21 Sep

modified pomodoro technique for getting shit done

Today Penny tweeted about having an unproductive week and suggested maybe she should have a break from social media. I tweeted back saying that usually when I’m unmotivated, I use social media distraction as an excuse for being unproductive, when the reality is I am just unmotivated. My point: don’t give up social media unless the problem is *really* social media. And even then, don’t give it up – just modify the way you use it.

So how do you get stuff done when you’re either distracted by social media or unmotivated? For me, the answer is the Pomodoro Technique.

I heard about the Pomodoro Technique from my friend and colleague Zaana. The principle is you focus on one task and work intensively on it for short bursts of time. Traditionally, a Pomodoro session runs for 25 minutes. During that 25 minutes you work exclusively on the task you set yourself, and at the end, you take a five minute break.

I do a modified version of the Pomodoro Technique. I find I need longer than 25 minutes when I’m working on research, so I work for 45 minutes and then take a 15 minute break. When I start a session, I put my phone on silent  and I leave it face down on my desk so I don’t see notifications. I also close distraction apps like TweetDeck and Outlook and then I put my head down and go. During my 15 minute break, I’ll get up and make a coffee, answer email, catch up on Twitter, take a Pinterest break, look at my favourite fabric stores to see what’s new, work on my schedule, plan what I’m going to do next, check my grocery order, work on a blog post, catch up with RSS feeds… Most of the time I do some kind of work in my 15 minute break, but it’s still a break because I’m switching tasks. I try to restrict my social media use to my breaks and it helps that I often do Pomodoro bursts with a friend, so we tweet as a start gun and then when we’re finished, we check in with each other on Twitter to see how we both went. Being accountable to someone else for finishing the session is a really good motivator, and it also gives a sense of working in a team environment when I’m actually squirreled away at home (and so is the colleague I’m working with).

I use a Pomodoro app (Easy Pomodoro, available from the Mac App Store), which not only times the sessions, but also allows me to name them. Last Saturday, I called my sessions ‘Sorting Saturday’; Wednesday was ‘Whacked out Wednesday’; Thursday was ‘Think it through Thursday’. The app gives me a quick view of how many sessions I’ve completed for each session name, which means at the end of the week, I can quickly see how many sessions I got through in the week.

I don’t use the Pomodoro Technique every day, but when I’m distracted or unmotivated, it really helps me push through and get stuff done (without killing my social media time).

25 Jul

why you should always pack a lunch box even when you work from home

This post is part of a series on making working from home work for you

Okay, so maybe you don’t need to pack a lunch box, but you *do* need to make your lunch ahead of time.

Today a fellow work-from-home-r messaged me on Twitter just as I was pondering the Great Lunch Decision and said:

randomly – i really hate working out what to have for lunch. such a time waster

Yes. Yes it is.

You could be forgiven for thinking you would eat healthily or have delicious freshly cooked hot meals for lunch if you worked from home. It’s a delusion that you should actually be able to turn into a reality.

But here’s how it *actually* is: Lunch time rolls around and you can’t be bothered deciding what to eat, let alone making it. Or (more often in my case), lunch time rolls on by and suddenly it’s 3pm and you’re ravenous and your blood sugar is so low you have to stuff 12 freddos in your mouth while you wait for your toast to cook or you’re going to faint in a big puddle on your recently cleaned kitchen floor.

Even if I do manage to stop at about lunch time and realise I should go and get something to eat, I generally haven’t thought in advance about what I could make so I invariably stare into the empty, cavernous, echoey fridge shouting “Hello? Hello in there? Come out and get me, lunch!”, and the empty, cavernous, echoey fridge just echoes my shout and nothing ever presents itself. So I either end up abandoning all thoughts of eating and just make more coffee, or I grab five little packets of snack food and head back to my desk where I proceed to eat a whole bunch of stuff that has absolutely no nutritional value.

If I’m going into the office, I either pack up my pinker than pink Tupperware fuel pack or I just wake up to myself and realise I’m going to get 12* coffees at the bookshop and Guzman Y Gomez for lunch. But my point is, if I’m going into the office, I almost always know what I’m going to eat. And if I don’t, it doesn’t actually matter, because there’s a food court right next to our building. In fact I can scope out how busy it is without getting in the lift, because I can peer directly into it from our floor.

But there is no food court at home. In my home, there is often no bread and rarely anything more exciting than cheese slices to have on the bread (on the off chance I have bread).

So the moral of the story is this: If you work from home and you like the idea of eating lunch, you should prepare your lunch just as you would if you were going into the office. Make your sandwich the night before, put aside some leftovers in a microwave safe container, or buy ready made meals you can throw in the oven. Don’t buy huge tubs of yoghurt unless you’re going to decant them in advance into smaller containers, because it’s a pain to have to do it during the day. Buy things in portion controlled packets or you’ll end up taking the whole packet to your desk and eating it all, because it’s easier than opening the packet, putting some in a bowl, then finding a Tupperware container for the rest.

If your office was (for example) in an industrial area and there were no food shops around and you couldn’t drive anywhere to get food, you’d never go into work without a well stocked lunch box. There aren’t any food places around the corner in suburbia, either, so the same applies to working from home. Pack your fuel pack in advance and you may actually make it to the end of the day without eating every bit of convenience food in sight or passing out from starvation and face planting on your keyboard.

* Evidently 12 is my number today. Often it’s 67. But today it’s 12.

11 Jul

how to have an at-home holiday when home is your office

This is the second in a series of posts on making working from home work for you.

I rarely travel for ‘play’ because I travel a bit for work, and I actually don’t like travel all that much. I’m a bit of a home body. I like my stuff. I like my house. I don’t like long flights and I seem to always pick up whatever germs are floating around on the plane. It’s no fun arriving at your destination only to get sick straight away.

So I tend to stay home for my holidays and this one is no exception.

But it is not easy to spend your holiday in your work space, because you invariably end up thinking about work all the time and the temptation to actually do some work is always there. Four years into this gig, during which I have been spending an ever increasing proportion of my work hours at home, I have finally figured out how to take time off without traveling and without giving up on relaxation and getting stuck into work.

Make plans in advance

I am not good at being bored. When faced with a few days off work without any plans, I get a bit panicky. Which is absolutely ridiculous because when I’m working, I crave uninterrupted time… Time to read, watch TV series, sew… And then I get it and I don’t know how to fill it.

I am also not good at doing one thing at a time. In fact, as I write this post I am also watching home renovation shows on TV.

When I find myself at a loose end, or I’m not fully engaged in what I’m doing, my first instinct is to check my email or do some kind of work. So if I’m holidaying at home, effectively holidaying in my office, I really need to make sure that I’m not going to find myself at a loose end too often. But I still have to make sure I have some downtime, because I generally don’t take leave until I’m absolutely, completely exhausted. There’s a fine line between keeping myself amused enough that I don’t work and getting enough down time to recharge.

So I make some plans. I don’t plan for every day, but I plan to do something every few days: to catch up with people for lunch or dinner, do a sewing class, paint a bedroom… Breaking up the stretch of time I could conceivably be sitting at home doing nothing makes it less likely I’ll work. I know there is stuff coming up, which means I have something to look forward to and encourages me to just chill out and potter on the days I don’t have plans.

Mostly, I plan to do stuff on the days I don’t see my niece and nephew – weekdays, mainly. Weekends are kid-time, and there is always something to do, even if it might be a little (dare I say it?) boring – I’m thinking particularly of watching / playing Fireman Sam. This weekend we are going to make our first Lego review video, which will be fun!

Spend some of your at-home holiday in someone else’s home

Two days ago, I packed up and drove to a friend’s house. During semester, I don’t see much of my friends at all. This particular friend has a four month old baby and I have not seen her nearly as much as I would have liked since baby came along. Actually, I haven’t seen her nearly as much as I would have liked for about the last six years, but missing baby milestones makes it feel so much worse. She’s one of those friends whose house feels like a second home. So I’m spending a couple of days at her place. Double win: I’m out of my workspace, and spending some time with a much loved friend and her beautiful, beautiful family.

Have separate devices

Until about six months ago, I had one laptop I used for both work and life. Now I have two: one supplied by work, used for work (and a little bit of personal stuff, seeing I’m on this laptop all the time); and my old faithful, which used to be my work machine as well as my life machine.

Having separate laptops has had an enormous impact on this break from work. My work machine is configured for work and launches a bunch of work applications on login. My personal laptop isn’t as well configured and that makes working a bit more difficult. But the big difference is I don’t have Outlook on this machine (it has the student version of Office installed), and that reduces the likelihood I’ll check my work email because I HATE (yes, I shouty shouty HATE) Outlook Web Access. I don’t have an alternative setup because I also really dislike all the alternative mail clients for Mac that work with an Exchange account.

When I was ready to ‘go on holidays’ (that is, stop working), I powered down my work laptop and put it away. I told myself I would check my email and do a few bits and pieces after three full days off, and my work laptop stayed packed away until then. And now it’s back in the same spot.

With a non-work laptop, I can do my online shopping, play on social media, sewing research and media consumption without the temptation of working.

Disconnect your devices

This one is probably applicable to anyone, not just work from home types. The first thing I did when I started my break was turn my work email off on all my iDevices. I left my calendar on because I have all my life stuff in there too, so I get a few notifications. But when I have a free moment and my impulse is to check my email on whatever device is to hand, I can’t (or at least I can’t without putting in effort). If I was capable of looking and then forgetting, it would be okay. But often one glimpse at my inbox will lead to several hours work. So I’m loving not having my email pushed to my devices.

Do not sit down at your desk

Ever. Under any circumstances. In fact, if you have a dedicated home office, I would suggest you don’t cross the threshold. My office is also my sewing room and my exercise room (bahahahaha! What I really mean by that is: the space in which my unused treadmill sits), so I do go in there to do interesting and relaxing things. One of my holiday to-dos is sorting out all our paperwork. I’m doing this on my sewing table and all my sewing stuff is displaced and strewn around the house. I could use the extra space my desk would offer to make more piles of papers, but I know that sitting down at my desk would put me in ‘work mode’, and I do not want to be there.

Plan to work

Another one for the workaholics, not just the work-from-home-types: If you are like me and you need to do some work while you’re on holidays, plan when you’re going to do it and give yourself a certain amount of time to get it done. Stick to the time limit and then pack up and go back to holidays. If stuff comes up that is playing on your mind, sometimes it’s just better to get it done and then you can stop thinking about it. And sometimes there is stuff you have to deal with right then and there. So deal with it, then disconnect. I had to deal with something today and I reconnected my email on my phone to follow something up, and then it snowballed into dealing with a few things that really could have waited til I was back at work. But I’d seen them in my inbox and I knew I’d think about them if I didn’t just get them done. So I got them done.

Do the things you wouldn’t normally do around the house on a work day

When I’m working I do absolutely no housework during the day. I don’t even put a load of washing on, because I know it’s a slippery slope once I start doing housey stuff. So I’ve been doing some of the things I generally don’t do, which means I’m pulling my weight a bit more around the house. That’s a nice feeling because it redresses the completely inequitable division of house duties we normally have.

I’m also working on a bunch if housey projects over this break. I’m finishing up redecorating my office, hanging all pictures that have been leaning on the walls for forevity, cleaning out files and culling my wardrobe. So I’m in the house but I’ve got projects to focus on.

Don’t go back to work wishing you’d had more of a break

It’s your holiday. Don’t work more than you want to. Don’t make it action packed to stave off boredom and then go back to work exhausted. If you are bored and tempted to work, get out of the house or find a project. But definitely don’t blow your holiday by getting distracted by work.

04 Jul

logging off and packing up

Today I finished up most of the work I needed to get through pre-sabbatical. I still have one big job to do, but I’m going to leave it til early next week. So for the next four days, I’m officially on holidays. Actually, I’m officially on holidays for nearly two weeks but I do need to do this thing next week. Anyway, the point is: no work for four days!

Managing an at-home holiday when you work from home is a bit tricky. It’s like being on holidays but going into work everyday and not being allowed to turn your computer on or clear your in tray. It’s a little bit crazy-making.

You kinda need to have plans so you don’t think about work. (I sound like an addict. Actually I think I am an addicted. But I digress.) I don’t really have any plans. Ummmm….

So in a pre-emotive strike, I have packed my work laptop up and put it away, and taken my work email off my phone.

The first thing I did was have a nap.

And then I messaged my friend and fellow workaholic: Um so what do I do now?

And now I am watching TV, eating a Golden Gaytime, and blogging on my phone. I do not have a laptop on my lap and I am not working. So far, so good.

28 Jun

your work from home wardrobe

This is the first in a series of posts on making working from home work for you.

The number one rule of working from home is you must not wear your pyjamas all day. Or at least, you must not wear the pyjamas you woke up in. I actually think it’s perfectly acceptable to wear pyjamas, but I recommend you make it part of your morning routine (more on that in a future post) to get out of the pyjamas you slept in and put on some clean ones.

Having said that, over time, I have learned that I need to wear clothes, not pyjamas, and in my experience, having a work from home wardrobe is really important. You can’t just wear whatever you happen to grab out of the wardrobe first. There are rules, dude. And here they are:

  1. Your work from home wardrobe must be purposefully curated. Your work from home wardrobe is not a retirement home for all your ‘normal’ clothes that are pilled, ripped, faded, don’t fit right, or you just don’t like. This wardrobe doesn’t need to be rock star glam, but you also have to not hate it, so starting out with clothing rejects is just a bad idea.
  2. Similarly, your work from home wardrobe must not be your exercise wardrobe. I do not have positive feelings about exercise so putting on my gym gear does not put me in a good frame of mind. I also find that gym clothes are really not as comfortable as work from home clothes should be.
  3. You must have enough outfits in your work from home wardrobe to last you a whole work week, because you are not going to do the washing during work hours (more on that in a future post too) and who the hell can be bothered doing it at night. If you work five days a week at home, you need five sets of clothes.
  4. Build your wardrobe from the skin up. You need comfortable underwear. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I have a sneaking suspicion that most women don’t wear a bra under their PJs. Girls, you cannot extend this practice to your work from home atire. You need work from home bras. They don’t have to be the full underwire job – in fact I recommend you avoid underwire because it’s really not all that comfortable – but you do need something. A crop top. A singlet with built in support. Something. (I debated whether to share this point. I phoned a friend and she said it was totally sharable. So it’s her fault if it’s TMI.)
  5. Get yourself some super comfy pants. My preference is yoga pants because they are light enough to wear all year round. You know the type? Wide legged, stretchy, often with a rolled over top. You need a pair for every day of the week. I also like to have leggings on hand – three quarter length for hot days, full length for cold days (when I put them on under my yoga pants).
  6. You need an assortment of tshirts: short sleeves, three quarter sleeves, and long sleeves. I advise going for tshirts with stretch in them because it’s much easier to work in fabric that moves with you.
  7. You need jumpers and zip through hoodies, although I prefer the latter. Don’t get fleecy lined if you live in Queensland. Just cotton with a bit of stretch. I suggest going for a range of light and warm hoodies. You should also invest in decent jumpers, because you don’t want to be wearing something pilled, and cheap ones pill fast.
  8. Slippers are acceptable footwear. My preference is my ankle height ugg boots.
  9. Everything needs to go with everything, and your wardrobe needs to be arranged for ease of outfit selection. Make it easy to get dressed and you’re more likely to get out of your PJs and put on something fit for public viewing.

But the fundamental, underpinning principle of the work from home wardrobe is this: you’ve got to be able to leave the house in it, even if only to get milk or go to the post office (but you must change your slippers for Birkenstocks before you walk out the door). You don’t want a delivery guy turning up at your door and finding you in your dressing gown at 3pm. You also need to be able to turn on your web cam (more on this later too) and have some vague confidence that you don’t look like you just rolled out of bed.

And that there is my first gem of a post on how to make working at home work for you. Go forth and buy yoga pants.

30 posts in June: 23/30