00:39 – Going Rogue Video
01:10 – Working From Home
02:17 – Office Setups/Furniture
- LX Desk Mount LCD Arm
- Aeron Chair by Herman Miller
- VendorGear Headrest for Herman Miller Aeron Chair
- A standing desk for $22
09:27 – Office Mates
10:17 – Music/Background Noise
11:32 – Footrests
14:24 – Time Management
23:47 – Communication/Collaboration
30:40 – Productivity
39:29 – Task Management
- Google+ Spreadsheets
- Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
- Rolodex Stacking Tray Support
- Rolodex Elegant Warm Metropolitan Look Desk Tray
- The Freelancers’ Show 073 – Book Club: Getting Things Done with David Allen
- Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i Instant PDF Sheet-Fed Mobile Document Scanner
45:57 – Computing/Networking Equipment
48:33 – Decoration
- Whiteboard/Shower Board
- Windows/Natural Light
50:41 – Using Mobile Devices or Tablets
- Hell’s Backbone Grill (Joe)
- Calf Creek Falls Trail (Joe)
- The Rochester Panel (Chuck)
- ShareMouse (Chuck)
- Michael Vey (Chuck)
lodash with John-David Dalton
[Hosting and bandwidth provided by the Blue Box Group. Check them out at BlueBox.net.]
[This episode is sponsored by Component One, makers of Wijmo. If you need stunning UI elements or awesome graphs and charts, then go to Wijmo.com and check them out.]
CHUCK: I’m Charles Max Wood from DevChat.TV. I just want to remind you that I did put up that video, GoingRogueVideo.com. It basically just outlines the first year I was freelance and getting laid off and just explains some of the challenges and some of the mistakes I made, some of the things I got right. And I gave a bunch of advice to people who are thinking about or going freelance. If you’re curious about it, go check it out. It’s about half hour long and I really appreciate you taking the time to look at that.
Anyway, related to that, this week, we’re going to be talking about working from home. Joe, you said you’ve done a bit of this, working from home.
JOE: Yes, indeed I have.
CHUCK: I’ve been a freelancer working from home for the last three years. So, I think there’s plenty to talk about.
JOE: Wow! Three years now.
CHUCK: Yeah. Last Friday was my Freedom Day, is when I got laid off. And I didn’t celebrate it then but I do now.
JOE: Yeah, you mentioned it but you didn’t say like how many years it had been.
CHUCK: Oh, I didn’t? Yeah, it’s been three years.
JOE: Three years. I worked at home probably for around three to four years total of my career.
CHUCK: That’s awesome.
JOE: It’s been at various jobs, probably three or four different jobs that I’ve worked at home. And then there’s certainly been some jobs where I’ve worked at home as part of the time.
CHUCK: Gotcha. Yeah, the last full-time job I had, I did some work from home. But now it’s full time, it’s really nice. I really like it. But it does get tricky sometimes.
JOE: Yeah, definitely. I think my first question for you, Chuck, is about your office and how you arrange your office and your workspace and what do you do there.
CHUCK: My office is one of the bedrooms in my house. We are actually looking at building out. We’ve got what we call the random wall downstairs and basically it separates one living area from another. The one area is sort of the front room but it’s a little bit too narrow to really make a good front room. And then the other area, we use it as a play area. It was initially a dining room. And then we have the TV area and the kitchen. And so, that’s kind of a great room that doesn’t have high ceilings or anything.
Anyway, right now, I’m in a bedroom. I basically have a cubicle in my office which is kind of something that people laugh about but it’s a huge desk. And it actually does have the wall panels that you would have on a cubicle. And it also has the overhead shelf with the thing that you can pull out and close it up so I can hide the mess in there.
And then, we also have a roll-top desk in here which we’re going to get rid of. Anyway, on my desk, I’ll probably have to get links to all these. But I have this Ergotron Monitor Arms that I’ve got my monitors mounted on. And then I have a Mac Pro sitting on my desk. I also have all of my recording equipment on my desk. And then I have like an inbox and stuff that I use for my getting-things-done process. But yeah, that’s pretty much my desk setup.
JOE: Nice. Sounds like you’re fairly well-organized.
CHUCK: Yes and no, it depends on the week.
CHUCK: How about you, what does your desk setup look like?
JOE: My office is an actual office and it’s got a C-shaped desk with a built-in shelving above it. I got double monitors for my PC that sits on my desk. And then I’ve got my MacBook Pro sitting right next to it in a sort of 90° angle. My office tends to be a little bit more of a mess like my office at work, whenever I’m working away from the office, I will keep it like nearly pristine. I’m cleaning it once a week, wiping everything down. But here, at home, it tends to feel like — I don’t know if I just don’t spend the time or what. But it tends to be a lot.
CHUCK: Yeah, I have the same problem. What I found is that since I work in here all the time now, when I come in here to clean it up, I always get distracted by the things I’m working on.
CHUCK: And so, I never quite get it all the way cleaned. But yeah, I definitely see that. What kind of chair are you sitting in?
JOE: Every maybe two years, I go down to Office Max and try to spend right around $120 on a chair. And so, it’s not a particular kind or brand of chair. If I probably gotten any, then I’d probably see. But I just look for one that’s got good ergonomic controls that still sits in the $120 range.
CHUCK: My chair is the Herman Miller Aeron. And I got it off of Amazon. I also got the headrest for it. But the Aeron costs in the neighborhood of $900.
JOE: What did you spend on it?
CHUCK: About $900.
CHUCK: But it comes with like a 20-year warranty. And if anything happens to it within the first 12 years, they’ll just replace the chair if they can’t send somebody out to fix it. And they will send somebody out to fix it as part of the deal. And the headrest is nice because since my monitors are actually about four inches off of my desk, I can actually lean back in the chair a little bit and still have things lined up where they should be ergonomically at the top of my monitor. And that’s really nice.
I’m also looking at getting a standing desk. I actually found, it was a Lifehacker article, I think. I’ll find it. But it’s for a standing desk and it costs like $25 for all the parts, something like the IKEA parts. And I’m looking at putting that together and then splitting my time between sitting and standing because I spend all of my time in this chair. It’s a comfortable chair. It has full ergonomic control. I can set it up however I want and it’s really nice but it definitely would be nice to spend some of the time standing.
JOE: If I spent $900 on a chair, I’d live in that thing.
JOE: I’d sell my house.
CHUCK: Yeah. It is a pretty nice chair. The thing is I’m in here all day, every day. And I really don’t have any prospects of going back to a full-time job. And so I figured, since I’m spending so much time in it, I may as well get something that’s comfortable and supports my back and does all the things that I need it to do.
JOE: I believe in that too. But boy, that’s a serious cash to spend on a chair. I mean, is it 9x more comfortable than the $120 chair I bought? That’s my question.
CHUCK: It will last 9x longer, how’s that?
JOE: Yeah. But I can’t amortize that cost this month.
JOE: And I’m not going to save up for 20 years to buy that chair. [Laughs]
CHUCK: That’s true. I really like it. I’ve been very happy with it. I think it’s worth the money. I don’t have as much back pain as I did. So, there’s something to that right there, just [inaudible]. And the other problem was is that because my wife got me the $100 Office Max chair and it broke within a year, and that was one issue. The other issue that I had with it was that, and I don’t know if it’s the way that I sat in it or what, but sometimes it has some circulation issues with my legs. And I haven’t had that with this chair.
JOE: Oh, that’s nice. That’s totally worth the money if you’re having those kinds of issues. That’s for sure.
CHUCK: Yeah. It was just when I was sitting in that chair and I don’t know what it was or why. The other issue I had with it was it would creak. And so, when I move around while recording a podcast, it will go [squeaking sound].
JOE: Yeah, that doesn’t work.
CHUCK: So, there’s definitely that issue as well.
JOE: Yeah, that doesn’t work at all. You can hear my door, my door creaks. So, I’ve got that going on for noise in my office. Other than that, my office, this chair is actually quiet. But since I’m recording all the time as an author, I’m just doing video courses. So yeah, noise makes a big difference to me. It’s really important.
CHUCK: It’s the same here. I’m going to start building courses, not for Pluralsight, just for my own listeners. But yeah, it does make a difference.
JOE: Is there going to be a discount code for panelists on the podcasts for those?
CHUCK: For those lessons?
CHUCK: We’ll see how it all works out. I’m still working out some of the details. I did announce on the Going Rogue videos that I was going to be making some videos on going freelance and running a freelance business, things like finding clients. And I’ll probably do one on working from home and kind of staying an organized life, work-life balance, that kind of stuff.
JOE: What about officemates? Does she do any work in your office?
CHUCK: Only when she needs to print something.
CHUCK: That’s not really been an issue. I have thought about taking on an intern or somebody. But I don’t know. I think it would be weird to have him come work at my house.
JOE: Right. I have an officemate. My wife, she’s a coordinator. She places exchange students. And so, she does a lot of office work, phone calls, and emails and that sort of stuff. So, I actually have an officemate. Dealing with that is definitely sometimes a challenge to try to figure out how we can coordinate, especially since I’m recording sometimes. I need to be quiet and sometimes, it’s just like white noise, although I just tend to throw in my headphones while I work anyway which I would do whether I was in a [inaudible] office or not.
Do you listen to music while you’re working?
CHUCK: It’s kind of funny. Most of the time, I actually listen to podcasts. And I’ve had several people go, “Whoa! You listen to podcasts while you program?” And yes, I do. I really enjoy podcasts and I can usually pick up what I want out of them while I listen to them. So, that’s what I do. If I really just need to get into the groove and don’t want to be distracted by anything, then I’ll turn off the podcast and turn on some music. And I’ve got a bunch of classical music. I’ve got some country music and some techno music. It just depends on what I’m in the mood for.
JOE: Right. I remember I was talking about that, the fact that you’re really weird because you listen to podcasts.
I actually have one other piece in my office that I think is definitely noteworthy and that’s my Chihuahua.
JOE: He sits on my lap for the majority of the time while I’m working.
CHUCK: Oh, really?
JOE: Yeah. He’s a tiny little dog and he’s just a really spoiled brat. So, if I’m in here working and he knows it, he’ll come down and just demand to get up on my lap.
CHUCK: [Laughs] That’s funny.
JOE: It’s pretty funny. So, he sits here probably 80% of the time that I work.
CHUCK: I’ve also got a little footrest under my desk. So, I put my feet up on that. By a footrest, I mean like a full-height Ottoman.
JOE: Oh, okay. I had a workmate who actually bought a footrest online, he bought it off of Amazon. It was like $60 or something. And it looked like a cylinder that was cut in half and it was made out of foam and had these rubberized grips on it and stuff. So, he had a real footrest.
I actually have a footrest too. I just bought a little cheap plastic basically step that you might use to — it’s like six inches high or eight inches high. I got it over at, I think, Wal-Mart, just a little plastic kind of a stepping stool kind of thing. I use that for a footrest.
CHUCK: Yeah, that makes sense. The one I have collapses. It’s full leather. It’s actually kind of really dirty because I wear sandals or shoes because my feet get cold in here. And so, I put my feet with my shoes up on it and stuff. But it’s been really nice and I could actually hide stuff in it.
JOE: That was good. Those things, I think, being comfortable when it comes to position, obviously is the same way that you’re working in an office away from home or working in an office at home. When you’re working at home, there’s nobody buying these stuff for you, right?
JOE: So, it’s important to do things. And so, I guess between you and I, we kind of cover the range. I’m doing everything on a budget. [Laughs]
CHUCK: See, I’ve been doing this for, like I said, for three years. So, I tend to invest in like one major piece every so often. This desk, it’s an L-shaped desk, incidentally. I don’t know, it cost my wife a couple hundred dollars I think. She got it for my birthday or something. But yeah, like the chair, I got the chair because I couldn’t take the cheap chairs anymore. It was painful. I wasn’t comfortable and it just made a big difference for me. And so, yeah, every so often, I’ll invest in something big like that.
JOE: In my last house where I didn’t have a built-in desk, so I actually bought a desk now and I spent a lot of money with a very nice configurable desk. I bought like three pieces, it was L-shaped. And I probably spent $700 or $800 on that. And it was really nice. I ended up selling it to a company that I worked for because we didn’t have enough desk space and we were [inaudible] so I brought it in and just used it myself. And when I quit, they purchased it from me.
CHUCK: That makes sense.
JOE: Because I didn’t need it anymore. That as one thing I spent good money on. Maybe I’m just too cheap.
CHUCK: It really depends. If the payoff is worth it, then it makes sense. So for me, the chair was worth it because it really made sense. It solved a lot of problems for me.
JOE: Right. What about hours? What do you about managing your hours, your time in the office versus your time away from the office and work-life balance? What do you do there?
CHUCK: I’m not always good at this. It just depends on how much I have going on. I have to say that I’ve managed a couple of major things out of my life so that I have more time. The thing that’s most important to me about the time management is that I’m doing the freelancing for a couple of reasons. One is because I’m just not convinced that I can find a job that I’d be happier in. But the other reason is because I really want to spend this time with my kids and my wife. And so, if my kids or my wife have something going on, I’m not in here and that’s nice. Sometimes, I feel like driving the kids to school, I just drive them to school. If something’s going on and I want to pick them up and take them to lunch, I’ll pick them up and take them to lunch.
Generally though, I try and work from like 8:00 to 5:00. But that can be punctuated by anything, really. I do set some boundaries so I close my office door. I let my wife know that I’m working, and so, most of the time, she and the kids won’t bother me if I’m in here with the door shut. So, I do have some boundaries that way. But if she needs my help with anything, my wife will just let me know and I’ll just head down and take care of it. And so, it’s really kind of nice that way.
The other thing is that if I do have a major project and I do have one right now that I’m working on for the business like a course or I don’t know, some app that I’m trying to get released or something like that, a lot of times, I’ll actually get done at 5:00, I’ll go downstairs and spend time with the family. And then, once the kids are in bed and my wife is doing something else, then I’ll come back up here and work.
And so, that works out pretty nicely a lot of the times. And so, I’ll put in another three or four hours before I go to bed. But I don’t need [inaudible], I just do that when I feel like it and I really try and make sure that my wife knows that I value the time with her and make sure that that works.
It is kind of tricky sometimes to manage the interruptions especially since my kids are really young. My oldest is seven and my youngest is two. But it works out for the most part. I have had to start locking the door to my office because my two-year old will come and he’d be confused when I’d kick him out and not play with him. So, I lock the door. I have one of those doorknob covers that you put on it that the kids can’t open it and stuff like that.
I also have a plastic child gate that goes on top of the stairs. And so, whenever I’m recording, my wife says, “Don’t forget to put up the gate,” so that the kids don’t come up here and start yelling and screaming because you can hear them in the next room.
That’s kind of the way that I manage that. I try and get about 20 to 25 billable hours in every week with my clients and then obviously, I have the podcasts and then any other projects I’m working on. So, hours and work-life balance, that’s kind of how I manage that.
CHUCK: How about for you?
JOE: Since I just started, it’s been a challenge. All my previous experience has been working for a company from home. I don’t think I was doing any freelance. I’ve done certainly plenty of freelance on the side. And that would be, I’d come home from work, have some freelance job. And so, whenever, like you said, kids are in bed, wife is busy, I’d come down and spend an hour to three hours doing some work, freelance. And that was pretty easy to manage and not have it become overwhelming. There would be case when there would be some freelance work that would start occupying me and I’d have troubles drawing the lines.
But when I have a job when I was just working for a company from home, then I’d generally found it fairly easy as long as I got up on time, got in and sat down by 8:00, took an hour lunch, then 5 o’clock came around. I didn’t have too much problem getting up and going, leaving the office and kind of being back involved with my family.
Usually at the same time, I was probably doing side work. So, I’d still end up in the evenings going back downstairs and doing something else. But it was pretty nice to be able to say, “I’ll go have lunch with one of my kids,” in the middle of the day. Or if I needed to go and run an errand for my family, I could do that. And just take that time and start heading back on. I don’t have too many problems with that.
Being an author is a little bit different. I’m having a harder time cutting off my hours on time and spending time with my family. So, I’m still trying to figure that part out because being an author, it’s all piece rate. I only get paid for what I get done. Whereas when you’re an employee, if you’re sitting at your desk for eight hours and doing work-type stuff, then you get paid even if you’re having unproductive days. You get paid the same as the day that you’re very productive.
CHUCK: Yeah, it’s similar with the freelancers. If I bill per hour and if I’m sitting here trying to work on it, even if I’m not getting a lot done, I can usually bill the hour. Sometimes, I discount the hour but I can still bill at least part of it.
JOE: As long as it’s justifiable, you know you’re not screwing your client.
JOE: But obviously, if you’re doing something and you feel like, “Okay, I shouldn’t be billing my client for this,” or start reading some email, that, I think, is actually hard for me when I’m working at home. If I start doing some personal things like reading email then I’m having a harder time considering that work time. Whereas if I’m at work and I spend 30 minutes reading email, I don’t really sweat it too much.
CHUCK: One thing that’s really helped with that kind of thing, because I tend to get lost in my email box too, is Dan Miller has a product called Rudder of the Day. His podcast is 48Days.net, I think, or 48Days.com. Anyway, what he recommends is that you spend the first hour of your day, right when you wake up, you start doing this kind of thing where you listen to something or read something or do something that kind of sets the tone for the day.
And so, for him what he does is he gets up and he’ll actually go walk on his treadmill and listen to an audio book about business or an audio book about something he’s interested in. Or he’ll go and he’ll sit down and he’ll read something for an hour. And that kind of starts things off so that you’re already been productive for an hour. But it doesn’t have to be work stuff; it’s self-improvement stuff. And so, he gets his self-improvement time in and he gets a good start to his day.
I’ve tried that several times and it’s made a big difference every time I’ve done it. I’m not in the habit of doing it every day yet, but I’m trying to make it a habit because it does make such a huge difference to that.
The other thing is I now do not check my email first thing during the day because it will totally trash an hour.
JOE: Yeah, definitely good too. I kind of check my email first and then after that, I’ll go and get to work. I’m actually shutting my email tab down and my browser and I turn my phone off so that I can actually be focused and not be distracted.
You said you had worked for some jobs part time from home before you went fulltime, is that right?
CHUCK: Yeah. What happened was I read 4-Hour Workweek. There are stuff in there that I agree with and stuff in there that I don’t agree with. The main thing I disagree with about that book, just as a side note, is the fact that I love what I do and so, why would I want to limit it to four hours? [Chuckles] And so, he talks a lot about working less and earning more. And I would rather work more and earn what I earn because I love what I do.
Anyway, one of the things that he talks about is to get time away from your job. What you do is you start talking to them about letting you work from home a day or two a week. And that way, you can get away. The real trick was that I had to convince them that I’d be more productive at home. He gives you some strategies for that. Again, like I said, I don’t agree with everything he said because it kind of sounded like what you do then is you obviously put in a bunch of your best work initially to get them excited about you working from home and allow you to work more from home. And then eventually, you get to the point where you can take time for yourself to do whatever it is you need to do. And I feel like if I’m collecting a salary, I owe them eight hours a day. And so, I didn’t feel like I could take the time — I didn’t feel like it would buy me any more time except for my commute, of course. But the nice thing was is I really did feel more productive at home. And so, it made a difference that way.
So, I started working from home. Part of the time that I was working from home, I would just work in my kitchen because I didn’t have an office set up yet. But once I started doing the podcasts and really needing the space, then when we moved into this house, I set up an office in this room. This has never been anything but my office in this house. And it worked out really nicely. And now, I have my own space that I can do my work in.
JOE: So, with your freelance, do you end up working with other people very much?
JOE: Not just the client, but actually like other workers who are contributing to what you’re doing.
CHUCK: The client I’m working for right now, I’m on a team of probably a dozen or so programmers and QA people working on their product.
JOE: Being at home, what do you do to manage communication and collaboration?
CHUCK: With that, usually the clients, if they have a team set up like that, then they have their own mechanisms for doing that, this team and the other team that I’ve worked on as a freelancer. Incidentally, I have only done two team projects. Most of the rest of them have been sole projects or project where if I’m working with a team, it’s a team that I actually pulled together and they’re subcontracting to me.
Anyway, we use Skype primarily for that. So, we’ll get on Skype and chat with each other. The last client I did team work with, they actually used GoToMeeting as well. Obviously, then you also have your project tracking software that you use. This is more along the lines of software but that’s what the show’s about. So, with the team I’m working with right now, it’s Pivotal Tracker. The last team was JIRA. Just saying ‘JIRA’ gives me nightmares.
CHUCK: Apparently, you can make it work. And I had that explain to me on the iPhreaks Show this week. Anyway, you have those. The project tracking software is really important for just keeping track of how the project is going. It’s more important to when you have remote workers than it is really when you’re in the office and you can actually sit down and discuss it because it becomes a place where you document stuff for discussions that may have been had online over email or in person. And so, everybody needs to know about it, so you have to make sure it goes in there.
Usually, there’s some kind of Wiki. But this team and the last team are using the Confluence Wiki which is also written by Atlassian who wrote JIRA. It’s not my favorite Wiki but Wikis are Wikis, and so, I didn’t despise it. And that’s always nice because then you have a place where all your documentation goes and you can point your people to it and things like that.
JOE: Do you ever use Trello?
CHUCK: I’ve looked at it but I’ve never actually used it with a team. But from what I understand, it’s sort of imminently configurable. And so, you can make it fit whatever process you have because you can make it whatever you want it to be. But yeah, it’s pretty nice.
The last team I worked on, all of those meetings happened over GoToMeeting and they had an account that would accommodate the entire team. I’m trying to think what else we really use to communicate. I think Skype was the primary thing.
On the last project, we actually did pair programming in the Cloud and so, we used Tmux and Emacs to do that. The machines we logged into were all on Amazon AWS. And so, we just log in, connect to the same Tmux session and work. And we’d pair program, so we’d be talking over GoToMeeting or Skype. And that seemed to work pretty well.
But on this team, there isn’t a whole lot of pairing going on. But at the same time, everybody’s remote. Well, almost everybody’s remote and it just works out with Skype and everything else. So, we just communicate, ask questions, goof around on Skype, that kind of thing. Then, we all work on our own machines. They actually sent me a laptop to work on, so I have one of their laptops here. I’m supposed to be able to connect to the VPN. The software they sent over to connect to the VPN doesn’t work. So, I’m still working that out. I haven’t actually been able to get on their Confluence Wiki yet, for example. And so, those are some of the issues you run into because you’re not in the office where somebody can just, you take your laptop over to them and they fix it.
I think those are all or most of the communication channels that I’ve used.
JOE: Gotcha. I’ve done a fair amount of remote pairing. And I use various programs for that. My favorite, by far, has been TeamViewer. I’ve probably used four different ones. And of all the ones I’ve used, maybe around five or six, but of all of them, TeamViewer has definitely been my favorite, and then, just making a Skype call.
I’ve done a fair amount of remote pairing where I had one job for about eight months. Me and another developer, we paired six hours a day remotely. He was in Idaho, I was in Utah. Of all of them, I’ve definitely found that TeamViewer is my favorite. And it’s free which is really nice for personal use.
JOE: Right, good point. I’ve used some paid products in the past. When I was working with that guy, we used a different product; I don’t remember what it was. But since then, I’ve discovered TeamViewer. So, whenever I get on with like a friend to help him out with something, I’d use TeamViewer and it’s always been awesome, really enjoyed it.
So, I’d say that and Trello has been really cool. I’ve used Trello in a couple of places. So, I’ve used it a little bit. I really like Trello as well for coordination.
But on the other hand, I’ve done some projects where their communication was just Excel spreadsheets or Google Docs. As long as you find the process that works for you, you really don’t need to have some overly complex tool.
CHUCK: Yeah. I’ve used some of the other tools like, I can’t even think of them anymore. But there are some of the more popular agile project tracking software out there. There are these huge projects. JIRA is an example of that. So, there are billion moving pieces and I guess you can configure it to act the way you want. But because there’s so much going on in it, it’s hard to use. And so, VersionOne is another one where it’s just, you look at the screen and you’re immediately overwhelmed.
And so, that’s one thing I like about Trello, Pivotal Tracker. I’ve been using Redmine and Redmine does a bunch of stuff but it’s all nicely siloed within the app, so that if you’re dealing with your projects, you deal with your projects and your issues related to that. If you’re dealing with users in the system, you’re in a completely different part and it’s all pretty simple. And I’ve been using Redmine for my own projects with the guys that are working for me. And I’m super happy with it. It’s written in Rails and I’ve actually done some work supporting it. That’s another just nice thing about it is that I can go in and hack on it if I need to.
JOE: Awesome. So, overall, would you say that you find that you’re more productive at home than you were in an office?
CHUCK: Generally, yes. One of the big reasons is that when I’m at home, I actually get fewer interruptions than I ever did at the office. Another thing is that every office job that I’ve had, I may have worked in a room with a door, but I also worked in a room with a whole bunch of other people. And so, if one of them turns up his music too loud or is doing something, somebody’s having a conversation in the same room, all of that stuff, it really does distract. I’m even putting my headphones on to only solve it.
And so, that was one thing that makes a huge difference for me here is that I can close my door. I can turn off Skype. I can turn off the messages on my computer. I can turn off Twitter and all of that stuff and I don’t get interrupted. I’m pretty good at ignoring most of that stuff anyway. But honestly, if I need to just make it all go away, I can. And then, I just shut my door and nobody bothers me and it works out really well. And that is honestly probably 80% of the productivity increase I’ve gotten here at home.
The other thing is that I can set up my own system and it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks because all my clients care about is results. And all anyone else cares about is whether or not I pay them. And so, as long as my system is in place and it works, then I’m in good shape. And you don’t always have the flexibility to do that in an office somewhere.
I have considered, on some occasions when there’s a lot going on or I’m here with the family, I’ve considered that it might be nice to actually have my own office somewhere else. But the inconvenience of having to drive there for one, and just not being here with the family, it is almost always not worth it.
JOE: I’d say I agree with that. I feel like being in the office, good days, I may be getting five hours of what they truly are paying me to do and then three hours of distractions. Although those distractions, a lot of them are actually important, company really wants those distractions like somebody needs some help. And so, if I help them out, I might save them several hours by me giving up five minutes of my time. So, it’s definitely things that distracts [inaudible]. But then there’s plenty other distractions where something fun is going on, people having conversation about something interesting that really isn’t that productive. And so, I would say that good days, I’m putting in five hours and bad days, I’m putting in between three and four.
And when I go home, it probably means that an eight-hour period on good days, I’m putting in seven hours. And on bad days, I’m putting in six. And then, distractions account for the rest of it. So, I would definitely say I’m more productive at home than I am in the office.
CHUCK: I figured that I lose about 50% of my time when I’m in an office. For example, when I’m working at home, I have to track my time that I’m working for clients and I typically get five to six hours in for my clients. And so, if you figured I work eight to nine hours and I got five to six hours of work in, I’m getting 75% efficiency here. So, I’ve already reclaimed half of the time I lose.
The other part of the time is typically sitting down and planning something out for some other projects. So, planning out a course or planning out a project or talking to my subcontractor and making that all happen because I can’t bill that time. So when I’m pairing with my subcontractor, I don’t bill that time. He bills it to me. Things like that. So, it’s still productive work, it’s just not tracked. It’s a huge, huge thing.
Do you have any tricks for increasing productivity? Making those hours count for more?
JOE: Yeah. One of the things that I started doing more often is actually tracking my time down to the minute, not by what I do like breaking it out by what I do. But actually, every time I get up for any other reason or start responding to email, I track that. Whether or not that’s using a timer or just writing down the times, I track that. And that’s really been eye-opening to me as to how, in an eight-hour period, as to how hard it is to actually put in eight hours. It’s impossible for an eight-hour, even if you got to get up and go use the restroom. That’s time away from what you’re actually doing.
So, I started tracking that and it immediately caused me to start shutting off my email, start making better clear expectations of my family about, “Okay, I’m at work right now. You can’t interrupt me until this timeframe.” And so, that actually caused me to have this huge increase in productivity which is just actually tracking the actual time that I’m really, truly working.
CHUCK: Yeah, it’s been interesting. I’ve done that a couple of times in the past that usually last for a few weeks, maybe a month. It’s always interesting. Two things happened for me. One is that I see that and I see where I can improve and so, I start to improve. But the other thing I found is that just tracking that time and realizing that I’m not getting as much in as I wanted, it tends to cause an uptake almost immediately when I start tracking it.
JOE: Right. And that’s not probably something you need to continue doing on long term but just doing that for a while and then seeing what it actually causes you to like, like leaving my Gmail tab open in my browser, that right there caused me an hour a day. So, if I turn that off and just open it up once at noon and once at 5 o’clock, and respond to emails that I’ve gotten, that’s so much better. Taking my phone and not necessarily turning it off, but setting it so that the only time it buzzes is when I get a text message. That way, I know that if it’s a text message, it’s a message from my wife or a friend who needs something. So, I can just quickly check it. And if I have to do it, then I do it. If not, I go back. But I don’t get bothered by emails and things like that.
So, if your email was an important part of your communication, then mostly most systems are going to allow us to use filters to say, “Only these things count as work emails. I want to be notified about these. Everything else is not, I don’t want to be notified about them.” You could set something up. But those personal emails, the ones that, “Oh, it will only take me a quick minute to respond,” or a quick question from a friend about something. Now, I’m organizing a conference, so I get emails about that. Those things just eat up so much time if you get times here and there rather than just one sitting down and saying, “Alright. I got five emails that I need to respond to and 20 I can archive and delete.”
CHUCK: So, do you have any tools for helping manage your email load?
JOE: No. I’m just turning it off because I only get pretty much just personal emails or things that are unrelated to what I’m actually getting paid for.
I’ll just say there’s one other thing that really helps out, and that is communicating clearly with your family or whoever you cohabitate with. And you’re all sitting down, “Alright. I’m working from here until now and then I’ve got time. And then, I’m working again.” Just setting up clear expectations right there, I think also — because they’ll be more likely to honor that than a coworker will. When you’re in an office and a coworker has [inaudible] to you, they feel like they’re interrupting you for business purpose. Whereas your family, when they interrupt you, they know that they’re interrupting you for personal reasons so you set that clear expectations as to what interruptions are okay and what interruptions can wait and what times you’re working. And then also, clearly saying, “And I’m done at this time. So now, you get my time at this time.” Those clear communications, I think, really make a big difference as well when you’re working at home.
CHUCK: That is definitely the case here too. I don’t have a clear end time most of the time for my work, so I’ll just come downstairs sometime between 5:00 and 6:00. But if my wife interrupts me enough times, a lot of times I look at her and just say, “Alright. I’ve had to take enough time out of my work schedule today to where I now need to work tonight.” So, she’s usually pretty aware of that and understands that if she takes out more than about a half hour of my time during the day, I’m going to have to make it up that night one way or the other.
And so, she does call me down for emergencies. Sometimes, she calls me down for something fun and that’s fine. But yeah, setting those boundaries and then helping them understand the tradeoffs, it really does make a big difference.
JOE: Yeah, for sure.
CHUCK: Do you have some kind of task management that you use to keep track of what you’re doing?
JOE: Excel or Google Spreadsheets. Spreadsheets, whether that’s Excel or Google Spreadsheets are absolutely, by far, the most versatile business tool, business software there is ever, and project management software that has ever been invented. There’s just no doubt about it. There are other things that are really good. But even though really great ones like Trello, for straightforward stuff, you just can’t beat a spreadsheet.
CHUCK: Yeah, it really depends on what it is and what you’re trying to do with it. But I found that a spreadsheet is pretty handy. My to-do app is actually, of choice, is Omnifocus.
I have to kind of explain my whole system. First of all, I read Getting Things Done by David Allen. Excellent book if you want to kind of get organized. By organized, I mean really, really organized. [Chuckles] I was a total mess beforehand. So, I’ve got these boxes, like the mailboxes that you see on people desks in offices. And so, I get mail to my house for my business. And so, I’ll actually take that. I just throw it in the inbox and then I make sure I process that regularly.
And by process, usually what that means is I’ll whip out my scanner. I have a ScanSnap i1300S or S1300i, I always get those mixed up. But it’s a little portable scanner. It’s probably like two inches by four inches by about 12 inches or 10 inches. It’s 10 inches so you can fit a piece of paper in it, and it feeds the paper through. And so, I’ll take the stuff from mail and I’ll actually scan it into the scanner. And the scanner came with software that scans it right into Evernote. And so, it goes to my Evernote inbox. And then I can process that. So, if it’s something I just need to keep track of, then I just move it over and done with it. If it’s a bill or something, then I can actually go and pay the bill and then move it into ‘processed’ or ‘filed’ or whatever. If it’s something else, then I’d put it into Evernote.
I also keep usually outlines of blog post ideas, just things like that. Blog post ideas, in fact I can even pull it up. I’ve got project ideas, I’ve got all the information from my clients. So, if they sent me a PDF or anything, I throw it in there. I get business cards from conferences, I put them in there and I try and keep up with those folks. So, that all goes in there.
Between Evernote and Omnifocus, I’ve got my list of things I need to do. And in Evernote, I’ve got resources for that. So, I know that the stuff is in Evernote so all I have to do is look at it too. I also have a pretty long to-read list. And so, if I have something that I want to read, then I put it into Evernote and I put it into the ‘to-read’.
I’m actually thinking about using Mac’s print functionality because you can print to PDF. They actually print blog posts and websites that I want to read to PDF and then moving them to Evernote. But then, everything’s there.
And then I have Evernote and Omnifocus on my phone. And I use the Omnifocus contacts for things like when I’m in the car or when I’m waiting for something. And so, I have the contacts set up there for that. And if I’m sitting around waiting for something, then it will list like phone calls or different things that I can do while I’m just killing time somewhere where I’m in not in front of my computer. And so, that all works out to just to get stuff done and help me kind of process through all of the stuff that comes in and basically get it to one or two places so that I can just deal with it there.
It sounds kind of complicated but trust me, it so simplifies my life. [Chuckles]
CHUCK: Yes, because everything comes in from all these different places. The only other part of my inbox and processing system is my email because obviously, I have to handle that differently. But again, I’ve got an inbox and then it just manages all that. I use SaneBox. And so, it filters out a lot of the stuff that I don’t need to pay attention to and I can just deal with the rest of it. But anyway, I kind of got this process.
If you’re interested in getting things done, we actually did a Book Club book on Getting Things Done with David Allen. And you can check that out on the Freelancers’ Show. I’ll put a link to that too.
CHUCK: I’m trying to look around at what else I have in here. I have my podcasting setup, but I did a video on that. And so, if people want to see what I’m using, I’ll put a link to that too.
I’ve got an HP OfficeJet printer in here. I’ve got all my books in here. I tend to prefer eBooks these days. I just put them in my Kindle. If I get a new eBook on my computer as opposed to through the Amazon way of getting them, then I put them into Dropbox. And then, I use a program called Hazel and it actually processes all the stuff. And so, it puts the eBooks on to my Kindle when it’s plugged in and stuff like that.
JOE: You really got it well-organized.
CHUCK: That’s one thing that I really found about working from home and running a business is that if you could make a lot of these stuff in the systems, then you don’t even have to think about it. Usually, one of the major hang-ups is, “I got this bill, what do I do? Do I pay it now? Do I have time to pay it now? Do I pay it later?” Blah, blah, blah. Instead, I got this bill and I’m going to toss it in the inbox. And then, when I get around to processing the inbox, then I go through it. And it’s no-brainer. I got a bill, I’m going to scan it in my computer and put it in my to-do list.
And then when I have a few minutes, then I pay it, stuff like that. You just have a system. You review your to-dos every week. And it’s like, “Oh, it will just take me a couple of minutes to take care of it, so I’m just going to do it now.” And then, you pay the bill. Or, “I need to schedule some time.” So, that part of the process is, “I need to schedule the time to do this,” so I go to my calendar and I put a time into my calendar and make an appointment to do it.
There’s a lot there. A lot of it came out of Getting Things Done. I can’t recommend that book highly enough. But yeah, definitely worth looking at.
I’m trying to figure out, what kind of computing equipment do you have in your office?
JOE: I got a PC and a MacBook Pro, is primarily what I use. And I do most of my authoring on a PC. And on the MacBook Pro, I use just for demos, for when I’m out and about, when I’m speaking, that sort of stuff. So, not much. Everything that I need to get my job done.
CHUCK: Right. What kind of networking equipment do you have?
JOE: I’ve a pretty nice wireless router. I spent like $90 on it or something like that, although my PC is hard-wired in. It has a four-port switch on it as well. And then, I’m with the cable company for Internet because they have a lot more bandwidth and really low latency.
CHUCK: I have, I think it’s the AirPort Express. It’s like an $80 router. The thing is that I found that if you get the $20, $30, $40 router, after about six months to a year, I don’t know what changes but they just don’t have the same quality or throughput and what have you.
CHUCK: And so, I tend to go with that. The nice thing about the AirPort Express is that it has a couple of USB ports on it. So, I have a hard drive plugged into it and my printer could plug into it if it didn’t connect to it wirelessly. So, that is a super nice thing for me. Then I can just store things up on my hard drive on the network.
JOE: That’s awesome. That’s a really nice wireless hub. I’d like that capability, to be able to throw a remote hard drive into my wireless device and get the network drive that way.
CHUCK: Yup. And then I have a Mac Pro like the big cheese grater one. I actually bought that from my previous employer. I’ve also got this 21-inch monitors that are up on Ergotrons that I told you about already. Then I have a Mac Mini sitting on top of that that I use for business stuff and I’m going to move all of my telecommunications over to that. So, these Skype calls will start coming through that. And then, all of the communication I do with my clients and stuff will also go through that. And then I can do all my computing on this machine.
Anyway, just being able to customize my setup to my own needs and not have to go and beg budget off of my boss, I have to say that’s a pretty nice thing too.
CHUCK: Are there any other aspects? Do you have plants in your office or anything? I’ve got some house plants here.
JOE: No. I have a shelf where I keep a sundry amount of geeky gifts, Yoda Bobble Heads and some things like that. I keep a couple of pictures around as well. But my office doesn’t actually have space. I keep a lot of entertainment things nearby in my office. So, I’ve got a TV just off to the left of my monitors, DVD players and shelvings. I don’t really have much space for decorative things.
CHUCK: I’ve got three house plants in here. One other thing I didn’t talk about that’s on productivity tools, I have a whiteboard in my office.
JOE: That’s cool.
CHUCK: I didn’t go buy a whiteboard-whiteboard because those are like a hundred and something bucks. If you go get shower board at Home Depot, it works just as well. It doesn’t erase quite as cleanly. You have to put a little bit of elbow grease behind it but it comes off and it’s not too awful. But anyway, that’s one thing that’s been really nice. So, if I need to brainstorm and I don’t really feel like sitting in my computer and using my mapping software or whatever, I’ll just get up and I’ll start writing on my whiteboard. And it’s a low [inaudible] way to get ideas out of my head. So, I really like that.
CHUCK: One other thing I really like about this office is that it’s got a nice big window in it. When I get rid of this roll-top desk, I’m actually going to move my desk to the other corner because I have the full-height wall across the window right now, and I really wish that I had the half-height wall across the window so that I could actually see out of it while I’m working and get more light in here.
CHUCK: Because the natural light is really kind of a big deal for me.
JOE: I hear you. I like that too. I enjoy the window in my office even though I keep the blinds mostly shut, I still get all this natural lighting from it that I really like.
CHUCK: And as far as like, sometimes I have to do stuff on Windows and I just set up one of my Macs to do a boot Windows, so I just do a Boot Camp.
Do you use a mobile device or a tablet or something to help you with your work?
CHUCK: Yeah. I’ve tried and I really don’t. The only thing I use them for is to play the podcasts and music.
CHUCK: So, any other recommendations to people?
JOE: One thing I do use my tablet for isn’t necessarily like directly work-related, like I’m not billing when I’m on it. But I watch Pluralsight videos on my tablet. And so, I’ll take that whenever I go out somewhere. I’ll take my tablet and my headphones if I get some downtime. They’ve got a nice offline viewer so I can cue up videos of stuff I want to learn. And much like on your phone, taking some downtime and reading an article. Obviously, both of us are screen casters, we believe in the power of screen casting and the educational value of videos. I just find that those videos are so much better. And even if I’m watching them on short bits, I still prefer that over trying to read an article or something like that. That’s been a big thing that I’ve done.
CHUCK: Yeah, I agree. It’s nice too because you can pause it and then kind of catch up if you’re following along on your machine.
CHUCK: And the nice thing is if it’s on a third screen like an iPad, then you can use your full dev environment the way you would only do because I usually have my dev on one side and like a browser on the other because I’m doing web dev. And so, having my iPad sit in front of me, playing the video, I just stop it there and then I can keep working where I’m at.
JOE: Right. That’s a good point.
CHUCK: One other thing I want to mention is I have a Bluetooth speaker for my mobile devices. And so, that’s kind of nice too because then I don’t have to worry about piping it through my computer. I can take my phone with me across the room and it will keep playing. It’s really, really super nice. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well.
CHUCK: Alright, I think we’ve been talking for most of the time that we usually allot for this. So, I’ll go ahead and wrap this up and we’ll do the picks. Do you have some picks?
JOE: I do. I’ve got two picks. They are very geographical picks. I spent the weekend down in Escalante, Utah which having lived in Utah and having heard about it, I was surprised at what an amazing place it was. I’ve never been there before. So, I’ve got two picks from Escalante, Utah area.
A restaurant called the Hell’s Backbone Grill which sounds like a biker bar, [chuckles] but it’s not. It’s a really nice restaurant. It’s just out in this little tiny town like a farming community, I don’t know. It must be like less than a few hundred residents in this area. And it’s just in the middle of kind of a tourist-y area that isn’t super tourist-y, [inaudible]. You’re just driving through and all of a sudden, there’s a hotel/motel/restaurant. And it is consistently rated, [inaudible] rated, very highly rated, constantly the best restaurant in Southern Utah, and just absolutely amazing food. You can go in there and you have the kind of food that you expect to have only in like the finest restaurants. It was a little pricey but it was absolutely delicious. It’s named, Hell’s Backbone is actually a [inaudible] came in there in Central Southern Utah and so, it’s named after that. So, that will be my first pick is Hell’s Backbone Grill.
My second pick is a hike in Escalante, Utah. It’s the Lower Calf Creek Falls Hike. And it is consistently rated one of the Top 10 hikes in the nation. So, it’s about three miles in, two miles out. There’s not much elevation change so, it’s not a terribly difficult hike. It’s over sandy grounds so it makes it a little bit harder than hiking on hard ground. But you’re down inside this canyon walking along this river and you come up and you’ll end up in these falls and then hike out. And it’s just absolutely beautiful, an amazing hike. Some of the cool scenery, the red rocks on both sides of the canyon. Even the Indian hieroglyphs, you pass them. And on our way out, we had a storm roll in and it started to rain just a little bit but it was a big thunderstorm. And the wave of the thunder echoed off of the walls of the canyon while we were in there. It was just absolutely amazing. So, that will be my second pick is the Lower Calf Creek Falls Hike in Escalante, Utah.
CHUCK: Nice. There’s some Indian writings out by where my wife is from. I’m trying to remember what they call it. It’s out in Emery County and you can hike out to it. It’s not that far actually. Anyway, I’ll see if I can find the link to that too because it’s really an easy hike.
My picks this week are a little bit different. My first pick is ShareMouse which is an application that allows you to share your keyboard and mouse across multiple machines. I used Teleport for a while which is Mac only and it worked for a while and then for some reason, it quit working and I just didn’t have the time or inclination to figure out why. I tried a few things and they didn’t work so I just gave up. I started using Synergy which I’d used in the past. Synergy is open source and it’s free and it will allow you to connect to PCs or Macs. And for some reason, they quit working too. ShareMouse works between them. You do have to pay for it but it’s been awesome and I’ve really liked it. So, if you’re looking at sharing keyboard and mouse, then ShareMouse is a cool [inaudible].
Another pick that I have, I’ve been reading these books. I’ve actually been listening to these books. My wife bought the audio books. She goes to a book club just with the local neighborhood and they talk about different fiction books. Most of these books really aren’t books that I’m interested in, but she told that I’d really like these books and it turned out she was right. They are the Michael Vey books by Richard Paul Evans. And Michael Vey and a bunch of other teenagers turns out that they have these powers that’s centered around electricity. And so, they can all do different things with electricity. So, it’s this adventure that they go through with the corporation that’s trying to find them and stuff. Anyway, really, really fun books. I’m listening to the third one right now which is the latest. It’s not going to be the last because my wife told me that apparently, it doesn’t resolve well all the plot points. Anyway, they’re pretty good and the narrators are really, really good. But the narrator on the first two isn’t someone you would recognize but the narrator on the third book is actually Kirby Heyborne. And he’s been in a few movies and stuff. Anyway, fun books and I highly recommend them.
And yeah, the rest of my picks are all the stuff we talked about in the show. Go out and check those out. And we’ll wrap this up.
JOE: Yeah, absolutely amazing book. That was such a great book.
CHUCK: And with that, we’ll wrap up. We’ll catch you all next week.