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8 Tips for Staying Productive When You Work Remotely

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When it comes to working remotely, getting your boss on board may seem like the hardest part. Once they’ve agreed to let you work from home—or basically anywhere outside your cubicle—it’s all pajama-clad smooth sailing from the comfort of your couch, right?

Not quite. You actually have to keep your boss on board—and that requires a whole lot of work.

Whether you'll be signing on from across town or across the pond, going remote may offer a lot of freedom, but that freedom brings about a great deal of personal accountability. As a remote worker, it’s your job to show your boss that he or she didn’t make the wrong decision by letting you fly the coop. So how can you prove that you don’t need to be micromanaged from an office setting in order to get your work done?

Amanda Little, Head of Human Resources and Culture for Canadian telecommunications company Fibernetics, has a unique perspective on the matter. She’s seen the issue from both sides, having managed remote workers and worked remotely herself. Here are her tips for proving to your boss that you can, in fact, be just as productive on your own time as you are when you’re chained to your desk.

1. MAKE THE RIGHT PITCH.

Without the proper pitch, your remote work dreams are pretty much dead in the water. More than that, though, the way you present your idea to your boss can help set you up for success in the long run. Here are the most important things to keep in mind, according to Little:

- Know Your Boss: The more you understand your boss, including his or her priorities, the easier it will be for you to pitch your request. Align the reasons why you want to work remotely with what you know to be your manager's priorities.

- Know Your Company’s Priorities: Think about the bigger picture. If you can make clear how your remote working arrangement will affect the company as a whole and support the company’s overall vision, you should be well on your way to a solid consideration.

- Play Devil’s Advocate: List all of the pros of remote work, but don’t forget about the cons. Think of the drawbacks and limitations ahead of time—and come up with solutions to work around them—and then you have a better chance at hearing “yes.”

2. KEEP UP WITH YOUR COMMITMENTS.

Working remotely is not an excuse to slack off. If anything, you have to work even harder than normal to prove yourself. Staying on top of your workload is a crucial part of this. “At the end of the day, you are being paid for delivering a certain level of work or service, so be sure you keep that in mind,” says Little. “However, if you can find ways to be more efficient, save yourself time, and still deliver the same output, it’s your win.”

3. SCHEDULE A WEEKLY UPDATE MEETING.

If you’re a full-time remote worker, it’s crucial to get regular face time in (or at least, phone time). “Have a recurring weekly meeting at an agreed upon time where you call your boss,” says Little. “Even if your boss ends up not being available, moves the meeting, or simply doesn’t answer because of distractions, call every time.” She suggests bringing up items you discussed in previous conversations to show that you paid attention and took notes, and use the time to show your boss that you’re staying on the ball with your commitments.

4. ASK HOW YOU CAN IMPROVE.

Instead of waiting for feedback to come your way, ask for it yourself. Little suggests proactively seeking answers for areas of improvement by straight up asking what you could be doing better. It will give you the opportunity to fix any problems before they become bigger ones. And best case scenario? Your boss tells you you’re perfect, amazing, and things couldn’t be better. It’s a win/win.

5. COP TO YOUR MISTAKES.

If you miss a deadline or deliver subpar work, acknowledge it immediately. You know it happened, your boss knows it happened, and ignoring it only makes things worse. “Own up to it and try to admit it and address it before your boss has to call you out on it,” says Little. “Human error is easier to forgive when admitted than pure ignorance.” (This is good advice for anyone, not just remote workers.)

6. KEEP YOUR CONVERSATIONS ABOUT WORK.

One of the best parts of working remotely is that you’re far, far away from office distractions, so make sure you aren’t getting caught up in them when you do check in. “When your boss asks how your weekend was … keep your answer short and sweet and don’t go on for too long,” says Little. “Once you’ve shared a simple answer, ask your boss how his or her week or weekend has been. After you’ve each shared your personal updates, you should be the first to transition the discussion from recreational back to business.” This shows that you’re focused, which can be a major concern for managers of remote workers.

7. RESPOND TO EMAILS ASAP.

Even if you’ve figured out how to shift or minimize your work hours to avoid the typical 9 to 5 grind, it’s important that you’re always available when your bosses, coworkers, and clients expect you to be. “When a boss feels that your responses are taking longer than usual it is almost always viewed as a red flag, because what else could you possibly be doing?” says Little. Stay on top of your correspondence to avoid raising any concerns.

8. STAY OFF SOCIAL MEDIA DURING BUSINESS HOURS.

If your boss or coworkers see you posting a picture of a beach or a Snapchat of The Ellen DeGeneres Show in the middle of the day, they’ll know you aren’t working. Even if you think none of your colleagues follow you, be smart about the way you use social media. Better safe than sorry.

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Why You Should Think Twice About Drinking From Ceramics You Made by Hand
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Ceramic ware is much safer than it used to be (Fiesta ware hasn’t coated its plates in uranium since 1973), but according to NPR, not all new ceramics are free of dangerous chemicals. If you own a mug, bowl, plate, or other ceramic kitchen item that was glazed before entering the kiln, it may contain trace amounts of harmful lead.

Earthenware is often coated with a shiny, ceramic glaze. If the clay used to sculpt the vessel is nontoxic, that doesn’t necessarily mean the glaze is. Historically, the chemical has been used in glazes to give pottery a glossy finish and brighten colors like orange, yellow, and red.

Sometimes the amount of lead in a product is minuscule, but even trace amounts can contaminate whatever you're eating or drinking. Over time, exposure to lead in small doses can lead to heightened blood pressure, lowered kidney function, and reproductive issues. Lead can cause even more serious problems in kids, including slowed physical and mental development.

As the dangers of even small amounts of lead have become more widely known, the ceramics industry has gradually eliminated the additive from its products. Most of the big-name commercial ceramic brands, like Crock-Pot and Fiesta ware, have cut it out all together. But there are still some manufacturers, especially abroad, that still use it. Luckily, the FDA keeps a list of the ceramic ware it tests that has been shown to contain lead.

Beyond that list, there’s another group of products consumers should be wary of: kiln-baked dishware that you either bought from an independent artist or made yourself. The ceramic mug you crafted at your local pottery studio isn’t subject to FDA regulations, and therefore it may be better suited to looking pretty on your shelf than to holding beverages. This is especially true when consuming something acidic, like coffee, which can cause any lead hiding in the glaze to leach out.

If you’re not ready to retire your hand-crafted ceramic plates, the FDA offers one possible solution: Purchase a home lead testing kit and analyze the items yourself. If the tests come back negative, your homemade dishware can keep its spot on your dinner table.

[h/t NPR]

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Smiling Could Improve Your Athletic Performance—But Your Grins Can't Be Fake
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Athletes obviously enjoy breaking a sweat, but it’s not often that you’ll see one break into a smile while in the throes of competition. Yet that’s exactly what many coaches instruct them to do: Grinning mid-race has been said to relax muscles and boost physical performance. Recently, a group of researchers put this theory to the test, according to The New York Times. Their findings were published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

Researchers from Ulster University in Northern Ireland and Swansea University in Wales instructed a group of 24 non-professional runners—both men and women—to shift between smiles and scowls while running on a treadmill. The volunteers were told that the experiment would measure how certain factors affected the amount of oxygen they used while jogging at various running speeds.

For the experiment’s first stage, runners wore face masks that measured their breathing. As they exercised until fatigue, researchers asked them to rate how they felt and report their coping strategies—for example, whether were they ignoring their pain or embracing it.

The study’s second segment required volunteers to engage in four individual runs, each lasting for six minutes. Mid-run, they were told to smile both genuinely and continuously, to scowl, to relax their torsos using a visualization technique, or to simply fall back on their usual endurance mindsets.

Smiles didn’t always improve runners’ performances. A few subjects picked up the pace while grimacing, possibly because these “game faces” made them ultra-determined to beat their personal records. But overall, runners with smiles were nearly 3 percent more efficient than normal. While seemingly insignificant, this difference is large enough to affect someone’s race performance, experts say.

Keeping in mind the study’s small size, the authors conclude that exercising while smiling might reduce muscular tension and thus amp up performance. But in order to gain this positive effect, athletes must beam genuinely. Fake smiles, like the kind you’ll see in school pictures, don’t work as many facial muscles, and therefore result in lower levels of relaxation.

Since it’s hard for anyone (let alone a focused athlete) to maintain an authentic smile during prolonged periods of strenuous activity, scientists suggest smiling near a race’s end, in 30-second intervals.

[h/t The New York Times]

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