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10 Hacks to Improve Your Home Office Productivity

10 Hacks to Improve Your Home Office Productivity

    If you work from home, the central part of your work life is the home office. For some, that means the kitchen table, but most of us assign a specific room to be the base of operations and (try to) do our work from there each day.

    Given that we must take into consideration strategy before tactics, it stands to reason that we should make it a room we enjoy being in, and furthermore, a room that gets us in a productive mood, and by considering these things provide a strategic framework to the hacks we can apply in the office.

    What puts you in a productive mood?

    That’s a central question to defining your workspace. Perhaps being reminded of your goals – the reason you do this work each day – is enough to get you going, so find a way to remind yourself of those goals at the start of, and throughout, each day. Perhaps bare minimalism puts you in the right mindset, so chuck all the pens and pads on your desk in a cupboard and take the browser shortcuts off your desktop (or out of the Dock). WriteRoom, anyone?

    If you can’t identify the things that trigger a productive mood for you, then you’ll have a tough time improving your workspace on anything more than a cosmetic level. Spend some time on this, and get it right! Here are some hacks that work for me.

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      1. Get some good tunes going. Get some high-quality speakers attached to your computer and have specific playlists prepared for different kinds of work and concentration levels. It’s been said that listening to music while working and studying gives you a boost in productivity, creativity and memory retention. I know this works for me!

      If you need to chew away at some menial work, like changing the font tags in a 500-page website where the previous designer was kind enough not to use a CSS stylesheet, play something upbeat. If you need to brainstorm and be creative, use relaxing music. Your preferences for different kinds of work will be different to mine, and you may even find that music distracts more than it helps.

      And remember to pay for music, unless the creator is giving it away (in which case just grab it all while you can)!

      2. Keep a distraction around, but out of the way. It’s important to have distractions around. When you take a break, doing something just for fun can help you wipe your mental RAM and begin afresh when you return to work. But remember: keep them out of reach and out of sight while you work, because you may end up spending more time distracted and playing than actually working. If you find you spend a lot of time in the office but not much time working, it may be because your distractions are out in the open where you’re tempted to easily. Hide them, or develop some serious self-discipline.

      It may be a game of Minesweeper or Counter-Strike on your computer or a guitar in the corner – whatever you find enjoyable, and can be enjoyed in a relatively short amount of time. Though if you make your money as a gamer or a musician, you might want to find some other examples!

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      3. Never be without a way to quickly catch an idea. Many times, I’ve had a sudden idea and by the time I could get Google Docs or TextEdit open, the idea was completely gone (until I upgraded my RAM!). Always make sure that if you have an idea, you can get it down immediately. Not within twenty seconds. Straight away. The home office is where you’re most likely to get in the head-space of your work and produce new ideas, so not having an immediately accessible idea receptacle is utter foolishness.

      Same principle applies if you’re on the phone and need to take a note – there’s a reason every PDA has a phone notes template!

        4. Use your workspace to hack your brain into focusing. What’s the first thing you do when you sit down to write? Open Skype and your feed reader? Go browsing or using StumbleUpon? Then you need to hack your brain into focusing.

        I’d normally recommend doing email at the start of the day, but you’re the kind of person who should do email at the end of day and only ever at the end of the day.

        Aside from setting boundaries and a firm daily routine, you can apply hacks to force yourself into focusing. For instance, if you’re a Mac user, you can remove Word from the Dock and replace it with WriteRoom; in order to quickly get into a writing program, you’ll have to open the one program that forces you to do nothing but write.

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        5. Get a plant. Plants are not only aesthetically pleasing, but they convert the nasty gases you create throughout the day (yeah, I’m looking at you) into the much more pleasant oxygen variety. Personally, I don’t keep one in the office because there are plants right outside my office window, which I’m looking at all day (it’s right behind my monitor), so if your office is next to a garden or a few trees keeping the blinds open is a cheap and effective alternative.

        6. Lighting and color. Yeah, that stuff your graphic designer friends like to rabbit on about all day. I’ve read that the color of walls in a room can influence your mood and some even cause more stress and arguments in a relationship (yellow being one). I spent two months living in a room with orange freakin’ walls once and wanted to shoot my head off. Stressful.

        If your office walls have been painted with an aggravating color, re-paint it. If yours does nothing for you either way, find a color that puts you in a relaxed, productive mood and paint it. One room ain’t that expensive. If you rent, ask first!

        A good home office allows plenty of natural light in, without glaring up your computer screen (you’re going to be looking at it all day; no sense in having to spend the day squinting). Consider how you can arrange your office to get the most natural light on your workspace without getting it directly on your screen.

        7. Declutter. Even if you are anti-minimalist, you should declutter. You can still keep plenty of stuff around – we’re defining clutter here as distracting material, including mess. Nothing is worse for your mental state than living and operating in a mess. Expect lethargy and crankiness and a particular level of apathy towards your state of affairs.

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        Anything you don’t use on a daily basis should be put away, and anything you don’t use should be thrown straight in the bin.

        That said, if you’re not averse to minimalism, then you should take decluttering to the extreme and keep only the bare essentials around your workspace.

        8. Get the hell out of there! You can improve your home office by leaving it once in a while! Go to Starbucks or some other ridiculously over-priced but low-quality establishment (McDonalds comes to mind). Do some work there. You’ll either benefit from getting out of the house for the first time this week, or you’ll find the whiny gossiping and crappy Top 40 music so infuriating you’ll come to love and adore the office that much more.

        I don’t give advice I don’t take myself, but point 8 is probably something I should work on doing more often.

        9. Get ergonomic input peripherals. This is seriously one of the best things I’ve done in my home office, and sometimes I don’t realize how fantastic ergonomic peripherals are until I’m without them. Regular readers will probably have noticed the amount of stuff I’ve broken lately and subsequently written about here (such as my recent article on detecting hard drive failure before it occurs), and yes, I’ve done it again. My precious Natural Ergonomic 4000 was attacked by coffee and died quite an unnatural death. So, during this time of loss, I can quite honestly say that the best thing I’ve ever done for my office was drop absurd amounts of cash I didn’t really have on a keyboard and mouse that does not destroy my wrists.

        10. Do whatever the hell makes you happy. These aren’t hard-and-fast rules; they’re just hacks for productivity that worked for me. If they don’t work for you, that’s fine – experiment until you find what works for you. The important thing is that you’re happy, relaxed and motivated in your workspace, and that you never stop trying to make it better, because it’ll never really be a 100% optimal place to work. If you need to tell all the rules to get bent, good for you.

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        Last Updated on February 20, 2019

        How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

        How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

        Are you stuck in the same position for too long and don’t really know how to get promoted and advance your career?

        Feeling stuck could be caused by a variety of things:

        • Taking a job for the money
        • Staying with an employer that no longer aligns with your values
        • Realizing that you landed yourself in the wrong career
        • Not feeling valued or feeling underutilized
        • Staying in a role too long out of fear
        • Taking a position without a full understanding of the role

        There are many, many other reasons why you may be feeling this way but let’s focus instead on getting unstuck.

        As in – getting promoted.

        So how to get promoted?

        I’m of the opinion that the best way to get promoted is by showing how you add value to your organization.

        Did you make money, save money, improve a process, or some other amazing thing? How else might you demonstrated added value?

        Let’s dive right in how to get promoted when you feel stuck in your current position:

        1. Be a Mentor

        When I supervised students, I used to warm them – tongue in cheek, of course – about getting really good at their job.

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        “Be careful not to get too good at this, or you’ll never get to do anything else?”

        This was my way of pestering them to take on additional challenges or think outside the box, but there is definitely some reality in doing something so well that your manager doesn’t trust anyone else to do it.

        This can get you stuck.

        Jo Miller of Be Leaderly shares this insight on when your boss thinks you’re too valuable in your current job:[1]

        “Think back to a time when you really enjoyed your current role. I bet there was a time when this job was a stretch for you, and you stepped up to the challenge and performed like a rock star. You became known for doing your job so well that you built up some strong “personal brand” equity, and people know you as the go-to-person for this particular job. That’s what we call “a good problem to have”: you did a really good job of building a positive perception about your suitability for the role, but you may have done “too” good of a job!”

        With this in mind, how do you prove to your employer that you can add value by being promoted?

        In Miller’s insight, she talks about building your personal brand and becoming known for doing a particular job well. So how can you link that work with a position or project that will earn you a promotion?

        Consider leveraging your strengths and skills.

        Let’s say that project you do so well is hiring and training new entry level employees. You have to post the job listing, read and review resumes, schedule interviews, making hiring decisions, and create the training schedules. These tasks require skills such as employee relations, onboarding, human resources software, performance management, teamwork, collaboration, customer service, and project management. That’s a serious amount of skills!

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        Is there anyone else on your team who can perform these skills? Try delegating and training some of your staff or colleagues to learn your job. There are a number of reasons why this is a good idea:

        1. Cross-training helps in any situation in the event that there’s an extended illness and the main performer of a certain task is out for a while.
        2. In becoming a mentor to a supervisee or colleague, you empower then to increase their job skills.
        3. You are already beginning to demonstrate that added value to your employer by encouraging your team or peers to learn your job.

        Now that you’ve trained others to do that work for which you have been so valued, you can see about re-requesting that promotion. Be ready to explain how you have saved the company money, encouraged employees to increase their skills, or reinvented that project of yours.

        2. Work on Your Mindset

        Another reason you may feel stuck in a position is well explained by Ashley Stahl in her Forbes article. Shahl talks about mindset, and says:[2]

        “If you feel stuck at a job you used to love, it’s normally you–not the job–who needs to change. The position you got hired for is probably the exact same one you have now. But if you start to dread the work routine, you’re going to focus on the negatives.”

        In this situation, you should pursue a conversation with your supervisor and share your thoughts and feelings. You can probably get some advice on how to rediscover the aspects of that job you enjoyed, and negotiate either some additional duties or a chance to move up.

        Don’t express frustration. Express a desire for more.

        Share with your supervisor that you want to be challenged and you want to move up. You are seeking more responsibility in order to continue moving the company forward. Focus on how you can do that with the skills you have and will develop with some additional projects and coaching.

        3. Improve Your Soft Skills

        When was the last time you put focus and effort into upping your game with those soft skills? I’m talking about those seemingly intangible things that make you the experienced professional in your specific job skills:

        An article on Levo.com suggests that more than 60 percent of employers look at soft skills when making a hiring decision.[3]

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        You can bone up on these skills and increase your chances of promotion by taking courses or seminars.

        And you don’t necessarily need to request funding from your supervisor, either. There are dozens of online courses being presented by entrepreneurs and authors about these very subjects. Udemy and Creative Live both feature online courses at very reasonable prices. And some come with completion certificates for your portfolio!

        Another way to improve your soft skills is by connecting with an employee at your organization who has the position you are seeking.

        Express your desire to move up in the organization, and ask to shadow that person or see if you can sit in on some of her meetings. Offer to take that individual out for coffee and ask what her secret is! Take copious notes and then immerse yourself in the learning.

        The key here is not to copy your new mentor (think Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Single White Female.” Just kidding). Rather, you want to observe, learn and then adapt according to your strengths. And don’t forget to thank that person for their time.

        4. Develop Your Strategy

        Do you even know specifically WHY you want to be promoted anyway? Do you see a future at this company? Do you have a one year, five year, or ten year plan? How often do you consider your “why” and insure that it aligns with your “what?”

        Sit down and do an old-fashioned Pro and Con list. Two columns:

        Pro’s on one side, Con’s on the other.

        Write down every positive aspect of your current job and then every negative one. Which list is longer? Are there any themes present?

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        Look at your lists and choose the most exciting Pro’s and the most frustrating Con’s. Do those two Pro’s make the Con’s worth it? If you can’t answer that question with a “yes” then getting promoted at your current organization may not be what you really want.

        The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. –Mark Twain

        Mel Carson writes about this on Goalcast that many other authors and speakers have written about finding your professional purpose.[4]

        Here are some questions to ask yourself:

        • Why is it that you do what you do?
        • What thrills you about your current job role or career?
        • What does a great day look like?
        • What does success look like beyond the paycheck?
        • What does real success feel like for you?
        • How do you want to feel about your impact on the world when you retire?

        These questions would be great to reflect on in a journal or with your supervisor in your next one-on-one meeting. Or, bring it up with one of your Vital Work Friends over coffee.

        See, what you might find is that being stuck is your choice. And you can set yourself on the path of moving up where you are, or moving on to something different.

        Because sometimes the real promotion is finding your life’s purpose. And like Mastercard says, that’s Priceless.

        More Resources About Career Advancement

        Featured photo credit: Razvan Chisu via unsplash.com

        Reference

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