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Your Telecommuter’s Toolbox

Your Telecommuter’s Toolbox
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    Telecommuting has been suggested as a cure-all from everything from the stress of your morning commute to that high carbon footprint you want to reduce. And odds are you have a whole list of what you need to make the switchover: software packages, computer specs, technical equipment for your profession. Every productivity website has lists of the best web apps and other options for making your telecommuting easier.

    But even if you’ve started shifting to working outside your employer’s office — or you’re thinking about striking out on your own — there are other things that you can have in your telecommuter’s toolbox that can make your work a little bit easier. These aren’t necessary the most obvious of tools, but they’ve made my home office run smoothly.

    The Meal Plan:
    One of the great things about working from home is the fact that you don’t have to spend money on eating out. You don’t even need to spend the time to brown bag your lunch: you’ve got a fully functional kitchen just down the hall. But many of us forget to stock that refrigerator with anything we’d want to eat for lunch and wind out going out anyhow. Planning ahead of time what we want to eat, from lunches to snacks makes it easier to shop and can help prevent a telecommuter from getting off track by having to focus on what to eat. I keep my meal planning simple: I have an extra calendar on Google Calendar where I put down what I want to eat for the next week. I make my shopping list directly from that calendar.

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    The Insurance Policy: Even if you aren’t paying for your computer and other equipment, you may want to up your insurance policy. Just having more electronic equipment in your home can make you a bit of a target for theft. Having an insurance policy can make sure that you can get back to work as soon as possible. And even on the off chance that your employer covers your computer under their policy, you’ll need an insurance policy to cover your other stuff at risk for theft (television, etc.). Depending on your living situation, renter’s insurance or home owner’s insurance maybe all the protection you need.

    The Outside Office: The idea of a telecommuter heading off to Starbucks to work has become almost stereotypical. The fact is, though, we’re social critters and we like working with other people around us. Coffee shops serve this purpose, as do libraries, bookshops and co-working locations. As a telecommuter, you need to find some place to work outside of your home. It doesn’t need to be a regular occurrence, but it is necessary. I can go an entire week without going outside except to get my mail — and I know some telecommuters who are much worse.

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    The Alarm Clock: I thought I’d managed to get rid of my alarm clock when I didn’t need to make it in to an office every morning. But if I don’t get up and get my day started, I may never make it out of bed. Telecommuting is about flexibility, but without setting your ‘hours of operation,’ you may be too flexible to get your work done. I’ve also found that my alarm clock is crucial to reminding me of times that I need to leave my office: appointments and such that I can easily forget because no one stops by my cubicle to remind me of a meeting.

    The Exercise Regimen: If you work from home, you have little incentive to get up out of your chair. You can slack at your desk without anyone saying anything and, unless your laundry pile has gotten to the point where it is sentient, your computer is probably your best bet for talking to someone. You still have to make the effort, though. Take a daily walk. Do some pushups. Even exercise in your chair. There are a whole slew of health problems desk workers face, most of which can be mitigated by the occasional lap around the block.

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    The Business Card: I can hear you asking why you need a business card right now. After all, you work from home — who are you going to give your business card to? One of the biggest problems telecommuters face is being able to advance. Many managers think face time is a prerequisite for promotions, not to mention raises. As a telecommuter, it’s up to you to network and build up your options for advancement. And if you’re working for yourself, rather than some employer, you’ll want to market your business to make sure you’ve got work rolling in. Hand out your business cards (and other promotional materials — resumes, brochures, etc. — as needed) at your coffee shop and everywhere else you see people.

    The Snack Cupboard: I fondly remember the vending machines at my last job — sodas, crackers and candy bars all calling my name. Those machines were always good when I needed a quick snack. I’ve heard that some work places even offer up free snacks and drinks, though I haven’t been lucky enough to land a cushy job like that. However, I now have my own cupboard full of snacks that I don’t need to pay a machine to dispense, which is almost as good. Stocking snacks and drinks in your home office can help you from needing distracting breaks from your work. Even better, you can stock healthier snacks and the flavors you like best.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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