Tag Archives: productivity

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?


The 3 C’s of Successful Remote Work

I recently read an insightful blog post by Sean Graber on HBR.org about why remote work is successful at some companies and not others.  He lists three C’s for success:  Communication, Collaboration, and Culture.  Check it out here:


The main take-away for me was that technology was not enough to ensure success.  You need process too.  Many companies spend lots of budget on technology and tools, but if the workers don’t embrace them and utilize them, it’s just money down the drain.

My team has experienced this with a few file sharing / collaboration tools, which I won’t name.  After all, the main reason for failure was not the tools themselves, but our lack of a strong culture to collaborate.    Getting them to share documents is like pulling teeth.

The same could be said for video chat.  We use the phone call and IM features all day long, but rarely does anyone turn on the video.

Bottom line:  technology won’t make remote work successful by itself.

Setting up the remote office after a move

Well, it’s been a while since I posted because it’s been a busy summer.  We moved across town to a bigger place with a bigger yard.  It also has a dedicated office!  While our old house was very nice, we used the 4th bedroom as an office, so this is a huge plus.


Moving is enough work in itself, but when you’re moving your home and office, it provides no escape.  So, while I wanted to be working on unpacking clothes and setting up bedrooms, I was focused on setting up the office.  I was only able to take 2 vacation days for the move, so I was under the gun to get things together so I could get back to work.


The new office
The new office

Here are 5 tips for setting up a New Remote Office:


  1. Pack as much of your office as you can personally.  This allows you to personally approve everything that is or is not going to be a part of the new office.  Now is the time to get rid of unused items, file or pitch all the paperwork, and generally “thin the herd.”
  2. Consider getting new furniture.  This can be brand new, or new to you. My plan was to re-use most of what I was using in my new office.  However, my new office already had shelves and a desk, so I had to re-think the rest of my furniture choices.  Would you re-use everything from your old office in a new one that was a blank slate?  I suppose so, but unless you’re really attached and happy with what you have, this is a good opportunity to improve and make a fresh start.
  3. Plan for delays when dealing with technology vendors.  I had the cable company lined up to install everything on the afternoon of closing so I could be back to work quickly.  Of course, some kind of snafu caused the appointment to be cancelled without my knowledge.  Have a backup plan for how you’re going to work in case the technology isn’t in place when you need it.  I was able to self-install my internet and TV, so as it turns out, I was good to go mostly on the day I needed it.
  4. Establish your boundaries early.  You have to work and earn a living in this space.  Set your boundaries early with yourself and the rest of the household.  The office is not a store room for yet-to-be unpacked items, or a grave-yard for everything that shouldn’t have made the move.    Only items that belong permanently in the office should go here.  This includes other humans too.  When you’re back to work, close the door, keep it closed, and draw the line in the sand clearly upfront.  Everyone will be glad you did in the long run.  This really wasn’t a problem for me as I’ve been doing this so long, my family understands.  But, in the new house, the office is right off of the family room, so it might be a little challenging keeping the line drawn when I’m right in the middle of action.  Time will tell.
  5. Change is good, so use this opportunity to your advantage.  This is a great opportunity to reset your productivity.  Get things organized quickly and use this event to push the reset button on your attitude and your environment.  Are you distracted by the goings on around you?  Maybe the new place won’t be so disturbing.  Turn over a new leaf and get to work!

How to Avoid Procrastinating When Working Remotely

Here is a good post by Sarah Gabot on the Squiggle Blog about procrastination when working from home.  If you haven’t read the Squiggle Blog, you should check it out here.

How to Avoid Procrastinating When Working Remotely.

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.


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.


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?

Change of scenery

Improving productivity by changing your environment


My latest re-organized office

While working at home can be very rewarding, it can also be lonely and isolating. If you work at home full-time, you may not see other co-workers or clients often. How do you stay engaged with your co-workers and clients when sometimes out of sight can be out of mind? How do you keep your sanity when you spend 8-10 hours a day alone? What are some things you can do to keep your work, your mental state, and environment fresh?

Here are some guidelines that I like to follow:

  1. Get out of your office once in a while. This can mean making a site visit to a client or vendor, or (gasp) going to the office. I try to make a visit to my company’s headquarters annually, or alternatively attend a large company function. This is good for me and my career as it gives me the opportunity to meet people I am working with and develop some relationships I might not otherwise cultivate.
  2. Use video conferencing or video chat (like Skype or FaceTime) to personalize your communications. In most jobs, good relationships can improve your performance and effectiveness. It is amazing what seeing a co-worker can do for the relationship.
  3. Relocate your office for a day or part of a day to a coffee shop or your local public library. Especially if you don’t have to be on the phone a lot, a change of scenery can often reduce the effects of isolation many home workers can feel.  This is different from visiting customers or a company office, but actually doing the same things you do everyday somewhere else.
  4. Re-organize or re-decorate your office space periodically.       Over time, clutter and paperwork accumulates in your space. I try to de-clutter, reorganize and rearrange my space every year. It is amazing how much productivity I gain when I get myself unburied from paper, surplus equipment, and other “stuff” that seems to pile up in my home office.
  5. Get involved in your community. There is always some organization that needs volunteers, and with your easy commute, your availability will be in high demand.  Volunteering at my church provides me with plenty of personal interactions that I don’t get during the workday after work and at lunch. Plus, I am making a difference in my community, so it’s a win-win for everyone.
  6. Take breaks and go for a walk or run errands.  When you work in an office, you likely have breaks and go to lunch with co-workers etc.  You need to do this when you work at home too.

The truth is, I don’t get out much.  When I’m feeling stale or unproductive, sometimes a change of scenery can solve the problem quickly.

What is missing from this list that you find effective in changing up your scenery and improving your productivity?


Excellent Communication is a must for the telecommuter

Communication is key

Most job postings say they’re looking for someone with “Excellent written and oral communication skills”.  It’s like there is a job listing template that has this and everyone says, “yup, need that”.  But the truth is, this is essential as a remote worker or telecommuter.

When you don’t work in a traditional office, you are neither seen nor heard (mostly).  Your work, and how you communicate about your work, is what establishes and maintains your worth and reputation.  It’s a lot harder to simply be the loud voice in a conference room during a team meeting when you’re not physically there.  In fact, you may get only one shot to express your opinion and ideas, so you need to make it count.  Plan ahead if you can, and craft your message to be clear and concise, without the need for your audience to key off of non-verbal cues.  Even in a video conference, you should focus mostly on your words.  They will be what counts.

Email Communication for the Teleworker

As for email communication, less is more.  Kristin Yerecic suggests in a blog post on the OU ImPRessions blog that you should batch your submissions and requests to your manager into as few emails as possible.  I really like this advice because it reduces the amount of clutter your boss sees from you.  Since you can’t personally drop the work off on her desk, you need to make sure that your work (and you) are seen and heard.  A few well written emails in a week should do the trick.  If you’re emailing your boss 10 times a day, what you have to say will not be received well, and your manager will put less importance on everything you say.

Pick up the phone

Finally, don’t rely on written communication for anything that can be nuanced or easily misinterpreted.  Pick up the phone and make a quick call.  You can (and should) follow the call up with a confirming email, but when it is important enough that you need to make sure the other party understands, voice to voice is always the way to go.

Not everyone is cut out to work remotely or telecommute

Can anyone telecommute?

A blog post by Scott Behson of Father’s Work and Family about the considerations needed when setting up flexible work environments really got me thinking:  this remote work isn’t for everybody.

Scott suggests that one important aspect of building a flexible workplace is Person Diagnosis.  That is, assessing individuals for their ability to flex-work.

I think this very point is missed by many when looking at flexible work. Many companies are saying if I allow Steve to flex-work, then I have to allow Joe to do it as well. The truth is, Joe may not be well suited to this at all.

I faced this as a manager many times. I had some employees who were well suited to work from home, and others who would be completely unproductive.   Equality be damned, I didn’t allow flexible work for those potentially unproductive employees.

What makes me cringe is that my company just announced the closing of a number of small offices with everyone being designated as a remote worker now. Wow, are we sure everyone is suited to that?

I doubt it, but maybe that’s part of the plan? (RIF through attrition?)  I believe this may have been part of Yahoo’s plan, albeit in reverse.  (You may remember that Yahoo banned remote working about a year ago).

In a future post, I will discuss some characteristics of a good remote worker or candidate.  In the meantime, what has been your experience with a one-size fits all teleworking policy?


Poll: Interruptions at work: how much time does it cost you?

One of the greatest things about working from home is fewer interruptions.  When you’re in the office, how many minutes of your day are wasted on interruptions in your office / cube?