February 22, 2011

Work Habits

I've mentioned recently that I've been working from home more frequently than I have in the past. The commute is great, I get to see the kids more, and I think I'm more productive. That said, I not extraordinarily disciplined when it comes to my work space or keeping track of what I've got to do.

When we moved into our house, we found that the original owner had built a home office in the basement. It was built from trees right out of the back yard, cut down and sanded, nailed together and installed. And it's nice. It seemed like more than enough space for me at the time. But that was before the three computers, the ginormous printer which only occasionally prints things, four hard drives, a phone, a phone charger, a monitor, and all the crap that goes along with me working from home.


In the morning when I start working, I pull out a blank sheet of paper and write a list of all the things I have to get done. Or, rather, all the things I remember that I have to get done. This is by no means a comprehensive list nor is it informed by the previous day's list which I invariably cannot find. It is added to throughout the day. Items are circled when completed. Random things make appearances which seemingly mean something only for 24 hours after which their significance is promptly lost leaving me to wonder what the hell I was thinking. Doodles are captured reinforcing the fact that aside from cubes and weird arrows giving birth to other arrows, I cannot draw.


I'm aware that there are probably more effective ways of working. At least, I would remember that if I ever managed to write it down.

What's your work environment like? How do you keep track of your priorities or the day?

Posted by Chris at February 22, 2011 7:00 AM

During the day, it's cube land ( although now I do have a very large cube with a rack of PCs in it, which is nice ). At home, end table with PC and monitor stacked on it, with printer balanced atop a dead pc. It's not the most conducive to work, but I'm in the same room with my family ( and the TVs ), and I'm working from the couch, so it's comfy.

I use the Getting Things Done methodology by David Allen with a great deal of success; I had tried Covey before but just couldn't get myself to bathe in the Kool-Aid like it requires. The GTD methodology is very light on mechanics, which suits my ADD brain just fine ( SQUIRREL! ), but also creates a system in which you really have to work at screwing it up to break it. And then hitting the reset button is very easy to start over with it, so I highly recommend it ( and you're style you're doing now is very much like it, just adds a couple of more nuances to it and you'll be rocking ).

Very cool looking workspace; given any thought to getting a server class machine ( or getting some space online ) and just working off of VM's? You could displace the laptops and the monster printer with a three monitor rig and be cooking! ;)

Posted by: metawizard2 at February 22, 2011 8:06 AM

I go by the time of day. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. And on the 15th of the month I pay bills. If I am under a deadline, then I make a list 7-10 days before things are due and work from there.

Posted by: Maribeth at February 22, 2011 8:12 AM

I have two separate ways - the work one is pretty clear and the private one, well... I'm working on it. :)

For work I use Outlook at the PIFEM - basically a way of setting up Outlook to use tagging, task lists, search folders, empty inbox, etc. I like it. Though occasionally I do end up with a to-do list on paper or in One Note, just because it's more of an overview.


I just wish I could focus more of the time when working at home. Instead, I procrastinate for part of the morning - at least the dishes usually get done - and then I end up feeling guiilty and working into the evening.

Posted by: Hannah at February 22, 2011 9:00 AM

Oh! Not sure if it's any help, but I just use Google Tasks for my personal stuff lately. The canvas is pretty cool. It's dead simple as all you can do is add a due date to things, so I can't procrastinate by organising my tasks. :)

Posted by: Hannah at February 22, 2011 9:01 AM

Well, since I also work in Cube Land (a very nice one, with a window!), I've got a ginormous whiteboard on my wall that I keep my to-do list on; well, one side is my to-do list, the other half is blank for brainstorming. Works out good, plus I get a nice buzz going from the dry erase markers.

Posted by: J at February 22, 2011 9:10 AM

I work full-time from home and only recently have I set up a work space other than my dining room table.
I have a small corner desk that we built ourselves so it was exactly the size and design I wanted. It has room for 2 laptops, a lamp, my phone, and some writing surface and THAT'S IT! The printer is up above on a shelf we designed just for that. And two wall-mounted shelves hold my various supplies. It works great. Smaller is better in terms of keeping me organized and on task.

Posted by: Traci at February 22, 2011 9:18 AM

Legal-pad central, all the way. I'm an office manager/receptionist and stuff flies at me in all directions all day long. In between forklift driving and as much tech support for my bosses that I dare (we're a small company), I start a list in the morning and add to it all day - if the list gets longer than one page I usually have an internal mini freakout and hide out in my office for a spell.

Posted by: mjp at February 22, 2011 10:19 AM

You're funny!
I use Outlook for business and personal stuff to do (it tracks and reminds me of tasks and appointments, I set up recurring reminders, etc), and if I wake up in the middle of the night remembering something I need to do, I will leave a voice mail for myself so when I get to work I am wondering who the hell called me until I realize it's me! Gets things off the brain at least, so it's not circling up there when I should be sleeping...

Posted by: bacioni at February 22, 2011 10:47 AM

For the last 3 years I've been working full time from home. We've always used one of the bedrooms as a an office but it wasn't until it became my full time office that we invested in a pair of matching desks: one for the home computer, one for my work computer. The room is on the first floor, next to the bathroom and has 2 windows for lots of natural light and noise in the summer. Sometimes birds, sometimes classic rock from the guy next door and sometimes the people across the street arguing in spanish. Really, it is pretty quiet most of the time.

As far as my to do list, I use outlook for the normal reoccuring weekly/ monthly stuff but for jotting down reminders I stocked up on wide ruled spiral nots pads and colored ink pens during the back to school sales and it basically just makes me happy to be taking notes in meetings pretty much the same way I did in high school. Sometimes I even practice my cursive.

Posted by: Jody at February 22, 2011 11:11 AM

I'm an obsessive organizer, so everything goes into a calendar - Outlook for work, iCal for personal - and that is how I remember stuff. That said, I've been meaning for a week to scan some photos for an old friend and the reminder doesn't pop up on my iPhone, so I keep forgetting. Today I resorted to a sticky note on my laptop next to the trackpad. I will have to move it to my iPhone screen at 5 since I don't usually open my laptop at home.

Posted by: Brooke at February 22, 2011 11:29 AM

My to do list is kept in my head mostly and very rarely written down. If it is written down, it is normally on a Monday when I have to complete my teams' schedule and performing case reviews throughout the day. Dual monitors at work, speakers, wireless headset, and about 350+ water cups that I've used for building pyramids and such in other people's cubes.

At home I've only got one monitor, but it's a really nice 23 inch HD screen. Looking at your desk, you need a new monitor :)

Now a question for you. Why 3 different computers?

Posted by: Rex at February 22, 2011 12:10 PM

my main work space is other people's houses or the outdoors... secondary work space is just my laptop. i do have a little cupboard in the kitchen where i keep my packaging and discs and stuff... other than that i'm totally mobile :)

Posted by: kati at February 22, 2011 3:32 PM

Well, you've reminded me I needed to make my to-do list for tomorrow ;-) I bought new pens, so it's extra fun tonight heh. I think you could probably better organize the space that you have - get that printer OFF the desk! And a couple of laptop stands? Maybe you could even mount the monitor to the wall somehow so you had more desk space. (Sounds ridiculously bossy of course, and my desk is a mess, but just a couple ideas to throw out, I suppose!)

Posted by: Heather at February 22, 2011 11:48 PM

I still work at a company office, but I'd really, really love to work from home some day.

I tend to write my to-do lists daily, but I use a blank-page ring bound notebook. That way I can always find the previous day's lists. I have a separate (also ring bound) notepad for making random notes and scribbles - for example if I on the phone with someone and I need to write things down. Using calendars (Outlook, Google Calendar) helps at times as well especially if you sync it with your phone (I don't but hubby does - the only way I can get him to remember appointments!). At work, I also make reusable folders that I can keep paperwork etc for particular projects in. This is especially useful if you have to manage several projects at once and it stops your desk from becoming a paper warzone.

As for the actual layout of your home office, maybe install another shelf, or make space on an existing one (shuffle a few things around) for the printer and external drives? Especially in the case of the printer, if it's not used that often then it shouldn't be taking up space on the desk (and that applies to anything else on the desk that is not in frequent use). I can't see clearly if you have a set of desk draws or not, but maybe have something like that for storing paper, stationery etc. Not sure what else to suggest at the moment, but I hope you find something that works a bit better for you!

Posted by: Delia at February 23, 2011 2:53 AM

I work about 85% of the time from home (the rest I spend teaching) and my "work method" is... well... a joke, I guess.
My desk is a tip: tottering piles of unsorted miscellany (papers, mail, catalogues, pictures by my daughters, books, junk, Amazon packages...), empty coffee cups, empty packets of biscuits, miscellaneous little girl stuff that gets deposited there (Barbie clothes, bits of Lego, plastic jewellery...) and a million other things.
I have a Word file that has my work calendar on it - when a job comes in, how big it is (I work in "numbers of words to translate" or "number of hours of proofreading"), who it's from, when it's due, when I sent the invoice and when I was paid - and a paper diary for all the rest.
It looks pretty chaotic (and it is) but somehow I find my way around it. I almost never hand work in late (and when I do, it's kind of "acts of God" computer breakdowns and that kind of thing, not disorganisation on my part) and I pay bills on time unless I don't have the money, but I usually manage.
That said, I've taken on too much for the next 3 weeks and am seriously regretting it now as sleep, I fear, will be the big loser (along with my patience and sanity I suspect).
I often long to be "more organised" but I just don't think it's part of who I am. My "to do" lists are scrawled on the backs of envelopes, with things crossed out as they're done, and that system works fine for me (and yeah, there are plenty of doodles too..., from when I'm on the phone).

Posted by: Kirsty at February 23, 2011 8:28 AM

I love working from home. I've become spoiled by it although I do not take it for granted. My setup is not drastically different. I have a work laptop that I use the "extended desktop" feature on so I can have two monitors for that computer. Then I have my home computer which is just used for personal stuff like browsing, paying bills, music, gmail, etc.

My advice to you (besides moving that damn printer off your desk) is to get ergonomically comfortable NOW, so that you don't have to fix your back/wrist/neck problem later. That sucks and it makes you feel stupid for not doing it sooner.



Posted by: Brad at February 23, 2011 9:24 AM

I use an online to do list (www.goodtodo.com) that I learned about from a book called "Bit Literacy," that I found very helpful for getting all of my bits under control at work and at home (that sounds weirder than it should). The author has tips for keeping an empty email inbox, which I'm failing at right now, but I'm in much better shape with Good Todo than without it (you can forward emails that are essentially to do list items to Good Todo and then delete them!). I wrote a review of Good Todo on my blog if you are interested. Also, the book is available for free on iBooks.

Posted by: Tracy at February 25, 2011 9:44 AM

A wise head makes a close mouth.

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