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.

Your Smart TV Is Vulnerable to Hackers, According to the FBI

Ahmet Yarali / iStock via Getty Images
Ahmet Yarali / iStock via Getty Images

By this point, many of us have had the experience of mentioning a product or service out loud during a conversation, only to have an ad for that very thing pop up on a smart device mere moments later. And, although you may have gotten used to the idea of your gadgets keeping tabs on you, you might not realize that your new smart TV’s monitoring capabilities make it extra vulnerable to hackers.

KATV reports that the Portland, Oregon branch of the FBI released guidelines last week as part of its “Tech Tuesday” initiative to warn people about the risk of hackers gaining access to unsecured televisions through the routers. Because smart TVs likely have microphones and even cameras, successful hackers could do anything from petty mischief to serious stalking.

“At the low end of the risk spectrum, they can change channels, play with the volume, and show your kids inappropriate videos,” the FBI says. “In a worst-case scenario, they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyberstalk you.”

Before you head back to Best Buy, brandishing your receipt and begging for a refund, there are a number of safety precautions you can take to make yourself less of an easy target for cyberattacks.

The first step is knowing exactly what features your TV has, and understanding how to control them—the FBI recommends doing an internet search with the model number and the words microphone, camera, and privacy.

After that, you should delve right into those security settings. Disable the collection of personal information if you can, and learn how to limit microphone and camera access. If you don’t see an option to shut off the camera, black tape over it does the trick.

And, even if it’s not the most riveting reading material, it’s worth perusing the fine print on your device and streaming services to find out what data they collect, where they store it, and how they use it.

Check out all of the tips here, and then see what other everyday objects might be susceptible to hackers.

[h/t KATV]

25 Gift Cards That Give You—and Your Recipient—the Best Bang for Your Buck

flyparade/iStock via Getty Images
flyparade/iStock via Getty Images

Though gift cards can definitely solve your annual conundrum over what to buy those hard-to-please people on your list, deciding on a gift card is the easy part—deciding which gift card to give them, however, is where the challenge comes in.

To help you narrow it down, WalletHub devised a multi-factor ranking system for gift cards of all types, from home improvement outlets like Lowe’s to subscription services like Netflix. Researchers analyzed popularity (based on search volume), average buyer’s discount across major gift card exchange sites, average resale value, retailer ratings on popular review sites, and shipping fees, and then assigned an overall score to each of America’s 100 largest retailers.

According to the study, your best option this year is a Target gift card, with an average buyer’s discount of 5.76 percent, a resale value of $77.12, and a retailer rating of 3.09 out of 5.

But before you stock up on Target gift cards for your many friends and family members, you might want to peruse the rest of WalletHub’s data. IKEA, for example, which tied for third place with Home Depot and eBay, boasts an average buyer’s discount of 10.85 percent.

The top performers from the food industry were Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, and Chipotle, which all tied for fourth place (among several other companies, Netflix and iTunes included) with 50 points apiece.

Even if you’ve already decided which gift cards you’re going with this holiday season, it’s still worth looking at WalletHub’s data before you buy them to make sure you’re getting a discount comparable to (or better than) the average. And, if there’s a particularly choosy recipient on your list who’ll likely try to resell their gift card, perhaps pick one with an especially high resale value, like Costco’s $84.60 or Walmart’s $84.09.

Check out the rankings below, including overall score, and find out the full details from WalletHub’s study here.

  1. Target // Score: 70
  1. Walmart // Score: 60
  1. Sephora // Score: 60
  1. eBay // Score: 55
  1. Home Depot // Score: 55
  1. IKEA // Score: 55
  1. iTunes // Score: 50
  1. Starbucks // Score: 50
  1. Costco // Score: 50
  1. Chick-fil-A // Score: 50
  1. Netflix // Score: 50
  1. McDonald’s // Score: 50
  1. Fandango // Score: 50
  1. Chipotle // Score: 50
  1. REI // Score: 50
  1. Old Navy // Score: 50
  1. H&M // Score: 50
  1. Disney // Score: 45
  1. Google Play // Score: 45
  1. Best Buy // Score: 45
  1. Macy's // Score: 45
  1. Lowe's // Score: 45
  1. Subway // Score: 45
  1. Amazon // Score: 40
  1. Gamestop // Score: 40

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