My Work Setup At Outspoken Media


Rhea assigned me a project earlier this morning. She sent me a link to Inc’s slideshow on How to Run a Business from Home and challenged me to create my own version for Outspoken. She thought it’d be fun to share some photos and how I work out of my apartment, fighting the daily battle between staying ultra productive and, well, laying on the couch and taking a nap. Not that I’ve…ever…accidentally fallen asleep at lunch and not woken up until 5pm. That would be crazy. And BAD!

Moving on…

[See the Outspoken pillow over there? Yeah, Rhea gave that to me for Christmas. Pretty sweet, eh? You’ll see it again later.]

I’ll be honest with you, working from home wasn’t always something I enjoyed. In fact, it’s still something I struggle with. That said, I found that a few little tweaks to my schedule and living arrangements have made the transition a whole lot easier. Here are some tricks and tools for staying productive while working at home.

The Unwritten Rules

Some people don’t need them. They’re perfectly fine going through their day at leisure and getting stuff done. I cannot operate this way. I need rules and structure. Last year was really difficult for me because I could work whenever, wherever and on whatever I wanted.  HOW DO YOU EVEN OPERATE THAT WAY? I’d find myself getting caught up in silly projects, working 12 hours without having a glass of water, forgetting to eat, not having time to work out, etc. I was a mess. Now that I am older and wiser in 2010, I’ve created some structure and added rules for myself and my work habits. They include:

  • I will be in my office no later than 8:30am every morning. The earlier I get up, the better I feel and the more productive I am. Double win.
  • I will stop working at 8pm to make dinner. If needed, I can pick it up after 10pm to finish loose ends, but I get two hours.
  • I will put aside time for these guys.
  • I will care enough about myself to schedule time for Sanity Activities (running, reading, giggling, nonSEO writing) because I deserve them and they’re equally important.
  • I’ll have my week mapped before it starts.

Commit to the Home Office

the 'office'

This was really big for me. When I moved to Troy last year I was moving from a tiny 600 square foot Southern California apartment to a place that is approximately four times the size (not exaggerating). That means I had a lot of space to fill. And I really did intend to fill that space and live like a grown up…until I quit my job. Then ‘eating’ sounded a whole lot more important than ‘interior decorating’. But while keeping the place pretty empty helped my bank account, it didn’t help my productivity. In fact, I refused to even use my office because the void of furniture, things on the walls, etc, made going down there feel like punishment. So instead I worked on the couch! Or from bed! Or from the floor! Which basically means I spent the first year of Outspoken napping. In 2010 I committed to owning and using the natural office space I had in my apartment. I added more light, puts things on the walls, added pictures and started making the space feel “lived in” and like an office should feel. And it’s worked. Amazingly.

Egg Timer

my precious

I hear there are all sorts of time management tools you can use to stay productive – online stopwatches, things that beep at you, programs that block out distraction sites, etc. Personally, I use an egg timer. I know it’s not particularly sexy but it keeps me on task like no other. Why I do swear by an egg timer for time management?

  • It allows me to break my day into hour intervals, which is super helpful.
  • There’s no ‘pause’ button which means once it starts I have to commit.
  • Parkinson’s Law.
  • It’s tangible. Like my deadlines.
  • The constant ticking makes me feel like I’m in a race with myself. I’m super competitive.
  • It scares the bejesus out of the cats when it goes off…which has yet to get old.

Weekly Plans

Sunday is my planning day. I head to the coffee house around the block and I sit there and plan out what I have coming up this week in terms of internal Outspoken stuff, clients, and freelance projects. And then I schedule in time for all of it. If I don’t schedule something in, it simply does not get done. I cherish my Sunday planning time. It’s when the entire world is watching sleeping/football and I can get a jump on my week in total silence and with zero interruptions. It’s the day I get to catch my breath and get excited about what I get to do the next week. I also treat myself to a really good homemade dinner, as well.

White Board

I use my whiteboard to visually plan things out. While I don’t consider myself a “visual” person, for some reason it does make scheduling things easier on my brain. Or maybe I just like being able to physically cross things off to feel accomplished. I don’t know. Either way, this is my dry-erase board with my strategy for now up until Wednesday when I go on vacation. I showed it to Rhea yesterday and she burst into laughter. I know it looks like I’m plotting basketball plays or something, but it makes total sense to me. [Oh, and that’s totally permanent ink all over that board. Oops.]

Invisibility Cloak

A lot of my job requires that I be “on” and “accessible” all the time. It comes with the community gig and it’s my favorite parts of my job. But sometimes I can’t do it and I fail. Being ‘on’ that often can be really difficult when I need time to focus 110 percent on work or even to pull away and recharge a bit. And when I need those moments, I pull out the invisibility cloak and go off the grid. That means there’s no email. There’s no IM. No Skype calls. No Blackberry Messenger. No Twitter. No phone. Nothing. And that’s okay. Sometimes I need to go invisible in order to come back stronger, healthier and more focused in 24 hours.

My ‘Remote’ Offices

Flavour Cafe, Troy NY

As comfy as my home office is, I spend at least 2-3 days a week working from other locations to help me recharge the creative juices and feel like a normal member of society. Some days I’m working on my own, sometimes I’ll drag Rhea, and sometimes we even get a full-fledged coworking group up and running (which is not always productive when hermits get chatty). Either way, having these ‘remote’ office locations is good for the soul, the mind and also forces me to take a shower so I’m not caught wearing the same clothes two days in a row.  It also gives me something in the week to look forward to and get excited about during the week. Just like in marriage, spicing things up helps. If you’re FourSquare-levels of curious, I can usually be found at the cafe seen to your right on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Feel free to come work with me.

And there you have it.  That’s my work and office setup.  Share some photos of links to yours? Or some links to stuff I can put on my walls?  Whatcha workin’ with, Internet?

Your Comments

  • ian

    I was just telling my team to get timers on all their desktops. Of course, if they all use egg timers we’ll end up with a constant DING DING DING. Which would distract everyone. So then we need earmuffs…

  • graywolf

    +1 on parkinson’s law useage

  • Vanessa Clark

    Some great suggestions here for us working-from-home-office-solo-ists. Thanks for the reminder that working from coffee shops is a nice change of pace – and I am always amazed by how much I get done there as well (must be all the caffeine).

    My resolution for 2010 is definitely to schedule more regular sanity activities. But first I am off to test the egg-timer idea on my cats :)

  • pratt

    Awesome post Lisa and very timely for me since I just started working from home. I can’t live without my white board, but will also give your egg timer a try. I also have my puppy that bugs me about once an hour to go play with him so that helps.

    Oh, and to get permanent ink off your white board, just trace over the permanent marker with dry-erase marker and then erase it like normal. :)

  • Walt Goshert

    Since you’re a Red Sox fan, here’s a link to a Shilling photo:

    Might work next to the white board?

    Great points… you gotta get out of the house a couple times a week. Carving out Sunday to map out the week sets up super productivity for the week… MUST DO.

    An egg timer, digital fast, shut down all the interruptions… essential to actually getting stuff done that matters.

    I love the flexibility of working alone from home. No stressful commute. No pin-headed co-workers. No inane meetings.

    But, it does require tons of focus and discipline.

  • Ross Hudgens

    These pretty much are all spot-on with everything I do working from home. Something about the daylight makes me more positive and makes working much easier.

    For time management I’ve been using Rescue Time which slaps me in the face if I’ve been unproductive/surfing social networking stuff too much. I just started using it but it should provide some pretty in-depth metrics on what I do well, and what I spaz out on.

    • Lisa Barone

      I’ve heard of Rescue Time but have never checked it. I may have to. And that would definitely make an interesting quartly post about what sites have been a total time suck and where you’ve been embarrassingly hanging out on the Web. :)

      • Rhea Drysdale

        I used RescueTime early on. The problem I had is that we do a lot of social media work and I didn’t have a way to scold myself for my social time versus client time. I didn’t make a conscious effort to change things I think we just got busier and I got more private as a result.

  • netmeg

    I spent a couple years working from home. It was pre-broadband, and most of my clients were in Europe and Australia, so we communicated almost entirely by fax. It was kind of lonely – days sometimes went by when the only voices I heard were from the TV, and the only talking I did was to the cats. On the other hand, I never *once* got one of the monster killer death colds I typically get several times a year.

    The biggest motivator for me was to remember to get dressed. I mean, sure, there were days I worked in my pajamas. Over the fax – who’s going to know? But I soon figured out I was a lot more productive (and felt like I was really working) when I actually put some clothes on. Not fancy clothes – but just anything I didn’t usually sleep in.

  • Jen Lopez

    Whew! I worked from home for 9 months but never really had a good space or set up like you have going on. I think this is essential, or else you always feel like an outsider with your work (not even talking about how weird it feels to not have coworkers). If I had to do it again, I’d definitely take some of these ideas into more consideration. As for now, I’m happy as can be that I’m no longer working from home. I love having my coworkers around me. :) And I can still go to the coffee shop or work from home whenever I need to. Thanks for the post Lisa. :)

    • Lisa Barone

      Are you officially in the Mozzer offices now? That’s awesome. I can’t lie, I miss having the coworkers and office vibe so I’m really just doing my best to replicate it on my own. Getting to work out of the house and be around other people definitely helps you to feel like you’re not so disconnected from the rest of the world.

  • Kim M.

    1) awwww, Twitter Kevin Bacon luuuuuuuuv!

    2) I should post a pic of my padded cube, so that you creative, independent, entrepreneurial types can see the horror of the office maze you ‘miss out’ on … except that I won’t because I busted out of the nightmare early today. Oh, and was padded the effect you were going for when you tacked that awesome pillow to the wall? wtf, my friend!

  • andrew wee

    tks for the insight, esp into your workspace.

    the ultimate rush (or downer) for productivity might be to start filling in timesheets (a la lawyers/accountants) though it might drive you up the wall/ceiling….

    • Rhea Drysdale

      I like the time sheet idea! I need that. Unlike Lisa, I hate rules, but I need something to more effectively manage my crazy time. I might get an old school punch card like I had as the gate lady at Hanna Park in Jacksonville.

      CHUNK! Time: 3:52pm Client X email correspondence

      • andrew wee

        When I’ve used them, they increased my productivity by about 100-200%. Helps to have someone hounding you and consequences for not hitting benchmarks though (cue Rae).

        The punch card only works if it’s followed up by punches, maybe a nice right cross or uppercut.

  • Boo

    I always want to go out and work in cafes, but I always imagine it must piss off caffe/coffee shop owners/employees when people work from there all day and hardly spend any money (a few coffees maybe)

    What do you think? Think they get pissed?

    • Lisa Barone

      Yeah, sometimes I feel like a jerk for hogging a table and an outlet all day, but I try to go during off times so they’re not losing a “real” customer over me. Also, the coffee shop I typically hang out in is usually dead empty so I don’t feel that badly. I also buy stuff that I have no intention of actually eating or drinking cause I figure I’m really just paying them for the space.

  • Tad Miller

    After starting our business in the room above our garage, we grew out of our space with employees after about 10 months, and I can honestly say thank God that we did. You just burn out so fast never leaving the house, and when you do leave it seems like you just go to the same restaurants – coffee shops over and over.

    If you can work from home power to you, but I can honestly tell you getting big enough to get out and getting office space was a major turning point for us as an agency. Our growth has been exponential since we got out of the house and we are moving in a few weeks to an even bigger space.

    Some people like the lifestyle of working from home. I’m of the opinion that you have to keep moving forward as a business and growing. If you aren’t growing and eventually growing out of the house you are dying as a business.

    • Lisa Barone

      We definitely won’t be doing this forever but for right now the ‘main’ Outspoken office is up in Canada with Rae and our employee Dawn. Rhea and I live next door from one another so its easy enough to pow wow in one of our apartments or head out elsewhere. At some point we’re going to outgrow this set up and have to find something bigger and more ‘official’. For right now, it’s working for us. Though, I do miss having that office around because I do feel a bit like a fly sometimes hanging out at the same spots every day.

  • Carla

    I too use an egg timer for those jobs I really can’t face doing – I promise myself I’ll just do 60 seconds, or 2 mins, or 15 mins or whatever I can cope with and it usually works well enough that before I know it the task is done and dusted. Result!

    I’m lucky that I work from home for 4 days a week and in the office for 3 days a week so I never get the chance to get bored/pissed off with either.

    I’ll try and get it together to get some pictures of my home office online so you can see how it’s set up – it’s nothing fancy but it works for me. In the meantime, here’s the corner of the desk with my Employee of the Month Dec 09 :-)

  • Anthony

    I worked from home at my last job- it was great at first, but then got old. When you work from home you get to go to coffee shops, hit the gym or sit by the pool whenever you want but then you go back to your office and nobody is there. Towards the end it kind of got like “The Shining”.. minus all the haunting? Best of luck to you though, at least you have a good system set up!

  • Kevin Palmer

    I have been working from home for like a year and a half now. It is great to see how other people manage their time. (I think I am going to try and schedule out my time for the week like you do, I really like that idea.)

    Usually I start way earlier than you do, for some reason I am super productive in the early morning. However doing so left me really zapped in the afternoon. I have learned to to take a break from 2-4 to either get our and run errands or take an afternoon nap or watch a movie/get caught up on TIVO. I can pretty much work until 10-11 or so after that break (of course scheduling time to eat) if I have to. Those two hours of detaching really recharge me.

  • Laurie Creasy

    Hey, I used to go to Flavours all the time when I lived in Troy. May be the only good thing about Troy …

    And I when I do the hogging-the-coffee-shop thing, I always sit near a window so people know the store’s open. I figure it’s kind of free marketing for the owners.

  • Suzanne Vara

    Working from home is fabulous once you get your rhythm and accept that the desk over there is your office and it expects you to be there at a certain time. The bad is that it is always there. No matter what you pass it and it seems to call you over and suck you in late into the night. The discipline is what makes the difference as yeah the bed feels great on a cold morning at 9am but this does not get the work done.

    Having an office is great too but why have the overhead when we are in such a technology driven place that we are connected so easily. I had the office and it was cool, felt like a real job but when I left something there that I wanted to work on at night, that real job feeling was nothing more than a nuisance. Signing the rent check each month sucked. Would consider having an out of home office again … maybe.

  • Chris Stocker

    This post helped me a lot. I am still not completely used to working from home since I worked in an office for 3 years. I only work from home 4 out of the 7 days, but I find myself struggling to stay focused on what I am doing. Then I just feel confined within these 4 walls and I feel like my creativity goes right out the window. From the quality of your posts, obviously it can be done by being inside, so I’m going to try out some of your tricks. Thanks.

  • Michelle

    *sigh* Fine. I will clean off my desk this weekend and stop working at the dining room table. Happy?

    Seriously, I needed the kick in the butt to get me back on track with actually using my home office. I somehow migrated into the living room during the holidays, and my desk became the place where I put stuff instead of the place where I work. But hey, at least I progressed from the couch to the dining table.

  • chiropractic

    Holy crap Lisa, I think you’ve been spying around my home office. Let’s see my checklist… Egg Timer Yup (used it for years – what increased my blog posting speed), Whiteboard… Sure Bet, got two of them and organize daily/weekly/monthly activities on them, Sunday Planning… That’s the day I do it. Only thing I can say is bright minds certainly think alike. :)

  • Jennifer

    Soo appreciated this post. Not only for the tips, but also for the comments from everyone else.
    Working from home has been a huge challenge for me, so its nice to see that others struggle with the same issues… Not necessarily “misery loves company”, more like comradery brings comfort and encouragement.

  • ryanMoultrup

    I love the beer bottle sitting on your desk. After staring at a computer screen for 10+ hours there is nothing like a cold beer to help you relax a little.

    Also, getting a whiteboard was one of the best purchases I ever made in terms of productivity and it’s fun. I don’t know why but everyone that comes near it feels the urge to write something on it. However, if I have to see another poorly drawn penis in green marker I’m going to ban people from my office area.

    • Lisa Barone

      As this photo was taken around 11am, I wanted to point out the beer bottle was from the night before. I swear! I don’t start drinking until way later in the day. :p

  • Shira Abel

    Olivier Amar actually made me re-read this post when he saw my computer on the sofa this weekend. I have been working from home for years now – and normally I work in my office, but lately it’s been so cold and I don’t feel like walking across my patio… anyway – you’ve motivated me to get an egg timer, a white board and start to map my week out on Saturday evening (as Sunday here is the start of the work week). I get my people time when I go into Tel Aviv once a week and when I get to the gym (almost daily when I’m actually at home…)

    How is it to work on a team remotely?

  • jackie morris

    I am hoping to get one of those timers with glass and sand, so that I can physically sit and watch the time leaking away in a poetic visual extravaganza way. Do you find yourself looking in shops for unusual egg timers?
    And may I say your desk does look rather tidy!

  • Mike Pedersen

    I think it is really cool when people show their work set-up. Some people get kind of weird about it, but I think it creates a better attachment to your visitors.

  • Lisa Martell

    I’ve been working from home for four years now, one thing I do every day is get up and doing everything as if I was leaving the house to go to work. It seems to put me in the I have to work mode. Thanks for the article!!

  • jackie morris

    I have an hour glass now. Sublime and beautiful. I can glance up and watch the sands of time run through and because there is no alarm at the end of the hour quite often I just carry on. Very elegant, very poetic. And you can get 24 hour glasses. I so want one to measure away my days and remind me to make the most of time, which does not always mean working. What I miss is allowing myslf reflective time, time to do, well, nothing, to allow new ideas to flow.

  • Ondrej Dyrka

    Most of us are so used to the idea that someone else is watching our backs and telling us when to work… the switching can be often accompanied by multiple “discipline” problems. I am however pleased to share my experience:

    1) you should like your work
    2) I totally agree with “the earlier you begin, the better” – I don’t know how many times have I begun my mandatory article at midnight, only to end at 3am frustrated like hell
    3) try to minimize unnecessary work
    4) at times, imagine you are your own boss and give yourself “the talk”…