Like all companies in this new world order, Charity Dynamics has had to transition to being 100% virtual, which is strange for those of us who worked in the Austin, Texas, office. During a team meeting, the UX team talked about what they were doing to stay productive and organized while working from home, and then asked several of co-workers what they’ve done. You’ll find that music, office layout and focusing on productive habits are big across the board. Here’s what –some of our team members had to say—we hope you learn something too!
Brenda M., UX
Working from home is definitely a learned skill. I’ve had to really practice keeping a schedule and separating work time from personal time — it’s a daily struggle and I usually experience and learn something new every day.
My top tips for an effective workplace are:
- Organizing my thoughts. I’ve tried to take notes on my computer, but it just doesn’t work for me. For some reason, when I write it on paper, it’s like my brain takes it in and allows for a more creative process to digest the information. I’ve had to train myself to convert everything I’ve written down that day to Basecamp, a task, an email or a UX strategy document. It’s usually how I close out my day. The best part is when it’s transferred, I get to physically cross off the note on the paper, crumple it up and throw it in the recycling bin. Yesssss.
- Having music to inspire me. When I need to be heads-down on a project, I love chill beats. Lately, it’s been a lot of A Tribe Called Quest, King James or Thievery Corporation. But sometimes, I sit in silence, especially when I need to write vs. design.
- Moving. I have a love/hate relationship with Zoom. I love that I get to see people, but sometimes a full day of Zoom meetings is hard on the eyes and soul. To help keep the insanity at bay, I will work out in the a.m. and then when meetings are done, go on a walk, no matter how hot it is outside. (Texas, y’all. The heat struggle is real.) Just getting some fresh air after a lot of Zoom meetings is the answer!
- Connecting with my crew. I host a weekly CD Happy Hour and it’s one of the things I really look forward to all week. I get to hang with all the cool people at CD and laugh, and, of course, cheer each of them with my favorite bevie of the week. I wanted to learn a little bit about my colleagues, so every week a team member takes five minutes to present on something they love or just want to teach us about that isn’t related to work. When you are done, you get to pick who does the next five minutes. It’s been a great way to learn about each other and unwind with everyone at CD. If you follow us on Instagram, you might have seen a five-minute presentation showcased here and there.
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Brenda C., Boundless Fundraising
Here are a few things I do to help keep me productive and happy:
- I love having my desk face the window. I like the natural light coming into the room and it’s nice to look out and see the trees.
- I realized if I schedule tasks throughout the day in my calendar it helps me be more productive and stay on task. I also sprinkle breaks and lunch on the calendar to remind myself to take a quick break and lunch.
- While I like the calendar as a to-do, I also like having a list where I can physically cross out to-dos. Something about crossing out a to-do with a highlighter gives me joy.
- I sometimes close teams on my end when I don’t want distractions to finish something I am working on. We use it internally in Boundless Fundraising, so it can sometimes be a distraction.
- I like to listen to beach waves, white noise or classical music when I need some background noise but don’t want to get distracted with lyrics.
My must-haves for working at home include:
- Separate room. For me, the No. 1 most effective thing is having a separate room from the rest of my living situation. I consider myself lucky enough to have this as an option because, without it, my distraction factor would be through the roof. Before self-isolation, it was beneficial with having a wife and child at home with me on certain days. During self-isolation, it has been essential to have a separate room to be physically removed from distractions for myself and for them as well.
- Multiple monitors. For my work, this is another necessity. I have even been using my iMac as one of my monitors. You can do this by purchasing the right cords and adapters depending on the version of the computer you have; here is some info on how to use your iMac as a monitor.
- Good light. Light helps get me in a better mood (or a darker mood if that is what I’m needing in the morning! haha). My office lighting includes an overhead light with a fan (gotta keep that heads-down work stank flowing), a vintage lamp with crazy warm vibes and a window for that real light (watching the outside world also helps my brain take a break every once in awhile).
- Podcasts/music/silence. Podcasts in the morning, music while the work is flowing and silence when I need to unplug for a moment (another benefit to that separate room situation).
What has helped me with my home office set up are these main things:
- Purposely getting up to move around at least once an hour (and setting an alarm to do so). Not having a standing desk at home as I do at work has forced me to be more cognizant of sitting up straight/not getting into bad posture habits and the alarm helps with this.
- Plenty of water/healthy snack options. My home office is downstairs in the family room next to the kitchen. Which is good/bad for ease of snacking! I have a full pitcher of water along with fruit/protein bars in my line of sight of the cupboards/fridge to get in the way of carb-y/heavier foods to snack on.
At the beginning of quarantine, I built a new wall desk setup for our home office so that my wife and I could each have our own separate workstations. My wife is a physical therapist and she had me add a few ergonomic elements, including monitors at the appropriate height and a sweet standing desk option. Best part is, she gave me the “friends and family” discount and took off 10% of her normal asking price – hard negotiation but worth it!
Also, variable lighting always helps as I want to look pretty for my abundance of zoom meetings. Who needs expensive lotions and creams when you have great lighting? I’m ready for my close-up 😊
Aside from having multiple monitors, which is an absolute necessity, I find that my productivity is not so much influenced by my immediate physical environment as it is by my virtual environment. The worst obstacles for me getting work done are the endless distractions that live on screen.
Here are some things that help me minimize distractions:
- Scheduling set times throughout the day to check emails and notifications so that I can stay as focused as possible during other times. I protect myself aggressively by limiting notifications in the first place, but this is getting harder and harder to do.
- Ignoring my phone. I often go as far as to leave it in another room when working so that I only check it during breaks or slow times.
- Listening to audiobooks and podcasts. Obviously, some kinds of work are not compatible with extracurricular listening so this won’t work for everyone in every context, but if I’m heads-down doing visual design, prototyping, coding or testing tasks, I can get to a place of intense focus if I’ve got something interesting to listen to on the side. It’s like a distraction from all the other possible distractions, so it’s a net benefit.
- Blocking access to timewaster sites and social media. This may be a controversial one and I wouldn’t advocate for something like this to be mandatory, but I often block my access to timewaster sites and social media during work hours. I’m a news and politics junkie even in the best of times, but these days I pretty much have to shield myself from the entirety of the internet during work hours or I won’t accomplish anything at all. One of my favorite browser extensions for this purpose is called Go F*cking Work and it berates me with profanity-laced insults any time I wander off task. It’s a fun way to hold yourself accountable, but there are plenty of less mean options out there as well.
I realized a few weeks in that my home office was very cluttered. It caused me to feel like I was living in chaos. It’s important to make sure your office space exudes the right energy. For me, I needed one of calmness and organization, so I decided to redecorate.
I painted the room in my favorite purple/grey color; it’s very soothing. I bought a fun rug and a pillow for the chair in the room, then took out all the colors that didn’t fit the space, including wall art.
I set up a Zen table with mood lighting that can be controlled with my phone, plus I added a salt lamp, a delicious smelling candle and incense and a diffuser. Color and smell are critical elements to my feeling calm. Plus, I have a speaker for listening to music when I’m not on calls. Smooth jazz helps me relax.
I also love orchids and they make me happy, so I brought my best-blooming plants to my desk so that they cheer me up and I get to see them all day. Plants can be very therapeutic.
If you got through all these thoughts, what resonated with you? Is there anything you do that works like a charm that you want to share?
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