From time to time, people wants to work from home for various reasons (e.g. take care of a sick kid, an appointment with an electrician, snow storm…)  Many companies have started allowing more employees to work remotely.  But in order to stay productive when working from home, this can be difficult for some.  So here are a few tips I have on this subject:

Keep your routine (or to have one)

  • The point here is that, you don’t change your routine because you are working from home.  If you usually go to the gym for a quick run during lunch time, continue that routine when you are working from home.
  • Wake up in the morning around the same time as if you are going to the office and get ready like every workday.  That means, even though if you are not going to the office, you still shower and shave in the morning, as an example.

Make sure you are comfortable @ the home office

  • In my opinion, there are three purchases in life that you should not be cheap on: mattress, office chair and food.  If you work from home a lot, make sure you have a comfortable office chair.  And make sure the chair has good lower back support!  You spend at least 8 hours sitting on the chair!
  • Everyone has their own preferences on setting up home office, so spend some time researching those recommended office setup and ergonomic.  Here are a few links:
  • For IT and software developers, I think having 3 monitors setup seems to be the most optimal setup.  If you want to get some ideas, check out Lifehacker’s featured workspace.

Stop the snacking and start walking

  • When you are working from home, one tend to eat more compare to when one is working @ the traditional office.  When your kitchen is only 10 seconds away from your home office, it is hard to resist.  My advice is to keep track of the amount of food you eat usually, buy only healthier snacks and try to avoid temptation!
  • Overall, if you see symptoms of cabin fever, you need to go outside more often!  For example, instead of taking a 45min lunch, take a 20min lunch and go for a walk for 25min.  This also help with your general work productivity!

Set expectation for yourself and other

  • People whom work from home 100% tend to spend more time in front of the work computer.  Companies which allow employees to WFH, often have employees spread across different parts of the country.  In my case, across multiple countries.  So set an expectation on which part of the day you like to have meetings or to reply to e-mails.  If you mismanage the expectation with your coworkers you may end up working 12 hours a day. For instance, if you are on east coast you may have a few meetings starting @ 6 or 7am with the UK office, then working till 8pm with the west coast office.

Stop the e-mailing

  • Emails are distraction for productivity, so block out time in your calendar to do just e-mailing. Close your Lotus Notes or Outlook for the rest of your office hours
  • Turn off e-mail sync after your office hour everyday. Your family deserve your time too!!
  • Use IM to talk to collaborate on the project. This is much faster and more interactive than exchanging many e-mails.  If there is no work IM for you, use a forum or SharePoint to collaborate.

Get a decent headphone

  • If you like hearing music while you concentrate on work, get a decent headphone… noise-cancellation ones if you have to. This helps you to get focus.

Multi-tasking

  • Long story short, stop multi-tasking! It helps if you need to get things done within a few minutes or an hour, but it doesn’t help with overall productivity.
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Google Wave Screenshot
Image by marketingfacts via Flickr

I finally received an invite to test Google Wave in the Dev Preview sandbox, thought it would be a good idea to share some information. I’m not planning to document pros and cons, rather, I just want to share my personal view of what I like and what I don’t like.

Google Wave (GW) is a cool web application that will likely change the way we communicate.  It uses HTML 5 and Google Gear heavily as far as I can tell.  The layout is more extensive than how Gmail and Google Docs are currently designed.  But since this is a Dev Preview, there are still a lot of things that Google has to finish and refine in the next few months before launch.

To understand the new concept in Google Wave, I would suggest to read this article from Mashable.

When I create a Wave, I can add in robots or gadgets into the Wave.  It makes life easier because when having a conversation with multiple people, visualization works better than only words.  So if we are talking about travel, what better way to start off the conversation than to pull in a Google Map into the Wave and start pinning down some locations on the map.  In some way, this is similar to the Cobrowsing concept.

Twitter, Facebook and Adobe Flash supports are added by the dev community.  There are also YouTube supports as well via Google Gear.  The whiteboard capability by the dev community is useful as well.  And similar to blog sites, you can both categorize a Wave and tagging it.  This should be able to cover different user preferences.

When you first create a Wave, it is only viewable by you.  In the system, groups of people are setup kind of like mailing lists.  So if you want to invite everyone in the system to view the Wave, you can simply add the “wave-discuss” contact into the Wave.  But once added, you can’t remove the person or group from the Wave.  (This is probably a feature for a later time.)  Assuming this is a “feature”, for business/enterprise adoption, this will post a security risks.  I guess I can say the same thing with e-mail too when forwarding to the company-wide mailing list.

By default, GW supports Internationalization and someone in the developer community is working on a translation UI extension.  IMO, this support is already better than a lot of rich-client software.

One of the robot available in the Dev Preview is to parse information and stats in a wave on demand.  So what happen is that, let say if you copy and paste a table of data into a Wave, you can use the robot to generate data visualization on demand while you are in a conversation with others.  This makes collaboration much easier because everyone will be able to see the same (raw) results.  There are also data aggregation robots out there to pull data from Amazon, The Guardian UK and weather channel.  In theory, users can utilize OpenAPI from anywhere on the Internet and pull information into a Wave and generate contextual views.  This makes plain-old Web 2.0 tools look like dinosaurs.

For each Wave, you can post reply to messages from other like what you do in a Forum, or you can edit the post like a document.  The real-time feature to see who’s typing what is very cool.  When you are getting a long answer to a question, you don’t have to wait till the person has finished typing.  There is also a playback feature where you can see the sequence of replies and editorials of the Wave itself.  So this feature is kind of like mixing Wiki history with real-time collaboration.

Did I say that this is Open Source?  And there is a voice feature.  May be it will link to Google Voice as well in the final product?  For businesses, running a team meeting would be possible via GW.  The search and filtering features in GW are pretty decent as well.  But if the user is not aware, he/she can stay in the filter mode all day instead of looking at new Waves from friends or the team.

Although I like what GW has so far, I think at this point GW is too complex for a lot of non-tech savvy users.  Learning curve will be longer for some people, and it can be weeks or months.

A Wave is definitely more of a conversation, as in a 2-ways dialog.  In addition, we can turn the a wave into a document.  This makes Twitter more of a self-center update.  I think GW will definitely reduce the time for people to collaborate and communicate, as long as the users are comfortable with it.  Offline feature enabled by Google Gear would be a nice addition to any web application.  And Google Gear is already working on Android phone.  So I can’t wait till Google Wave to be available on my Android phone.

My next step is to test the Google Wave API when the new update in Dev Preview is available.  (Also pending on what new features will be added in Google Wave Federation Protocol.)  May be then I’ll be able see all the true power of Google Wave.  Stay tuned.

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For the last 6 months or so, I have been trying to find new ways to make life easier at work and keep training myself with new technologies with minimal searching.  There are a few tools that I have been using, but need to get some of the latest and greatest capabilities to get myself more productive than ever.  Any tools help better multi-tasking, I’m all for it.  So here are a few tools that I have been using lately and found them useful.  I do include a few additional options in each categories, tools that I have tried.

Mindmap

Mindmapping is probably one of the best ways to write down notes and thoughts.  It allows one to become a freeform thinker and easier to brain dump or brainstorm.

Tool options: Mindjet MindManager, MindMeister

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Personally, I like using MindManager.  With mindmapping, I can always draft out exactly what I want to say when creating a new powerpoint presentation or document.  Make sure the flow will work, then I will covert the map into the document shells, all from the software.

Documents

Everyone knows that Google offers a list apps for document creating and collaboration.

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But Zoho is another option.  They do provide some additional features under the Business Apps category.  For personal productivity, it is worth a try.  Features like Zoho Meeting seems promising when collaborating with a friend.

Task List

Nowadays, keeping a good task list is very important.  Especially using a task list service which provide mobile access.  Remember The Milk is probably one of the better task list services I seen.  I like the fact that I can tag a task and add notes in addition to the summary / title.  More details with the task itself, the easier to pick it up later on.  It has happened before that, write down a note and 5 minutes later, forget what it was by only reading the summary line.

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In addition, I can pull the same task list to Google Calendar, BlackBerry, iPhone, Gmail Gadget, or Android phones.

A Good Notebook

Like I said before, mindmap is great for brain storming.  But sometimes it is hard to write down notes from other people using mindmap.  So keeping a good notebook, either physical or electronic, is good for productivity.  For the last couple years, I have been using Google Notebook heavily to Open Source or personal POC projects.  However, Google has stopped development on Google Notebook.  I use it for many things like keeping bookmarks and write down a few private thoughts and rating on them.  Zoho Notebook is an alternative for online users.  But sometimes when I am in a meeting or at a coffee shop, I may not have online access.  So Microsoft OneNote has become my choice to keep track of information.

If you like to keep using physical notebooks, I strongly recommend those with hard covers.  I lost my notes once when someone tip over a cup of hot coffee.  Hard covers give you a little bit of advantage when that happen to you.  :)

A Good Browser

Whichever browser you prefer Firefox, Chrome, IE, or Safari, make sure you get familiar the shortcuts.  Also try addons like FireGestures.

Ergonomic and Last Thought

Good keyboard, good mouse, good size monitor and a good chair are the key to success!!!  All important!

Personally I always use multiple computers to help multi-tasking to make sure I am always on top of things.  For this last topic, my recommendation is to get a laptop or netbook on the side.  When you are playing games or writing a list of documents, you can do a quick search on the net or to send a quick IM to a friend/coworker asking a quick question, you don’t have to close the documents.  Not to mention the fact that, you can easily get infected by computer virus when surfing on the net.  Having a throw-away computer on the side for these type of activities help avoiding problems and troubles if it so happen got infected by some new computer virus.  (e.g. losing work and restoring files from backups, etc.)

Having multiple screens works well too, but not all work laptop comes with good video card to handle multiple large screens.  A single laptop screen is not exactly the best setting for multi-taskers.  :)