Home, Productivity

How to design the best home office. Three things that you should do to before you start working on it.

While the country is still struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses of all kinds and sizes are struggling too.  Many people are still working from home, in some cases, permanently.  The idea of having a home office suddenly becomes as good as having enough living space.  During the first couple of months of this emergency, many people were improvising a small space to work.  Now that it is a reality that you will be working from home either part-time or full time, it is time to stop improvising and start “building” your workspace at home.

A workspace should be a space dedicated to work only.  Create the habit of working in this area only and do not leave any work items anywhere outside our workspace.  The ideal situation is to have a separate room but, not everybody has a spare room available.  It is helpful to practice 5S around the house to eliminate clutter and create more space.  You can transform an underutilized area like the guest room, the baseman, or even a corner or a wall in your room or garage.  If you have a nice shed with lighting and insulation, big enough to steal space for your office, that will work too!  

But before you choose the space, there are three things that you need to do, understand and learn the purpose of your office, your needs, and how to maximize productivity.

Understand the purpose, what exactly are you going to do?

Take your time to plan and create your workspace.  Start with the purpose of the area, are you going to work on the computer only, or you will have conference calls?  Any chance of a video conference?  How about visitors?  What do you need from your internet service?  Are you going to use multiple web-based applications, VPN, firewall? Are you going to print or file documents? 

What do you need to accomplish your work?

Once you know the purpose of the area, think about your needs.  What do you need besides the basics like a desk, chair, and computer?  Be aware that I said needs, not wants.  We all want to have a modern, well-equipped office home, but do you need to have all the equipment you have available at your workplace? Create a list of what you need, what type of equipment, storage, cabinets, and others.  Do not forget internet service speed and reliability, electric outlets, and lighting.  Knowing all these things, you can estimate the space you will need.

Create the environment to maximize productivity

After identifying what you need to accomplish the purpose of your home office, you are ready to choose the best space.  Know the area before you start moving or buying stuff to create the office.  Remember that even when you are home, you need to keep your productivity levels.  With that in mind, plan the layout and how you are going to use the space.

Consider some basic ergonomic rules, like the following.

  • The top of your computer screen should be at eye level or a little below. 
  • Position your keyboard so that your forearms are parallel to the floor. 
  • Adjust your chair so that your feet rest on the floor, or a footrest if you’re short.  

While planning the layout or how you are going to organize your equipment, follow these organization rules.

  • Set minimum and maximum limits for office supply items.  
  • Identify the best location for each item based on the frequency of use and ease of access and return.  Most used items go closer to the user.  
  • Incorporate 5S into the area from the beginning, use visual management.  Mark the location and inventory limits of each item visible.  Use color code for your filing system and create signage to communicate to your family that you are busy in a phone call or video conference, have visitors, or in time-out (no interruptions).

Also, use these tips to create an environment for better productivity.

  • Privacy and the appropriate environment to foster concentration and productivity are critical considerations.  
  • Boundaries are necessary to keep separate home and office spaces.  You can use partitions and free stand dividers to create a physical limit.  
  • Also, thick carpets and drapes, bookcases, and plants will help to soundproof the area. 
  • Follow your work routines or create new ones, like getting dressed, work schedule (clock-in and out times), and time for your breaks.
  • To keep focus and feel connection with other humans, you can get out of your home office and work from the library, a co-work office, or a nearby cafe every once in a while.

Create your space and start using it.  If something does not feel right, change it.  The beauty of a home office is that you don’t need to ask for authorization to change things.  If you follow all the steps indicated before, you plan how to create the office, create the office, start using it and identify what did not work to change or adapt them.  You just follow PDCA and 5S as guides to create the best workspace you can.  You can follow these same guidelines if you are in need of creating a space for your home-schooling child.  To create the best workplace at home start with understanding the purpose of the space, know your needs, and design the area to maximize productivity.   

Office, Productivity, Time Management

How do you deal with distractions in the workplace?

Udemy for Business surveyed US workers in 2018 about distractions at work. More than half (54%)  said that their performance is not as well as it should be because of workplace distractions. Half of them think that they are significantly less productive. The top two distractors mentioned were chatty coworkers and office noise. They also indicated that open office layout and digital distractions are affecting the ability to focus.

Even if you don’t work on an office setting distractions are affecting your productivity too. Here are some tips to avoid them.

  • Know when your focus and creativity levels are higher and plan to do your most difficult tasks during that period. Block that time in your calendar and notify everybody that you are not available unless it is an emergency. 
  • If you are a morning person, try to come earlier to the office and take advantage of the quiet space. If you are a night owl, you can stay later to tackle those tasks.
  • When you need to focus on an important task while everybody else is present, set some rules. Let everybody know in a polite way that you need some “Do not Disturb” time.
  • Create the perfect environment, avoiding distractions. Turn off all notifications, chats, and social media. 
  • Set specific periods to interact with business emails and social media.
  • Keep your work area clean and organize to avoid visual distractions.

Regardless of how hard you try, somebody or something will distract you. There are a few more things that you can do. For example, learn how to manage distractions like emails and office noise. Learn how to manage your emails, using blocks of time to work with them. Use headphones to cancel the noise or have a sign to tell people that you would like to not be disturbed during that time.

Also, remember that having a good night’s sleep and healthy eating habits will help you to have the energy to concentrate. Find your own trick, and keep the focus!

Productivity, Time Management

What are the benefits of getting organized?

Get organized at work, and relax!

The ultimate goal of every professional is to achieve a work-life balance. I am not an exception. When my career started to grow, I found myself with not enough time to do the things I like. I realized that organizing myself and my daily work was the only solution.

The average person wastes 4.3 hours per week, searching for information. The Wall Street Journal reported that the average executive spends six weeks per year searching for misplaced information. Six weeks is a whole lot of hours!

To answer what are the benefits of being organized here is my top five reasons:

  • Improved productivity – Being organized will help you to focus on what is important, not the clutter. Focusing on your work will make it easier to identify what you want to achieve. Organizing will also save you the time of looking for things. Knowing the place for everything, it is easier to get the information you need faster. If you don’t have to ask around where is that report, you will cut distractions.
  • Better time management – The efficient use of a calendar, along with a list of your tasks will enable you to prioritize those tasks. Set daily and weekly goals based on the tasks you want to accomplish. Prioritizing will make you more flexible because you will react better to any changes or unexpected situations.
  • Reduced stress – No clutter equals less stress. A pleasant work environment improves morale and motivation. Achieving your goals give you a great sense of accomplishment.
  • Promotes improvements – A clean and organized work area pinpoints trouble areas, making easier to identify future improvements.
  • Better work-life balance – If you do more in less time, you can use the extra time to create balance in your life. Less stress and a reduced sense of being overwhelmed will leave you with more energy at the end of the day. Now you can go to the gym, or take a walk!

Being organized have a lot of advantages. I listed a few reasons, but there are a lot more. Find your reason, and get organized today!

Productivity, Time Management

One-touch rule

My number one trick to keep myself organized is what I call the one-touch rule. Procrastinating is not something that I do. There is no point in pushing back the completion of something that you will have to do anyway. Dealing with emails or regular mail is one of those things.

I know people that have thousands of emails on their accounts. Most of them are spam or promotions. The problem is that they either ignore or go over them many times. I use the one-touch to manage my emails.

Get used to open each email only once. You read it and decide what to do, archive it or delete it. Sometimes you need to take action with the information delivered. If that is the case, you can set that email as a task or appointment. Do not forget to include a due day for all your tasks.

With the regular mail is the same concept. Every day or whenever you go to the post office, you sort your letters. You categorize the mail into pay, archive, read, or trash. Prepare an area with a couple of bins as needed. I have the shredding machine in the same area, so promotions or any document with personal information goes immediately into it. Create the habit to take at least 30 minutes every week to go over those things in the pay and read category. Unless it is a magazine, you should be able to read or pay and either archive or trash within that time.

Think about it, this is common-sense. It is just a simple way to keep yourself organized.

Productivity

Do you want to see simple solutions at work?

Earlier this week, I posted about using common sense, low-cost solutions to create improvements in the business operation. In this post, I want to present to you one example.

The manager of a chemical laboratory that provides service for a food manufacturing company had problems to released test results as per the customer demand. The samples waiting for analysis were piling up on the refrigerator, and the staff was working overtime to process the backlog. My friend was getting ready to hire an additional lab technician when I suggest to let me help him. He agreed to walk the lab with me at the time he was explaining what he thought was wrong.

I noticed various boxes on the floor, which is a safety hazard. The working tables looked cluttered. I watched one technician searching for the right sample for almost five minutes. They don’t have an efficient method to store them. Also, I observed another technician walking around the room to work on different workstations to complete his test. While I was watching him, somebody came to drop more samples. She just put them right on top of the piled the other guy did while searching a while ago. Within the first ten minutes, I identified two causes for inefficiency, disorganization, and ineffective layout. Everything I pointed out was waste from the customer’s point of view. All those things contribute to increasing the testing time per sample without adding value to the process.

We have a short meeting with the staff to explain the situation and invited them to be part of the solution by participating in an improvement activity called Kaizen. They were happy to do something because although they like money, they wanted to spend more time with the family.

The laboratory performs on a daily seven major types of tests. One of them accounts for almost 70% of the daily demand. We focused our analysis on that test type. The staff draws a process map with the steps to complete that test. They also measured the time to complete the test and watched the process to identify waste.

We used 5S, a housekeeping and organization program to clean and organize the entire laboratory. The staff used a drawing of the facility layout to draw all the walking between steps of the process. They also measured the distance walked. Based on their observations and suggestions, we moved some equipment and tools to have them closer to where they need them. Just by doing that, they reduced the walking time by more than 50%, which reduced the test process time as well. Other benefits of this event were: 27% reduction in over-time, 52% reduction in total process time, and 30% more on-time test results released to the customer.

They need some help to move the equipment, but the investment was peanuts compared with the benefits. After the event, the customer noticed the improvement in the quality of service, and the team was able to rest better and spend more time with their family. I will keep using this example on future posts to explain in detail how we achieved the improvements.

You can have similar results by using continuous improvement as your strategy to increase customer satisfaction. Let’s have a good old conversation about how you can do it!