Podcast Episode

484 – Work from Home Tips


Is there a plugin for that?

With more than 50,000 plugins in the WordPress repository, it’s hard to find the perfect one. Each week, I will highlight an interesting plugin form the repository.

For more great plugins, download my 50 Most Useful Plugins eBook.

Plugin Toggle is a tool for those times that you are too lazy to visit the Plugins screen to toggle off a plugin or two.

Work from Home Tips

I haven’t worked in an office since August 2010. Here’s how I plan for success by working at home:

  • Have a dedicated space
  • Schedule everything
  • Hydrate
  • Music
  • Set time expectations
  • Workout / stretch / move
  • Have a morning routine
  • Set weekly goals
  • Capture ideas in a central place and review later
  • Shut Down Routine
  • Close out browsers / apps at the end of the day
  • Plan out tomorrow’s tasks the night before
  • Only check email once per day!

Thank You!

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Full Transcript

Business Transcription is provided by GMR Transcription.

On this episode, we are going to talk about some of the work from home tips, some of the things that have worked for me by working from home for more than ten years. Right here on Your Website Engineer Podcast Episode #484. Hello and welcome to another episode of Your Website Engineer Podcast. My name is Dustin Hartzler and today we are going to talk about what everybody’s talking about. If you’re not talking about the virus that’s out in the world today, we’re gonna talk about how to work from home.

Because it seems like a lot of companies have shifted from that mentality of okay, everybody needs to come into the office to everybody needs to work from home and get work done and try to manage family and household life as well. But first, I’ve got a couple announcements to share with you. The first one is WordPress 5.4 release candidate number three is now available and they’re still marching forward to March 31, 2020. It’s – I mean, everybody’s locked-up at home and they’re doing the work that they need to, to get the new version of WordPress out. And so, there’s no delays, and everything looks like it’s going to be on-time.

There has been, obviously, some changes and some fixes in getting those last minute things ready to go. And so, release candidate status, that’s about as close as we can get to having the version that’s going to be released to the wild. So, if you’re needing something to do over these next couple weeks, definitely check out WordPress 5.3 release candidate three and install it and see if it works for your plugins or your themes or whatever you may be creating.

Another announcement that I came across this weekend, it’s completely not WordPress related, but it is along the create-your-online-business related, and it is something called learn.fiverr.com. And, it is a course, it’s a free course that they have opened up and it is how to build an online business. So, if you are in the – in this season of your life and you’re ready to create your own business online, I recommend checking out this course. It’s got different things about brand strategy and design. There’s information there on how to build a professional website with wordpress.com. There’s all kinds of things that are built into this course.

And so, it’s got a few modules and whatnot that you can take and it’s something free that’s being given away by Fiverr. And then, the other announcement the last one for today is a Best Practices for Distributed Teams. And then, this is an interview, a text interview back – or, it was over on trueventures.com. And, all these links will be in the show and it’s for Episode #484. But, they’re our Head of HR at Automattic, Lori. She sits down and talks all about some of the – the things and the decisions that have been made, and how HR and everything works, even in the distributing model. So, that’s a really good article to read if you are interested.

And then, in the – is there a plugin for that section, the one that I wanna talk about today is called a Plugin Toggle. And, this is for times if you’re too lazy to visit the plugin screen to toggle a plugin on or off. It adds a little area to the – the Admin Bar in WordPress, so that black bar that goes across your page. There’s a section now that says “Plugins” and if you click on that it drops down a huge menu and just fills up your whole screen basically with all the plugins that you have active. And, if you click on one it will automatically toggle it. So, if it’s on it’ll turn it off and if it’s off it’ll turn it on.

So, it’s a neat plugin and it’s a – it’s a, a cool way for you, maybe if you’re testing or if you wanna quickly check to see if a new plugin that you just installed is causing the issue, you can it right from the home page or right from wherever you are on the website, and click Plugins at the top and then it will allow you to toggle. So, it’s a neat plugin. Not necessarily something that everyone needs but it’s a plugin that nonetheless, that could be useful to someone. Alright, so let’s go ahead and talk about the big elephant in the room or the one that’s everybody’s talking about, about work from home tips.

And, it’s really interesting that nothing has really changed here for me when it comes to working from home. I’ve been doing this for ten years and which is hard to believe it’s been ten years. But, I have the computer set up and the desk set up and I’m all ready to go, and it’s business as usual – usual at Automattic and we’re just continuing to do the things that we do because we’ve been set up for this and we’ve been doing this for a long time. And so, I just have some tips that – that find that work best for me. Again, all of these will probably vary based on the age of your kids, if you have kids, all that kind of thing, and your different routines and schedules and whatnot.

So, I haven’t worked in the office, from August of 2010. That was the last day that I worked at a physical space where I had to go somewhere. And, I didn’t clock-in but I was there, I had an office, I had to see my colleagues and whatnot. And so, I haven’t done that for many, many years. And so, one of the big things that I’ve found that is, I need a dedicated space, I need a place. In my old house, I had an area in the basement that was completely mine. It was all – I had all my computer gear and all my stuff. And, I don’t quite have that, I mean I have – I’m using one of the guest bedrooms in our new house.

But, I don’t – I do have a dedicated space. It’s all mine. It’s the only thing it’s used for besides guests when they come just a handful times a year. But, having the dedicated space is a big deal. You have your – the correct set-up. And, I use a 34” monitor and I have my – my laptop kind of off to my side. The only reason I keep my laptop screen open is to use Touch ID on the Mac. But, other than that, I found that the best set up for me instead of having multiple monitors was one big 34” monitor. And, I’ve – I’ve kind of made it work so that I have some Keyboard Maestro shortcuts to trigger things on and off.

And, when I go into Live Chat Mode, I basically move windows wherever I need them to be so that I can be best optimized for that particular type of work. So, the – the dedicated space is a huge thing for me and I absolutely, this is the only thing that I do in this room, in this guest room. The dedicated space is, when I’m in here, I know that I’m in work-mode. If I want to be lazy and do browsing on the web or whatnot, I will either take my laptop with me and go to the couch or go into the kitchen or I will use an iPad and use that in a different space. So, that is the – the first thing, have a dedicated space.

The other one that I get known for a lot inside of Automattic is to schedule your time. And, I just I’m – I’m kinda relentless about this and I love scheduling my time, not every minute, but mostly every minute. I like to take my calendar and first off, I always get scheduled whether I’m – I’m on Live Chat or doing Ticket Support. So, those are the two things inside of Automattic. But then, I have lots of other free blocks, I quote/unquote “free blocks” throughout my day. And so, in there, I’ll put in when I’m gonna workout or when I’m gonna take a break or when I have to take kids to or from to school. I put all of those things in.

And, I think what – what the big thing is that helps me there, when I put things on the calendar, I feel like, “Man, I’m not gonna get very much done today.” Because, and that kinda sets the expectation of okay, this is how much time that I have set aside in the day. These are the only blocks that I have to do miscellaneous things that are outside of work. Maybe I wanna spend a half-hour getting taxes ready or a half-hour working on this side project. It’s like, “Oh, I only have a half-hour. This is the only time that I can squeeze it in.” And, I like to do it in an online version or I’m using Fantastical on my Mac. But, I like doing it on my Mac because I can click and drag it, and I can move things as I go.

Sometimes, I – I – I’m a little bit more optimistic and I’m like, “Oh, I think I can fit a workout in right here.” And, then I can be ready for my next thing a little bit later in the day. Whereas, maybe one of the hour blocks goes a little bit longer so then my workout would be delayed and then I wouldn’t quite have enough time to get showered and prepared for my next thing. And so, it’s like, “Okay, well let me rearrange this and maybe if I move this here and that there.” And, it’s a constant thing throughout the week just rearranging and scheduling things. Another thing about the calendar is I like to color-code things. I like things to be in different colors so I can easily see at a glance what’s going on.

And so, all of my work, my scheduled shifts are in purple. I chose purple because I’m on a WooCommerce team and that’s the color of WooCommerce. And then, I have other things that are, blue is kind of like personal things, orange is for different – a different calendar. And then, I have all of my workouts when I put those, if I go into the gym or if I’m just working out at home I make sure that those are in green. And, what I like about that is, I can easily see like oh, my – my computer is completely purple. That’s probably not a good thing because I need to have some self-care in there. I need to take some breaks. I need to have these different things.

So, that’s kind of what is going on with my calendar and what that looks like. And, of course, right now is a lot different because kids are out of school and I don’t have to make as many trips to and from places. And so, that actually, makes my calendar life a lot easier and a lot more efficient. So, that is my second thing. The third one is hydrate. I am a big fan of drinking lots of water throughout the day. Not only is it good for your circulation, your – it helps you keep. I don’t know what all it does for you. But, I am a big fan of drinking water. I have a 32-ounce bottle that’s sitting in front of me and drink that several times a day.

And, the other good benefit for doing that is it – you have to go to the bathroom every once in a while and so having a – just that as a natural reminder to get up and move and stretch and move around. That’s another thing that is on the schedule throughout the day is to get up, stretch, move, workout, whatever that looks like for you, just that – a dedicated block of time. Maybe you can work, four hours in the morning and take a break, and then four hours in the afternoon. Or, kind of, build in some stretch breaks or some walk breaks. I am really good at finding time. Oh, I needed to – I’m kind of between things, I need to kind of reset. Let’s go on a 15-minute walk around my neighborhood and then I can get back into mode.

Maybe listen to a Podcast that completely distracts me on work and then I can come back and I’m kind of refocused and revamped and ready to – ready to go. So, that is, workout, move, and stretch. And, that comes after hydrate. Another thing that’s on my list is music and this is good because I do have younger children. I do listen to music. There’s a few different places that are out there. I use Brain.fm and another one that is kind of off, it’s not one of the technically the music that people recommend. There’s Brain.fm and Focus@Will, those are the brain music if you will. There’s something about those, engineered music so that you get into the focus state.

But, I use something called pretzel.rocks and it’s just a URL. That’s the URL, pretzel.rocks. And, it has different genres of music and the one that I found is an upbeat music. And, it doesn’t have any audio or there – what kind of music doesn’t have audio? It doesn’t have any lyrics. And so, it is – allows me to easily focus on, not really focus on the music, but it’s in the background. Don’t play it super loud. But, with that and my Airpods in my ear, it drowns out any other noise that’s going on in the house.

And so, that could be nice and a great way to kind of focus in on work because you’re not hearing the distractions or the fights or the, anything else that’s going on in your house if your kids are at home. Set time expectations. This is one that I do specifically on days that my wife’s home. So, she’s home on Wednesdays and Fridays. But, I’m like, “Okay, I have these Live Chat blocks from this time to this time and this time to this time.” And, those are times that I need to be at my desk and focused and not have children running in and out of the room.

And so, if I have team chats or different things like that, I just kind of outline those or give her a heads up the day before. Like, “Hey, here’s what’s going on, here’s my time expectations.” You could also do this with putting a sign on the door or maybe the – the – it’s if the door is closed don’t come in, those types of things. I think it would be cool in when I’m building my new office to have one of those lights, those amp lights that can be turned on with Amazon Alexa or something, that’s like, “I’m live recording or stay out or something like that,” to just kind of showcase and highlight, “Hey, don’t come bother me right now. I’m busy right this second but I can help in a little bit or whatever.”

So, that’s all about setting time expectations. Another thing that I found that’s really helpful is to set weekly goals. And, I can’t say that I’m perfect at this. And, I try to do it most weeks. And again, it didn’t happen this week. I didn’t set any goals really because I didn’t work on Monday and then I’m off on Thursday. And, it’s a weird week for me because I’m all supposed to be traveling, like right now I’m supposed to be in Panama, and I’m supposed to be flying home from Panama. So, my schedule is all messed up for this week. But, usually on a week that I will set a kind of a here’s the things that I wanna get done this week.

And, I normally try to do three personal things and three work things. And so, I – I put those into OmniFocus and I have them show up on my list every four hours I think, or every, yeah, every four hours or something along those lines. So, in the first part of the day I see it, I look it, okay, here’s my weekly goals, am I getting anywhere? Where could I add something to my calendar? What we talked about earlier, to add blocks to my calendar. Maybe my goal is to rework some CSS. And, maybe I’m working on a Test Site or doing something with CSS okay, where can I fit this in? Okay, let me see, I only put a block here or put a block here.

Or, if it’s a project, like a work project or a, I’m gonna work on the basement or I’m gonna build mudroom cabinets or I’m gonna build this or I’m gonna build that. Where can I get a little bit of time? Where can I find a little bit of time to – to squeeze in some of this work? So, I do that, set weekly goals and then just have those weekly goals be reminded, remind me every few hours. Because you get busy and you forget about some of the things that you think. Sometimes it’s Friday and you think oh, well on Monday I thought I was gonna get this done but then priorities shift and whatnot. And so, setting weekly goals and revamp those if you need to.

You don’t have to keep them perfect goals. If something changes or there’s something that’s more urgent, put those on your weekly goals to make sure you hit them and get them done for the week. Let’s see what else? There’s – I like to capture ideas in a central place and review later. Especially, if I’m Live Chatting or if I’m doing something, and I think of, “Oh, I need to look at this. I need to look this up. Oh, I wanna research this. Oh, I need to buy this gift. Oh, I need to.” Whenever you have those thoughts, I use OmniFocus and I just write it down and I’ll look at it later.

And then, that way when I’m in a focused state of mind when I’m kind of purging through those lists and seeing what types of things I need to do, I can go ahead and do that then. So, that helps get through the just the distractions, while you’re supposed to be at work. I know that it’s – it’s going to be hard especially if you’re just brand new to staying at home and working. There’s tons of stuff to do around the house. You can do laundry and you can sweep and dust and you can eat from the fridge and you can watch Netflix, and there’s all kinds of things you can do.

But, if you capture ideas in a central place where you reserve them for later then you can still get back to your work without too big of distractions. I also like to engage or work through a shutdown routine. So, it’s like, okay, at 4:00 I have some things that pop up in OmniFocus. It’s, okay, shut down everything. Say goodbye to my colleagues on Slack. There’s a handful of things I like to do. Clean out my Downloads folder or clean off the desktop or close everything down so I can see the background.

Whatever those things are, kind of make a shutdown routine so that when you come back to work tomorrow, you are all ready to go and you don’t have all these things that you’ve got to do to kind of close down from the previous day to get ready for the next day type of a thing. So, I really, really like that. Closeout browsers, apps at the end of the day, I said that. That was one of the things on my list. And then, the last thing is to plan out tomorrow’s tasks the night before. And, that could be right at 4:00, maybe you are getting ready to shut down and you take an hour to read through those emails again.

And, I guess my next one too after that is, only check email a few times a day. We’ll get to that in a second. But, you can do that last check of an email, you can I don’t know, you can figure out what’s – what your plans are, you can spend a whole half-hour, an hour, 15 minutes kind of winding down. Okay, here’s the things I didn’t get to, make some notes, here’s the things I wanna get to tomorrow. And then, when you’re done you can close down your office, shut down your computer, whatever. You’re done for the day and then just forget about work.

And, I know it’s not ha – you can’t just forget about work. But, a lot of times if you worked at a physical office or you did things, there wasn’t a lot of extra opportunity to go and work more in the evening. It’s like this is one of the – probably the hardest things about working from home is you’re always at home and you’re always at work. So, I had to set really good boundaries. It makes it easy when we have little kids and we have nannies that are here at certain times. So, I know that at 4:30 the nannies go home. So, at 4:00, I begin that shutdown, wrap-up routine.

Maybe if I thought, “Oh, I wanted to watch this YouTube video.” Maybe I’d try to sneak that in real quick or things like that will come at certain points during the day. When – write down, that if I don’t have time to do other things, right at that shutdown routine is when I’m gonna try to squeeze that in and fit that in. But, the important thing is, to make sure that you are setting yourself up for success tomorrow. And then, one that I thought of as I was doing the show here is, check your email infrequently. Maybe you can check it first thing in the morning. I know a lot of people say they don’t check it until lunchtime because they – they wanna get their most important work done early.

And, if you don’t open your email, and if you don’t open Slack or any communication, nobody can bother you. Unless they physically have your phone number and can call you or send you a text message, you – I don’t get any notifications from work until I start opening things up. Slack, WordPress, PTO Post email, those are three ways that people can communicate with me. I set it up and most Automatticians do not give out their phone number for unl – I mean, you can contact each other through phone for emergencies. But, for the most part, there aren’t emergencies.

There’s plenty of people that work in doing what I do that there’s not an emergency that I need to be contacted when I’m outside of my working hours. So, that’s helpful for me but just set up those things for you as well. If – if your bosses or your higher-ups or your – your – the people that work for you have your phone number that’s one way for them to contact you. But, if you open your email box then that’s where everybody can contact you in the world. And so, if you wanna get your important things done, keep your email closed and then open up after you’ve gotten those most important things done.

Maybe you set out a goal for the day, I’m gonna get this, this, and this done. And then, you can start checking your email. I don’t know there’s tons of articles out there. There’s, I mean, literally hundreds of articles I’ve seen over the last week or so because so many people are coming home and working from home. But, those are some of the tips, the guidelines, the things that I do that work well for me. And, just trying to schedule things out and just trying to use my time most effectively so when 4:30 does come, I can –I leave my phone up here or put it on Do Not Disturb mode and then I’m with my family until they’re asleep.

And then, depending on what happens in the evening, most of the time I don’t come back to work, most of the time that’s personal projects or working on the house or doing something like that. But, yeah, there’s not a lot of work – I don’t do a lot of work outside of that. And, I don’t think I put on here either as I’m thinking this through. Oh, I did. I skipped it. The – have a morning routine. And so, I think this is really crucial as well. You don’t want to wake up and then immediately come to your desk. That’s not best practice. You wanna get up. Do you wanna read? Do you wanna meditate? Do you wanna pray? Do you want to go on a walk? Do you?

Kind of have a morning routine, kind of get in the flow. So many people say, “Oh, I like getting up and taking a shower and getting dressed and getting ready for work.” I’m not like that, I would rather get up and start working early in the morning and then after – after I’ve worked a while and had breakfast and worked a little bit more, then that’s when I wanna take my break to do my workout, get my – get some energy, get some steps in, do those types of things. So, you kinda have to find a system that works well for you. I know that a midday workout is perfect for me and then I’m not too tired or I’m not wound up at night when it’s time to go to bed and whatnot.

So, those are some of the, just the ideas and just kind of – it’s gonna be an ever-changing process. I know as my kids get older they’re in school longer. And so, that means there’s more time for me at home by myself. And so, I don’t know it’s going to change. And, especially it’s going – it’s weird now because they’re supposed to be in school. But, I also like it. It’s going to be almost summertime and I like when they’re here and that means that there’s less running for me. So, I don’t know, it kind of changes every quarter and as school years change it changes for me as well.

So, those are the tips that I want to share with you and if you have any questions or you’re interested in more details of what I do, you can send me an email at dustin@yourwebsiteengineer.com or you can use the form on the contact page and that comes directly to me. Ask any questions there, I’ll be happy to get back with you. That’s what I want to share with you this week. Take care and we’ll talk again soon. Bye-bye.