By David Nield for Popular Science
With a changing economy, more flexible job roles, and the continued spread of broadband internet, more and more of us are working from home. According to the most recent statistics, more than 5% of the U.S. workforce spends at least part of their office hours at home.
While this habit lets us avoid the stress of commuting and spend all day in sweatpants, the consequences aren’t all positive. With so many distractions at home, and no manager looming nearby, productivity can take a hit. To avoid this, we rounded up some apps and tools to help you stay on task. Include some of these in your home office setup to raise your productivity and motivation levels.
Play background noise
If you work best with a constant murmur in the background, you’ll find plenty of white-noise apps to provide that hum.
Pick the noises you want to hear, and the relative volumes you’d like them to play at. Preset soundscapes are designed to help with relaxation or productivity, helping to optimise your brainwaves to improve your cognitive function, helping you focus, relax, or drift off to sleep.
Track your time
Where does all the time go? With no boss around to check when you start work or take a break (or three), your routine can quickly stagnate. That’s why you need an app to help you keep track of how you’re spending your time.
Cut out distractions
At home, you’re surrounded by temptations like your snack-filled kitchen, potential Netflix binges, and, of course, the ever-present siren song of your smartphone. You need help tuning out these distractions in order to stay on track.
Include some break time
All work and no play is a recipe for burnout: If you don’t take the odd breather, your productivity will experience diminishing returns. You should take five minutes of rest for every 25 minutes of work, and you can also adjust these parameters to split your time differently.
You should use those break minutes to refresh your brain. If you’d prefer distraction to meditation, why not rest your eyes while listening to a podcast?
Even when you’re not in the office, you need to stay in touch with your colleagues. So apps that connect you with other members of your team are an essential part of working from home.
Improve your workspace
Besides the apps we’ve mentioned, you can also modify your physical home-office setup. A more comfortable working situation will make you more productive—and less vulnerable to distractions.
For your comfort and your health, you should make sure your chair and desk help you sit without straining your body. For example, keep your screen at eye level to avoid damaging your neck and back.
Consider building a custom computer desk designed to help you sit ergonomically.
In addition to your computer, you probably have a few other gadgets on that desk. You’ll want to keep them all charged to make sure a dead battery doesn’t make you miss a call from the boss.
Finally, illuminating your workspace is essential for both staying focused and reducing strain on your eyes. You can pick any lamp that fits your tastes and needs.
Sure, the “C” in CES stands for consumers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a business can’t benefit from the annual electronics show in Las Vegas.
In fact, sometimes gear makers use the Consumer Electronics Show to billboard products that cross the consumer/commercial divide.
Here are six examples of business gear from last week’s Las Vegas tech extravaganza that can improve performance in any small or home office.
- HP Spectre x360 Convertible Laptop
No, this is not a laptop that belongs to James Bonds’ archenemies. The HP Spectre x360 is a 15.6-inch aluminium portable PC that HP claims is the thinnest convertible available. It’s not only thin but versatile; its 4K 3820 x 2160-pixel touchscreen twists around the keyboard so it can operate as a standard laptop, stand up like an A-frame tent for movie watching, set up L-shaped with the keyboard face-down to show a presentation to someone sitting across from you or fold back-to-back with the screen against the rear of the keyboard to use as a tablet.
Included is a full array of jacks and ports including a USB Type-C that supports up to 5GB of data transfer and, best of all, a whopping 13 hours of portable battery life. Spectre x360 will go on sale on 14 February.
- Lenovo ThinkPad X1 2-in-1 Tablet
Think of Lenovo’s X1 thin (8,4 mm) and light tablet with a detachable keyboard as a child of the company’s sleek Carbon and flexible Yoga laptops that can be expanded with clip-on modules. For instance, you can add a Productivity Module to get up to 15 hours of battery life, a Presenter Module with a pico projector and an HDMI port, and an Imaging Module that adds a rear-facing Intel RealSense scanning camera. The X1 will be available in February.
- Samsung Galaxy TabPro S Tablet
If your portable computing needs are a bit more mainstream, Samsung’s new Galaxy TabPro S 2-in-1 tablet still means business, but in an even lighter (1.5 pounds) and thinner (6.3 mm) stick-in-your-bag package.
Designed to be a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 killer, the slightly smaller TabPro S (2160 by 440 display versus SP4’s 2736 by 1824 screen) features the first Super AMOLED display (2160 by 1440) for a Windows 2-in-1, which means bright sunlight will impact it less, as well as a detachable thin and flat keyboard cover. It’ll be available in February.
- Epson WorkForce EcoTank Printers
There’s nothing more frustrating than wanting to print something only to find you need to replace an ink cartridge. Epson wants to solve the “no ink annoyance” with its WorkForce EcoTank printers. This whole new concept in printers includes large “super tank” ink reservoirs that come loaded with enough ink for up to two years of printing, the equivalent of around 20 sets of ink cartridges.
- VXi Envoy Office USB Telephone Headset
When you’re jammed into an office with several other workers, you want to keep your conversations as private as possible, especially video calls. This full-featured Unified Communications (UC) VXi Envoy Office headphone plugs into a PC’s USB jack, meets Skype for Business standards and includes noise-canceling microphone technology, so your caller only hears you and not the surrounding hubbub. It also has inline volume and switch hook controls.
Envoy is surprisingly light and comfortable. The swing-down mic is sensitive enough to be whispered into so as not to disturb potentially eavesdropping co-workers and can be bent into the most comfortable position (worn with the boom on the left or right).
- Plantronics Voyager Focus UC
If you or your workers need a bit more flexibility for their conversations, this immersive and comfy Plantronics Voyager Focus UC stereo headphone is built with Class 1 Bluetooth, which lets you clearly converse up to 150 feet away from your PC. Its on-ear design covers your lobes to reduce ambient office, or noise from outside leaking in, plus the active noise cancellation in both ear cups and boom mic reduces low-frequency hums such as the air conditioner. It also keeps desktop clatter and nearby conversations from reaching whomever you’re speaking with. A light on the boom ear cup indicates to co-workers that you’re on a call, and the phone will tell you when you’re on mute while the stubby Bluetooth dongle glows red as a visual reminder.
With all of these products hitting the market in early 2016, home and small offices can look forward to small tech advances that make working life more convenient and easier for everyone.
By Stewart Wolpin for www.business.com