How to be productive when working from home

by Jake Jorgovan on Mar 11, 2015.
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Lets be honest, working from home isn't always the easiest.

There are a million and one things that can distract you from actually sitting down and doing the work at hand.

Your dog wants attention.
Dishes need to be done.
You just feel lazy and want to go lay in bed.

There is always something in your home that can distract you, so how do you go about staying productive and focused when working from home?

My goal with this post is to give you some simple tactics that will help increase your productivity when working from home.

Face your desk at a wall, not a window

I know you want to enjoy the beautiful views out your window, but a window in front of your desk is a catalyst for distraction.

A squirrel outside can catch your attention when you are in the middle of focusing.

A neighbor working outside can easily become a distraction.

Windows and sunlight are nice. I am not saying you need to work in the dark, but your desk itself should face directly against a wall. This helps keep you in the zone and prevents anything from distracting you.

Set start and end times for your work

Just because you don't have an office to commute to doesn't mean you can't have a schedule.

Set specific times when you are clocking in to work and clocking out. You don't have to do 9-5. You work from home so that you can work whatever hours you want. The important part is to give yourself a hard start and a hard end time. When you do this it forces you to hustle to get your work done.

When you don't have a hard end time, it’s easy to let yourself get distracted and work more hours than you expected.

Get more sleep

Take the extra time that you would have spent commuting and put that toward an extra hour of sleep each night. It's amazing what a good night’s sleep can do to improve your productivity.

Use the pomodoro technique

There is a famous productivity technique called the Pomodoro Technique. The basic premise is to set a timer for 20-30 minutes, sit down, and focus on doing work.

When the timer goes off, get up and take a 5 minute break. Do some dishes, walk the dog, stretch, or whatever it is your heart desires.

Then after your 5 minute break, set the time again and start working.

This technique is great because it forces you to stay in your seat and get work done. You don't get up until the timer goes off.

Turn off the internet & use site blockers

Without any co-workers or employees around, you are free to browse the internet at your liking.

Sometimes the biggest distraction is, not everything in our home, but rather your free reign to surf the internet at your wish.

When you are doing a task that doesn't require the internet, simply turn it off so you don't run the risk of being distracted.

Do you have a few sites you love to waste time on? I'll admit Facebook is my weakness.

Use a simple plugin like SimpleBlocker to set up an on/off switch for visiting these time wasting websites.

These simple blocking programs allow you to have an on/off switch for surfing the web. Yes you can always go turn it off if you want, but the simple act of blocking them stops you from mindlessly surfing between tasks.

Try it out for a day. You will be amazed how many times you try to go to the site and end up at the block screen.

The bottom line

Working from home can be great. I absolutely love it.

But, it does come with its own set of unique challenges. Use the methods described in this post to try to make yourself a bit more productive from home.



The dangers of working from home

by Jake Jorgovan on Mar 3, 2015.
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Photo used under creative commons courtesy of Matt Crawford
The other day I was sitting in my home office heads down getting things done.

Like most days, I didn't get dressed and sat around in my PJ's all day for the sake of comfort.

I was amidst a productivity session of putting out some great writing when my fiancée came home from a work meeting.

She took one look at me and said, "You need to put on real clothes."

Working without pants

It had been two days since I had really left the house and went out in public, yet it had been two extremely productive days.

There were no distractions, no commutes, and no time wasted dressing myself up to go out in public. Instead, I sat at my home and got shit done!

While working from home can be wonderful, it can also be a vicious cycle to get into.

One day you don't get dressed, and then the next, and then the next. Soon you are a smelly, hairy dude that no woman wants to touch.

My fiancée acts as my censor for when things are going too far, but not every guy is lucky enough to have a woman who will tell him when he needs to clean the hell up.

Instead, you need to become your own censor.

Get dressed at least twice per week

I know, jeans are not as comfortable as pajama pants.

A button-up does not have the same flow as a t-shirt.

Lets be real, shaving sucks.

But have some decency and clean yourself up every once in a while.

You partner will appreciate it if you do, and if you’re single then it will increase your chances of actually finding a partner.

Work from somewhere else one day per week

Find a coffee shop, a co-working space or somewhere else that you enjoy working.

Make it a habit of visiting this coffee shop once per week. This small ritual will force you to get out of the house and clean yourself up.

Dress up even when you’re not going out

Another solution is to simply get dressed even when you’re not going out. This sounds ridiculous but your partner will appreciate it, trust me.

Instead of having your partner coming home to you in pajama pants, try getting dressed up, clean shaven and putting on some nice cologne.

It’s an unexpected surprise and your partner will appreciate it.

The bottom line

I will be honest in saying that I write this whole article in pajama pants and a t-shirt.

I get it, you want to be comfortable. Be comfortable and enjoy it. But don't let the habit go on for too long.

Get yourself dressed up every now and then and get out of the house. Your will be better off because of it.



How to become indispensable

by Jake Jorgovan on Feb 23, 2015.
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When I was in college one of my good friends always had the coolest internships and the best jobs.

While most students were slaving away for free, he was getting paid for his internships, and paid well.

He had job offers flying at him left and right, and he never took an internship that didn't pay. If he had decided to drop out of school, he would have had no problem walking straight into a high paying job.

In talking with my friend, I asked him how he got to this position, how he had so many offers and paid internships?

He had a simple philosophy:

"I get inside the company and set myself up so they have no choice but to hire me."

He made himself indispensable.

Becoming a linchpin

In Seth Godin's book, Linchpin, he describes a new mentality on how to approach your work.

Traditionally people have gone to work and waited for people to tell them what to do. Seth proposes that in order to become a linchpin (an indispensable individual) you must dive into your work, take initiative, and make yourself indispensable to the people who are hiring you.

This applies to your full-time employer, or to the company that hires you on a contract basis.

If you just show up and do what is asked, then you are another replaceable cog in their machine.

If you show up, go above and beyond, and deliver more value than they expect, then you become indispensable.

Indispensable in action

My friend in college had this mentality and executed it with every opportunity he came across.

For one company, he showed up and helped them re-organize their servers and project management system. No one asked him to do this, but he saw room for improvement and wrote up a solution that would make things better.

Organizing the server did two things for him:

First, the company loved him because projects became more organized and easier to manage.

Second, he now had unique knowledge to manage an aspect of their company. They could not hire someone else with that knowledge.

He made himself indispensable and his compensation grew as a result of it.

How to make yourself indispensable

You can't fake your way to becoming indispensable. You can only do it one way.

You can only do it by creating value for the company hiring you.

You must learn new skills that aid in the tasks you are doing.
You must look for things that are broken, and fix them without being asked.
You must take initiative and find ways that you can create value for your employer.

You must do all of this without expectations.

Don't go above and beyond on your job and then immediately ask for a nice bonus. Instead, consistently deliver beyond expectation. Your employer will take notice over time.

A good employer will see the value that you bring to the table and compensate you accordingly.

A poor employer will shrug off your efforts and give no reward.

Part of becoming indispensable is choosing the right employers to become indispensable for. If your gifts, your value, and your efforts are not rewarded, then eventually you must take your talents elsewhere.

The great thing about the linchpin mentality is that it prepares you for growth. It prepares you to grow in your current position, or in your next career opportunity.

Even if your opportunities are not rewarded at your current position, your skills are changing. Your knowledge and your mindset are growing. These will aid you when you seek out the next position and make yourself indispensable there.

The bottom line

Don't sit by and wait for people to tell you what to do.

Instead, dive in and take initiative. Start projects on your own and seek out ways to create value.

If you create enough value, you will eventually become indispensable.



Freelancing With a Family

by David Duggins on Feb 20, 2015.
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Gun.io community member David Duggins submitted this guest post all about freelancing with a family.
I realized fairly early on in my career that dress codes and cubicles just didn't do it for me. I hate ties. I hate slacks. Frankly, I hate shoes. Unfortunately, by the time I fully realized this I already had a family to take care of.

It just so happens that we lived in a city that really couldn't support my blooming career as a php developer. It's more of a Windows and .Net kind of city. I found that meant taking whatever contracts that I could take. Often times in other cities.

Ready or not, I was a freelance contractor. Working job from job with an infant daughter to feed.

It took a lot of effort and planning, but we did it. We made it through the hard times and now I run a successful freelance business from my home office.

How did I do it? It wasn't easy. I still don't get that much sleep. But with a newborn baby, that wasn't going to happen anyway!

Streamline Your Expenses

The first thing that you are going to have to realize is that you will not always be able to find jobs quickly. You may very well be forced to go for weeks and even months without a paycheck. That's ok when you are living in a cheap one room or in the basement of your parents and you can get by on ramen for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

When you have to rent a 2-3 bedroom apartment or worse pay a mortgage and buy diapers and baby formula, it gets a bit harder.

I was very fortunate that we were able to find a small condo and pay cash for it.

No rent or mortgage meant less required income.

We did the same for the cars. A cheap, bare bones new car can often times cost the same as a used car. Not only did we eliminate a car payment and higher insurance, but we save a lot on maintenance expenses as well.

Take Whatever you Can Get

This might sound like a bit of a no-brainer, but sometimes you have to take the job that puts you out of town for weeks or even months at a time. You cannot afford long lapses in income, not yet.

But never go down.

This is another thing that I learned early on. Never take a job that pays less than the last job you took. Always negotiate for equal or higher pay. You need to always increase your value.

Find a stable client, no matter what it is

After years and years of uncertainty, I finally managed to land a stable client or two. The work might not always be the most glamorous, but the steady paychecks help a lot.

Never Stop Looking

I have one client that pays for my full time. I have 2-3 clients that I squeeze into my free time yet I am always trying to find more work. You never know when one gig will fall away. You need to always be ready with another job in the pipeline.

I have found that not all job boards work for me. There are a lot of them out there. Do not waste time on all of them. Experiment and find the ones that get you jobs and stick with them.

Put Family First

This is the hardest one, but the most important. Most clients will understand when you tell them, "I will not guarantee output on the weekends 'cause I try and spend time with my family"

Working from home also means you do not have to adhere to a strict 9-5 work day all the time. I'll take my older daughter out to the local game store and play board games with her all the time.

Even at home, it's nice to be able to take break and play Magic or Munchkin with the family.

Sometimes we will head out to Chik-fil-a or McDonalds and I work while the girls play.

Remember, just because you have a family doesn't mean you can not enjoy life as a freelancer. It just takes some preparation and a lot of hard work!



How to handle time zones as a digital nomad

by Jake Jorgovan on Feb 19, 2015.
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One of the hardest things about being a digital nomad is dealing with time zone changes as you travel around the world.

If you are like most digital nomads, your primary client base is still based in your country of origin. For me personally, my clients were primarily in the United States.

As I spent a year traveling around the world, I had to adapt and adjust my sleep and work schedule multiple times to be able to take meetings with clients.

My goal with this post is to give you some pointers on how to handle those time zone changes and some idea of what you can expect with a work schedule based in different parts of the world.

Avoid phone calls as much as you can

The first rule of being a digital nomad is to simply avoid phone calls as much as possible. When you are halfway around the world, scheduling phone calls can be tedious. It is a huge challenge to find overlapping free time that works well for you and your client.

So the first rule is to try to avoid them as much as possible. You won't be able to avoid them completely, but try to handle as much communication as you can through email or video messaging.

Often I would record screen capture videos showing my clients updates on my work and asking for their feedback. This allowed me to communicate with them in more detail than an email allows, but without the hassle of a phone or videoconferencing call.

My schedule while working in Southeast Asia

Exploring the tropical terrain of Thailand
Everyday I woke up around 10-11 a.m.. I spent the early morning doing personal work. I would work on my own website, my blog, my marketing, etc. Sometimes if I was busy, I would work on client work during the day and knock it all out before my clients in the States would wake up and get online to distract me.

From noon-7 p.m. I would head out and enjoy whatever city or country I was in at the time. This was an incredible schedule because it allowed me to experience so much during the day and then focus on doing my work at night.

Around 8 p.m. I would sit down to my desk and start my work for the day. Thailand and Vietnam are 12 hours opposite of the United States CST, so it made calculating time zones easy. An 8 p.m. call for me was an 8 a.m. call for CST.

I would aim to schedule a majority of my phone calls during my clients’ mornings. If I was able to get in everything before noon CST, then I would be done with phone calls by midnight. My goal most nights was to be done working by 1 a.m. and then give myself an hour to wind down before going to bed at 2 a.m.

This schedule worked most of the time, but occasionally I had a West Coast client with an inflexible schedule. A few times I had to take meetings at 4or 5 a.m. Thailand time. I will admit, this totally sucked and threw off my sleep schedule.

If I was in a position to turn down those calls it would have been nice, but sometimes I did what I had to do to make the sale.

My schedule while working in Europe

The countryside outside of Barcelona, Spain
Working in Europe was actually much easier on the time zones than in Asia. Europe is roughly 6-7 hours ahead of USA CST depending on where you are. That means a 9 a.m. call in USA CST is at 3 p.m. in Europe.

In Europe I would generally wake up at 9-10 a.m.,and then head out to explore the city.

I tried to schedule most of my meetings for the afternoon in the States so that I could sit down and start working around 7 p.m. in Europe. I would then work from around 7 p.m. until midnight and then wind down and be in bed by 1 a.m.

My schedule in Mexico

My desk in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
For 5 months I lived in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Even though I was in another country it was still on USA CST time.

Time zones were a piece of cake there. I just kept with my normal schedule that I always have.

If you don’t want to deal with the time zone changes, then try adventuring to Mexico, Central America or South America. You will still be on the same time zone as your USA based clients.

How to not screw up time zones

Inevitably, you will screw up some time zones during your travel. It is going to happen.

But there are a few tricks you can use to try and minimize this.

1) If you type into Google, "What time is it in _____?", it will show you what time it is in your client’s location.

2) Get a world clock on your phone. Apple's built-in clock has a world clock feature that can set up different clocks for different time zones. This makes it easy to check the time in your client’s location.

3) ALWAYS use calendar invites. Create an event on your calendar for what you believe will be the proper time and send an invitation to your client. It doesn't matter if you think you have calculated it correctly, always use an invite.

“Why?”, you ask.

First of all, you will screw up your mental calculation from time to time.

And second, daylight saving time. Believe it or not, most of the world does not honor this tradition, even some states in the USA don't. Because of this, in Mexico, where I was once on the same time zone as my clients, I was bumped an hour off because of daylight saving time.

Don't risk it. Send a calendar invite so you are on the same page with your client.

Time zones really aren't that bad.

While this all seems crazy and difficult, it's really not that bad. In fact, you will grow to love the time zone difference.

While you are out exploring foreign countries during the day, you don't have to worry about missing any client calls or emails because your clients aren't even awake yet.

While the occasional stickler client will screw up your sleep schedule, it is a small price to pay for the freedom of the digital nomad lifestyle.



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