The ultimate work-from-home checklist

This post originally appeared on the Freelancers Union blog and it is republished with permission.

Before COVID-19, I had the opportunity to switch my environment every time I needed to boost my creativity. Cozy cafes and beach bars were my go-to place of work.

This helped me set clear boundaries between work time and personal time, which consequently helped me balance my life.

If you liked getting out of the house every day like I did, being forced to work from home might be a nightmare for you. And for many of us, the blurring lines between work life and personal life can cause havoc and stress.

It helps to have work-from-home strategies in place, and the best way to approach this is with checklists.

Work-From-Home 101

Before we get to everyday best practices, we have to look at some prerequisites.

  1. Sort out that internet connection: Having fast and reliable internet at home is now non-negotiable. In the past, you might have put up with crappy internet, but now, it’s a matter of earning your living.
  2. Invest in the right gadgets/software: With the right headphones, mic, and camera, you will see your productivity soar. But you also need some feature-packed remote work software that allows screen sharing and control. Cutting off a call when you hit the time limit because you are using free services is not good for your brand. And being able to see, hear, and be heard clearly is critical.
  3. Set up a workspace: It might be tempting to laze around the house, kick back, and get on with your daily goals, but there are several reasons why you should not work where you relax. Set up a quiet place that is dedicated solely to work. This is the simplest way to create a distinction between your work life and your personal life. Make sure you have a laptop stand, ergonomic chair, etc. to stay comfortable if you are pulling off a full workday, and alternate between sitting and standing while you work.
  4. Set up a communication protocol: Communicating with your clients or team when you are working from home is significantly different from being in a shared office space. You might find that getting in sync with each other is a major issue. There are many tools to improve communication while working from home and create a communication protocol.
  5. Set boundaries with your family/friends: Your family/roommates might not be used to seeing you working from home. They might come to talk to you or ask you to do chores, disturbing your workflow. Set up clear boundaries with the people you live with — like, if you are sitting at your desk or have headphones on, you’re not available to them — so they know not to disturb you when you are working.

Once the above are taken care of, you are ready to maximize your work-from-home mode.

Daily Checklist for Maximum Productivity While Working From Home

#1: Dress as if you are actually going to the office (in a comfy way)

#2: Create and follow a daily schedule (for tomorrow)

#3: Use both text and video communication. Every day!

#4: Keep distractions at bay

#5: Spend time on lead generation/collaboration

#6: Power naps are your best friend

#7: Stay hydrated and keep munchies around

#8: Ensure that your workspace and documents are organized

#9: Physical activity. Yes! It exists.

#10: Engage in team-building activities outside of work

#1: Dress as if you are actually going to the office (in a comfy way)

Your brain has made certain associations with productivity over the years, and the primary association is how your body feels when you wear your work clothes.

To put it simply, work clothes equal productivity in your head. In addition, home clothes equal relaxation and family time.

When you dress up, you tell your brain that it is working time. This also acts as a signal for those at home that you are now in work mode, meaning you are not to be disturbed.

#2: Create and follow a daily schedule (for tomorrow)

When you are working from home, the boundaries between work life and home life can easily blur and you might find yourself overworking.

This is why it is best to stick to your former schedule as much as possible and plan your day accordingly.

This also applies to taking lunch breaks and coffee breaks — don’t skip them. There are break and stretch extensions that you can add to your browser that will remind you when to take a pause. They have helped me tremendously, mentally and physically!

At the end of the day, get up and walk away from your workstation and avoid using the space till the next morning.

#3: Use both text and video communication. Every day!

We communicate a lot through our facial expressions and body language, which is all lost when you only ever speak with clients or colleagues via email/Slack/text.

When you set up a communication protocol, make sure you combine text updates and video conferences, or you can start feel lost or distracted and get out of sync with your team.

#4: Keep distractions at bay

At home, you are on your own and it is up to you to actually be productive. This is where certain apps and systems can come in handy.

Social media is one of the biggest distractions, but there are both Android and iOS apps that help you avoid social media or restrict the amount of time you can spend on social media.

#5: Spend time on lead generation/collaboration

The economy has fallen, but it is not going to be down forever. Make sure you’re ready to take advantage when clients do have cash to spend again. Begin by sending cold emails, and be sure to verify the email address before you start writing your pitch.

You can also focus on pitching your existing clients a bigger package or retainer. Try a ready-to-use proposal format that has been proven to be effective.

I would suggest looking at bulking your efforts with media and email campaigns. If you send a thousand emails, at least one will convert.

#6: Power naps are your best friend

Now that you are working from home, there really is no shame in taking a power nap when you need it.

Don’t feel guilty about it. Remember that a power nap can boost your energy levels and make you more productive. (As long as you fulfill your everyday checklist!)

NASA has conducted research that pointed out that these “power naps” could improve memory and cognitive functions, among other things.

Breathing exercises can help you sleep at times when you have too much going on to focus on sleeping.

#7: Stay hydrated and keep munchies around

The idea is to not have to think about food or water during the day. The moment you feel hungry or thirsty, you can reach out for the bottle of water or snacks, satiate your needs, and get straight back to work. No distractions!

Avoid sugary and greasy foods, as they will make you feel lethargic.

#8: Ensure that your workspace and documents are organized

A tidy workspace will ensure that you have a clear and focused mind. And when you are in need of something, you’ll know where to find it immediately.

Arrange everything neatly at the end of your workday so that when you return to work the next morning, you have a neat and clean workspace ready to greet you.

#9: Physical activity. Yes! It exists.

Get your daily dose of exercises at a time convenient to you. You do not need equipment and a large space to churn those calories into energy.

High intensity interval training (HIIT) has helped me a lot. Especially after sitting on a chair and working long hours, your back and glutes do tend to get sore.

Following a system like the Pomodoro Technique, where you work for 25 minutes using a timer and then take a 5-minute break, can help you boost productivity by ensuring your mind does not get too stressed out.

I make sure to move around and stretch during these breaks.

#10: Engage in team-building activities (outside of work)

Along with the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an epidemic of loneliness and depression taking over the world.

As social beings, it is difficult to be confined. How much is social media going to fill the void, anyway?

Take time to connect with your colleagues. Be there for them even for 10 minutes a day instead of getting lost in your own world and you will find your own spirits soaring.

Author bio

Himaan Chatterji is a B2B SaaS content writer and a full-time digital nomad working with SaaS brands around the world to create a web of interconnected long-form actionable resources.

Tapping into the Expertise I needed: My Experience as an ATA Mentee

Have you ever wondered what the ATA Mentoring Program entails, who joins, and what they get out of the experience? With the application deadline for this year’s program approaching, I’d like to share my experience in the hopes that it may help shed some light on the questions that people interested in the program might have.

Why I joined the ATA Mentoring Program

My full-time, in-house translation experiences in Luxembourg and Houston were wonderful opportunities for me to hone my French and Spanish translation skills and work alongside very detailed and incredibly knowledgeable colleagues. As I recently made the switch to working for myself, I felt a bit like a fish out of water. I was confident the ATA Mentoring Program would be a wonderful opportunity for me to learn from a generous member’s experience and wisdom. I needed a trusted resource to bounce ideas off of, and I was really looking forward to receiving solid, personal advice from someone who had been in my shoes before, building her own T&I business.

There was so much to learn about expanding my horizons beyond Houston, working with clients around the world, juggling a larger number of clients with very different work procedures and expectations, attracting and satisfying private clients, and getting my foot in the door at agencies far, far away.

My mentor

I was so thankful and humbled when the committee wrote to introduce me to my mentor, past ATA President Dorothee Racette. From our first conversation, it was clear (and no surprise considering her accomplishments) that when Dorothee signs up for something, she delivers. We got started immediately and there has been no lull from her since.

Dorothee is an ATA-Certified Translator and productivity coach. She knows the industry inside and out and is warm, easy to talk to, and has a lot of insight to share. The experience of learning beside Dorothee has been far better than I could have imagined when I sent my application in last February.

How does it work?

Dorothee’s tested method, which originated from her training as a coach, is something I can hands down recommend to other mentor/mentee pairs in future years. From the get-go, Dorothee explained her expectations of me, inquired about my immediate and long-term goals for our time together, created a schedule we could follow, and started a file in Google Docs we could share. We talk on the phone every two weeks for about 30-45 minutes about a particular, pre-designated topic. Should something come up between sessions, I am free to e-mail her, but I find we are able to cover a lot in those structured calls. The shared Google Docs file is where we keep track of the topic for our next call and any assignments I am expected to do. It’s also where I list the questions I have for our next call. She is then able to use this document to prepare for our chat.

A few topics we have covered so far this year are: how I can follow in her footsteps in developing a medical specialization, what I can learn from her path to ATA leadership, how I can more effectively use the power of dictation software, my preparation for and debriefing of my first ATA Conference, as well as specific, detailed questions about working with agency and private clients, setting goals for the next year, and more. Whenever I think of a new topic, I can just open Google Drive and write it down, and then come back to it for future calls. It has been a great tool to keep us on task, and to make sure I don’t miss the opportunity to get Dorothee’s expert opinion on something I might otherwise forget.

Dorothee’s advice for new mentor/mentee pairs is to set a regular schedule and to confirm the next conversation at the end of each call. She has found that the “call me when you need me approach” can be ineffective because either the mentee may be too shy to intrude on the mentor’s time, or the mentee may call too often at inopportune times.

Results

Under Dorothee’s mentorship, I have better focused my marketing efforts and brought on a number of new clients who I truly enjoy working with and feel appreciate the value of my work. Dorothee has given me a judgement-free space to learn the ins and outs of working for myself, thinking long-term, and respecting myself and my skill set, all of which have helped me grow my business.

Applying

This year’s Mentoring Program will run from April 2019 through March 2020. Applications must be received by March 4th, and applicants will be notified of their results by April 15th. Any and all ATA members are welcome to apply. Whether you have a long-term goal you’d like guidance on, are trying to develop a new specialization, even after years in the industry, or you find yourself in a transitional phase of your career, there isn’t one mold you need to fit into. What you need for success is commitment, dedication, clear goals, and follow-through.

One handy tip from Mentoring Committee Chair, Kyle Vraa, is that it is more helpful if applicants talk more about what they want to accomplish in the future than what they have done in the past. He recommends keeping discussion of the past to 25% of the essay, while devoting the rest of the essay to future goals. The Mentoring Committee selects participants through a competitive application process. Most mentoring pairs work in different languages, although that is not always the case. Kyle explains that factors such as your field of specialization (or intended new field of specialization), professional goals, and interpersonal compatibility are taken into account when matching pairs.

The ATA Mentoring Program webpage has a lot of information that can help you decide if the program is right for you, along with detailed instructions on how to apply.

Thank you

An incredible thank you is in order for the ATA member mentors and the Mentoring Committee members who so graciously offer their time to volunteer and help other members. This program would not be possible without your dedication and willingness to speak openly about your experiences. Thank you to everyone who has made this program possible.

Author bio

Jessica Hartstein is an ATA-Certified Translator (Spanish>English, French>English) and a Texas Master Licensed Court Interpreter (Spanish-English). She holds an MA in Conference Interpreting and Translation Studies from the University of Leeds and graduated Cum Laude with a BA from Rice University. Prior to working freelance, she held full-time, in-house translation positions at a marketing firm in Luxembourg and an oil and gas engineering company in Houston. Jessica specializes in legal, medical, asylum, and oil and gas translation and interpreting projects. She has been fortunate to have lived abroad in Spain, China, Japan, England, and Luxembourg. E-mail: jessica@jessicahartstein.com, Website: http://www.jessicahartstein.com/

Inbox Zero: Forever in pursuit of “No new mail!”

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing those three little words: “No new mail!” My Gmail app announces, “You’re all done!”, and I especially love the accompanying image because, yes, I do want to be sitting in the sun reading a book right now.

The elusive Inbox Zero is indeed attainable, but I have a little help. I use Unroll.Me, Boomerang, and Gmail filters to help me manage my inbox so that I can spend more time doing what I love (i.e., translating, reading, sleeping) and less time stressing out about all the emails filling up my inbox.

Unroll.Me

Subscription emails were cluttering my inbox. Even the ones I could have sworn I had unsubscribed from several times kept arriving and choking out the important emails. Unroll.me offers a free product to clean up your inbox. You can sign up by signing in with your email provider in your browser. Once you sign in, you do have to give the app access to your email account, allowing it to view, manage, and delete your mail. It then looks through your email for subscriptions. For each subscription, you can decide if you want to “Keep in Inbox,” “Unsubscribe,” or “Add to Rollup.” You can also have Unroll.Me notify you when it detects new subscriptions, so you can log in and decide what action to use.

The Rollup is a digest email that compiles all the subscriptions you want to keep. You can also decide what time of day you want to receive the Rollup email. I choose the morning because I would rather skim it while I am drinking coffee than have to deal with another email popping into my inbox when I’m trying to shut down for the day. Currently, I have six subscriptions that I keep in my inbox and 29 that appear in a Rollup. I also make sure my Rollup emails are labeled when they come into my inbox so I can archive them for future reference (more on that below). This app is a great organizational tool, and it makes Inbox Zero much more attainable.

Boomerang

Boomerang helps you keep your inbox clear while tracking important emails and making sure you do not forget about them. I often find it difficult to get to Inbox Zero because there are still items that I need to check off the to-do list. Simply archiving them in a specific folder may not suffice since I would be running the risk of forgetting about them. Boomerang allows you to remove the emails from your inbox and schedule them to return whenever you choose: in an hour, tomorrow, or next week. There are some additional features of Boomerang that I also find helpful, like Inbox Pause, Read Receipts, and Send Later, but Email Reminders is the feature I use most often for Inbox Zero.

Gmail Filters

For those of you who use Gmail, creating filter rules can also help you manage your inbox. This required some time to organize initially, but now my system runs smoothly. First of all, I created labels for each of the clients or agencies I work with. I also have one folder for each organization or group I am involved in, one for taxes, one for bank statements, etc. You can even get fancy and have labels within labels. For some clients, I have separate sublabels for POs and portal notifications. Once you have your label system set up, you can use the filter rules to tell Gmail how to categorize emails when they enter your inbox.

For example, if Client A emails me, the message in my inbox will already have the label assigned to that client, so once I respond, I can simply click “Archive,” and the email goes directly to that label and out of my inbox. I can also set certain emails to come into my inbox as “Marked as Read.” This is especially helpful for those automated notifications I receive to let me know that I accepted or delivered a project in a client portal.

To create your label system, go to Settings > Labels

To create filters for your email, go to Settings > Filters and Blocked Addresses > Create a new filter

I create filters based on the email addresses of the project managers, but for some companies who have multiple PMs, I include the company name in the “Has the words” field.

Then you can check the appropriate box to decide what happens to that email. If you choose to apply a particular label to that project manager, every time the PM emails you, the message will arrive in your inbox with that label. After you have dealt with the email, click “Archive,” and boom… Inbox Zero!

But, look, I know: Inbox Zero is not all about just dragging and dropping emails into folders and hitting “Archive.” One of the reasons we find the goal so hard to attain is that our list of tasks to accomplish is always growing, and archiving an email does not mean the task is complete.

These tools will not give you more hours in the day to work, and they will not clear your inbox for you, but they can help you manage the clutter and approach the inbox in a systematic way, without all the stress. I just hope that some Friday afternoon you get to see “You’re all done!” and then go outside and read in the sun.

Resources
How to Filter Your Gmail Like a Pro
Boomerang
Unroll.Me

Author bio

Victoria Chavez-Kruse is currently a freelance translator specializing in the life science, medical, and legal fields. She received the M.A. in Spanish Translation in 2013 from Kent State University’s Institute of Applied Linguistics. She is a member of the American Translators Association and the Northeast Ohio Translators Association. In 2016 she helped launch the Black Squirrel Translator Collective along with three other Kent State University alumni; the collective functions as a small agency for Spanish-into-English projects, and the four translators manage translation, editing, proofreading, and machine translation post-editing projects. You can follow her on Twitter or visit her website for more information.