I've been always pretty piqued about being a freelancer (not there yet!). A big part of that was because I imagined the Work-From-Home (WFH) life to be super cool and fun and all that. I took these times as trying out the beta version before I took the full plunge and I've found one caveat: being consistently productive can be a little difficult. One day I'm on a charged up A-mode and the next, I find myself lounging all day in my blanket. If you can relate, then we can both admit that we need a little help! I went digging and came out with these five tips that could help boost our productivity and glean from that WFH life in its entirety.

1. Do the hardest thing first.

Our peak energy levels are usually in the mornings – after a good night’s sleep, and an equally good breakfast. Even as a certified night owl, I find this to be true (this might not be so for everyone though). Point is, it’s a great idea to do your least enjoyable task when you can give it max focus. The feel-good sense of accomplishment you'll get from completing it will keep you hyped up to finish the rest.

2. “Kabanize”.

“Kaban” is a word from Japanese which means “placard” or “sign”. Creating your own kaban is especially good if you’re a more visually-motivated person. Divide your tasks into 'To Do', 'Doing' and 'Done'. Write them on cards or sticky notes and glue them to a board – or you could just use the sticky notes app on your laptop. As and when you complete tasks, you re-check your board and move things around. Be sure to reward yourself with a cup of hot chocolate (or mint tea!) when you get all your tasks into the 'Done' section.

3. Rubber Duck Debugging

“Rubber duck debugging” comes from a story in the book The Pragmatic Programmer. The original idea is to debug your code (all the programmers say “Yay!”) with the help of a rubber duck. You talk to the duck as you go through the lines of your code. This helps to spot and resolve the problem, or even give clarity as to what exactly the problem is. You can adopt this method to other areas in life. More often than not, verbalising your issues helps you figure out how to deal with them. Hey, you might not even need an actual rubber duck!

4. Timeboxing.

I find this incredibly helpful. Basically, you split up your day into blocks of time – and schedule different tasks to them. So say, for my first two hours today, I’m focusing solely on writing all my articles. For the last hour, I'll be checking all the dog videos sent to me on Instagram.

5. “No Zero Days”.

This might be the simplest method – and one I really love. It’s telling yourself “ I’m going to finish one task today, by hook or crook!” and following through. So go ahead and complete that section of your thesis and pat yourself on the back for being such a badass. Repeat tomorrow.

Let me know which of these tips are your favourite, and which ones do not work well for you at lilectmensah@gmail.com or on IG: @pa.bby . Enjoy that WFH life!

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Updated: Jun 5, 2020

I used to babysit four-year-old Jude. I remember when we played in the yard, he could abruptly switch from running around, bursting with boundless enthusiasm to sit on the ground, all of a sudden! He would then look at me pointedly in the eye and ask, “Now, What?!”

Inasmuch as I’d rather not mention the words “COVID-19”, “coronavirus”, “pandemic” in this piece, they have changed our world and our lifestyle as we know it, willy-nilly. Together with Jude, I ask, “Now, What?!”

Whether you’re working from home or not, everything is not all right with the world and we must admit that we all have been affected, even if it’s imperceptible. I'd like to suggest ways that we can be a help to ourselves and to one another in our daily lives, and especially in the workplace.

Try And Exercise Empathy As A Colleague

In this area where “self-love and authenticity” are the buzzwords, being your true self is encouraged and embraced. Bringing “the real you” to work can help you perform better and amp your job satisfaction. Remember though that not everyone is naturally bubbly and even the usual happy-go-lucky dude or dame may be down in unusual times like these. If you meet a moody colleague, don’t immediately take it personal. He or she may be battling with anxiety or some personal crisis and might not be comfortable opening up.

You can start with “How’re you?” More often than not, the reply is “I’m fine”. You can then follow up with “I know you said you were fine when I asked earlier, but really, how ARE you? I can sense that something is bothering you, and I just wanted to check in again.” Follow their lead on how much – or how little – they want to share. Don’t forcefully probe. Some people like to take time to analyze things internally before they share (or don’t), and that’s okay. You can end with “I value your privacy. Whenever you want to talk, I'm here. I won’t pry if you don’t. This could help enable a healthy and trusting environment.

Say “No” To Your Perfectionist Tendencies

Perfection is the camouflaged enemy of productivity. Do you rigidly cling to habits that no longer benefit you? Do you drag yourself throughout the week because you’re exhausted from the feeling to over-deliver all the time? Do you fail at making decisions promptly because you’re obsessed with not making the wrong one? Remember that your greatest asset is not time, but rather ENERGY. If you pile up too much on your plate, you wouldn’t be able to bring your A-game to every task. You might go through and finish the week, but produce half-baked results.

Be self-aware and hold yourself accountable. For instance, you can set a rule such as “I’m giving myself fifteen minutes to think about this, and at the end I will make a decision and get it done and over with”.

Go through your daily commitments and do the cost-benefit analysis. Prioritize the most valuable ones and give the first bolt of your energy to them. You may find that some daily rituals – such as your meal schedules, or your morning routine – surprisingly drain more of your energy than they restore.

View Your Virtual Meetings As An Experience You Can Glean From.

What's your mind-set as you get ready for that video meeting? If you keep telling yourself that it’s a drudgery, it definitely will be. Tell yourself “I am going to give my best possible. I'm going to make an impact and I’m going to benefit from this.” Dress up. Show up. Focus on the camera, not at your colleagues' faces and their backgrounds. In fact, don’t care about how you might be appearing on their screens. Speak up and own that meeting!

If you’re leading especially, begin by acknowledging everyone present and the effort they put in to show up, with all that is going on. In smaller meetings you can check in with each person, before hitting the agenda for the day. Starting with an icebreaker can be very helpful. Be sure to record and share the link to key meetings so that those who were not able to participate can retroactively access the materials. This would help your meetings be more inclusive for everyone in your team.

Hope you found these reminders helpful! We're in trying circumstances but we will tackle each day as it comes and emerge stronger at the end of all this. Heck, we might even have some fun!

If you have any questions or you want to talk some more, hit me up via email: lilectmensah@gmail.com or on Instagram: @pa.bby .

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Updated: Jun 1, 2020

Passion! We all have it. Our passion is the stepping stone of our future, the crippling factor to our fears or the data to our Machine Learning (ML) model. Maybe even that GPU that improves cloud computing greatly. Our passions lead us to various paths and down several learning curves, but as a woman passionate about technology and about solving problems of the society, I was led down the path of applying for the first ever Women in Machine Learning conference.

Applying was one thing, clouded with doubts of being good enough on viewing the website of the facilitators- Yielding Accomplished African Women (YAA. W). Thankfully, I climbed that hurdle and went ahead with my application. Receiving the email of my acceptance left me completely exhilarated, presenting me with an opportunity to make HERSTORY. After completing the pre-conference training, I was convinced I was ready to face the ML world; this is where the best part begun.

Two and a half days! There were two sides to the coin. Side one had unfamiliar people, faces and places. Side two however came with the chance to have a sisterhood with ladies burning with a passion I can relate to, an opportunity to be under the tutelage of industry experts- women who are killing it in their chosen tech paths, with a topping of building a cross-country, cross-industry network.

Well, team side two carried the day! My experiences were vast, my education expanded, my exposure refined and my expertise sharpened! The sessions of the two and a half day journey did this. My understanding of ML models was expanded especially in understanding and building data pipelines for models and understanding of ML worthy situations. I had the experience of a lifetime. Meeting ladies from different countries exposed me to different languages and cultures in the African continent. I learnt how to say thank you in Yoruba and Swahili! The lab sessions provided me the tools to practice building ML models using APIs and AutoML from Google. Guess who knows her way around Google Cloud Platform now?

After all was said and done, some things stuck with me, the closing words from Miss Diana Wilson, CEO of Yielding Accomplished African Women. “Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you are right”- Henry Ford. So the next time you stop to think you’re female and so you can’t make it? Or you cannot match up to the next person? Or this is out of your league? Or you’re the best there ever was? Or you can do this and totally excel at it? Or you are above standard? Remember, you’re right! You are what you tell yourself repeatedly. Let go of the nays and hold onto the yes and your life will turn around for good. Reach out to a sister, spread the gospel that “Women can do tech too”. Tell her #yaashecan and #yaashewill, because we really can and we really will make an impact.

I’m extremely grateful to Google, MTN and Yielding Accomplished African Women for this opportunity given me. Because of your good work, a young girl in Ghana can turn her dream into reality, and she is spreading the word to all!

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