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Six Tips For Working From Home

(This post was originally shared on my general interest blog, maclaine.ca)

My last traditional office job ended in the summer of 2013. Since then, I’ve been working from home. Here are the things I’ve learned that keep me productive.

Avoid Clutter: Keep your desk clear. Get rid of extra papers, files, knick-knacks and other distractions. Stick to the bare essentials: Laptop, Mouse, Notebook, Speaker, coffee or glass of water. Nothing more. A clear desk = a clear mind.

Absorb Natural Light: Position your desk or work station by a window, the bigger the better. Avoid basements or poorly lit rooms. Being able to look out a window and see daylight will help boost your energy levels. This is especially important during the winter months.

Set A Routine: Try to get some repetition going in your days. If you have tasks that are required on a daily basis, consider pencilling those in as your morning work to-dos. Even if they are quick, easy to complete tasks, getting through them to start your day helps you to build momentum for the rest of the day’s duties while giving you a sense of accomplishment for promptly getting these daily tasks out of the way.

Break Up Your Day With Exercise: If you have a bit of flexibility and don’t need do be on call at your desk for the full 9 to 5, consider a midday workout. Often times, I like to do some work in the morning, pause for lunch and then head to the gym for a workout in the early afternoon. I then get back to work afterwards.

Change Your Location When Necessary: There are some days where your energy and concentration levels aren’t where they need to be. These are the days where it’s good to leave your home. The change of environment helps boost productivity, as you are heading out with a “I’m going to work” mindset. If you are lucky enough to have a back yard or a large balcony, that can sometimes be enough of a change in environment to get you back on track. I most often elect to visit a coffee shop or a library. There are some terrific libraries around the world that offer wonderful amenities for the remote worker.

Embrace Flexibility: If you are lucky enough to have some flexibility in your schedule, try working at unorthodox hours. I have found some of my most productive work is completed in the evening hours between 6-10PM. I’ve been able to salvage many days were I felt sluggish during the traditional working hours, only to then catch a rush of productivity in the evening.

These six tips have helped me stay productive and disciplined, wherever my home has happened to be. Hopefully this list can be of use to you.

Quick Design Tip: Create Better Presentations by Using Canva and Unsplash

This article was first published on my LinkedIn profile.

Improve the quality of your PowerPoint presentations by using Canva templates and enhancing them with images from Unsplash.com.

Canva’s Presentations library offers many free templates that you can use to build your presentation. They’re great to use because they combine good design with vibrant images.

Finding good images that relate to your presentation can sometimes be a challenge. A lot of stock photography is pretty bland.

That’s where Unsplash comes in.

Unsplash provides free, high-resolution images that you can use for whatever you like.

The website is searchable and categorizes images into different collections. This allows you to track down images related to the theme of your presentation.

Download your favourite images from Unsplash and then upload them into your Canva workspace. The drag and drop nature of Canva makes it easy to insert your images.

This method is faster and easier to use than traditional PowerPoint software. The finished product is also much more pleasing to the eye.

Make your next business presentation stand out by combining these two resources.

Audio Workarounds For Your Videos: iPhones and Shotgun Microphones

I shoot video using a Canon DSLR. The Rebel T3 to be precise. It’s a great camera to get started with when new to the DSLR game. I had a lot of experience shooting video with TV cameras and camcorders, but didn’t know much about photography and DSLRs so I got one knowing I’d need to learn as I go along.

Now that I’ve gotten comfortable with the lens and made a few mistakes along the way, I’m really happy that I’ve gone down the DSLR route for video. The flexibility you get from a simple lens really helps craft a nice shot. It’s also forced me to become a better photographer. I now know how to shoot some pretty nice nighttime photos.

Unlike more expensive Canon DSLRs, the T3 doesn’t have an audio input. I guess this is a drawback, but it’s forced me to become more creative in my video shooting. While my Canon does have an onboard microphone, it’s very limited and tinny sounding.

Depending on where I’m shooting and how mobile I want to be, I have two workarounds I use for Audio.

iPhone as a Microphone

The Microphone on the bottom of the iPhone is actually remarkably powerful. It picks up a lot and is pretty warm sounding when compared to what an on-board mic will give you. I’ll hold it with the bottom facing my interview subject, much like a normal microphone. I use the iTalk app, you can see your levels and name your clips when you save them. I’ll then synchronize the iPhone audio with the picture. This is especially useful when you need to be mobile, for example in a scrum setting. This is what I did for the Jose Canseco media scrum in Ottawa. I held my camera on a tripod with one hand and held my iPhone microphone with the other. You can see it here:


I’ve also used the iPhone in more controlled environments such as this one.

Shotgun Microphone

For shoots with a lot more background noise, I recently ordered a shotgun microphone from Amazon.ca. You can buy one and see all the specs by clicking here if you’re interested. It cost $40. For the price, you can’t be wrong. The kit includes:

  • Windsock
  • Two microphone stands
  • Stereo 0.25in (6.35mm) jack to mini 0.14in (3.5mm) jack adaptor
  • A lengthy cable: 26.05ft (8m) 0.25in (6.35mm) jack – XLR cable
  • A nice storage box (Black)
  • And, of course, the actual microphone (14.37in / 36.5cm long / metal body)

I’ll plug this microphone into a little Olympus voice recorder I have, which records the audio as an mp3 file. It also has a separate jack for me to plug in some headphones so that I can monitor the audio as it records, which is really useful.

Shotgun microphones are really useful in crowded, noisy areas such as bars and pubs. Check out this video from a recent shoot, where the difference is clear.

If I hadn’t had a shotgun mic, an interview from that location would have been unwatchable. I would have had to move to a quiet room in the back of the restaurant. Having a shotgun mic allowed me to clearly hear my interview subject, while still catching some of the ambiance in the background.

So there you have my two workarounds for audio. As anyone with even a bit of experience with video can tell you: viewers on the internet will forgive poor video quality, but if the audio on your video is terrible, it makes the video unwatchable. So make sure you pay attention to your audio situation when shooting.