Category Archives: Office Gear

A Simple Fix to the Do Not Disturb Problem

I work from home full time.  I have an office with a door that is located right off the main living area of the house.  While this is terribly convenient to the core of the house, it can mean that there is often a lot going on around me.  There are 3 other humans, and 3 dogs living in this house with me.  In the summer, they are all here most of the time.  As I’m sure you can imagine, my door has to be closed a lot.

Whether the door is closed or open, my family struggles with knowing whether or not I’m in the middle of something or on the phone.  I use SKYPE primarily, and often on speaker, so there are no tell-tale signals.  Because it is a home office setup, I don’t have a slick red light that lights up every time I am on the phone either.

I’ve always been very flexible with my family about interruptions during the workday.  I’m not one these people who close the door and tell the family to ignore me all day, or pretend I’m not here.  That policy can negate one of the biggest advantages of working at home:  you’re there when all of the important things happen.

I needed a way to signal to them what’s going on behind these doors, and how they should or should not interact with me at this time.  I searched all over the internet to find something.  I looked for a traffic light that I could change between red, yellow, and green.  (I didn’t find one, but admittedly I wasn’t looking real hard because I’m sure my wife doesn’t want one in the family room).

I even tried to make my own signs.  Let’s just say it didn’t go well.  Finally, after a lot of searching and much frustration,  I found a really simple solution and it was very cost effective too:  less than $5. You can buy it here on Amazon:   https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00USOBIQI/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

I bought this 2-pack of door knob hang tags (like you see at hotels) that are printed with various messages:

Come In (Green), Busy (Blue), Do Not Disturb (Red/Orange), Gone for the Day (Orange), Away (Yellow).  They are printed on both sides, so you can just flip them over to change the message.

Screenshot 2015-08-20 10.54.35

I use the Come In, I’m Busy, and Do Not Disturb the most.  Here is how I use them:

Come In:  I’m working, but not on the phone or really tied up.  It’s OK to pop in to chat or ask a question, etc.

I’m Busy:  I’m on a call or working on something pretty important.  Please knock before entering, don’t just come in and start talking.

Do Not Disturb:  I’m leading a call or really, really, really head’s down on something important or requiring my full, uninterrupted concentration.  Unless someone is hurt or the house is burning down, DO NOT DISTURB!

I’ve also begun to use the Gone for the Day to indicate that I’m done with work!  This process works on an open door as well as a closed door.

I simply explained this to everyone, and it has worked out great.  Their only request was that I make sure to swap them out as needed during the day.  So far, I’ve done a good job keeping the system updated.

What ideas have you found successful?

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Music in the Home Office: Why I prefer Sonos

Note:  this is not a paid or sponsored post.  The content here is my own

.sonos2

One of the advantages to working from home is that you don’t have to listen to music on headphones.  Sure, there are times when that is necessary, but mostly I can play the tunes on my Sonos speakers.  When it comes to music in the home office, there are many options out there.  I’ve tried many of them, and I can say without a doubt I much prefer Sonos.

First, let’s look at some of the options available:

  • PC Speakers: This is certainly the easiest and most cost effective option for many.  Of course, today, many of us have our music libraries on phones and tablets, so you’d have to put the music on the computer to use the speakers.  Plus, the sound quality generally isn’t great without making an investment.  If you’re going to make that kind of investment, seems like you’d just go for something that would utilize your phone/tablet music library.
  • Bluetooth Speaker:  These are enormously popular today, and quite convenient.  Most will have batteries so they are a completely wireless solution.  This is a great option if you’re moving about from room to room, or working from the patio. Prices can vary widely with sound quality and size, and if you’re willing to spend a hundred or more, the sound can be very good.  One drawback that I have found is that you have to have the device that has the music library pretty close (Bluetooth range) to the speaker.  And, most devices will only support a single Bluetooth connection at any time.  So, if you’re like me with your cell phone functioning as your office phone and your music library, this presents challenges. You will have to choose between the headset for calls and the speaker.  If you have a tablet with your music, this issue can be eliminated.

As the title of the post indicates, I prefer Sonos.  Sonos is a sound system that runs through your WiFi.  The speakers are available in 3 packages:  Play1, Play3, and Play5.  The higher the number, the more speakers and better sound packaged in the speaker box.  I have both a Play1 and a Play3.  I started with a Play3 for myself in the home office.  I bought my wife a Play1 for Christmas this year for the Kitchen.  We both love it!  Here is why Sonos is the better option:

  • WiFi connection frees up my Bluetooth connection for my headset.  This is required for me because I am on the phone a lot.
  • WiFi connection provides superior range.  As long as my device is on the same WiFi network as the speaker, it can be anywhere.   So as I wonder about the house with the phone in my pocket, the music keeps playing.
  • You can group the speakers together for a multi-room sound experience.  I do this more often than I thought.  I group both speakers together and the music plays in the office and the kitchen simultaneously.  My wife and I host a marriage seminar in our home that requires background music in multiple locations.  The grouping works really well for this too.
  • The Sonos Controller app is a single source for controlling what plays on the speaker.  It includes Pandora and TuneIn radio services in addition to playing the music in your library.  No more switching between iTunes, Pandora and others.  It also does a better job of random play too.
  • The sound quality is fantastic.  The Play3 can be played very loud with no discernible loss of fidelity.  I was actually very impressed with the sound quality of the Play1 as well.

So, is Sonos perfect?  Of course not.  Each speaker has to be plugged in.  Older models required a bridge device to be connected with your WiFi.  (Newer models do not).  If you’re looking for sounds outside the range of WiFi and without power, Sonos is not your solution.   If you’re moving them around a lot, they are heavier than many Bluetooth speakers.  It is not as portable as many Bluetooth speakers, although I do take them to other rooms in the house and out on the deck.

My family likes the Sonos system so much that my teenagers want Play1’s for their rooms now.  And I thought I wasn’t cool anymore!

What do you use for music in your home office?

My own take on lighting

Having the right tools for the job is always a key to productivity. Working remotely is no different.  If you have the right tools, it’s much easier to get the job done quick.

Proper lighting is important.  Task lighting for your desk is critical, but the rest of the office / area needs to be well-lit as well.  In my case, I am interested in some style in my lighting (no boring fluorescent overheads for me) and I like to make my own when I can.

overhead

For my desk task lighting, I have a hanging light made from recycled wrappers (think litter).  We bought a few of these at our local Fair Trade Store (Latitudes).  I have one hanging directly over the desk.  I especially like it because it is a plug-in, so it can be controlled by the light switch.

stagelight

General room lighting is handled by two DIY stage lights I made from decorative accent pieces found at Homegoods.   These initially were mirrored with no wiring or bulb sockets.  I added the light sockets, wiring and switches, removed the mirroring, and added a wavy coating finish to the glass.  Finally, I am using Daylight CFL’s for a brighter experience.  What I like the most about these as a lighting source is that I have them pointed up  to “bounce” the light off the ceiling.

giants light

Finally, for fun, I added a NY Giants bar light my Dad sent me a few years ago.  All work and no play makes for a dull office!

 

Prioritizing the Home Office

Where does a separate office rank on your must-have list?

 

Closing the door is not a luxury
Closing the door is not a luxury

What do you look for when looking for a new home?   For me, a separate room for an office is not only a must-have, but actually a deal killer.  When we bought our current house 7 years ago, our priority was for a guest room.  At the time, I was working in an office, so needing a home office was not even on my radar.  (Turns out, we got both)

I read an article on real-estate and the author was suggesting that you shouldn’t invest money in a home office.  It was no longer high on anyone’s list for resale value.  The argument was that with wireless and mobile device usage on the rise, people weren’t working in a home office anymore, but rather on the couch or the dining room table.

To me, this was naïve.  I guess if you work in an office, you don’t need or want one at home.  But, if you’re going to be serious about getting work done at home, a separate office is necessary.

You can’t successfully work at the dining room table or on the couch long-term.  In my current situation, I don’t even have to share my space with guests.  My office is exclusively an office, and I can close the door anytime, including when I am not working.

Don’t underestimate the value of a dedicated office space at home.  Where do you work?

Do you sit or stand?

A new trend in the office space is standing at your desk.  A coworker of mine has been using a standing desk for over a year now, and he really loves it.  So, I decided to give it a try.

I started by taking a table and setting it up on concrete blocks.  I figured I needed to see if I liked it before investing in anything.  So, for less than 5 dollars, I converted to a standing desk.  60 days later, I am still really enjoying it.  It took some getting used to, but in the end, I feel like I am better off standing most of the day, and taking periodic breaks in a chair.

What I have found in my research and experience is that to make this work you need to keep a few things in mind:

  • Your desk height should be just under your elbows, so that when you are typing your hands are slightly lower than your elbows.  If you’re too high, it just isn’t ergonomic or comfortable
  • Have a foot stool or box to step one leg on while your standing.It takes some pressure off your lower back.  Alternate between left and right foot.
  • Get a comfortable bar stool to sit on at your desk.  Sometimes, you will just want to sit and work. Of course, you could get a fancy convertible desk that can convert from sitting to standing, but they will run you close to $1000.
  • Try a cheap solution first to  see if you like it.  When you are ready to commit, then go for a more permanent solution.  See the picture below for the desk I built from IKEA parts. My cost was about $80 (because I already had the bookcase, so add $60 if you need it too).
Standing desk made from IKEA parts
Standing desk made from IKEA parts

Do you stand at work?  How long have you been doing it?  What are your experiences with it?