5 Tips to Maintain Productivity While Working Remotely

009_aMost of us were brought up conditioned to work in a 9-to-5 (or nowadays 9-to-9) job, with a structured work place, deadlines to chase and a boss (or bosses) to answer to. Well, that was what I did for about 17 years, till one day I decided that I needed another kind of working style, a new environment and a new direction, and working for yet another publishing house or advertising agency was not the answer. That was when I made the life-changing decision to become self-employed.

In the current digital age, traditional office jobs are not the only viable option now, and there are more choices for people to experiment with. These days, I work with clients whom I have only meet once (or never at all), and all dealings are mostly done through email and Whatsapp messages. My articles are submitted through email and so are my invoices.

In my long hours working at home, I did think about the obstacles people face working on their own, because I have heard and read so much about these issues over the years. I realised that besides the top priority of being able to find enough clients to ensure a steady stream of work, and hence, a steady stream of income, is the issue of self-management. Because now, I have become my own boss, and so there is no one to tell me to hurry up or breathe down my neck to get the work done. I realised that some people failed at working on their own mainly due to the inability to management themselves, rather than not being able to do the actual work. So, I would like to share my personal strategies for maintaining productivity on a day-to-day basis, and hope this will benefit other people too.

Tip #1: Set a Routine

For days when you do not have appointments outside, set a general routine to follow. First of all, try to wake up around the same time every day (so that your circadian cycle does not get messed up). Then, you should have breakfast, so that your body has the necessary fuel to function properly. After that, you can start work. Try to focus and keep distractions away. Try not to skip meals, and make sure you get enough sleep at night. Also, exercising regularly is important to stay healthy, so you should schedule in time for exercise at least 3 times a week.

I personally wake up around 7.30-8.00am, and go for a 1-hour swim. Then, I make myself a healthy breakfast. After that, I do some house chores. Before I start work, I have a short meditation session to centre myself. I usually also prepare my own simple but healthy lunch and dinner.

Tip #2: Prioritise

Prepare a weekly priority list and a daily priority list. Always do the first item on the list first, because it is the most important one. After you complete one, you move on to the next item on the list, and the next, and so on.

Every time you tick off an item on the list, you will feel happy and productive that you are making progress on your work.

Tip #3: Keep Track

Keep track of all your clients and projects. The simplest form of record keeping would probably be a spreadsheet file. I have one MS Excel file for clients, because my work is usually not project based. I have one tab per client, and on each tab, I have columns for description of work, when I submitted each article, how much I billed the client, and when I submitted the invoice. Every time you complete a piece of work, you should update your records. I also have a separate spreadsheet for keeping track of accounts (i.e. payments collected and payments pending), for tax purposes.

You should also find out how your clients’ finance department works, so that you know how much time they will need to process your invoice. If adequate time has passed, but you have still not received your payment, then you can send a polite reminder.

Tip #4: Schedule in Rest Time

Make a point to schedule in rest time and rest days. Try to get 6-8 hours of quality sleep every night. Adequate sleep can keep your body from falling sick and help you to focus better during the daytime.

If you work 7 days a week, it is a sure-fire way to burn yourself out. Pick 1-2 days to take off per week. If you had to rush work for a client over a weekend, then you can take a weekday off after that.

Tip #5: Keep in Touch

When you work from home, you spend long hours on your own, and people do not see you. Make it a point to keep in touch with people – not only clients (of course), but keep in touch with your family and friends. Human contact and human interaction is important, because humans are social creatures. Having a group of family and friends that you always stay in touch with also doubles up as a support group. These are the people you can call when you have an emergency or need some help.

At the end of the day, working on your own or working remotely is a test of self-discipline and self-management. Whether you can succeed will depend on how well you can keep yourself on track, focus and prioritise, in order to achieve your targets and goals.

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Strategy 101 with Joescher Chee

I attended my first ever strategy workshop on 4 January 2018. I felt my afternoon was well spent, listening to Joescher Chee sharing his knowledge, wisdom and insights. Unlike many people who lived their lives mechanically or in a haze from dawn till dusk, birth till death, Joescher got his wake-up call early in life. At 17, after a death-defying experience, he asked himself if his life mattered and what his purpose in life was. From then on, he changed his life profoundly and embarked on a meaningful life to become better and to help others as well.

In 2018, Joescher Chee has come very far in life. He is the Founder and CEO of Global Strategy Advisory, Co-Founder of Strategy Masterclass for CEOs and Entrepreneurs, an international speaker, and a branding expert who consulted over 200 brands across 23 industries.

Joescher Chee
Joescher Chee

So, what is strategy? Most people have vague ideas of what strategy is supposed to be, but Joescher demystified the term easily. He explained strategy as ‘the blueprint to get you from point A to B’. In business, there are various types of strategies. For example, business strategy is what drives your business, while brand strategy is what should your brand stand for. Marketing and communication strategy is how to reach out to customers, whereas advertising strategy involves how and where to advertise.

So, why is strategy important to a company? Usually, companies only notice the symptoms of a lack of strategy, which include stalling shares, falling market share, losing money, reducing margins, declining productivity, being stuck in the status quo, and diminishing employee morale. However, Joescher explained that these are just the fruits or outcomes of trouble related to a lack of strategy, which is the root of the problem. In order to fix the symptoms, we must first address the root cause.

Through his many years of consulting, Joescher noticed that companies normally fail because of 3 main reasons – no blueprint (strategy), wrong blueprint, or cannot execute the blueprint.

“Most companies in Asia are very good in execution, but they execute the wrong strategy,” said Joescher. “No good customer or supplier will want to jump into a ship that is lost.”

“If you don’t have a strategy, you don’t have a direction, you are lost,” he elaborated. “If your company doesn’t have a strategy, it simply won’t get you to the destination.”

On the other hand, if you have a strategy, you will have clarity, control, certainty and confidence. You will have a structured approach to smart growth and a clear road map to achieve breakthrough performance.

In the strategy workshop, he shared 3 strategy tools that are essential and practical for businesses. They are 3 Critical Choices, The Golden Ratio, and Industry Attractiveness.

The 3 critical choices are to be the Biggest, Best, or Most Profitable. Many years ago, businesses could achieve success by focusing on any 1 of them, but in our current age, with increasing competition, 1 is no longer enough.

In The Golden Ratio, the 3 important aspects of a business, regardless of industry, are simplified as Marketing, Operations, and Production. How a company decides on the ratio of focus, how much weight to give each aspect, will determine whether a company succeeds or fails.

The third strategy tool discussed was Industry Attractiveness. This is because the attractiveness of an industry also plays a very important role in how well a company performs. The higher the score, the more attractive the industry.

From this workshop, another point I found important was the importance of standing out from the rest – how to make yourself unique and special as compared to your competitors. As Joescher said, “In this world today, if your business is not a brand, it is a commodity. If it is a commodity, it can only compete on price.”

Business, brand and leadership strategy are required to transform organisations, cities and even countries. A clear strategy, a winning blueprint and a solid growth plan are indispensable to achieving business success for any company, in any industry worldwide. That is how critical the right strategy is, and therefore we as individuals can go so much further in life if we also had a clear strategy ourselves.

Feeling appreciated

I have been working since 2000. Contrary to my coursemates who applied for prestigious jobs in the cities once they graduated, I decided to work as a research assistant in the university and do my Master of Science (Environmental Science) at the same time.

It has been 17 years since then, and I have worked for all manner of employers, from tiny three-person companies to sizeable international ones, but somehow, the interest wanes after one to two years, and boredom sets in as I do the same thing over and over again, year after year. In my last job, in my fourth year, I tried to apply for a transfer to another department to have a change of environment and job scope, but my application was unsuccessful. I then did the next best thing. I set out on my own, choosing to become self-employed.

Of course, this does not mean self-employment is for everybody, nor do I recommend it for anyone who is having issues with boredom at work. Self-employment is a major life-changing decision, and can only be made after careful consideration of all important aspects of one’s life, and everybody’s life is unique and different.

There are many pros and cons in relation to being employed by a company, but I feel the top reason why employees stay on even though they are unhappy is perceived job security. Sometimes, the only reason they bother to wake up and go to the office is to get a pay cheque at the end of the month. It has become a mechanical action for countless people every day – to get up, dress up, and show up. And that is how they pass their time, year after year, decade after decade, till retirement. The retirement age in Malaysia used to be 55. Now, it is 60. Maybe 10 year later, as the workforce ages progressively and costs of living rises steadily, the retirement age might be raised to 65. Who knows?

However, in these trying times of economic uncertainty, I sometimes feel that job security is somewhat of an illusion. Terms like ‘retrenchment’ and ‘VSS’ are becoming increasingly common. Even though staff do not want to think about it, it is there, lurking in the dark corners of their mind.

In times like these, it would be useful to pick up a new skill, or learn a new trade, or even take a hobby to the next level. Perhaps, the new experience might spark passion in a previously undiscovered area, and lead to a new direction, and hopefully more interesting times ahead. Let’s face it. How many people will not get bored working in the same job for 10 to 30 years?

Another area of concern for me in full-time employment is the lack of appreciation from employers. Since staff are paid for their time and effort, it is easy to take them for granted, treating them as if they owe the company, simply because they are paid to work. It is like deja vu. In large organisations, sometimes staff are like hundreds of cows or sheep. The top management simply thinks of their workers en masse, and not as individuals with unique aspirations, interests and needs.

Strangely, I have found appreciation in other areas, all of which do not concern full-time employment. Since a young age, I have always had an interest in volunteer work, serving the community and environmental conservation and protection. It is the organisations and individuals in this area that are the most appreciative of my contributions.

In 2008, the Selangor Branch of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) gave me a branch award in recognition of my contributions as a volunteer.

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About 10 years later, our MNS Selangor Branch chairperson Pasu brought back a certificate of appreciation from the recent national AGM in Langkawi for me. It was a pleasant surprise that an award was presented to me at an AGM that I did not attend. 😀

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Even though I will not likely be awarded any long-service awards by any organisations in the future, these NGO awards will always remind me that I have contributed meaningfully to worthy causes and people have taken note of my contributions. And that is how I would like to be remembered.

❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first volunteer experience with the Nature Guides

In September 2017, I volunteered with the Nature Guides for the first time, helping them to conduct nature walks in the gardens of Carcosa Seri Negara, as part of the Jalan Merdeka programme in conjunction with Malaysia’s Independence Day 2017 celebrations. I wrote an article about my experience, and it was published in the Pencinta Alam November 2017 issue.

Here is the article, as published in the newsletter. Pencinta Alam is the national monthly newsletter of the Malaysian Nature Society.

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Here is the text version for easy reading:

On the Trail as a Nature Guide

Article by Khor Hui Min
Photos by Angeline Siok and Norazmir Mustapha

In all the years I have been a member and volunteer of the Malaysian Nature Society, I had never volunteered to be a nature guide. I had joined various walks conducted by nature guides once in a while, and found it interesting. The wealth of information about nature, beneficial plants and animals the nature guides had was enough to fill volumes of books, I imagined.

At last in September 2017, I finally volunteered myself to assist the nature guides to conduct walks as part of the Jalan Merdeka programme at Carcosa Seri Negara.

I missed the initial briefing for volunteers on 19 August due to other commitments, but reported for duty on 16 September, which was Malaysia Day.

‘Jalan Merdeka – Traversing the routes to Merdeka’ was an exhibition on our country’s journey towards Merdeka from 1896 to 1957, showcasing the historical Carcosa and Seri Negara buildings, which were next to the Lake Gardens, Kuala Lumpur. Jalan Merdeka was organised by the Asian Heritage Museum, and ran from 1 September till 31 October 2017.

Being a nature guide is not easy. There are a lot of plants and trees to recognise and remember, and we have to memorise their special qualities, medicinal uses, as well as other interesting facts, all of which are supposed to be interesting to the visitors joining the walks. After my briefing on 16 September, I could only remember half the plants, to my disappointment.

After some revision, and following on guided tours conducted by seasoned nature guides, with notes in hand, I finally conducted my first tour on 22 September, which was the following weekend. I was finally like, “What the heck. Just do it.”

It went rather well, which was a pleasant surprise for me. The large group of visitors, consisting of a mixed crowd of nature enthusiasts and casual drop-in visitors to the
exhibitions at Carcosa Seri Negara, spread out rather too much somewhere in the middle of the walk, so I had to wait for the people at the back to catch up with the people in front, but the weather was good for a walk, and I thought they rather enjoyed the fresh air and their morning exercise.

There was no prepared script, and we decided whether to share more detailed information or stick to the basics, or even shorten the walk, depending on the interest
shown by the visitors who joined each walk and whether they were in a hurry. Furthermore, I was not naturally good at public speaking, and did not need to speak to
customers at work, so this volunteer opportunity took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to talk (albeit rather loudly) to strangers. Thus, it was an opportunity
for personal growth and development, which was beneficial to me.

By taking the effort to recognise and remember plants, their flowers and fruits, and to memorise interesting information about them, I learnt so much more about our
garden plants over two weekends than I had ever done so in school. All in all, it was a good learning experience for me, I enjoyed spending time with the nature guides,
and I would definitely do it again.

🙂

Journey to Shangri-La

I have been publishing articles in bodymindsoul magazine in the last few issues. In Vol.13, an article on my most memorable adventure to date in Shangri-La county, Yunnan, China was published. You can find it from page 38 to 42 in the magazine.

Shangri-La article

Shangri-La county in autumn time is cold and beautiful, especially in the Mount Meili National Park. We hiked 24km uphill in one day to reach our lodging for the night. After 2 days, we hiked 20km back out. It was the hardest physical challenge for me, which made it all the more memorable.

 

Fab at Forty

Well, technically, I just turned 41 yesterday.

I have never written an exclusively birthday-related post before, because left on my own, my birthday is just like any other normal day. I would wake up in the morning, and go… oh, today’s my birthday. Then, I would do what I do on any other day.

However, this year, I feel different. Since the beginning of the year, I wanted to do things differently. When do I want to do the things I have always wanted to do? Do I wait until the right time, or do I do them now? I decided to do them now, because actually, we create the right time ourselves, when we are ready.

A change in direction

I have always wanted to do what I love, and go where I want to go. Unfortunately, I did not have the guts, because like everybody around me, I was brought up to cherish the security of the 9-to-5 job and look forward to the pay cheque at the end of the month.

I would land a piece of freelance work once in a while, but it was never enough to warrant giving up my full-time job… till now. Good fortune finally smiled on me, and I was seeing the blossoming of abundance and opportunity at last. The universe was most kind.

So, in mid-2017, I decided to resign and be a freelance writer. I became a full-fledged freelance writer right before my 41st birthday. I estimated that my earnings would be finally enough to sustain me in my new direction. I like to read business, career and financial articles from time to time, and I have come across a disturbing trend. When people earn more money as their income increases over the years, their expenditure would naturally grow with this increase in income. I decided that this did not have to be so. I wanted to live a simple life, and I wanted to reduce my expenditure, in line with being self-employed.

What do people do on their birthday?

Well, this birthday turned out to be the busiest ever. I decided that I wanted to start the day by pampering myself. So, I went for a facial. After treating myself to a nice birthday lunch of sushi and matcha ice cream, it was time to work, because well, my birthday did not have to be all about me.

I wanted to do something I enjoyed on my birthday, and one of the things I enjoyed most was volunteer work. I had with me some donations from an earlier Sparkles of Heart meditation at the Golden Space. The recipient selected by Beatrice for this session was SUKA Society. I had called a few days earlier to find out what they needed at this moment in time. I was informed that the money could go towards buying food for the food bank for refugee children. They gave me a list of what they needed – rice, pasta, red kidney beans, tomato puree, and cooking oil. The contact person emailed me a list complete with photos, too.

So, I went shopping in TESCO, because I was informed that the TESCO brand red kidney beans were most suitable for the refugees. Most urbanites in Kuala Lumpur would think that RM376 was a tiny amount, but with the right approach, it could actually feed a whole lot of people.

Shopping cart for SUKA1In fact, RM376 bought us:

1. 10 bags of rice (5kg)
2. 20 packs of pasta
3. 5 bottles of oil (5kg)
4. 14 tins of red kidney beans (400g)
5. 11 tins of tomato puree (215g)

So never underestimate our ability to stretch our ringgits!

I was really satisfied that I had filled up the shopping cart. Pushing the full trolley around the hypermarket and loading and unloading the goods was a workout by itself, no gym required. Luckily the wheels did not break before I reached the car in the basement.

Waze brought me right to the doorstep of the SUKA Society office, and the staff were pleased to help me unload the goods and bring them all to the storeroom where they kept the items for the food bank.

Birthday surprise1
Surprise party mastermind (left) and surprised birthday girl (right)

An unexpected surprise

After freshening up, it was time to go for El Herington’s free preview at the Golden Space. El came all the way from Hawaii, and her sessions were quite interesting.

When I arrived, my meditation classmates literally pounced on me with a cake and sang the birthday song. That was really sweet and thoughtful of them. ❤ I don’t remember the last time somebody threw me a surprise party. 🙂

I am really happy to know all of these nice people at the Golden Space, who are supportive, kind, thoughtful and non-judgemental. They turned my good day into a super awesome day. The cake was light and creamy and delicious, too.

El Herington’s session was really nice, as always. I hope she will come again next year.

Opportunity knocks

When I went back, I found that my application to be a Shutterstock Contributor had finally been approved. I had to take a photo of my passport for them to verify my identity, before they could approve me! It was a very pleasant end to the day.

To find my photos on Shutterstock, click here.

Earlier, at dinnertime, I received a call from a new client, confirming that I will be joining their team of freelance writers, too. This birthday was becoming the best one ever!

Busting myths

When I turned 40, I felt just like when I was 30, except that now, with wisdom acquired from my experiences, I had learnt to appreciate my body and take better care of myself. As a result, at 40, I was healthier, stronger and fitter than I was at 30, or even 20.

So, ladies in your 20s and 30s, do not believe it when people tell you that you are old and over the hill at 40. It is simply not true. Every individual is unique and different, but if you take care of yourself properly – eat healthy food, exercise regularly, get enough rest, and have a positive mindset, you will be all right.

I have seen too many people worry too much about other people and what they think and perceive, and this has unfortunately become the focal point of their existence – to please others, to be better than others, to prove others wrong, etc. Stop worrying about how people look at you and what people think of you, because you can never please everybody. Best thing to do is to be comfortable with yourself and be happy.

Always make it a point to schedule some ‘me’ time to do things you enjoy. It could be anything, from a manicure, to a sewing class, or learning self defense moves. As long as it makes you happy, and gives you some satisfaction, then you are on the right track.

Looking forward

Who knows what lurks around the corner? It is my second month as a freelance writer, but I am getting the hang of it, and settling in, slowly but surely.

I have decided not to fret too much about the details of where I am going or where I will end up. Instead, I am going to enjoy my life in the here and now, and spend more quality time doing meaningful things that enrich my life. Perhaps there is an adventure waiting for me around the corner. 😉

 

#atozchallenge: Value of altruism

Did you know that doing good has health benefits?

According to James Doty, director of the Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, when we care for others and engage in activities that help, it results in lowering our blood pressure and heart rate. Research actually shows that in the long term, it can help us live longer. On top of that, the good deeds we do can inspire others to do the same.

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Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201212/the-evolutionary-biology-altruism

“We’re adapted to recognise suffering and pain. For us to respond is hard-wired into our brain’s pleasure centres. After we lend a helping hand, we receive oxytocin or dopamine bursts that result in increased blood flow to our reward centres. In short, we feel good when we help,” added Doty.

For example, Peggy Callahan is a documentary producer covering social justice issues and a co-founder of two non-profit organisations that help people who are enslaved or caught in human trafficking. What she does is not easy, but it brings her happiness. Thanks to neuroscience research, she understands why.

“When you do an act of good, you get a neurotransmitter ‘drop’ in your brain that makes you happy,” Callahan said. Also, there is a multiplier effect. “Someone who witnesses that act also experiences the same thing, and remembering that act makes it happen all over again.”

She wanted to leverage on that. The result was Anonymous Good, a virtual community and website where people post stories or photos of acts of kindness they’ve carried out, observed, or received. For each act posted, website sponsors make a donation to feed the hungry, free people who are enslaved, plant a tree for cleaner air, or dig a well for clean water.

“One act of good is much more than just one act of good,” says Callahan. “It’s part of a much bigger force.” A force for good.

Sources:

This article was adapted from ‘Altruism: Individual Serving‘, which was written by Carol Hart Metzker and published in the June 2016 issue of The Rotarian. 

The source of the image featured in this article is ‘The Biology of Altruism‘, which was written by Christopher Bergland, and published in 2012 in Psychology Today. 

#atozchallenge: Inspire

Inspire

It is good to be inspired
To be helped and supported
But sometimes it would be nice
To return the good deed
Or pay it forward, twice
To be inspired is marvellous
But to be an inspiration is a gift

Khor Hui Min
18 April 2016

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Source: http://www.scottygirldesign.com/blog/2014/3/19/scrapbook-inspiration-quotes

 

 

#atozchallenge: Growth and a great attitude

G for ‘Growth and a great attitude’

Thoughts about the link between personal growth and atttitude today led to a short poem on the subject. 🙂

Dawn of a New Day

A day dawns in uncertainty
Its journey shrouded in mystery
Do we fret, or do we take it head on?
Do we linger in the doorway with doubt
Or square our shoulders, take a deep breath
Walk bravely out onto the sun-kissed path?
Be full of positivity and possibilities
A positive mind ignites happy thoughts
Happy thoughts lead to a smiley day
The contrary leads into dark and dreary bog
Which would you prefer, sunshine or bog?

Khor Hui Min
15 April 2016

 

RonovanWrites #Weekly #Haiku #Poetry Prompt #Challenge #82 Star&Child

For Ronovan Writes Weekly Haiku Poetry Challenge #82, the word prompts are ‘star’ and ‘child’. I imagined stars in the universe, the milky way, and children born full of potential to make the world a better place than their parents and grandparents before them.

Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
Photo taken in the Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore on 1 May 2015

 

Star dust

We are all star dust
Children of the universe
Radiant unique beings

Khor Hui Min
6 February 2016

 

Ronovan Writes Haiku Challenge Image 2016