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Managing the Transition from Office Job to Work-at-Home

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Managing the Transition from Office Job to Work-at-Home

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    When lay-offs and redundancies are on the rise, it generally follows that people trying to make a living from home, working for themselves, or over the Internet are on the increase as well. So it stands to reason that as we speak, thousands of people are sitting in their new home office (quite possibly the living room, or the dining room table) and tearing their hair out asking: How do work-at-homers actually manage to get anything done when there’s a TV in the next room, a coffee machine in the kitchen and all sorts of fun stuff to do in the laundry?

    If that’s you, well, I feel sorry for you. Not because writing for a productivity blog means that I’ve found the secret to getting everything done before everyone else, but because it’s hard, really hard, to work from home, and there’s only so much you can do to make it easier. That’s what this article’s about.

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    Here are some tips to help you make the transition from the office job, where the environment is tailored to make sure you don’t do anything except work, to the home office, where every distraction you could’ve asked for is present.

    Use Your Newfound Mobility

    If working from the same cubicle day in and day out was frustrating and claustrophobic, do you think it’ll be any different in your home office? For your sanity, use your newfound mobility and get out. You can work from a wide variety of places these days, including cafes and fast food joints, not to mention Starbucks which is somewhere in between the two. If you live in a central location, even better – you can grab your laptop bag and get some exercise walking to your work location, which brings me to…

    Start an Exercise Plan

    This is, of course, one of those things you’re supposed to be doing regardless of where you work. The thing is, you need exercise even more when you work at home; you can go the whole day without leaving the house much of the time. You don’t even get the minuscule activity of walking to the car, and from the car to your cubicle. The sad truth about working from home: you will get fatter than if you were still working in an office, unless you take measures to stay healthy.

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    Exercise is also an important part of making the transition from the office job to working at home. If you can go for a jog or a walk in the morning before you start work, you’ll find yourself much more clear-headed and motivated to work, which is a huge help. It can become very hard to get motivated when you spend most of your life in the one building.

    Plan for Lunch, Before it Plans for You

    If you don’t plan for lunch, then you might find that lunch starts making its own plans for your day, or your weight. If you haven’t planned for a non-intrusive but relaxing lunch break you might find yourself cooking a gourmet meal that takes two or three hours to complete (for the same reason one might suddenly choose to clean that rangehood that hasn’t been touched in months: to get out of working), or you might find yourself constantly driving up to the nearest McDonalds or KFC. Eating an unhealthy diet is not something I’d recommend in any circumstances, let alone those were the sole motivator in the business is you.

    Low Information Diet

    So that particular headline contains one of those annoying buzzphrases, but here’s the thing: there are no checks and balances to keep distractions at bay when managers aren’t patrolling the cubicles and sysadmins aren’t watching your screen without your knowledge. You’ll check email, Google Reader and even the ghastly Twitter and fritter away your precious productive time if you are not careful.

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    Take a page from Tim Ferriss’s book (literally). Check email twice a day, at 12:00pm and 4:00pm. As for Google Reader? Don’t check it – maybe if you’re out of work hours, but not during them. I’m guilty of checking my work-related feeds using Google Reader amongst my personal feeds. Don’t do that, it’s stupid. As for Twitter? Unless your manager asks you to tweet during your work day (yeah right, you say, but it has happened to me!) then don’t. Even. Think. About. It.

    Create Comfort

    I read a book that said you shouldn’t spend money on your desk or office chair or what have you when you’re starting a work-at-home business. Forget it. If you’re not comfortable, the jabbing of your chair or the over- or under-elevation of your desk will gnaw at your mind and add yet another layer of distraction to your day. Get great furniture, and deck out the room with things that relax you – whether that’s posters of Cannibal Corpse or a zen garden and one of those little mini water fountains, that’s up to personal taste.

    Your office should be a place you enjoy entering, not a place that fills you with dread.

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    Read Books, Watch Movies

    Don’t forget to entertain yourself. Make sure you’re reading a good fiction book at any given time, and don’t forget to watch the odd movie, even go out to the cinema and see one. These sort of recreational activities feed your mind while relaxing it; they’re perfect for creative individuals. That said, creatives need to relax without other people’s ideas being thrown at them sometimes, or when would your own mind get a chance to tell you about the bright ideas it has had lately?

    Work Hours and Deadlines

    Set work hours: 9am to 5pm, 5am to 1pm, 6pm to 2am, it doesn’t really matter when as long as you can tweak your lifestyle and body clock to suit. The important thing is that you set work hours, both for yourself – you only work during these hours – and for others, so that clients know when they can and can’t interrupt you and so family and friends don’t break your concentration.

    Don’t Forget Your Friends & Family

    Another common problem for work-at-homers is that we become social hermits. I know it happens to me. A few times, I haven’t seen anyone at all because I started so early and finished so late – despite living with my wife, my toddler and my newborn (not the quietest of housemates). Make sure you spend a couple of hours with your family each day if you have one, and regularly schedule things with your friends – whether it is going out somewhere or just having a beer at your house. The bonus – not that this should be your primary motivation – is that you’ll make sure you get your work done in time to meet your other commitments.

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    You might be seeing a pattern in all this. The thing that will make your transition the easiest is to take care of yourself and treat yourself as you would an expensive car – regularly serviced and in good shape. The irony is that taking care of oneself is usually the first thing to go in those who work where they live. Take care of your health, your mind, and your relationships.

    More by this author

    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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