you can get your sugar fix with a tasty pastry (if you’re lucky maybe they have good Quiche), plus they’re loaded with personality and energy, and have people watching–great, great people watching. They also have the noises and chaos of coffee beans being ground, lattes and smoothies being made, and people in the middle of conversations. If you have a long block of phone calls it might be best to find a more suitable, quiet location; the participants on the call you’re leading will thank you.
  2. Scope it out, and specifically test out the wifi. Again, coffee shops are great. They have all of the above plus free wifi. But not all wifi is created equal. And for the remote employee who relies on a strong internet connection, connectivity problems can ruin an otherwise productive day. Whenever possible test out the wifi with your work device(s) before you plan to camp out somewhere. Pro-tip: go even further and test out logging into your VPN if you have it. You want to be sure that you don’t have any issues connecting to a specific network, especially if it’s non-secured. If you have any problems inquire with your IT department; spare your baristas from your complaints and request to reset the router, it’s likely not the coffee shop but rather your machine/restrictions and can often be solved with a few tweaks to your VPN login settings (I couldn’t tell you what exactly since I contacted my IT team 🙂 )
  3. Be sure the space will suit you. When you’re checking out the wifi and Quiche situation also spend a moment taking in the general lay of the land. What’s the atmosphere like? Specifically what are the workspaces like that you’ll have access to? Will you be able to have your own counter or does the shop have a shared space culture so even if you arrive first and score the big table in the back there’s a chance college students will come join you and have a study group a foot away? Does this even matter to you? Only you know what you need to work/function best. Consider this before you change your work environment even just for a morning.
  4. Come prepared….with snacks. Paying for a few cups of Joe a day can add up. Not to mention that specialty drink, a bottle of water, the banana that was perfectly ripe, a single pack of cashews during your mid-afternoon slump, and the artisan avocado toast you had to have after seeing the guy next to you devour his. Just like you might plan to bring snacks and a lunch to an office plan for meals while working from a coffee shop. It’s poor form to bring your own coffee but bringing a sandwich and some light fare is completely acceptable and will keep you (and your wallet) fueled and full.
  5. Don’t forget your juice. Along with a spotty internet connection one thing that can really put a damper in your attempt to work away from your desk is when you’re in a groove on a project only to get an alert that your battery is low. No problem, right? Simply dig into your bag to grab your charger but, boom! Not there. Do yourself a favor and always double check that you have all your power cords. Don’t think that you’re going to be out of the house long enough to need to re-charge? Bring it anyway. Yes, bring your phone charger too.

What are your go-to ways to make working from a coffee shop work for you? Am I the only one who takes all of this into consideration before deciding to work from somewhere other than my home office for the day? Share tips, tricks, and thoughts in the comments below!

Do I really need to have a dedicated work space??

OrganizationTelecommutingWork From HomeWorking Remotely

In a word, yes. If you spend a significant portion of your time working remotely having an office, a desk, or even a dedicated surface like a kitchen table or counter that is only your work-space is very important. But this can be hard, especially if you live in a smaller space or have a live-in partner, roommate, or children. So let’s talk about why it’s important to section off some space for your remote 9-5:

  1. You’ll take your work more seriously. Investing in the space or items will likely make you give your work the credit it deserves. Especially if you sometimes struggle with others taking your job seriously (and I believe this is all of us WFHers at one time or another, read more here) having a dedicated work-space, better yet a desk or an office, can help you feel more confident.
  2. Boundaries. When you don’t head into an office every day it can be challenging to separate your home life from your work life, especially after the day is done. A physical desk or work-space sets spatial boundaries and can allow you to walk away if only mentally. If you work from your couch, bed, or kitchen table that you also use to sleep, relax, or eat you’re blurring the lines of your work and personal life.
  3. You can set up and control an environment that is most conducive to you. For me I need a few drawers or shelves to organize files, desk space to keep pressing items top of mind, wall-space for a whiteboard, and generally a dumping ground for the 500 to-do lists and post-it notes I write to myself. Having a desk and dedicated area allows me to have all of these things nestled away from the rest of my home. Which brings me to…
  4. You can keep it as cluttered or as clean as you like. Some people are organized and clean at all times. Others are all chaos, all the time. I’m somewhere in between. When I need to be organized in my job I don’t like to have to deal with clutter that might be around my home since I still haven’t unpacked from a weekend trip. Or on the flip-side: if I have scribbled notes all over my desk to help me think through an upcoming strategy session I usually don’t want that mess bleeding into all aspects of my life and home. Having a dedicated space lets you leave not just your work at work but your mess as well (or avoid your messy home if you need cleanliness!)
  5. You’ll put some structure into your life. If you’re working from your couch (or worse, bed!) day, and day out you’re bound to think of your life as one big blur overtime: get up, bring coffee into your bed, log onto your computer, grab charger, decide it’s time for breakfast, move to couch, realize it’s time for lunch, take a meeting, realize you might want to put on pants. Sound familiar? This might work for the day after Thanksgiving when no one is around the office or for an hour before you head out of the country on vacation but this is not a sustainable work from home approach.
  6. You’ll like it more. A little secret of mine is that just 5 years ago I really disliked working remotely. That was partially because face-time was crucial to being effective in this role but it was also because I didn’t have a desk or even a table set up that I could work at in my kitchen. When I had to work remotely I would do so from my bed. I hated this. I felt like I was studying for exams in college. It didn’t feel like I was doing my job or being effective. But 5 years later and I’m a raving fan and pro-WFHer. I credit my desk and dedicated work-space a lot to this shift.

If you work from home does having a dedicated desk or office help you? Share in the comments below!

Avoiding distractions when working from home

OrganizationTelecommutingTime ManagementWork From HomeWorking Remotely

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: working from home is awesome. You can work in yoga pants on your patio, avoid a traumas of a long commute, avoid the distractions of your co-workers at the office, accept a mid-day delivery, and much, much more. But that’s not to say there are no distractions at home. In fact it can often be the very opposite. You can also be tempted to watch “just one episode” on Netflix, prepare everything on your “#EAAATS” Pinterest board, or talk yourself into a mid-afternoon nap.

So how do you strike the right balance between the freedom of remote work with the responsibility of being employed? Where does a break end and a distraction start? And what distractions are okay in moderation and what are simply inappropriate while on the job?

This one is hard and honestly, really varies based on what you do, who you work for (working full-time for a big company versus running your own business from your house are two very different things), and your personal work-style. Here’s my take on 5 specific distractions I’ve recently been asked about:

  1. TV. This is a don’t for me. I’ve written before about taking breaks and will say that watching a short program can be a part of my lunch sometimes. But I draw the line at having television on at any other point of the day. Maybe you’re one of those people who needs noise. I will never fully understand that 🙂 but I do understand that everyone works differently and some people may need light noise. Still, I say music is a much better option since TV is not only a proven distraction but call me old-fashioned, watching television simply doesn’t seem like something you should be doing while being paid to do your job. So whether you’re employed by a big company or have a couple clients in a business you run on your own, stay away from your flat screen while in work mode.
  2. Naps. This is another one I personally say not to do. Or at least spend some time really making a judgement call based on your situation. While some companies are beginning to encourage power naps during the day, to me sleeping at your own home is an activity that should reserved for when you’re not on the clock. With this said, everything is case-by-case; if you’re a salaried employee and tend to work 10 hour days starting at 5 am a mid-day nap might be just what you need. Again, use your judgment and gauge your personal situation.
  3. Social media. Ten years ago there’s no way you’d imagine checking Facebook or Twitter to be something that’s okay to do occasionally at work. But as these outlets evolve and increasingly become our news sources how we use them changes too. I would never advocate to have Facebook open all day (and will always say to use your own device versus your company computer!) but quickly checking to see what’s trending, reading an article tweeted about your industry, or even posting the occasional #tbt isn’t the end of the world.
  4. Using another personal device. In moderation I say this is fine. Checking the news via Twitter or on CNN.com, sure but editing photos on your MacBook or playing games on your tablet not so much.
  5. Doing other work. No. No, no no no no. One more time: no. Maybe you run a side business or write a blog (both like me!), if so read carefully: your slated time to work is to work. If you run your own business there may be more blurred lines and you have the discretion to toggle from one project to another, but if you are employed by a firm and are expected to work from 9-5 or bill hours do not use this time to do anything else.

There are some boundaries clearer than others but generally speaking if you have a company modern enough to be employing you as a remote worker you likely have some freedom. It comes down to the fact that you need to be a responsible, working adult. So keep that in mind before engaging in a behavior.

Still unsure? Try this: if you’d have a difficult time explaining your behavior to your manager (or it feels wrong to you!) then don’t do it.

How do you balance the distractions of your home office? Have you created any “rules” for yourself that you find particularly important or helpful to follow? Share in the comments below!

Why do I feel guilty taking breaks?

OrganizationTelecommutingTime ManagementWork From HomeWorking Remotely

If you read this blog (*insert upside-down smiley emoji*) you know that I’ve been working remotely full-time for the past few months. Prior to this I’ve been lucky enough to always enjoy flexibility as part of my full-time jobs and have always had the opportunity to work from my home to varying degrees. As I reflect on my journey to teleworking full-time I think a lot about the similarities and differences between this and going into an office daily, a lot of which I strive to capture in this blog. One has kept creeping up in my thoughts lately: taking breaks.

We all need breaks to function. Studies show taking regular breaks in between bursts of work then, well, working again, improves creativity and productivity whereas not taking breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion.

But I’ve noticed that when I take breaks while working remotely I feel significantly more guilt about doing so then when I would take a break in an office. Which is odd because even with the same amount of time spend “breaking,” I am still being far more productive and spending more time on work than when I was going into an office.

Consider: a 30-60 minute workout during lunch actually takes me less time while working remotely since I don’t have to make myself look presentable (i.e., re-do my hair and makeup) after the workout; I can opt to stay in my gym clothes for the of the day or rinse off then put sweats right back on. I estimate I save a total of 30 – 45 minutes when I work out during lunch while working remotely but I continue to feel more guilty about it. The same goes for running an errand. When I was in an office I would have to navigate my way through a maze of elevators, then out of a 10-story parking deck before even starting the errand. Starting and returning to my house saves me about 15 minutes, but again, I feel more guilt leaving my home office for just 30 minutes. The examples go on and on but the story stays the same: breaks seem more guilt-invoking when remote.

And it’s not just me. I had lunch with a peer a few weeks back (in the office) who mentioned that since she’s been working remotely a lot she couldn’t remember the last time she stopped to eat. I had to gently remind her that short breaks–especially to refuel–are essential.

I often try to understand why I feel a certain way before, or in conjunction with, remedying it. I imagine my feelings are partially a function of the fact that I know working remotely is a luxury; it represents a company showing faith and trust in you to be responsible and productive and get your work done. I don’t want to let my manager or team down or appear not to be pulling my weight or more generally, doing my job. But, I also want and need breaks.

So how to get past this mental block? For me it’s a constant, gentle reminder to myself that while my company is affording me the luxury of working remotely, they still want my best work. And since we are not part-robots (yet) I am still a working human and require breaks.

I have begun to use a personal litmus test of asking myself, “Would I do this in an office?” and if the answer is yes I do it and if the answer is no, I don’t. So going on a short walk around the park in my neighborhood during lunch or watching a 30 minute news program while I eat mid-day: fair game. Depleting my DVR or taking a nap: keep reserved for outside the 9-5.

How do you who work remotely manage your breaks– both the actual breaks you take and telling yourself it’s okay to do so? What strategies have my fellow teleworkers–and office dwellers alike– found to be helpful?

Make Monday Your Most Productive Day

OrganizationTelecommutingTime ManagementWork From HomeWorking Remotely

Mondays are hard. Whether you go into an office every day or work remotely there’s something inherently difficult about ending the 2 days that we each have to spend with our families, friends, and ourselves and handing our lives back over to our commitments. Okay that’s dramatic (and weekends can be full of commitments too!) but if you’re like the majority of people the reality is you have to work and Mondays are a part of it. If you’re like me and a full-time remote employee, or even have worked remotely on a Monday you know that Monday’s are their own interesting brand of hard while telecommuting.

Now I am not suggesting that it isn’t hard to get out of bed, get the coffee going, and get into an office on a Monday morning. That’s hard too. But working remotely these past few weeks full-time I’ve noticed that my Mondays in particular are, well, different.

There’s been something about kick-starting my week from my home after spending so much time in that same place over the weekend not working. Of course this could perhaps be a broader question about work/life balance and separation while working remotely but there have been a few strategies I’ve been employing on Mondays in particular which have helped me not just “get through” a Monday but rock it.

  1. Start your Monday on your own terms. What I mean by this is do whatever you need to do in order to start your day, and week, off right. For me that means getting up a little earlier to let myself have the lazy morning that I want. I make coffee, sometimes walk outside a little, I’ve been known to clean in the morning or throw in laundry that I just couldn’t bring myself to finish over the weekend. I once put together a 140 pound desk (if you follow me on Snapchat you were likely right there with me 🙂 ) The point is whatever you like to do in the morning to get ready give yourself enough time (maybe more than normal!) on a Monday.
  2. Sweat. If you’re able to get a workout in, in the morning or mid-day, do it! A lunchtime workout on a Monday is one of my favorite things to do. My mind literally feels noticeably clearer after doing this. Yes, this can be done in the early morning hours but I’ve learned that, that’s just not how I like to spend my first morning of the week.
  3. Go easy on yourself. You’re easing back into the work-week, let yourself truly ease in. Of course sometimes Mondays are hectic and deliverables don’t seemed to know days of the week, but if and when you can, cut yourself some slack. This doesn’t mean to not work by any means but if you need to grab a second (or third! Only me…?) coffee or tea then do it. Or if you don’t have a hard deadline to get something out maybe re-read it in the afternoon (maybe after that mid-day workout!) once you’ve had some time to warm up to the day.
  4. Have a solid Sunday. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a well-spent Sunday is key to a strong week. Yes, sometimes Sundays are meant for boozey brunches, I won’t deny this, but for me most Sundays are for relaxing, being productive, a bit of fun (always!), and gearing up for the week.
  5. Mondays are Mondays where ever you work. If you work remotely every day like me it’s easy to tell yourself than something (everything!) is challenging because you are remote. Remind yourself that Mondays are Mondays regardless of if you’re at your desk at home, desk in an office, or anywhere else.

Mondays can suck, yes, but you can definitely do some things to make yours better. Find your routine, allow yourself the extra coffee, and make it work for you!