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The work from home coronavirus survival plan

The work from home coronavirus survival plan

In response to the Coronavirus, companies have been considering sending employees home to combat the spread of the virus if it happens to come to their city. Great idea! If you aren’t working next to someone, there is less of a chance you will be infected, and less of a chance your company will have to stop doing business. And that’s what it’s all about.

So let’s say you have been sent home to work and you probably have never worked from home before. Have no fear, I am here to give you the tips to be a successful work-from-home employee. I “took it to the house” in 1990. Early in my career, I decided I wanted to work for myself, and that meant I had to work from home. Now over the past three decades, I have worked at home and had office space with high rent. When my partner and I decided to close our design firm, Atticus Communications, back in 2009, my goal was to step down the size of the company and reduce my office expenses. Oh, and I did it the same time we were raising young children. Take that as a warning.

Here are my recommendations for working from home and getting work done.

 

Get Up

You have regular office hours, and they don’t change now that you are at home. If your office or clients start work at 8:30 am, you do too. Now that you don’t have a commute, I recommend you get started at 8:00 am and check your calendar and emails and whatever else you need to do to start your day off right.

 

But the rest of the family is still asleep

Even better, this lets you start your workday without interruption. And this is not an excuse to stay in bed.

 

Take a shower

We do this every day, no need to stop now. Take that shower, knowing that you need to start work promptly when your workday starts. You may be thinking, of course I’ll shower. You will be amazed at how tempting it is to just roll out of bed and fire up the laptop.

 

Put on clothes

Sounds silly when I write this, but working in your pajamas does not make you feel and act like the professional you are. It just feels “temporary” if that makes any sense. Put on clothes, not the suit and dress you are forced to wear at your place of work, but something that you are comfortable in, like weekend wear.

 

Put on shoes

This is the big one for me. I have a hard time explaining this, but wearing shoes helps me focus on work. I don’t feel as casual about the work that needs to get done. Maybe it’s because one of the last things you do before heading off for work is to put on shoes, and that puts you in the right frame of mind. These are comfortable shoes. In my case, it may be some Adidas Campus ADV skateboard shoes or Oboz Sawtooth hiking shoes. And I am not afraid to admit that many times they may be Birkenstocks or Crocs.

 

Create a dedicated workspace

This is important. You need a place to spread out your work, possibly leave it there for the remainder of the week, and is a comfortable space to work. When I was childless, I had a dedicated room. Then I had a corner of the laundry room (much nicer than it sounds), and now I am at the end of the downstairs den, where we used to have a play area for the kids. Once I realized all they did was throw toys on the floor and not play there, the kids and toys were evicted. Best decision I ever made. Now I have 200 square feet of dedicated office space. 

But back to you. Maybe it’s the dining room table, or you have a desk in the bedroom. These are great temporary places to work. Maybe put a small folding table in the den to work from and use a comfortable chair. If you are one of these people who can balance a laptop on their laps while curled up on the sofa, then fine, work there. I don’t understand how you can do it. I can work on the couch, or at the coffee shop for short sprints, and then I am back at a table. 

In my job as a graphic design, I look at a lot of stock photos, and I am always amazed at how these photographers portray subjects with laptops. They are lying in a field, or on the courthouse steps, in a dress no less. My favorite is the person who is in a pool working on their laptop. Nothing could go wrong there! You are not a stock photography model. Work where you are comfortable. But I digress.

 

Get the spouse on board

“Honey, while you are home, could you run a couple of loads of laundry?” No. You can’t run a couple of loads of laundry, you have to work. But it’s so easy, the machines are just downstairs or in my case just around the corner from my office. Explain to your spouse that you have work to do, and you won’t be doing chores until the workday is over. You don’t know pain until you listen to the chunka-chunka of the dryer while you are trying to work.

 

Get the family on board

Families with small children, I feel your pain. I have a 17 and 12-year old, and I have worked at home during this time. Childcare is your friend, and you need to use it if you want to work from home successfully. But if your company sent you home to work, then you know the daycare has been shut down as well. The kids are coming home.

If you have teenagers, then lucky you, they have probably locked themselves in their rooms and don’t want to be hanging out with you anyway. The downside is they are hogging all the internet bandwidth.

Younger kids don’t give a crap that you have work to do. All I can tell you is that you need to create some boundaries. They are not going to let you ignore them for hours at a time, but you can get some uninterrupted time if you negotiate with them. “Let me work until ten, and then I will play Zelda with you for 15 minutes”. Do what works in your home. This is no time to be a good parent and limit their electronics time. This is survival.

A couple of years ago, I posted this short video illustrating what someone who works from home goes through. School was out, and summer camp programs had not started. My youngest son decided he needed some qualify father-son time.

Don’t do chores

You got your spouse on board, and they don’t expect you to have the six loads of laundry done by the time they get home. But it’s easy just to throw some clothes in the washer and rotate them throughout the day, right? Maybe it’s the dishes in the sink or whatever. Don’t get started on this time suck. Give yourself permission to ignore the domestic chores even though you are in the same house with them. This is still your workday.

 

Use your lunch hour wisely

You are at home because you don’t want to catch the plague or whatever reason the office sent you home. There is no reason to go out for lunch. Eat at home. Think about how much you spend for lunch each day when you go out and the savings you will have.

Lunch takes me 15 minutes. I usually eat at 11:30 or 11:45, so I am done by noon. My phone or email is not going to ring for the next hour. Have you been spending all morning thinking about that load of clothes in the dryer? I give you permission to fold them. Now is the time to do it.

If you have chosen to work from home permanently, then going out for lunch is a great way to get out of the house and see nature/people/traffic. Sometimes you just need to go on a short walk outside.

 

Take a nap

Yes, you read that correctly! Do you get sleepy right after lunch? Take that 15 or 20-minute power nap, but be careful! You need to learn how to take a power nap, not a regular nap. I have learned that I can lean back in a comfy chair or sofa, close my eyes, and rest for 15 minutes. This is super helpful at home and could get you fired in an office. Need justification, lunch took you 15 minutes, and the power nap took another 15 minutes, you still have 30 minutes to burn.

Warning: I have found that if I lay down on the sofa or bed and take a “nap” then an hour later, I awake in a panic to missed phone calls and opportunities. Turning off lights during your power nap is a no-no. Don’t get too comfortable.

 

What if you are indeed sick?

What if you happen to become infected with the Coronavirus or just the flu? Don’t try and work. Don’t try to get that one report to Steve in marketing because of whatever whiny reason Steve gave you. Take care of yourself. Drink plenty of water, get plenty of sleep, and take the medicines that were prescribed for you. You are job number one right now. Steve? His deadline was probably arbitrary anyway. Steve doesn’t care if you are sick, but you should.

 

There you go, work-from-home tips from the professional. Let’s hope you don’t get sent home, and the Coronavirus is just hype and doesn’t become a real problem. But if it does, or you just want to work from home one day, I hope this list helps you get work done.

 

Feature Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

How To Maintain  Your Website

How To Maintain Your Website

When your brand new website goes live, it’s easy to move on to other projects and not think much about it until the information gets old or you are ready to give it a refresh. Even if you are actively posting stories and updating content, it’s easy to ignore the rest.

But a website is much like an automobile, if you take care of it with regular maintenance, it will give you great service much longer and with fewer major issues. 

Here are some basic tasks that you can do, and should do, to keep your website running smoothly.

1. Update your passwords

Your website will be under attack from bots that are trying to access your site. Your first line of defense is having a secure password. More than likely your site had a secure password when it was turned over to you. There is a chance that you may have forgotten it and you reset it with an easy password (password123 anyone?). Change your password regularly and if you have trouble remembering these passwords, use a program like 1Password or LastPass to keep up with them and to suggest secure passwords. 

2. Create regular backups of your site

One day your site will go down, and you will want to be ready. On every site that I create, there is a plugin called BackupBuddy. I used it to transfer the files from my development site to a clients host. I usually make one last backup before turning the site over to the client. If you have been making regular updates to your content, you need to be making backups as well. And when you make the backup, download it to a remote location of your choice.

On my personal sites, I have BackupBuddy do regular backups on sites with changing content. I download a copy to my backup hard drive which is, in turn, backed up to Backblaze. I also send a copy to Google Drive.

3. Keep your files updated

The core WordPress files and plugins are constantly being updated and improved. There are feature updates, and there are security updates. Security updates are made when a new vulnerability is identified, and the developer wants to plug it. You need to make sure you have the most secure files in place.

Do you have a premium plugin or theme? If the license has expired, you’re not getting updates. Make sure that you have a current license and the plugin is up-to-date. And as always, before you update, make sure you do a complete backup and download the backup file to a remote location. Doing this could save you some heartache.

4. Do your forms work?

Periodically test your forms. They may have broken for one reason or another or the person who was getting the forms has left the company. Check that the right person is getting the right form. You don’t want to miss a sale.

5. Delete Comments

I recommend to my clients that they don’t accept comments on their website and blog posts. We turn off comments before our client’s site goes live but for some reason spam comments still get through. These aren’t harmful since they aren’t public, but they do take up space on your hard drive. Go through and delete these comments. 

If you do accept comments, make sure you are running the Akismet plugin to help manage these comments and filter spam. An alternative would be to let people comment on your Facebook page that is linked to your website.

6. Broken Links

Go to your site and test all the links and make sure they still link to something. If you have a link to another website and it has gone away, you may need to edit your content. 

7. Have you looked at Google Analytics lately?

More than likely you have a Google Analytics account, and it is connected to your site. Log into Google Analytics and see what pages people are visiting on your site. Is it a particular blog post? A product page? This information may help you focus your business or at the least, create more of the same content to drive traffic.

Are a majority of your visitors using mobile phones? You may be surprised to know how many are. Make sure that your site is mobile ready so that your visitors can get the info they need and take action.

8. Optimize Your Images

It’s easy to grab a stock photo or download one from your camera and add it to a blog post. WordPress will resize feature images after all. What you don’t realize is that large photos are slowing down your site. Before you upload a photo you should optimize it as best you can. Including resizing it to final size and compressing it when saving as a jpeg. You can use a plugin such as Smush Image Compression and Optimization to make the file size even smaller. Nothing will drive a visitor away faster than watching a photo slowly reveal itself onscreen.

Not sure how to resize your images? I use Photoshop, but there are cheaper options you can use such as the online Canva.com. There are other downloadable programs depending on your computer platform. GIMP is free and available for most platforms.

Finally, if you have an image file and you need it converted and optimized, use the website jpeg.io.

9. Add more security

As I mentioned in the first item, Update Your Passwords, bad people are trying to gain access to your site, and we can do more than just change the password. We can add a security plugin. I am a fan of iThemes Security plugin. With its basic setting, when a bot is trying to brute force attack your website, you can lock them out after a predetermined number of attempts for a particular time. A brute force attack is a trial-and-error method used to obtain information such as a user password. There are other options you can set, and the paid version gives you more. Wordfence is another popular plugin.

10. Hire someone to update your site

You may not have the time or energy to keep your site updated and running smoothly, but it still needs to be done. If you can’t-do it yourself, consider hiring someone to maintain your website and keep it running smoothly. Someone like me!

A little maintenance will go a long way. If you stay on top of it, your website will give you years of service.

Find typos before your readers find them

Find typos before your readers find them

Just because you have a blog doesn’t mean you have a full command of the English language. This blog is a prime example of that. And because we all know that in most cases, blog posts are one person cranking out story after story, sharing their experiences and advice with us for free, we give them a pass. Let’s face it; it’s rare that a blogger will hire an editor to make sure their stories are free of spelling and grammar mistakes.

This blog post is not a rant on grammar etiquette. It’s not a rant on the Oxford comma (I prefer not to use one), or when to use there, their and they’re (I always have to think twice before moving on). I have just noticed that it is becoming more and more evident that no one seems to be using an editor (including myself).

Why? I am seeing more and more stories from companies that are large enough to have an editor on staff, pushing out stories with glaring spelling mistakes. Sure, you used ‘their’ instead of ‘there’ in the body copy but the headline? You can’t make a mistake in the headline.

Since you are probably like me and don’t have a staff of writers or editors, here are some things you can use to help you write that next blog post.

In-app editing tools

I use Google Docs to write. If you write in Word, TextEdit or any other writing app, you already have tools built in. Right now I am looking at squiggly red lines showing me that I have misspelled something. Do you see them? Sometimes I think people look right past them. Click on them and often you will get the correct spelling of the word, a dictionary and a thesaurus. Depending on your app, you may have other options built in.

Grammarly

Let’s cut right to the chase. Grammarly has saved my life. It is a free application that makes sure everything you type is clear, effective, and mistake-free. Grammarly loves the Oxford comma, and you can see it in that last sentence I copied from their website. But I digress.

Mostly, Grammarly checks for critical grammar and spelling mistakes. With the premium version, you get advanced checks for punctuation, grammar, context and sentence structure. Vocabulary enhancement suggestions, genre-specific writing style checks and it will check for plagiarism. Unfortunately, it does not work inside Google Docs. I will finish my story in docs and cut and paste the story into Grammarly, check the content and do final edits there. I will then copy the final version into Google Docs for safe keeping. Grammarly is not cheap at $140 a year, but it’s a service that I don’t think I can do without so I don’t complain about the cost. That may be a lie, but I get over it pretty quick.

A real live human editor

Let’s face it; we don’t hire an editor because we are either poor or lazy. You can still have someone take a quick look at your story for obvious mistakes. Maybe in your immediate sphere of friends and family, you have a business partner, a spouse, or a teenager who has better grades than you had in high school. You could even send it to your friend that goes on-and-on about the Oxford comma on Facebook.

There you have it. Three options to help you as you write your next blog post and to keep those typos at bay. And here is one more for the road. When you finish your story, let it sit for a day then come back and proof it. The mistakes you made will be much easier to see.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to reading about the grammar mistakes I made in this story.

World Backup Day is March 31

World Backup Day is March 31

Don’t be an April Fool. Be prepared. Back up your files on March 31st.

That is the header at WorldBackupDay.com, and I couldn’t have put it better myself. World Backup Day was established to help people learn about the importance of regular backups. Let’s face it; if you lost all the data on your computer or phone, your world might fall apart. I know mine would, and that is why I have multiple backup plans in place for when that does happen. And it will happen. Hard drives eventually fail, laptops get stolen, and phones get dropped in the lake.

So let’s cut to the chase. Backup your computers now. Make sure the pictures on your phone is backed up somewhere. If it’s on a hard drive, you need to back it up.

My Backup Plan

I have multiple ways I backup data and the first starts with a backup service. I use a paid service called Backblaze. After an initial backup, the service is continually backing up the most current changes on my laptop. It is even backing up external hard drives that I have attached. The best part is that it only costs me $5 a month. You never see it, and you never have to think about it.

One of my favorite features is “Locate My Computer. ” It came about because some of the Backblaze users had their computers stolen and were trying to find a way to retrieve their devices. They realized that while some of their programs and services like Find My Mac were wiped, in some cases, Backblaze was still running in the background. Backblaze was able to figure out where the computer is contacting them from, so they could retrieve their laptop.

I also use Dropbox which is not a backup but I kind of use it as one. I initially started using Dropbox when I had an office and would sync my computer at work to my computer at home. Eventually, I moved my office back home, and I work off a laptop now. All my work files are on Dropbox so I can share them with others, and those files get backed up to the cloud.

Dropbox has a limit to how much data you can have depending on your plan. To keep from going over and spending more money I backup old files onto a Job Backup hard drive. That drive is backed up as part of my Backblaze plan. I put the files in dated folders that contain files that are no more than about 3.5 to 4 GBs in total data. I then burn a DVD of each of those folders. Why would I do that you might ask? Because I still have a stack of discs and I might as well use them. I rarely ever have to go back to find jobs that are older than a couple of years, but at least it makes me feel better.

As a final backup option, I create a mirror of my computers hard drive on a removable drive. I purchased a Western Digital My Passport for Mac that is a little larger in storage than my laptops hard drive. I love that they are small, portable and are powered by my laptop. I can throw them in safe or some other place for safekeeping. The software I use is SuperDuper! I do this manually, so I have to set up a schedule to remind me to keep those files up-to-date. I always make sure that I back up the computer before I go out of town and I leave the backup at home.

I hope that helps you get started with your backup plan on March 31st. And don’t forget to also backup on April 1st, and 2nd, and… you get the picture.

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