A general newsletter update and working from home tips
#managing_yourself I provide a general update regarding this newsletter and a new content strategy. I also answer a reader's question regarding my tips for working from home.
A newsletter update
After my last article last week, I decided to take a break. There are a few reasons for this:
This newsletter is taking quite a bit of time each week, and unfortunately, it has come at the expense of me focusing on Post-PC Labs (my self-funded incubator).
While I am a big believer in producing a large volume of work and the benefits (see Ira Glass’s explanation of why here), the uneven quality of my articles is bothering me. I feel like I need more balance between volume and quality.
It’s unclear to me what topics have been useful in large part because the feedback loop is sparse. Some articles that I did not think would be popular were, while others that I thought were meaningful were poorly received.
For these various reasons, I am considering reframing my output to the following:
I will actively engage with readers to solicit input for new topics at the end of each article and encourage people to reply to the newsletter to have a discussion with me over email.
I will experiment with other formats besides text in the form of interviews and conversations with readers and guest speakers in audio format.
I will reduce the schedule to one entry per week. The day I send the article will depend on the topic: #managing_yourself (Tuesdays), #business (Wednesdays), and #managing_others (Thursdays).
Working from home tips
For this week, a friend and ex-colleague of mine wrote to me:
I would like to request your thoughts on the new work-from-home world that we live in. I’m normally an office guy so working from home every day is new for me.
Here are some specific questions that come to mind? 1. How to set boundaries 2. Effectively managing a team remotely 3. Proper workspace - is it important or is dynamic movement from kitchen table to couch just as effective 4. Fighting the exhaustion if you are a manager in virtual meetings the whole day I’m sure there are plenty more questions you could shed light on.
First, I’d recommend a few articles that might be of use:
Most of us have never had to work from home for month-long stretches. For myself, and many others, the challenges can include:
Physical workstation fatigue: tired eyes, headaches, sore back, and creaky shoulders.
Consistently horrible video conference calls: people talking over each other, people not saying anything, people unable to hear you, or people being unable to see you.
Work-life balance: lack of exercise, stress, space, or time management challenges.
Before we continue, you should know that I’m a minimalist at heart, but when it comes to gadget gear, I tend to be a bit of a maximalist and so my answers to these questions will invariably have a gear-minded approach to them. I’m still adjusting to the current environment, but I wanted to share with you how I’ve worked a few kinks out during the COVID-19 crisis.
Physical workstation fatigue
For eye strain: A full day of staring at a monitor can create severe eye strain. I recommend two things. First, consider wearing blue-light blocking glasses from Gunnar Optiks. The glasses have a slight magnification, which makes reading text on-screen easier too. Second, rather than rely on your laptop monitor, which will create strain throughout the day due to the size of the text, consider purchasing a larger monitor and switching to it throughout the day.
For posture: If you’re sitting at a desk all day long, I also recommend two things. First, consider standing. While standing desks can be expensive and space-consuming, I’ve had good luck using collapsible wooden furniture such as the Readydesk 2. You may have a more basic problem, which is you don’t have enough desks at home to start. I recommend considering purchasing the Edge Desk, which combines a kneeling chair and foldable desk in one. The portability of the Edge Desk allows you to move your work anywhere in the house or even outside. When I had lower back issues due to lifting weights earlier this year, I found that the kneeling seat was the only thing that gave me relief from lower back pain - sitting, standing, or lying down didn’t help, but this did. If you do use a desk, with your laptop, consider raising your laptop to eye-level height. The makers of the Ready Desk 2 recently created the Allstand, which can help raise your monitor to several different heights, and in some situations, you may be able to use it as a standing desk platform. Since you can adjust the Allstand to different heights quickly or put it away discretely, you can share it with everyone in your house.
Consistently horrible video conference experience
For better video: While many people blame their Internet connection on poor video quality, I think you may also discover that your laptop configuration is the issue. Specifically, you’re running too many programs. Chrome, in particular, is a massive resource hog. A simple tip you might want to try is to make it a habit to close everything that you’re working on your computer, and if you have to leave Chrome open, close all your tabs except just the ones you need or use something like The Great Suspender. If you have admin access to your machine, you may also want to create a “video conference” user and install only video conference programs to make sure absolutely nothing competes with your machine’s CPU.
For better network performance: If you’re running nothing on your computer, then check your download speeds on fast.com. If your advertised download speed looks nothing like what your speed test says, then you might want to consider an upgrade to your networking equipment. Cable modem protocols change quite frequently, and I find that upgrading your cable modem every few years often pays off. As for routers, I use an Orbi mesh system at home and a dedicated NAS, which has performed significantly better than my last-generation Apple Time Capsule. If you do upgrade, I recommend starting with the modem first to see if it makes a difference. It’s the less painful of the two to upgrade in the era of IoT devices. If you happen to be on DSL, call your provider to see if they can send you the latest device.
For looking super fly: Our faces play a large role in how we communicate, but when the rooms are dark modern-day webcams tend to introduce noise and generally make you appear grainier. Depending on your workstation, you may also have issues with backlighting, which makes you appear like you’re in the witness protection program. One solution to this dilemma is to consider purchasing a ring light. I recently started using an 18” ring light over my workstation, and it’s been a game-changer. Many of these ring lights also have an adjustable intensity knob and swappable lenses so you can tune your look consistently on video. The rings tend to make you look less tired too! Some of the kits come with a large tripod, but for many, you may want to consider a desk stand that can lift the light just above your monitor or laptop.
For sounding good: Want to sound like Casey Kasem? I can’t help you since I sound a bit like Pee-Wee Herman. However, I’ve found that using a dedicated wireless mic makes a dramatic difference in taking out ambient noise and echoes in your audio feed. Even if you can’t hear other people well, folks will be able to hear the sweet tone of your voice during your daily stand-up. If you do podcasts and interviews, an investment here is a must. I’m currently using the Rode Wireless Go. The included cable won’t work with your Mac or PC, so you’ll need to get this patch cable. Using this setup, you won’t need to wear separate headphones because the speaker output will not create echo issues with your mic due to the mic’s directional nature. So, as a bonus, you sound better and look less dorky. I also own a Jabra 510, which is common in many offices. I found that this solution works well in many situations. If you have hardwood floors as I do, the other side will hear echoes, so I recommend this only for setups that have good sound buffering, such as carpeted floors. Either solution beats wearing a set of headphones if that is something you mind (like me).
For stopping people from cutting each other off: Unless you’re in a call with just one more person, it can be challenging not to cut someone off. For my team meetings, I’ve outlined rules for my team on how to behave on the call. For us, the game-changing behavior we started to adopt was to have people raise their hands so that either the speaker or moderator can cede the floor to the hand-raiser. If you do this, you’ll find the quality of your meetings go way up, and maybe when this COVID-19 is all over, you’ll want to make the practice part of your in-person meetings too. This tip is especially useful in integrating quiet speakers into your team conversations.
For staying on time and not getting burned out: Just because you can avoid scheduling back to back meetings doesn’t mean you should. Try to give yourself some alone time at least every hour. Consider starting meetings 5 minutes or 10 minutes late, depending on the length of the meeting and be religious about ending the meeting on time. The extra time will allow you to relax your eyes, take a break, or shift your seating position so you can be more comfortable for the rest of the day. For keeping the meeting on track, consider using a Time Timer. I find the Time Timer useful for giving me a visual sense of how much time remains in the meeting. If I had a point I need to get across, now might be the time to jump in. If you’re running the meeting, the Time Timer helps you respect everyone else’s time by holding you accountable to end it based on your commitment to the folks in the meeting.
For video calls on the go: For many reasons, you might want a rig to help you make video calls away from the desk. Using the phone can also give you a break from the computer to recharge. Consider this stand, which combines a small ring light, a tripod, and a phone holder so you can look good wherever you are.
For making sure people’s questions get answered: You don’t always have all the answers as a leader, but do you even know what questions people are asking? Meeting Town gives moderators a tool to solicit questions ahead of a meeting and allows participants to express what questions they want to be answered by voting up questions that resonate with them. I’m selfish here since this is a Post-PC Labs LLC project, but I genuinely think it can be useful for many of you. We have another build coming out this week before we publicly launch it, but you can hit the endpoint now for a first look. It is free to sign-up, supports Google and Microsoft sign-on, has full role-based access controls, is multi-tenant, allows anonymous questions, and has moderation tools. We’re currently looking for product-market fit, so I need your feedback. Give it a try and tell me how awesome it is (or not). The static pages will be polished up this week, but if you just need the core tool and can live with some of the pre-launch ugliness, give it a try right now.
For booking a room in the house: If you find yourself having room conflicts in your household, consider posting your work schedule on a piece of paper for the room you intend to use. Alternatively, create a paper calendar for each room and allow your household to sign-up for slots.
For managing your home-work life: Decide upfront how much time you should be spending on home-related matters and work-related matters, create a schedule, and then stick to it. If you used to go to the office from 9 to 5, then make sure your day doesn’t start before 9, and you don’t do anything work-related after 5. Defining a concrete boundary between work and home is important because it allows you to manage how you spend your time judiciously. Some will say that they can’t drop something when they are in the zone. If you allow these indiscretions to continue and become a habit, you may find yourself over-investing in either work or home. Defining hard and fast rules on how you invest your time are the first step in achieving work-home balance. Most people complain about working too much, but they never ask themselves how much should they be working and sticking to it. In a household, this is a conversation to have with your spouse and kids, so your schedule meets everyone’s needs.
For staying in shape: I’m not a fitness expert, but I’ve kept my weight and percent body fat steady during this time. I’m passionate about maximizing results with as little work as possible. If you have an empty closet or have the space to store exercise equipment, you might want to consider the Concept2 Model D rowing machine. I’ve used it for years, and it’s a great full-body workout that strengthens your back, leg, and arm muscles, all while exercising your heart. If you’re tight on budget or space, consider purchasing a TRX. If all you use the TRX for is rows, it’ll be worth it. The pulling motion of the row is a great way to counteract the effects of hunching over a computer. Since many of us are sheltering in place, even an outside run might not be possible. Even if you can run outside, the wear and tear on your knees can be significant. For a workout that’s easier on the body, and helps you get lean fast, consider getting into jump roping. You can start with a speed rope, and target your sessions by time. If you have a challenge developing rhythm, I recommend goaling yourself by the number of jumps using a counting jump rope. Recently, a friend of mine got me into Cross Rope, which is jump roping with much heavier ropes. If you’re into HIIT-style workouts, this is about as efficient as it gets. They have a wonderful free app as well, with many 30-day challenges. They have two sets, one lighter and one heavier. If you’re an experienced jump roper, I recommend getting the heavier set and buy the lighter ropes separately without the handles. No matter which approach, you just need 30 minutes a day, 3x a week, to stay in great shape if you decide to use any of these workouts. You might even end up in the best shape of your life!
For staying calm and carrying on: When I’ve been under high stress, meditation has allowed me to compartmentalize my challenges so I can stay present. I’ve also seen significant improvements when it comes to attention to detail and critical thinking through regular meditation. For those starting, I can’t recommend Headspace enough as my meditation app of choice for many years. Eventually, I got to a place where I no longer felt like I was improving, which was when I discovered the Muse 2 (you can also get a 15% discount by using my affiliate link here). The Muse 2 reads your EEG readings as you meditate and provides real-time biofeedback on your sessions by first calibrating you against a baseline before each session. If you’re calmer during the session, you’ll hear the sounds of birds. If your mind is more active, you will hear the sounds of rain. I found this data to be useful in helping me calibrate my sessions using actual data. While it is more expensive than an annual Headspace subscription, it pays for itself in just a couple of years compared to subscribing to Headspace.
I hope you found this useful and if anyone has follow-up questions, reply to this email! I can elaborate more on these various points since the nature of this post is broad. I’m also exploring topics for next week, so please give me feedback on what you’d like to see next.
After I sent this post out, a reader asked me what I meant when I said "raise your hand?" Was I referring to the Zoom feature? How do you do that if the platform doesn't support it?. Actually, I meant literally raising your hand in the video call and being called on like a school teacher would. It works great!
Awesome article! I’m going to try many of those things. I especially like the ring light. I never thought of that.