Episode 50 | Home Office Do’s and Don’ts

Show Notes

Transcript

[00:00] Mike: This is Startups for the Rest of Us: Episode 50.

[00:03] [music]

[00:11] Mike: Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers be awesome at launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it.  I’m Mike.

[00:18] Rob: And I’m Rob.

[00:19] Mike: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made.  Fifty episodes, can you believe that?

[00:25] Rob: Unbelievable, yes.  I’ve felt like we talked about wanting to do something super special for this episode and had all these great plans and ideas and then we’re like well, we didn’t implement any of those and we need to record it so pretty much just coming off with a normal episode.

[00:40] Mike: Yes, I know.  You would think that for our last episode for this podcast we would do something a little different but I don’t know.  It just didn’t really work out that way.

[00:47] Rob: I agree.  Yes, when you’re going to shut something down, you would figure you would go out with a bang but oh well.

[00:53] Mike: So what’s new with you?

[00:54] Rob: You and I were supposed to record last week and I apologize that I preempted the podcast.  Basically my wife and I got online to look for a beach house for this weekend.  We were going to meet some friends down in LA and I sent out a few emails through VRBO.com, VacationRentalsbyOwner.com and I got a callback within like 20 minutes and the woman was like, “Well, I’m a representative for this house and you emailed about it and it’s very expensive but the person who has it next week cancelled and if you book –” Basically, it was Thursday night and I was booking for the following weekend like, you know, nine days away and she’s like, “If you show up tomorrow morning, you will get 70 percent off …

[01:37] Mike: Wow.

[01:37] Rob: … for the price,” and this house was on the – like you step out the front door into the sand and it was a very – you know, it’s a busy area of Hermosa Beach which is just really nice.  It’s right by the pier, kind of an ideal location and it was just something like we couldn’t really afford and I’m not exactly sure why I had emailed.

[01:54] So the fact that this discount, I was like oh my gosh and so, sure enough we just took off and so we were down there for five days, just amazing days; and the whole time like my kids were – or one of my kids and his friend were actually playing on the sand and we could watch them from the house while I was cooking.  It was just such a unique situation that will probably never happen again.  So …

[02:16] Mike: Well …

[02:16] Rob: … that was cool so – but that’s why I had to preempt it because we suddenly were just gone and I was like, “All right, we’re leaving at 10:00 AM tomorrow morning,” you know, and this is like 8:00 PM Thursday night that I’m doing this.

[02:24] Mike: Right.

[02:24] Rob: So it was great.  I mean honestly, it’s just testament to the flexibility of not having a boss.  You know, not having a fulltime job and my wife, you know, is off for this summer.  She’s a professor and she’s also a therapist and she was able to move some clients on Tuesday and Wednesday and just it really saved us, you know, much money and it’s cool.

[02:43] Mike: That’s awesome.

[02:44] Rob: Yes.

[02:45] Mike: Yes, it kind of worked out for me as well because I had allocated, you know, from Friday to Monday working on AuditShark because I spent the past two weeks in Phoenix and my god, is it hot there.

[02:58] Rob: Yes.

[02:59] Mike: It was a …

[02:59] Rob: I saw one of your tweets.  You did an actual temperature and then a feels like and it was like actual temperature 103, feels like my ass is on fire.

[03:09] [laughter]

[03:10] Rob: It was funny.

[03:12] Mike: Yes, it was – needless to say, it was a little bit hot and I remember your tweet back to me, “Oh, but it’s a dry heat,” and I’m like I’m going to kill you.

[03:20] Rob: Dude, but – honestly Boston, 89 and humid is like Phoenix 100.

[03:27] Mike: But see the thing is I don’t hang out in Boston.  I live about 45 minutes west of Boston so I’m actually much closer to Worcester and Worcester is a higher elevation and it’s not like it’s a drastic elevation change or anything but it’s enough that it matters.

[03:41] Rob: Yes, that makes sense.

[03:42] Mike: So for me, it’s not nearly as bad as when it’s in Boston.

[03:46] Rob: Yes.

[03:46] [Crosstalk]

[03:47] Mike: Yes, I’ve been in Atlanta in the middle of the summer and that’s just awful.  It kind of worked out for me too because I just sat there and worked on AuditShark the entire weekend from Friday when I got up until pretty much Monday evening.  Took Saturday night off to go hang out with a couple of friends but I got a lot of work done.

[04:05] Rob: Nice.  And are you on pace to be done? Because it’s the end of July.

[04:11] Mike: You know what? The funny part is, I’m at the point where I could actually deploy it into a customer environment and I would be okay with that except that, you know, not all the functionality is there that I would like or that I need; but it was either Friday or Saturday that I implemented the code that does a completely self-updating service so I’ve got – the only thing that’s going to be at the customer side is this Windows service that runs on a server some place and that service right now is completely self-updating.

[04:40] Like I can take a new version of it, upload it on to my server and then just toggle something in the database and next time that that Windows service checks in, it will realize that it’s out-of-date, download the new code, shut down the service, install it and then restart the service and it’s done.

[04:56] Rob: That sounds cool.

[04:56] Mike: And it’s back to whatever, you know, the new version of software is that I put in there which is …

[05:02] Rob: Right.

[05:02] Mike: … absolutely fantastic.

[05:04] Rob: That is.  That’s nice so that will help with support and stuff.

[05:07] Mike: Yes, yes.  So I don’t have to worry about people being on the wrong version or worry about – there’s a lot of issues when you work with Windows or Web services where if there are certain variables that aren’t taken into account on the service and you send them anyway or it’s – you know, the other side isn’t expecting certain things back and you give it to them then, you know, it will just kind of bomb out or you have to deal with those sorts of things and because of this, I don’t have to worry about that at all which is great.

[05:35] Rob: Yes, that’s nice.  So you’re not quite at where you wanted to be.  What’s your new timeline then?

[05:40] Mike: I …

[05:41] Rob: By the way, this is me busting your chops and people said, “If you’re not going to bust Mike’s chops,” and so this is me doing that away.

[05:49] Mike: Yes, yes, yes.  Well, I didn’t expect to be completely done with it but I’m pretty close.  I’m going to be putting some more time into it this week and …

[05:57] Rob: Eight to ten weeks?

[05:58] Mike: No, not 8 to 10 weeks.  You know, in 8 to 10 weeks I may be at the point where I’ve got like a full-blown release but I knew that I wouldn’t be at a full-blown release today.  You know, I’ve still got some marketing efforts to do and one of the things I did on my flight down to Phoenix was I started writing a newsletter for, you know, people who are interested in compliance and I actually wrote four full-blown newsletter articles on my way down there. All on my iPad too so there’s grammatical mistakes all over the place because when you type it on the iPad, the iPad kind of sucks for that to be honest.

[06:27] Rob: It does, yes.  Right.

[06:28] Mike: So it will cut off a sentence and capitalize the next – you know, the first word of the next sentence so I got to rework some of it but I did get four full-blown articles that I could – written that I could send out so that’s – you know, that’s coming along and then like I said for the actual functionality itself, I can scan a domain.

[06:46] We’re using the Windows service and then the next thing on my list of things to do is implement the functionality to import computers and then after that, I believe I have to just tie the ability to send down a task and then send back the results and those are kind of the last couple of things that I would kind of absolutely need to have in place before I could start installing it and having people use it.

[07:10] Rob: Nice.  All right, man, two more weeks.  That’s all I’m giving you.

[07:15] Mike: And then what? What are you going to do?

[07:16] Rob: I don’t know.  Ask you about it again?

[07:19] Mike: Announce it on the podcast we’re not recording.  For those people who were listening earlier and freaked out, that was actually a joke.  This isn’t the last podcast episode.

[07:28] Rob: Yes.  Mike was just messing around.  He said he wanted to do that at the beginning and then at the very end of the podcast say, “Oh, we’re kidding,” but I was like, “But I know some people won’t make it through and they’ll unsubscribe.”

[07:38] I have actually been doing a pretty cool experiment but it’s – I started a mailing list, like an email newsletter on my blog and …

[07:45] Mike: I did see that.

[07:46] Rob: Yes, it’s really cool.

[07:47] Mike: I didn’t sign up.

[07:49] Rob: Yes.  No, you shouldn’t. I’ll kick you off the list if you sign up.  I don’t want you reading this stuff.  The reason I did that – I mean there were a bunch of reasons but one is that I’ve hit like 15,000 RSS subscribers and it has occurred to me just how – time and time again how bad RSS is as a medium for getting people to engage because all – you know, people have this gazillion RSS feeds and you blog about something and you think it’s important and then like 50 people out of 15,000 go and view that page or click on the link or, you know, do whatever.

[08:20] And so just over the last couple of years I’ve noticed that.  You know when I had thousands of subscribers and I would say, “Hey, help me out take a survey and let me know what you want me to write about,” and I get, you know, 50 responses and I was just like oh my gosh.  I realize I’m asking for your time to fill out three questions but geez, out of thousands of people, I would hope that there would be a higher response rate.

[08:38] So that was the first thing is I just want people to be more engaged with the content if I’m going to put it out.  I’m going to keep blogging but the email newsletter has stuff that’s separate from the blog and I’ve basically been doing screencast up until now so it’s like two to four-minute screencast and it’s some specific techniques that I used that I’m not going to talk about or publish on the blog and it has been pretty cool so far.

[08:59] What I’m really – I’ve been trying to gather like the X thousand true followers, like people who are engaged enough with what I’m saying that they actually want that in their inbox and I know it’s not going to be as many as our subscribers to the RSS but that doesn’t matter, you know.  At least these people will be reading everything that I put out or most things.

[09:19] And frankly, I have some techniques that I don’t want to publish to the world.  I don’t want them on the open internet and I don’t – the more people that know about them, there’s actually less value to them and so, you know, keeping these techniques to a smaller group is, you know, just kind of the way I wanted to go.  So it’s cool.  There are a thousand people in the list already although I had started with – I don’t know.  I had 500 maybe when I kind of republished the sign up form.  So, it has been going well.

[09:45] Mike: Cool.

[09:46] Rob: Yes, it has been neat.  I’ll update in the future as to how that goes but it’s basically, you know, something that comes out every other week and so far, it has just been a neat little experiment for me.

[09:54] Mike: Very cool.  For my end, the other thing I did was I finished reading Anything You Want by Derek Sivers. He was the founder of CD Baby.  I think we talked about him a couple of times on this podcast before.

[10:05] Rob: I just listened to the book as well.

[10:06] Mike: Oh, okay.  And well, for the listeners, if you haven’t heard of him, he started his company CD Baby in 1997 with about $500 and in 2008, he sold it for $22 million; and the book is very interesting because it talks about a lot of his experiences in running the business and how he felt like not having a business background or really knowing how things were supposed to be done helped him because he did things differently and he figured things out on his own.

[10:33] So for example, one of the jobs he was at, he was quitting and he found a replacement for himself when he quit and he had already trained the person and when he walked into his boss’s office, he said, “I’m quitting,” and he said, “Here’s my replacement.  They’re going to start Monday,” and he didn’t give them two weeks’ notice.  He just said here’s your replacement and he had already trained them.

[10:53] Well, he had somebody who quit at his company and he asked, “Well, who’s your replacement?” and the person hadn’t trained anybody and he’s like, “Oh, I guess that’s not really how things are done by most people,” and that was kind of brought to his mind that just because you’re doing something differently doesn’t mean that it’s not the right way to do it but there’s a lot of interesting takeaways that I brought out of that book.  I think the most important one was that, “Because there’s different ways of running the business, ultimately if you’re not happy running that business, then what’s the point?” And that’s actually why he sold it because he just wasn’t happy running the business anymore.

[11:27] Rob: Yes, the audio book was cool because he reads it and it’s like 90 minutes long.  Very short, right? I assume the book is pretty short for that.

[11:34] Mike: Yes, it is.  It is.

[11:36] Rob: And so on double speed, how I listen to everything, 45 minutes and I remember when I started, I was like oh no, this is – how can he possibly convey anything of value in 45 minutes? Like it’s going to be – it’s not going to be enough time and when he starts off, he’s telling the story of the business which you and I both heard at Business of Software.  He did the talk in 2010 – Business of Software 2010.

[11:56] He basically tells the story that is in the book but in the book, he has more takeaways.  When I first started, I was dubious.  I was kind of like, “Oh no, I don’t think I’m going to get anything out of this,” and Derek is a friend of mine.  Like he – you know, he and I have Skyped several times and so I was a little worried but the more I got into it, the more I was like, “Oh, this is good stuff,” and so by the end, I had a bunch of notes and I’m actually going to go back and listen to it again.  That’s the other thing is this is only 45 minutes.  I totally want to listen to it again now.  You know, just to hear – I love the second half especially so …

[12:24] Mike: Yes.

[12:24] Rob: Yes, I recommend it, Anything You Want by Derek Sivers.

[12:28] Mike: So there’s one other thing I think you had.

[12:30] Rob: Yes.  You know, I’m really stoked about the number of customer ratings we have on iTunes.  We have 45 ratings.  We have 43 five-stars, one four-star and one one-star.  And who gave us a one star, man? That’s brutal.

[12:44] Mike: I bet it’s your wife.

[12:44] Rob: I bet.  Yes, that’s the thing.  It doesn’t tell you who it is but we also have a slew of reviews.  Our most recent review was on July 30th.  It says great podcast and it talks about how they recommend it to anyone starting a company or anyone who wants to learn about how startups work.

[12:58] So we really appreciate reviews and ratings.  Obviously they help us rank and frankly, if you just open up iTunes and type “startups” into the search bar without anything else, we come up.  We’re like the third or fourth result.  It’s awesome and that’s totally due to the number of ratings and reviews.

[13:15] Our audience size based on, you know, other podcasts we’ve looked at, we have way more ratings and reviews for other podcasts of a similar size.  So it’s pretty cool.  It’s a testament to, you know, kind of the engagement of our audience and it has really helped us build it even further.

[13:29] Mike: Yes.  So thank you very much, everybody.  We really do appreciate it.

[13:32] Rob: Definitely.

[13:32] [music]

[13:35] Rob: So today we’re talking about home office dos and don’ts and now this topic actually came up.  Someone requested it.  Is that right?

[13:42] Mike: Yes, I threw out a question on my Twitter feed Single Founder and somebody wrote back and he said, “Hey, I would like to hear some of the home office dos and don’ts,” since they probably heard that, you know, both you and I work out of a home office.

[13:55] So how do we go about getting things done and how do we make sure we don’t get distracted and we stay on track and actually get stuff done as opposed to sitting there and screwing around all day? Because that would be very easy to just waste a ton of time.

[14:06] Rob: Totally and I think the first lesson that when you want to sound professional, don’t say that you work from home.  Say you work from a home office.  There’s a difference in the semantics.

[14:17] Mike: That is true.  Well, the other thing is when you say you work from home, people envision you working at your kitchen table or on the couch watching TV.

[14:24] Rob: Absolutely.

[14:25] Mike: So it doesn’t really …

[14:25] Rob: Yes.

[14:25] Mike: … give that professional feel to it but if you say I have a home office, then it gives the idea that you have this – your own separate place away from everything else where you actually sit down and you do work as opposed to watching eight hours of Star Wars while you fiddle around on the computer supposedly doing your job.

[14:41] Rob: Right, even though that is what I do.

[14:43] Mike: [laughs] One of the first things, there’s five different, I guess, breakdowns of categories that we came up with for this and the first one that we came up with was creating a set of goals.  So if you are going to work from home or from your home office and you decide that you’ve got four hours or six hours blocked out to try and get some stuff done – and this is especially true if you are trying to build a business on the side but what you want to do is you want to create a set of goals for the time that you have available.

[15:14] So if you have three hours available or four hours available, make sure that you pick things that you can get done in those three or four hours and try to give yourself a little bit of padding so that if you only work two and a half hours or, you know, three hours out of four, that’s okay because you’re going to end up burning time going down rabbit holes and trying to figure some things out that – you know, humans are notoriously bad at making good time estimates.

[15:39] So, chances are good that whatever you estimate you’re going to spend, you’re going to go over that but if you make sure that you keep this list short and you try and time box it into that little timeframe that you do have, then you’re going to get those things done or at least, you know, hopefully get most of them done as opposed to starting something that takes maybe 8 hours or 10 hours; and get halfway done with it or a quarter of the way done with it.

[16:04] And then you have to pick it up the next day or the next week and you’re not going to be nearly as productive on those things so you’re really trying to break your work down into smaller chunks and accomplish things in, you know, reasonable timeframes as opposed to spinning your wheels to get an end to the work.

[16:19] So as a developer, you know, I’ll stir and I’ll do some work on some code and it takes a little bit of time for me to kind of get into the zone for doing that; and if it takes time to get into the zone and then you pop out of it after you’re done accomplishing a specific task, you’re going to waste that time every single time that you start up.  So breaking out your blocks of work over several days is not a good idea unless you can break those work units down into smaller and manageable chunks.

[16:46] Rob: Yes, and a home office has an interesting kind of two-sided effect.  During the day, if no one is at your house and you’re able to work there during the day like Mike and I do a lot of times, you will have almost no interruptions.  You will have fewer interruptions than you will in an office environment, you know, especially if you turn your phone off and you turn off IM and email.  I mean you can just work straight through and that’s awesome.

[17:10] On the flipside, if you’re working in the evening and your kids or your family is around, you are going to get interrupted as much as an office or maybe more and that’s where all the stuff that Mike just said is so critical.  I’ll throw in like using the Pomodoro Technique can be really advantageous whether it’s – even if you have to do like a short [0:17:29] [Indiscernible] between 15 and 25 minutes stuff.  I found that that works pretty well because, you know, it will be about 15 minutes between when my five-year-old comes in and, you know, interrupts me.

[17:39] So, creating a specific set of goals like Mike said that fits within a very small timeframe especially if you’re working, you know, evenings when your family is around.  I think it’s critical to actually getting something done and not having it overlap into the – you know, a future work time.

[17:54] Mike: The next one that we came up with was to eliminate distractions and try to work in a separate space from where you live and this really kind of leads into having a home office but even just a separate room with a card table and your laptop would be perfect.  Bedrooms and kitchens are usually bad places to sit down and try to work because you get very, very distracted.  You’re not necessarily comfortable and people are coming in and out.  You generally have to tell people to not bother you when you’re trying to get things done and that’s okay.  You shouldn’t feel bad about telling people to not bother you especially if it’s, you know, your wife or your husband or your kids.  If there are things that you need to get done, you generally need this alone time to be able to get them done.

[18:36] Another option is to be able to just wear like noise-canceling headphones.  Music is completely optional.  One of the things that I did was the four days that I spent in Phoenix, I was there for two weeks and the four weekend days from Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, I actually had those four days off and I literally sat down in the hotel lobby where they – you know, they actually had a breakfast area and there was one table there that I could sit at that had a close electrical outlet and the table was at the right height and everything was kind of perfect except that it was in the middle of the room where people are walking around and having breakfast and stuff.

[19:10] I put on my – I have a set of Bose noise-canceling headphones.   I put those on, put music on, sat down and just worked for like eight hours straight.  I mean I got up to use the bathroom and get drinks and stuff like that but that was it.  I mean I was just literally in the middle of everything and just, you know, eliminated all the distractions that were around me by just tuning them out.

[19:30] Rob: The third recommendation we have for home office dos and don’ts is to get comfortable.  When we talk about that, we mean the ergonomics are critical.  So I know I have a very comfy chair.  I think – boy, five years ago when I first kind of started – I started working from home about eight or nine years ago but five years ago at one point, I had just a crummy chair and a crummy desk and it totally impacted A, my happiness when I worked at home and B, my productivity and so you can spend – you don’t need to get an Aeron.  You can spend a couple hundred bucks and get a really pretty nice chair.

[20:04] And then the other thing that I use and I will never look back is something called a Griffin Technology Elevator Laptop Stand and so it takes my laptop and just elevates it about four, five inches off the desk and then I have a keyboard that sits underneath it because, you know, typing on a keyboard, a laptop keyboard and looking at the laptop screen is actually bad ergonomically for you because you shouldn’t be looking down.

[20:27] You should be looking straight ahead when you’re in a chair and so this elevator laptop stand which is – it’s like 25 bucks on Amazon and we’ll link it up in the show notes.  It helps get that – essentially get the laptop screen up to eye level and then you can put a separate keyboard down below it and for that, I love the chiclet key or a scissor keyboard so I’m not using the big, chunky Dell keys.

[20:49] The Apple wireless keyboard, Bluetooth keyboard is 69 bucks.  It’s fairly expensive but it’s really nice to type on and then there’s – if you search for scissor key keyboard on Google, there’s a number of brands that make these kind of gaming keyboards and they feel like a laptop keyboard, if you like that feeling.  So that’s what I have used for several years now.

[21:08] There are two other things that I totally recommend.  These aren’t exactly getting comfortable but they are getting comfortable on being productive.  One is the Samsung CLX Series printers and it’s basically a color laser printer that is quite inexpensive.  It’s probably – I don’t know what it is now.  I think it was 400 or 500 bucks when I bought it two years ago so I imagine it’s quite a bit cheaper now.  Spits stuff out really quickly and it’s high quality and if you have any kind of budget, you know, beyond just a $99 printer, I totally – I really recommend this printer.  It just made my life easy.  I don’t even print stuff out for clients but when I want color, it’s there and it’s always super fast.  You know, it’s not like waiting for some inkjet to spit out colored prints.

[21:49] And then the last thing that I have just learned to swear by for productivity is having external monitors. So I mean I work on my laptop in the center which is now a small 13-inch monitor and I have two 22.5-inch Dells on either side of me; and these guys I’ve had for about four years and I always have my eye out for deals because, you know, when the 24s or the 26s come down a little bit in price when they’re kind of in a sweet spot, I’m going to sell these and get two new ones because I have never once regretted adding a monitor or adding larger monitors.

[22:20] I used to have a 19 and a 22.5 that I used and when I upgraded, it just – it constantly – it makes me more productive and there’s just – there’s no doubt about it.

[22:30] Mike: You didn’t spring for the 30-inch monitor?

[22:33] Rob: I didn’t but frankly – and I know you did, right? Yes.  It will make you more productive.  That’s the thing though.  It’s like the 22.5-inch monitors I got, I got one from refurbished [0:22:40] [Phonetic] for $120 like three years ago and so, you know they’re cheaper than that; and the other one I got brand new for $199 three or four years ago from Dell.  So these things are not that expensive.  I mean you can really outfit a killer home office for – you know, in the hundreds of dollars at this point.

[23:01] Mike: Yes, I got the Dell 30-inch monitor and it was expensive.  Don’t get me wrong.  It was like …

[23:06] Rob: Yes.

[23:06] Mike: … $1500 at the time because I bought it when it first came out and I think it has probably gone down a little bit but not nearly as much as, you know, I would like or would want to, you know, get a new one; but at the same time, it is honestly so large that I actually – I have a bunch of 20-inch monitors laying around and I actually don’t use them.  I just use this 30-inch monitor.  I just have the one monitor because it’s so large.  So …

[23:31] Rob: That’s cool.

[23:32] Mike: … that’s definitely a good one.  Some of the other things that we thought about were, you know, making sure that things were at a comfortable temperature.  You’re not too hot, not too cold.  You’ve got quiet or white noise as appropriate depending on, you know, how you feel about using white noise or music or headphones or what have you.

[23:49] Rob: There’s a really good white noise generator on Amazon that’s like 30 or 35 bucks and it blows real air.  It’s not a digital recording of white noise.  It’s actually an air …

[23:58] Mike: Really?

[23:59] Rob: Yes.

[23:59] Mike: Really.

[23:59] Rob: It’s a little fan inside.  We use it for our one-year-old when he sleeps and so it’s way more pleasing to the ear because the digital white noise stuff, I don’t like at all.  I can always hear patterns and then there’s a screechy high-pitched thing that I hear in them.  Again, it’s 35 bucks so it’s not cheap but it’s like it’s one of those things that if there is external noise, we always bring this with us when we go to hotels now since we have this – you know, the little guy.  Kids get woken up pretty easily so I would recommend that if you have external noise you’re trying to drown out.

[24:29] Mike: Cool.  And then the last couple of things would be, you know, making sure that if you, you know, need coffee or Mountain Dew or what have you, pretzels, Swedish Fish, gobstoppers, make sure those are readily available; and the last thing is good lighting.

[24:43] And this one I thought of because for some reason, the mental picture of Joe Versus the Volcano popped into my head.  It was with Tom Hanks and there’s a scene where he’s going into work and he walks into his office and there’s these yellow, incandescent lights that are overhead and they’re buzzing and, you know, he goes to work at his desk and it’s like this open desk farm where it’s – you know, people are smoking at their desks and it’s just massively uncomfortable and it just brought to mind the lighting that was in that scene.  So definitely make sure you’ve got good lighting though.

[25:16] I mean I actually had new lights installed in my home office because when I closed down my office over in Hudson, I basically had said, “Okay.  Well, I’m not going to spend the money here.  So why don’t I just redo my basement and put in some decent lights in there?”

[25:31] Rob: Yes, and even if you don’t have the money to do that, you can get those upright halogen lights for about 20 bucks.  They’re in like Target and Costco and you get one or two of those in a room and they can create a very pleasant aesthetic.

[25:42] Mike: Number four basically boils down to getting to work and with this piece of it as a home office do and don’t, don’t sit there and say, “Okay. Well, I need to start working so I need to do this before I start working.  I need to install this tool or I need to install that tool or I need to do this or that,” before you sit down and start working.  Do those types of things that don’t contribute to whatever the goals that you set forth at the beginning just before you’re trying to work because you can easily sink a ton of time doing those things instead of actually the work that you were attempting to get done to begin with.

[26:18] Now, if you run into issues and you can’t continue because you run into something that you didn’t expect, sure, go ahead and do it; but don’t try and include those setup things in the time that you are trying to actually get the work done.

[26:30] Rob: And following up on that, Mike and I always value – typically value time over money, right? That your time is – it’s going to be worth more than dropping 10 or 20 bucks on something.  So if there’s a tool, if there’s a software utility, if there’s a USB port, if there’s something that you need that’s going to make your life just a little bit easier, spend the $10, $20, $50, $100 on it.  Don’t waste time doing stupid, meaningless work.  You need to value your time.  We’ve talked pretty in-depth about this in the past regarding outsourcing and regarding monetizing your time.

[27:02] So I’m trying to think of an example at this.  Mike, do you have any?

[27:05] Mike: Oh, definitely.  There was something I was doing the other day where I needed to take some screenshots of some things that I was doing and if you hit alt print screen or, you know, you double click on print screen, it will take a screenshot for you; and then you can paste it into like Microsoft Paint or something like that and then you can save that off and do different things.  What I – I just looked at the amount of time that I knew I was going to be spending on that and I said, “Screw it,” and I just went out and I went to TechSmith’s website and bought Snagit and it was like …

[27:34] Rob: Yes.

[27:34] Mike: … $50 or $60 or something like that and I just – you know, I’m just going to buy this and if I remember correctly, there was also a deal for Camtasia Studio at the same time.  Like if you buy them together, you got 10 or 20 percent off and I just said, “Well, I know I need that as well in the future so I’ll just get that now.”

[27:50] Rob: Right.

[27:50] Mike: And, you know, just spent a couple hundred dollars, bought them and just started taking all my screenshots and I was done with my screenshots very, very quickly.

[27:57] Rob: You know, that’s a good point.  I’ve had Snagit for years and I didn’t use to want to – I used to use some $15 utility I had bought and as soon as I started using Snagit, I was like, “Why was I not using this?”  It’s like the Cadillac of screen capture.  It allows you to do all types of awesome stuff and add effects and it can capture entire webpages.  It can scroll webpages down.

[28:15] Mike: Oh, yes.

[28:15] Rob: The whole thing at once but I used to – you know, you would go up to the top of the webpage.  You would capture it.  You would scroll it down a little bit and capture manually and that was at the point when I was like, “Forget this.”  You know, I know I need to spend 50 bucks once and forever now.  I will never have to waste time doing that again.

[28:32] Mike: And the last part of getting the work is focusing on being ultra productive during the time that you have and this isn’t one of those things where you have to sit there and think about whatever it is that you’re trying to do and say, “Is this good for the company?”  Kind of like from the movie Office Space.

[28:46] What you’re really trying to do is focus on what it is that you’re doing and if you start to get off-track, just think about trying to be productive, say “How can I be more productive when working on this?” and typically the answer is to just get back to work because most people’s brains tend to take a break after very short periods of productivity. And if you focus on being productive, you’re going to be more productive for the sole reason that you’re thinking about being productive, not necessarily because of other things that you’re doing to be productive.

[29:17] Rob: So our fifth home office do and don’t is to track your progress.  The idea is that you’re going to want something to check your progress against so you can look back and see what you’ve accomplished.  So, you can have – if you have a bug tracking system, you can look back and see what you’ve done, list of features you’ve implemented, a checklist of items done or crossed of the list.

[29:38] I personally track my time religiously and that tends to be what I look back on over the course of a week and I tend to mark, you know, what I’ve been doing.  It’s all categorized.  Sometimes I add tags to it and some specifics but that’s how I can look back and actually see how much I’ve – not only how much I’ve worked but how much I’ve gotten done and then I can also look back and see wow, how little I’ve worked because it’s pretty easy to think that you [0:30:00] can put in 15, 20 hours part-time, you know,  in the evenings and weekends and then to look back and realize that you only maybe put in eight or nine hours and it’s a huge difference in productivity.

[30:11] So, if you’re not tracking something whether that’s tracking your time using something like SlimTimer or tracking bugs fixed or features implemented, you don’t have any data to look back on and you’re basically going based on emotion and you’re kind of trying to think, “Oh, how much did I work? How much did I get done?”

[30:28] And that can actually vary and it can play tricks on you in both directions.  It can make you feel like, “Oh, I’m getting so much done,” or you can get down on yourself and say, “I’m not getting anything done,” and it’s helpful to have a realistic gauge of that so that you can refer to it and it’s concrete data.

[30:43] Mike: Yes, I think most of that is just being honest with yourself about what it is that you are doing, you know, especially if you’re tracking your time to do that kind of thing because I think that most people are not necessarily honest about how much they actually do things or how much time they spend on things.

[31:00] So those are the list of home office dos and don’ts that Rob and I came up with.  So number one is creating a set of goals, making sure that you have this list of things that you want to do, that you can accomplish in the time that you have available to you.

[31:12] Second piece is eliminating the distractions, making sure that you have a separate place that you can work where people aren’t going to bother you or that you aren’t going to be bothered by the noise and various other things that are going on.

[31:25] Number three is to get comfortable, making sure that you have a decent chair and keyboard and working environment to, you know, help you with those ergonomics and making sure that you don’t get uncomfortable while you are working because if you get uncomfortable, then you’re going to stop working and it’s going to take you a little bit of time to get back to it.

[31:40] And number four is to just get to work.  Don’t sit down and start – trying to work on things that are related to the stuff that you need to do.  Make sure that you’re working and focused on the things that you started out doing in the first place.

[31:52] And then the last piece, number five, is to track your progress.  Make sure that you are checking your progress against what you wanted to accomplish whether that’s by checking against through your list of bugs or features implemented or your checklist items or just the amount of time that you’ve spent on something.

[32:06] [music]

[32:09] Rob: If you have a question or comment, you can call it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at Questions@StartupsfortheRestofUs.com.  If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider writing a review in iTunes by searching for “startups”.

[32:24] You can subscribe to this podcast in iTunes or via RSS at StartupsfortheRestofUs.com.  Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons.  A full transcript of this podcast is available at our website: StartupsfortheRestofUs.com.  Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.

 

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3 Responses to “Episode 50 | Home Office Do’s and Don’ts”

  1. Hey guys,
    Just wanted to thank you for the great episode. I work at a college all day (programmer) then come home and work on my startup in the evenings and right now – that home ‘office’ is the dining room table. Talk about a bad setup for your back – dining room chair, laptop on the table, papers scattered about.

    After listening to you talk, I decided to take my home setup a bit more seriously. I went out and on your recommendation purchased not one but two of the Griffin laptop stands – and they’re amazing. Now I have one for my real office and one for my home office.

    Next on the list … a nice chair

    -Jon

  2. Great to hear it. Good luck on your move towards a better working environment!

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