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5 Tips for Adapting to a Non-Traditional Work Structure

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For the next 12 months, Zoe Weiner will be living and working remotely in 12 different cities around the world through an organization called Remote Year. As she moves to each new location and tackles new obstacles, she'll share what she learns with us here at Mental Floss. Miss her previous installment? Read it here.

“Do you ever sleep?”

It’s a question I get at least once a day, from friends, family, and bosses back in the U.S. who can’t understand why I am always awake to respond to their calls, texts, and emails—and that means 5 p.m. on Tuesday and 3 a.m. on Saturday in equal measure.

Living in Vietnam, on the second month of my Remote Year, sleeping hasn’t exactly been a priority—there’s simply too much to do, see, and eat to spend eight hours every night with my eyes closed (you haven’t lived until you’ve eaten banh mi from a street vendor in Ho Chi Minh City while the sun rises). This, coupled with an unorthodox work schedule that requires at least two overnight shifts per week, means that I’ve had to adapt to an entirely different way of life than I’m used to. Namely, one without a routine.

As a freelance writer, all of my time is my own, and the way I structure it is 100 percent up to me … which, unfortunately, isn't as freeing as it sounds. Before jetting off for Remote Year, I did my best to stick to a "normal" schedule: hitting the gym in the morning, working regular business hours, making dinner, and turning out the lights at a reasonable time. Now, I'm struggling to live on local time and correspond with editors in the U.S. during their business hours—meaning I'm on call pretty much 24 hours a day, seven days a week. On Remote Year, there is no such thing as “downtime,” and I’ve found myself writing stories from the beach, the bus and once, from the back of a Tuk Tuk. My new lifestyle simply doesn’t allow for regiment, and slowly but surely I’m starting to adjust.

After two months on the road, I’ve thankfully started to figure things out: At the very least, I’m no longer sobbing into a mystery meat satay, and though my sleep hours are irregular, I’ve managed to maintain between four and six hours every night. I’ve become a full-blown Vietnamese coffee addict in the process (FYI: It's really good and really caffeinated), but I’ve also learned that it is possible to be successful without the structure I’m used to. Here’s exactly how:

1. LEARN TO PRIORITIZE.

Here’s the reality: When you’re living, working, and traveling, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything you want to do. At a certain point, something’s gotta give, and it’s up to you to figure out what that “something” is. My advice? Every day, write down a checklist of everything you want to accomplish, ranked by importance—including work tasks and seemingly menial things like doing laundry and going to the gym. Then, start checking things off from the top. Even if you can’t do everything, you at least know that you’ll get to the most important things by the end of the day.

2. EMBRACE NAPTIME.

Remember how in pre-school naptime was the most frustrating part of the day because all you wanted to do was run around with your friends? That’s kind of what it feels like on Remote Year. Dedicating a chunk of your day to sleeping is really, really annoying, especially when it means missing out on a trip to a temple or local market (or sacrificing work hours). But in order to be alert enough to do anything, you have to give in to sleep at some point. Invest in an eye mask and a set of earplugs, and carve out at least four hours every day (or night) for shut-eye. Sleep with your phone and laptop in another room, and force yourself to stay in bed the entire time so that eventually you’ll fall asleep.

3. COMMUNICATE THE RIGHT WAY.

I’m in a unique position that requires me to work U.S. and Asia hours (check back in with me in a month and I’ll let you know how that’s going), but for most remote workers, it’s crucial to set clear boundaries between your working and not-working hours. Make sure your clients and bosses know that you’re available between the hours of X and X, and try to work as many hours as possible that overlap with theirs (for me, this means working 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Vietnam time two nights a week). Aside from designated "workdays," do your best to disconnect. It also helps to put a line in your email signature that mentions you may be slow to respond to messages due to the time difference so that everyone is able to stay on the same page.

4. RELY ON YOUR CALENDAR.

Because there’s no structure built into your days, it’s up to you to create it for yourself, and I’ve found that building a crazy-detailed calendar tends to help. Not only do I have all of my deadlines, events, and calls penciled in, but reminders like "Go to the office," "Go to the grocery store," and "Call your mom" pop up on a regular basis. It may sound silly, but without the reminders there is little-to-no chance any of these seemingly normal things will happen. Even though every day may look different, creating a schedule and holding yourself accountable to it can help you stay focused.

5. MAKE TIME FOR SELF CARE.

Some other reminders that pop up on my calendar? “Sleep,” “Eat dinner,” and “Go to the gym.” Anyone with a traditional lifestyle probably assumes that these things are no-brainers, but you’d be surprised how hard it is to fit them in as a full-time remote traveler. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve had days when I can’t remember the last time I’ve eaten/slept/showered because the days start to blend together. Trust me, without a routine to keep you balanced, you will ultimately forget to take care of yourself. Carve out a few hours every week to give yourself some self love in whatever way will make you feel best, whether it’s getting a massage, reading a book, or going to a workout class. If your mind, body, and soul are struggling, your productivity ultimately will, too.

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The Most (and Least) Expensive States for Staying Warm This Winter
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It’s that time of year again: Temperatures outside have plummeted, while your monthly heating bill is on the rise. If you want an idea of how much heat will cost you this winter (perhaps you blocked out last year’s damage to your bank account), one reliable indicator is location.

Average energy expenses vary from state to state due to factors like weather, house size, and local gas prices. Using data from sources including the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, WalletHub calculated the average monthly utility bill totals for all 50 states plus Washington D.C. in 2017.

Source: WalletHub

The personal finance website looked at four energy costs: electricity, natural gas, car fuel, and home heating oil. After putting these components together, Connecticut was found to be the state with the highest energy costs in 2017, with an average of $380 in monthly bills, followed by Alaska with $332 and Rhode Island with $329.

That includes data from the summer and winter months. For a better picture of which state’s residents spend the most on heat, we have to look at the individual energy costs. Michigan, which ranks 33rd overall, outdoes every other state in the natural gas department with an average bill of $60 a month. Alaska is close behind with $59, followed by Rhode Island With $58.

People living in Maine prefer oil to heat their homes, spending $84 a month on the fuel source. All six New England states—Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts—occupy the top six spots in this category.

So which state should you move to if you want to see your heating bill disappear? In Florida, the average household spends just $3 a month on natural gas and $0 on heating oil. In Hawaii, on average, the oil bill is $0 as well, and slightly higher for gas at $4. Of course, they make up for it when it comes time to crank up the AC: Both states break the top 10 in highest electricity costs.


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Don't Pour Alcohol on Your Bed Bugs—Try These Tips Instead
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Getting bed bugs is a nightmare experience, one that’s sure to cost you oodles of time, money, and emotional distress. The bugs are painfully hard to purge from your household, and it’s getting even harder as they become more resistant to common insecticides. Unfortunately, home remedies are often no match for these parasitic insects. Dousing them with rubbing alcohol (a tip you'll often hear) won’t kill them; in fact, it might just burn your house down, as a woman trying to rid her Cincinnati apartment of bed bugs found out recently. As The Washington Post reported, the alcohol in that case was too close to the flame of a candle or some type of incense, and ignited. It wasn't an isolated incident.

In the last 10 years or so, people trying to kill bed bugs with alcohol have started several house fires across the U.S., including a different incident in Cincinnati just two weeks ago. So short of burning down your entire house and starting over, how do you get rid of them?

The short answer is: Give up on the idea of saving money and call an exterminator. According to 2014 research, plenty of DIY bed bug-killing remedies are woefully ineffective. Rubbing alcohol, in fact, only killed half of the insects sprayed by the Rutgers University researchers in that study. Researchers have found that other recommended home remedies, like moth balls, foggers, or ultrasonic bug repellers, are even less effective. And don’t even think about using “natural” type products that use essential oils as the main ingredient. They might smell nice, but they won’t help your bug problem.

But before you call in the big guns, there are a few effective, concrete steps you can take to reduce your infestation. As Rutgers bedbug specialists Changlu Wang and Richard Cooper wrote in their bed bug fact sheet, putting your belongings in plastic storage bins or garbage bags is a good place to start. Since the bugs don’t like to climb on smooth plastic, this can help contain the infestation. Just make sure to treat whatever you’re putting inside the bags or bins first by putting them through the hot laundry, steaming, heating, or freezing them.

You’ll need a mattress encasement, too. This will keep the bugs that have already infested your mattress from escaping, meaning they won’t be able to feast on you anymore and will die of starvation. Nor will any new bugs be able to get inside to nest. You’ll want to make sure it’s a scientifically tested brand, though, since not all mattress encasements are bite-proof or escape-proof for bed bugs. (Most experts recommend the Protect-a-Bed BugLock encasement, which costs about $81 for the queen-sized version.)

Next, pick up some bed bug traps. Set them up under the legs of your furniture and around the perimeter of rooms to help detect new infestations and reduce existing ones. According to Wang and Cooper, a one-bedroom apartment might need eight to 12 of these traps, while bigger apartments will require more.

You’ll want to expose all your belongings to extreme temperatures before you even think about touching them again. Putting them through the washer/dryer on its hottest setting will do the trick to kill both bugs and their eggs, but if you need to eradicate bugs lurking in items you can’t wash, you can freeze them in plastic bags (as long as your freezer gets down to 0°F). You can also kill them with a steam cleaner, especially if you need to purge them from your couch or other upholstered furniture.

If you’ve still got a large number of bugs lurking in your house, you can tackle them with a vacuum cleaner, sucking them out of seams, zippers, trim, and other furniture crevices. But you’ll want to use a stocking or some other method of protecting your vacuum from being infested itself. (See Figure 6 here.)

Some research has also found that desiccant dusts that dehydrate bugs to death, like diatomaceous earth and silica gel, can be effective at controlling bed bug infestations (silica gel in particular) when spread around the perimeters of rooms, on bed frames and couches, and on furniture legs.

As we mentioned before, you’ll probably want to consult a professional even if you do all of the above, because if you miss even one bug or egg, you'll be back to where you started. The cost of an exterminator pales in comparison to the cost of throwing out everything you own, moving homes, and then realizing you’ve brought the bed bugs with you anyway.

The bad news for anyone who’s already infested is that prevention really is key when it comes to bed bugs. So brush up on what the pests look like, make sure to check your hotel room for them when you travel, and if you spot them in your apartment, make sure to warn your neighbors.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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