10 Apps that Help Create a Stress-Free Workday

Recently I’ve been reading up on Mindfulness. Mindfulness, according to Aleksandra Zgierska in 2009, is “accepting and non-judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment“. It is a “mind-body approach to well-being that can help you change the way you think about experiences and reduce stress and anxiety” [Bemindful.co.uk]. I really like some of the core concepts, such as: focussing on the present, acceptance of the way things are, openness to new information, being fully present and beginner’s mind. I’m no expert yet but I’m going to keep reading and trying out…

sarahSarah Pike is interested in how we can de-stress our lives as remote workers and has written about 10 apps that help create a stress-free workday.

Sarah is a freelancer and college writing instructor. When she’s not writing or teaching, she’s probably binge-watching RomComs on Netflix or planning her next camping trip. She also enjoys following far too many celebrities than she should on Instagram. You can find Sarah on Twitter at @sarahzpike.

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Studies show people who work out of the office are more productive than their in-office peers. However, that doesn’t mean that working in your pajamas means you’re living a stress-free life. If you’re working from home and need a little help de-cluttering your mind, here are ten apps that can help reduce your workday stress.

  1. Asana

One of the biggest obstacles to working from home is finding ways to effectively communicate with the rest of your team. Asana helps to streamline the communication process by eliminating the need for email. The app allows you to organize tasks, create shared projects and add comments to each task your entire group can see.

  1. Stop, Breathe & Think

Meditation is a strong catalyst for helping your mind and body recover from a stressful day of work. Throwing a few minutes of it into your workday has shown to help lower your stress and make you more productive. The Stop, Breathe & Think app makes the mediation process personal by asking questions pertaining to your current state of mind and wellness, then mapping out meditation techniques to suit your situation.

  1. Simply Breathe

Mastering your breathing can help you reduce and even eliminate stress during the workday to help you relax. Download Simply Breathe to incorporate interactive games and sounds designed to help you focus your breathing. It also helps you set long-term goals, track your stress and share your progress with others to help motivate and inspire.

  1. Elevate

To perform better on the job at home, you need to train your brain. Apple named Elevate the best iPhone app of the year for 2014 because of its proven ability to help elevate your brainpower. The app uses 25 mini-games to improve your cognitive skills in memory, reading comprehension and focus. If you find yourself having trouble completing a task, take a break and hop on Elevate to re-orient your brain.

  1. Personal Zen

If you find yourself getting frustrated with your workload, download the Personal Zen app. A team of psychology professors created the app to help reduce anxiety and worry by reconditioning the way you think. It’s a simple design that forces you to follow around a happy face while ignoring an angry one. Researchers found playing it for 25 minutes can help you feel better throughout the day.

  1. Find Me Coffee

Maybe you need a change of scenery, or perhaps you’re just looking for an extra boost of energy to get you through the day. Either way, Find Me Coffee is a great resource for freelancers and coffee lovers. The app locates the nearest coffee shop and provides you with directions on how to get there. It’s the perfect way to break up the workday while getting you up and out of the house.

  1. Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder

Sometimes you just need to stretch your legs. The Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder app puts you in touch with nature by locating the nearest parks and outdoor recreation areas where you can take a walk. Studies have shown taking a walking break in the middle of the workday can help reduce stress while also making you more calm and alert.

  1. Spotify

Music has been shown to be capable of lowering blood pressure, slow our heart rates and decrease levels of stress hormones in our bodies. That’s why you should consider downloading the popular music app Spotify. The app allows you to put together your own playlists of your favorite artists for free, or you can buy the premium version to listen offline. Try searching for “deep focus” playlists for the moments when you really need to buckle down.

  1. MapMyFitness

It’s no secret that exercise and healthy eating make for better overall lifestyles, but did you know they could also help you be more productive at work? Regular exercise can help improve both alertness and energy levels. Apps like MapMyFitness are great because they can help plan exercise routes and provide you with a way to log your daily food intakes.

  1. Timeful

Working from home can blur the lines between everyday life and work, making it difficult to find a balance. Timeful is a time-management app that helps you find time for those small tasks you know need to be done, but never seem to quite fit into your schedule. It allows you to designate specific times for certain tasks throughout the day and helps you develop habits to keep yourself on track.

The best apps for remote workers are the ones that allow you to work from home while also maintaining a happy work-life balance. You might think playing on the Internet would lead to less productivity, but research shows access to the Internet actually helps increase overall happiness. Happier people make better workers, and these apps can surely help you de-stress and find a better balance between home and work.

Office Surfing

The Emporium of Dangerous Ideas aims to re-establish the importance of dangerous ideas as agents of change in education – to shift the axis of what is possible! It is for everyone who is passionate about education including college, university, school staff and students as well as those engaged in education throughout the creative communities.

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They’ve recently shared a great idea for remote workers or office workers working in education.

A Dangerous Idea for creativity at work

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work in a very different environment from your usual workplace? Would you like to try it out and become an office surfer? Would you like your organisation to Host an office surf? Would you like to meet people from other professions and sectors? What? … Spend some time in a different work environment, doing your work or work as a host, welcoming a surfer to experience your working environment.

Why? … Two reasons (among many!):

  1. To become more aware of the physical work environment, and the effect it has on your work. Does your workplace help you to be creative? How is the new environment different? What about it is helpful? Any ideas you could take back and implement in your own workplace?
  2. To meet new people and have interesting conversations. The random coffee scheme that was organised by Education Scotland has put hundreds of people together for interesting conversations, and ideas have grown out of it. Benefits?

As a Surfer you get:

  • the chance to see what working in a different environment feels like, and how it suits – or doesn’t – your work and your style
  • to benchmark your own work-space against the one you are visiting, and against best practice, and come away with ideas for improvement.
    As a Host you get:
  • feedback on your work environment from a fresh pairs of eyes, based on rigorous research rather than just personal preference
    You both get and interesting and unexpected connection.

The Emporium of Dangerous Ideas gets:

  • stories, photos and videos from surfers and hosts about their experiences
  • the assessment of what makes a creative environment
  • lots of great learning to share

Results of the office surf will be shown at the Emporium Finale in an exhibition of creative change. This will take place on Friday 19 June 2015 view programme and book online: http://events.collegedevelopmentnetwork.ac.uk/events/show/5200

If this sounds like a Dangerous Idea that you would like to be a part of, please contact Dawn Brooks for more information on how to take part.

Any responses should be in by Thursday 30 April 2015.

Views of Remote Working

Tarjei Vesaas, the Norwegian poet behind the Boat in the Evening once said “Almost nothing need be said when you have eyes.

The thing is when you work in a different place from your colleagues that seeing is gone. You don’t know what their space or their view is like, you can’t imagine how they work. There is no communal window, no shared perspective.

Mozilla recently published a post in which they showed images of their developer’s desk space. It was something I’d been meaning to do with Open Knowledge colleagues for a while.
desks

Today at our All-hands call people shared the view out of their window, or a place they’d recently been working in. I thought it might be interesting to pull these photos of desks and views together: no names, no comments, no explanation. If nothing else it shows what a diverse organisation we are. It also reminds us that when you work with someone, and your only contact is through wires, it makes sense to remember that they might see things differently from you.

windowview

Remote working from an organisational perspective

BenIn the past numerous articles on the blog have touched on the benefits of remote working and how employees can prosper from carrying out work related activities from the comfort of their own home. However we haven’t had many articles that focus on what remote working means from an organisational perspective. This article by CEO Benjamin Fountain does just that.

Benjamin is CEO at London’s exciting new web development company Zed Zed. Their new ground breaking concept is based entirely on people working from home. Zed Zed has recruited a specialist workforce who are looking for a fresh approach to working life and those who are tired of the typical 9-5 office based roles. Zed Zed believes that this is the future of recruitment and by embracing what people want the company aims to produce a highly effective team.

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I’m passionate about Startups. I have been managing a web development company for over 10 years and our work is centred around the start up field making innovative and exciting online applications.

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During the past year we have been working as a team to develop the new age of web development and online application deployment. At the start of this year we launched ZZ.co.uk and the response has been incredible.

ZZ.co.uk is a new startup which will bring remote working contractors together under one brand to offer companies around the world, international deployment, 24/7 development and the ultimate in tech team customisation.’

So.. Why does Zed Zed recruit in this way?

Having worked in an office throughout almost all of my professional life I found it extremely tiring and demanding having to repeat the same routine on a daily basis. Although working in an office has many positive aspects including the chance to interact with colleagues there are also negative effects which include the following…

  • A recent study outlined how the average person in Britain spends 54 minutes a day commuting and ‘feelings of happiness, life satisfaction and the sense that one’s activities are worthwhile all decrease with every successive minute of travel to work’. In addition, commuting can lead to high levels of stress as a result of delays, unpredictable weather and of course a lack of control. This is clearly a cause for concern as stress within the workplace can lead to a lack of productivity but more worryingly it could potentially result in both mental and physical issues for employees.
  • Carrying out mundane, routinized activities on a frequent basis coupled with the highly stressful nature of the role can be tough. For example, sitting at your office table for 8 hours a day could be highly frustrating and potentially demotivating because as people we are keen to experience new things on a regular basis.

At Zed Zed we strongly believe that our team should be treated as people rather than entities which is why we encourage them to choose their own hours and days of work. We believe that remote employment can help increase productivity amongst team members as well as help stimulate their minds. In addition we understand that commuting to work can be difficult for many people and remote employment sidesteps this issue completely which enables ZZ Team Members to spend more time with their families. We feel that this flexibility helps the team to remain stress free whilst effectively carrying out their responsibilities.

We appreciate the fact that our team have lives beyond that of the workplace and we look to accommodate this at all times by giving them freedom and encouraging them to enjoy their work rather than have the feeling that work is almost like a ‘chore’ that they have to do. Our business model enables them to work for the company part-time so that they can also work with us even with their full-time job. This can have a significant impact on their earnings whilst at the same time giving them a chance to try a new career.

Ultimately, Zed Zed believes in the responsibility of adults and of the incredible talent available who can’t necessarily commute to a job. We believe people should not live to work but that work should be an enjoyable part of their life which they can’t live without. We recruit team members who have a passion for life and their work which gives us a strong and dedicated team.

Survey: Online Meeting Woes

My now ex-colleague Ira Bolychevsky is doing some investigation into online meetings with the intention of building an app that makes online meetings more bearable. She would really appreciate people’s input!

In our experience meetings can suck a lot. Online virtual meetings often introduce their own unique level of pain and frustration, but also the opportunity to make meetings better with technology … so we are working on a new application to ensure better meetings.

To help us figure out which cause of frustrations to focus on first – we’d love your feedback and input. Please fill in this 2 minute survey. If you totally love meetings and never have any problems, then go ping @shevski on twitter. If you leave your name and email address at the end, we’ll send you an invite for priority access to try out our app when it’s ready.</blockquote>

You can access the survey here!

online meeting woes

Open Knowledge Summit: Maximising Work not Done

I’ve just been lucky enough to spend another 3 days with my wonderful work colleagues! As a dispersed organisation Open Knowledge are really taking the need for F2F meet-ups seriously, and so it was decided that time together in London would move us much further forward than a series of online chats.

Open Knowledge staff

Open Knowledge staff

While our previous summit of the year focused on personal development this time we were given the opportunity to think about the future of our organisation and contribute to areas including strategy and approaches to interaction with the community. Quite a lot of our focused discussions probably won’t be of too much interest here but I’d like to share some of the more general meat from the 3 days!

Training

During the 3 days we covered two main training areas: Constructive feedback and Performance Management Processes. The key advice in the feedback session was that when giving feedback you should focus on the Situation (time, place, circumstances), the Behavour (what the person did) and the Impact (how it made me feel or the how I saw it effect others). Using this SBI approach allows us to be both honest and kind – so passing on a clear message with no beating about the bush! Giving feedback isn’t always easy as it involves competing values in honesty and kindness, but it is necessary and we should think of it as being a gift (receivers should be grateful but don’t have to chose to use it!). We should be aiming to give about five pieces of positive feedback for every one piece of negative feedback (this aligned well with my own criticism sandwich approach) and the main aim is to reinforce good behavior and redirect bad ones. Feedback So to sum up feedback should focus on acts not attitude, be goal-orientated and directed to the future, be multidirectional, continual, timely and should support proper action. It all made positive sense though isn’t necessarily so easy to do in the real world. One thing I took away from the session is the need to be specific (talk about about real actions rather than just general things “you messed up”) – I intend to take more notes straight after things happen so that I have details of these specific behaviours. One activity that I really enjoyed here was looking at our own communication styles. The 4 styles on offer were driver, animated, amiable and analytical (A fuller explanation of the styles is given here – though animated is referred to as expressive). In a work environment when communicating I’d see myself as animated (talkative, friendly, enthusiastic, approachable, sometimes unclear in my line of thought, subjective in decision making, a tendency to be a little haphazard). The important thing to remember is that you might not always see eye-to-eye with people who communicate in a different way. The performance management training ran through the new processes we will be using internally and their timeline. There was then a call for SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-based and Time- bound). All useful stuff – and a good effort to make our approaches more professional.

Agile Methodology

Alongside our staff development session we also slotted in some staff choice sessions. One of these (led by the truly wonderful Tryggvi Björgvinsson) took a look at agile methodology (a series of related methods and techniques normally used in the software development world) and how these could be used more generally in our working environment. The agile principles are well documented in the agile manifesto and when originally written were a radical change for those working in software development. In the software world a chosen methodology is usually driven by team values: the bigger the team the bigger the methodology and the more critical the project the more dense the methodology. Although not all agile principles could be applied in my working life (for example I often work alone or in teams primarily consisting of external people) there were some ideas that I already buy in to. So I’m a big believer in sharing work early and getting feedback at points along the way – this allows me to follow an interactive process with change going on throughout a project. I’m also keen on creating things that are ‘good enough’ and getting them out there – though I also like to support with significant documentation (this blog is a good example of that). To me it seams that agile is really a way of thinking, it’s about being reactive and open-minded, a great working method to aspire to. Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 13.35.32 One concept I really like that agile supports is “the art of maximizing work not done”. There is a general suggestion that we write a list of all the things that could be done and and then chuck a whole lot of these (probably the ones that are time-consuming and have little impact) out – think about how much time you just saved yourself! It is about simplicity, decluttering and flexibility. It reminded me of George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing which I often refer to and try to follow – which argues for the use of simple plain English in order to be clear and inclusive. Of course simplicity isn’t always appropriate but there are many moments in our life when it makes sense for us to take a step back and focus on what really matters.

We just can't stop playing board games...

We just can’t stop playing board games… (thanks to Christian Villum for the photo)

The summit was a great opportunity to realign ourselves as an organisation and I think there was very much a feeling of ‘onwards and upwards’ from now on.

Hunting for Remote Working Jobs

When I was made redundant from my previous job I discovered that finding a new remote working job wasn’t going to be an easy task. Back in 2012 I did a scout of remote Working policies at universities – most had little to offer. The future looked bleak! Luckily I started work for Open Knowledge!

Since then finding a remote working job has become a little easier. There is now quite a few websites dedicated to employing people

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  • Remotive – apparently “remote + productive = remotive”. This search site contains mainly developer type stuff (with partners from InVision, Zapier, iDoneThis, Sqwiggle, HelpScout, Ghost, Formstack, Blossom, Customer.io & CloudPeeps) but there are some other jobs on there.
  • We Work Remotely is a site 37Signals on the back of their excellent ‘Remote’ book. You can also follow them on Twitter.
  • Working Nomads – “A curated list of remote jobs, for the modern working nomad.” Mainly tech jobs.
  • Remote Employment – Flexible home based jobs working from home. This used to be pretty good for more general types of job but seems to be suffering from a tumbleweed moment :-( These were the guys I won my award off back in 2009!
  • Skip the drive – US focused but has a cute Telecommuting Savings Calculator on the site
  • The Guardian Jobs – They aren’t that clear on whether remote means from home or the middle of the outback but there are some interesting jobs here!
  • Remote Jobs – Lots of jobs listed besides tech!

Other ideas

Most of these are shamelessly stolen from colleagues (thanks to people who will remain unnamed):

  • Check out this Skillcrush post on the 25 best sites for finding remote work.
  • Look for tech startups and non-profit-sector / open source tech organisations – they are leading the way in remote working
  • Some general careers sites will let you do searches (and setup saved searches and notifications) and will have an “allows remote working” filter (or if not you can just put keyword “remote” in your query).
  • Good sites to look at include Hypothesis, MySociety, Mozilla, Ushahidi, Akvo, Automattic, Canonical (although check out Glassdoor.com, lots of dodgy reviews). Wikimedia. Not edX itself but some third-party consultancies based around edX. RedHat claim that 25% of their employees are remote if you feel like going corporate.
  • If you’re happy to work for a commercial company then Flexjobs have recently released their “Top 100 Companies Offering Telecommuting Jobs In 2015

So happy hunting!