My Ultra-budget Work from Home (and Online School) Computer

I spent less than 7000 pesos for this tiny computer and it's been perfect for my WFH needs


Yup, that's not a typo. I paid just 6700 pesos for this cute, barely-larger-than-an-ashtray CPU that runs on a mere 12V adapter (imagine the power savings on this thing)

I've been using this ultra-budget desktop (UBD) setup as my main workhorse for almost 2 months now and all I can say is:

Suuuuliiiiiit!

Side note: My friend told me earlier today that his order have arrived (he bought one for his wife who now also works from home). Thank you daw sa recommendation. Apir.


BMax B2 connected to a monitor

My BMax B2 connected to a Benq 21.5 inch monitor

My Quick Review of the BMAX B2

The main reason I bought this was because my son (6 yrs old) keeps on borrowing my laptop to play games. I don't really mind but it can become a bit of a hassle at times when I'm furiously working and trying to beat a deadline.

I could switch to my trusty old Chromebook to finish the job but it kinda away my flow and momentum, sometimes becoming irritating even, because I'll have to open up all my tabs again and adjust to the smaller screen. Not good.

My Entry-level Lenovo and HP Chromebook

My Entry-level Lenovo and HP Chromebook


Also, prior to buying this tiny, tiny PC (mas mahaba pa cellphone ko), the mechanical hard drive on my laptop was starting to slow down — booting up took 1-2 mins, opening apps took forever, and you can just feel the general slowness of it all.

I started to hate using it for work. (Side note: I bought and installed an SSD to act as the main drive for my old laptop (where the OS and main apps are installed) and connected the old mechanical drive via caddy method for file storage. Now it feels so much snappy and I like using it again — but only when I feel like it).


Originally, I considered buying a second-hand CPU since I already have a monitor. I thought it will mainly serve as a secondary computer anyway so there was no reason to spend more for a new one.

However, I remembered seeing a mini-pc in Lazada a few months ago from the same store where I planned to get a cheap laptop for backup. I really dig the small form factor and thought it was the perfect pair for my monitor since I also didn't want a bulky CPU tower (I have a tiny desk).

Although a bit anxious buying from a store in China and with just around 4 reviews for the item when I bought it (all were 5 stars though), I pulled the trigger and ordered it. A week later, it arrived in a small non-descript box you wouldn't think there was a PC inside.

So without further ado, here are the specs of this tiny pc that could:

BMAX B2 specs:

  • CPU: Intel Celeron 3450 (4-cores @1.1GHz - 2.1Ghz)
  • RAM: 8GB DDR4
  • Storage: 128GB SSD
  • Wi-Fi-ready
  • Bluetooth
  • 2 HDMI ports
  • 4 USB ports
  • Mic/Headphone port
BMAX B2 Internal Specs

BMAX B2 Internal Specs


This little computer can easily manage my typical workload of Word, Dropbox (app), and a couple of Chrome tabs (6-8) running at the same time.

I checked Task Manager for some insight on how its handling resources and found that the CPU is usually running anywhere between 70% to 100% load almost all the time. But that's to be expected because it's a Celeron (cmon, man).

BMAX B2 CPU Utilization

 

But it's not really an issue for me since the system felt snappy enough for my needs. Of course your mileage may vary, I'm speaking from the perspective of someone doing light tasks only (no gaming, video editing, or similar demanding stuff).

I went ahead and ran a couple of benchmarks to give those of you (who care for synthetic benchmarks) a better idea on its overall computing capabilities.

BMAX B2 Geekbench Score

BMAX B2 Geekbench Score

BMAX B2 Open CL Score

BMAX B2 Open CL Score


And btw, booting up is a dream. Maybe it's because I'm so used to the painstakingly slow pace of old mechanical hard drives that it still amazes me (at least until I get used to it) when I can start working in less than 20 seconds (partida may log-in pa yon).


Why you should buy the BMAX B2

Let's list down the pros and cons of owning a tiny computer like this one. Note that this is based on my own perspective and experience so take this with a grain of salt.

Its offers superb value for the price 

Have you tried checking desktop pc prices nowadays? Blame it on stores capitalizing on the pandemic (which resulted to more people working from home and kids doing school online), even refurbished models featuring dated processors and RAM (3 years and older generations) are now significantly pricier than they were last year.

BMax B2

And if you don't know much about PCs in general, you can get screwed fast. You'd think that Intel i5 CPU with 8GB of RAM and 500GB mech hard drive that you saw on FB marketplace is fairly-priced at 10k, until you realize it was a 2011 i5 release coupled with a slower DDR3 RAM. And don't even get me started on a used mechanical hard drive.

So you can end up paying more for a system that not only is relatively slow by today's standards, but also dead in the water in terms of upgrade path with parts that are potentially nearing their end-of-life.

Now I'm not saying there are no good deals for second-hand or refurbished items out there. There are definitely decent ones and even super-sulit deals.

My point here is that buying a PC can be tricky if you don't have much knowledge about it (myself included) and you can end up paying for more than what it's worth. When I saw the BMAX B2, I thought, "So for 6700, I'd have a fully-functional, space-saving, energy-efficient, desktop PC with legit Windows 10, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and Dual HDMI support? Plus, you can even add more storage (via m.2 SSD). How is that even possible? I mean, what's not to like?!

Now if I'm being honest, I would prefer a more traditional PC with a graphics card for better all-around performance (and gaming capability). But that can easily cost above 20k (without a monitor) and it misses that bang-for-your-buck value that the BMAX B2 provides. 

It was a no-brainer for me — as someone looking for an alternative workhorse to my laptop — the amount of functionality and features I'm getting from such a tiny and affordable device is simply amazing considering its price.

It's complete and ready to use

When I received the BMAX B2, I immediately plugged the HDMI cable from my monitor and booted the system up. I was able to connect to WIFI and use my Bluetooth mouse and keyboard. In minutes, I was working on my projects in Google Docs. I didn't have to buy a WiFi or Bluetooth dongle, install Windows, buy HDMI cables (it comes with one) or deal with any potential hassle that comes with setting up a new PC. It simply worked.


It's energy efficient

Having a low-powered CPU means it consumes significantly less power than the typical i3 (or AMD-equivalent) and higher-tiered processors. I bet my laptop (which has a video card) consumes more electricity than the BMAX. If you'll be using a computer for more than 8 hrs a day, everyday, then the power savings can be quite significant (versus a more powerful setup.)


It's just right for my needs

Would you really need to hire a truck to transport a dining table when an L300 van could accomplish the same thing --- at a cheaper price? Exactly. And I had the same mindset when I bought the BMAX B2 mini PC. Do I really need a full-pledged desktop PC for Google Docs and a couple of other Chrome tabs? Uhm, yeah — NO.

Remember, when buying something, context is key. Knowing what you'll be using the machine for is the most important thing to consider when buying a PC. And in my case, the workload doesn't demand much in terms of horsepower so the BMAX B2 is perfect.


It can be a great PC for online school

My 6-year old kid uses my HP Chromebook (with touchscreen) for his online schooling (they use Google Classroom). It's less powerful than the BMAX with its Celeron 3060 and 4GB of DDR3 memory (and a measly 16GB of hard drive storage). 

The experience has been nothing but smooth for him (considering its specs) and I bet the BMAX will easily beat it in terms of performance. If budget's really tight for online school, hook the BMAX B2 to your TV via HDMI, buy a decent web cam, and you'll have a full rig for less than 7k that manages online school workloads like a champ. Anlaki pa ng screen matutuwa mga bata.

BMax B2 connected to a TV

Hook up the BMax B2 to your TV for cheap and easy online schooling (just add a webcam)

It's super small

Man, I still can't believe that my main computer is just about the size of a typical platito (or ash tray). It even comes with a mounting set (screws and bracket) so you can mount it behind your monitor (with VESA support) for a really minimalist look. It's also very quiet and doesn't get hot at all. If you want that super-clean desktop style, you can't go wrong with this one.


Easy Smart TV. 

I have the BMAX hooked up to my main monitor (a 21.5 inch Benq) and our old 32-inch TV. When someone else is watching on our main TV, I turn on the BMAX and switch on the attached TV to watch Netflix or YouTube. Sometimes, I use both screens while working but the TV screen is mainly just for playing Netflix continuously (on mute) while I work (keeps me company till the wee hours of the morning) on my main monitor.


I hook up our old TV to the BMax B2 for running Netflix or YouTube while working

Why you shouldn't buy the BMAX B2

Syempre kahit maraming pros, meron pa ding cons. Here are a few scenarios I can think of where the BMax B2 wouldn't fit.


If you deal with medium to heavy workload 

If you'll be dealing with medium to heavy workload, skip this one. It's just not powerful enough for those tasks (editing video, graphics, etc.,)


If you want to use it for games

 Can't do it, sorry. Unless you're still into Plants vs Zombies or Bejeweled. Fun fact: I tried to run an old Need for Speed game (2010 title) and it was able to run it (surprisingly) at 25fps average (low settings).


If you're a heavy multi-tasker

If you have dozens of Chrome tabs and apps always open at the same time, you'll need a more powerful processor to switch between tasks without feeling the lag. While the BMAX's RAM is sufficient for that, the CPU will struggle. Since I hate staring at a boatload of tabs anyway it's not an issue for me (I keep things below 8 tabs max plus desktop apps).


I never intended to write an article about the BMAX B2. However, the more I use it, the more I felt the need to let others know about it. Why? Because it offers such a great value for its price. 

With more and more of our fellow kabayans needing a cost-effective computer for WFH and online school these days, I just felt compelled to let them know that such an option exists. Hopefully, they find this "guide" useful.

Anyhoo, that's all for now. If you have any similar recommendations for other readers, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Till the next one, kabayan!

P.S:

Oh and here's the link to the product in Lazada (not a sponsored link, I'm not getting paid anything for sharing this) in case you want to take a look. Unfortunately, the price increased by more than a thousand pesos na pala. Badtrip.

However, I still think it's a good price considering the value you're getting, and I hope it gets back to its original price para mas affordable (or maybe buy one during a sale)

How to Start Working from Home – Philippines

How do I start working from home?

Here’s the quick answer: Determine your core skills, sign up for online job marketplaces, build a solid profile and portfolio, start looking for work that suits you, craft and send strong cover letters and proposals, do an outstanding job once you get the project, rinse and repeat.

The goal is to get a feel of how to work from home via these job talent sites. As you get enough experience, you can eventually “graduate” and move on to better opportunities outside of these websites. 

Since launching Homebased Pinoy, I’ve received a couple of inquiries from readers asking for guidance on how to start working from home.

Here are some of the questions:

I clarified that Homebased Pinoy is a blog for helping Pinoys figure out and succeed in work-at-home jobs. This is not a job site. 

But those questions apparently were no mere inquiries. Without intending it, it gave me some insight into the kind of questions HBP readers have.

I realized that a significant portion of HBP’s readers doesn’t have a clue about how to start working online from home.

So it gave me an idea, “Why not build a super-detailed guide with the goal of showing them the ropes and at the same time answer their most common questions?”

And this right here is the result. Note that I will be updating this post accordingly to include the next couple of steps in the process.

When I look back at how I started, I can summarize what I did in 3 simple steps:

  1. Determined what type of skill or service I can offer to clients
  2. Created an account at oDesk (or other job marketplaces)
  3. Started sending applications to job posts that interested me

From a bird’s eye view, the main steps are actually quite simple.

However, things will be harder if you do not have a solid understanding of the following:

  • What you can offer (your skills)
  • How to market yourself (how to bid for jobs)

For this guide, I’ll share the 3 steps that I use for getting new clients and contracts:

Step 1: Self-Assessment
Step 2: Make Your Profile Grab Their Eyeballs
Step 3: Go All-in When Bidding for Work

Most people don’t put much thought into step 1 due to a number of reasons. For example:

  • They will simply look for online jobs similar to what they currently do
  • Look at what’s popular right now, or look at which ones are paying generously
  • Look for jobs that are easy to do
  • They don’t want to stray too far off their current (full-time) job

All of these are valid reasons. However, it will really help you get started faster if you can identify your core skills first.

And that’s going to be our first step.

Step 1: Self-Assessment

Identify your core skill

When asked with “Paano ba mag-work from home?”, my typical response is, “Well, what are you good at or ano ba gusto mo gawin?”. Most replies won’t answer my question directly. Instead, I’ll hear the following:

  • “Gusto ko yung walang calls”
  • “Yung pwede day shift pre”
  • “Yung parang mga chat support, ganun”
  • “Yung di nakaka-stress masyado”

These are fine and all, but these are merely personal preferences, it doesn’t really pinpoint the type of job itself.

Most people don’t reflect on their personal skills and think that the most important step is to learn where to look for and how to apply for jobs.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

Before you do those things, it’s important that you determine your core skill first.

Doing so ensures that you’re leveraging your expertise and experience to get the most out of them. By aligning your strengths to the right job path, you’ll have better chances of succeeding early and in the long term.

So how do you exactly determine your core skills? How do you know which job niche will be perfect for you?

It’s time for a little self-assessment.

To begin with, I’ve listed down a few questions that can help you determine your core skill.

  • List your strengths, experience, and things you’re good at.
  • What activities excite you?
  • When you were younger, which skills did you use the most?
  • What types of compliments do you usually receive from others?
  • Look at actual job posts, see what type of skills they are looking for and see if yours matches or you think you can do it

The point of this exercise is to come up with a laundry list of actual skills that you use on the daily. Nevermind coming up with some silly ones. We just need to get your brain juices flowing to get to some pretty good answers.

Once you’re done, I promise you’ll have at least 1-3 things that you can honestly identify as freelance-able skills.

Examples:

  • Proficient in both verbal and written English = can get jobs where English mastery is crucial like ESL teaching, virtual assistance, chat or voice support,)
  • Knows how to code = programming jobs, building apps, etc.,
  • Knows how to build websites = front or back-end developer jobs
  • Great at client management = virtual or executive assistant
  • Good at writing = content writer, email copywriter, academic writer, etc.
  • Fast-typer = transcriptionist
  • Knows how to make or edit videos = video editor

In my case, I considered myself lucky in the beginning because I didn’t really have to think hard. I wanted to write. Even if I didn’t have any idea back then what types of writing jobs await a complete newbie like me, I was dead set in earning some money on the side as a freelance writer.

If I wasn’t keen on getting a writing job, I’d probably lean towards digital marketing or virtual assistant types of jobs based on my experience or credentials.

I would’ve probably started learning about those two paths, learn the essentials, then pick a subspecialty under each.

For example, (if I didn’t like writing) I can start learning more about SEO or FB ads under digital marketing. Or learn how to become an Amazon e-commerce or dropshipping specialist virtual assistant (I was interested in these things back then).

Your interest and strengths should be your main compass.

I find coding cool but it just isn’t for me and too far off my skill set.

I know how to get a website up and running from scratch but I don’t find it pleasurable enough to be steady work.

And that’s how I would do it. I believe you can achieve a couple of good results using this quick self-assessment method.


Step 2: Make Your Profile Grab Their Eyeballs

The next step is to sign up for various online job sites like Onlinejobs.ph, Remotestaff.ph, Upwork, Freelancer, and others. You can also check out the jobs section on Craigslist Manila for gigs.

After signing up for these job sites, the next step is to create a winning profile.

Let’s start with your title + description.

It’s that short byline that appears right after your name indicating what you do.

A strong personal description highlights what you can do for (a specific) client and how.

Why does it have to target a specific client or market?

Because if the person looking at your description is your target market/client, then you’ve won half the battle.

Imagine someone peddling cold, bottled water. Now imagine him walking around U.P Sunken Garden on a hot Saturday morning. With all the people jogging around, how many bottles do you think he can sell?

That’s right.

He’ll sell them all.

A good profile description is like being “there at the right place, at the right time”.

You’re positioning yourself to be that one person who has what they need.

For example, if running FB ads for small business owners is your thing, you can use that particular skill/experience on that particular market as your unique selling proposition (USP).

So that when you market yourself or apply for jobs, you can position yourself as:

“I help small business owners get more customers through Facebook ads”.

Notice how your description is very specific and results-driven?

This distinction sets you apart from other generic descriptions from other freelancers who merely copy+paste their credentials and simply write their job title.

In this example, if a small business owner is looking to leverage Facebook to get more customers stumbles upon your profile (or see it after you submit your application), what do you think his reaction will be?

“That’s it. This is exactly what I need!”

And this advice applies to ALL types of jobs.

Your description should be on-point and specific.

Here’s a quick formula:

“I help (your target market or client) + get (Results and Benefits) + using (your skills + expertise)”

When you position your services like that, you anchor the customer’s reaction to the results they want—with you being the person who can get that result for them.

Instead of reading a typical “bio data-like” profile (where you simply write: FB Ads Specialist), this method lets you “spice up” your profile and entice potential customers.

Build a Solid Portfolio
This next step is not strictly required but advantageous to have. In most cases, you’ll be asked for a sample or previous work if you are in the creative niche, like—illustration, design, web design, writing, and other similar markets. If you are looking to get hired for jobs like virtual assistance, chat support, and other administrative-type jobs, clients are less likely to ask for it, though it would still be great to have (if you can).

If you belong to the first group, make sure to post your previous work on free portfolio websites for the client’s viewing. Sending it to them directly also works. If you’re a complete beginner freelancer, you can make some from scratch. A writer can write a sample piece similar to what the client is looking for in terms of topic. A web designer can show mock-up websites, an illustrator can make artwork and other similar stuff—-you get the point.

When I was starting this site, I asked a friend of mine if he could make me a logo. He said he’s not really good at it and instead recommended a buddy of his. He sent a few samples and when I asked how much he’ll charge for them, he said it’s free if I’ll provide my consent instead to add this particular project to his portfolio.

This is a great way of building up a portfolio. For example, you can make a post on FB asking anyone if they know someone who needs your service (logo design, social media post, email copy, video, etc.,—and tell them you’re willing to do it for free. In most cases, they will link you to someone willing to test your services.

Go All-In When Bidding for Work

Every time I send a generic, copy+pasted application email (I simply copied my old emails) I almost always fail to get a response.

But when I take the time to craft a well-thought-out email, my success rate shoots up and the more likely I get a favorable reply.

Note though that this is from what I experienced and learned personally, from actual bids I sent to potential clients, so your mileage may vary.

So what do I mean by a well-thought-out, personalized email?

It’s something that shows your genuine interest in the job post while showcasing your expertise at the same time.

For example, when the job post mentions the actual website, I check it out and try to understand what it’s all about. I read the most popular pieces and try to get a feel of the site’s overall vibe.

I then mention this in my application/bid email, usually at the beginning.

Here’s an actual opener I used once when I was trying to get a writing gig for a relationship/personal development coach:

Hi Vicki,

Love the content on TRS’s site (read a few blogs and listened to a Nir Eyal interview)!

That’s it, just one sentence to break the ice and show my genuine interest in the job.

With just a single sentence, you can make yourself stand out from the dozens of other bidders who always start their bids with a generic, “I’m a (insert expertise) with (mention years of experience)”.

Well duh, clients already know that. You wouldn’t be applying for the job if you didn’t know squat about it right?

Express your interest and be lively with your tone. Your goal is to have the recipient move from the first sentence to the next.. and to the next.. and to the next… until they finish the whole thing. And to do that, you have to hold their curiosity through engaging writing.

The problem with most of us Pinoys is that we’re too polite in both written and verbal exchanges with foreigners. In reality, clients abroad prefer being called by their first names and not with “ma’am or sir”. Sounding too polite will be disadvantageous in this case.

On to the next sentence of my email:

“Would love to share my experience and expertise to help spread TRS’s message to a wider audience through relevant and engaging content that stays true with the brand’s mission and voice.”

I’m pitching here. I’m basically telling her that I want to work with them.

Onward:

I’m the lead writer for a local blog that gets around 300,000 views per month. (I’m trying to show expertise + proof)

While our niche is entrepreneurship and personal finance, I love writing about self-improvement and personal development, topics that are closely linked to building meaningful relationships. As a married guy myself, I found myself nodding in agreement with the insights shared by Jayson on some of his blog posts. (I was making sure that my expertise/experience remains aligned with their goal/what they’re looking for)

I’m a big podcast fan as well, I love taking notes and reflecting on crucial points when I listen to my favorite shows (The Tim Ferriss Show and The Knowledge Project, to name a few). (I saw on their site that they have a podcast, so I mentioned it to let her know that I like listening to those) I can’t remember the number of times I was able to come up with ideas for blog posts from key points I learned from a particular podcast. Here are a couple of published articles of mine inspired by insights heard from podcasts:

I then added links to some of my published articles that are relevant to their target audience (important for showing you match their needs)

I then proceeded with a final pitch to close the email:

I’d love to get the chance to join the TRS team and use my skills to help it reach a wider audience and help more people. Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

It might have taken longer for me to write this email versus copy+pasting one of my scripts but it was sure worth it because I was able to get a favorable response from the client.

Should all job bid emails be like this? Well, that depends. When I was just starting out, I remember sending multiple emails in a day. I was using a script with minor edits to match each client. Since I didn’t have much time then (I had a full-time day job), I went with this route because I wanted to send as many bids as I could.

But if you can, try to come up with a well-thought-out email that’s tailor-fit for that client.

It’s really up to you how you want to do it. Just make sure you’re not sending generic emails copied from some random person or website.

Try to make each email unique and catch the reader’s attention by showing genuine interest and willingness to help. That’s what will make you stand out from the rest.


And that’s it—my 2,000+word answer to the question, “How to start working from home?”.

Don’t stress out too much if you don’t find success right away.

Apply the principles you learned here, observe the results, adapt as you go, and be consistent.

With a little luck, you’ll land your first client and be on your way to freelancing success.

And that’s it for now. Hope you found this useful.

Wishing you the best on your journey to successfully work from home.

See you out there, ka-HBP!

How to Become an Online ESL Teacher With No Experience

Our high English proficiency as Filipinos helped our country become the go-to destination for employers across the globe looking for skilled English workers. It’s one of our highly-leveraged strengths, one that helps us pull millions of language and off-shore jobs from all over the world. 

And one of the most popular routes to take nowadays (if you want to try working from home) is ESL teaching. 

In this article, I’ll share the best insights on how to become an Online ESL Tutor in the Philippines.  

I’ll cover key points and insights explaining why ESL Teaching can be a great way to earn income (full-time or part-time), what you’ll need to become one, and where exactly to apply even if you don’t have teaching experience (full list of popular online ESL companies and application links are provided).

What is ESL?

ESL is short for “English as Second Language”. An ESL teacher is someone who teaches English to people who don’t use it as their native language. It is also commonly referred to as TEFL or Teaching English as a Foreign Language.

Why Become an Online ESL Teacher?

If you’re passionate about teaching and want to do it at the comfort of your own home, teaching English online could be a great source of income for you and your family. Aside from virtual assistant jobs, the ESL industry in the Philippines has experienced a significant growth within the last few years. 

There are actually two main types of ESL Teachers:

  • ESL Teachers who teach abroad
  • ESL Teachers who teach online

In general, the pay is significantly higher for ESL teachers living abroad but the trade-off being they’ll have to live away from home. Also, these folks must be native English speakers (mostly) and have certain ESL certifications to qualify. 

But while online ESL teachers earn less in general compared to their counterparts above, they enjoy the benefit of working from home and do everything via a fully remote set up. 

Note that “earning less” shouldn’t be equated to having a low-paying job. In fact, some Filipino online ESL teachers claim they can earn as much as 50,000 to 80,000 a month from this job. In general though, the median pay averages around 20,000 to 30,000 pesos depending mainly on your level of expertise and the ESL company you’re working for.

Can I Become an Online ESL Teacher Even If I Don’t Have Teaching Experience?

The answer is YES, absolutely. As you will learn later, there are many ESL companies today who hire individuals as long as they meet the necessary requirements and pass the training/demo. 

What Are the Requirements to Be an Online ESL Teacher in the Philippines?

Having TEFL certification is a huge plus, but the typical online ESL company today will hire applicants able to meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Must be 18 years old and above
  • Bachelor/Vocational degree is a huge plus.
  • Must be computer literate.
  • Fluent in both oral and written English.

How Much Can An Online ESL Teacher Earn?

According to Indeed.com, the average ESL Teacher salary as of February 2020 is 20,000 pesos. The average hourly rate (per PayScale) is Php107 pesos. But the actual rate you’ll receive is highly dependent on a number of factors—company, your output/number of hours, and skill/experience level. As mentioned earlier, there are online ESL teachers who earn upwards of Php40,000 per month and even more, it varies based on the factors mentioned above. An average teaching session lasts around 25-30 minutes.

What Are the Skills Needed for Becoming an ESL Teacher?

An ESL teacher needs to have a decent working knowledge (and able to practice) the following English language skills:

  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking

Do you have to be highly-skilled in all these areas? No, you don’t have to be A+ on all factors. Even if you’re “just” an average English speaker, as long as you’re able to clearly communicate the lesson to your student, then you’ve done your job. 

In doing research for this article, I watched several video recordings of Pinoy ESL tutors teaching their students. I realized that while English proficiency is essential, your personality and the manner by which you teach is almost as important. Watching how some of the ESL teachers are so lively in their classes and how it makes their students feel more engaged impressed me, as I know it takes a lot to sustain the energy level to avoid the session from being boring.

It might also be a good idea to check out free online courses about ESL Teaching. This one from FutureLearn covers several teaching-focused lessons which include subjects like “How to teach young learners online” and “Teaching English Online” among others. Most of them are free and provide solid tips and concepts that may help you speed up your understanding and mastery of ESL teaching.

What Equipment Will You Need to Become an Online ESL Teacher?

An online ESL teacher’s workspace setup is very similar to other home-based jobs like Virtual Assistants and Voice-support agents. It’s important to invest in a high-quality headset and video camera especially since having both clear audio and video is an absolute must in this type of job. Of course, it goes without saying that having a fairly fast and highly stable internet connection is crucial as well.

  • Laptop or desktop
  • A noise-canceling headset with an external microphone
  • Stable internet connection
  • Built-in or external web camera
  • Quiet teaching environment
  • Teaching Aids
  • Comfy chair
  • Skype/Slack/email account for communication

Also read: How to Choose A Computer for Working from Home

It’s important to note that you don’t have to spend a lot right away to get the necessary equipment. Most of us have computers at home, and it’s very likely that your computer is capable of handling the load of ESL teaching. 

In fact, the computer is merely secondary when it comes to ESL teaching in my opinion. What’s more important is having a stable and decent internet connection with a low ping rate (less ping, fewer disconnection issues). So if you’re ready to take the leap in ESL teaching, the first thing that I would recommend (if you don’t have it yet) is to get a solid internet connection. 

This article I wrote for Grit.PH shares some of the top choices for ISPs: The 5 Best Internet Service Providers in the Philippines 

How to Apply as an Online ESL Teacher

Most online ESL companies typically have a similar process for hiring applicants. Here’s a general overview on how to apply. 

  1. Visit the ESL company website and proceed to the application page.
  2. Provide all required information in the spaces provided. Submit your application.
  3. The company will contact you to schedule an interview. Some require that you pass a demo teaching session.
  4. Once hired, you may start opening the required number of lesson slots and start teaching.

Sample ESL Interview Questions

Here are a few sample questions that you might get asked for an ESL teaching position.

Note: The following questions are taken from Glassdoor. These are actual sample questions shared by various ESL teachers during their interview with specific ESL companies.

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • How did you find out about our company?
  • Why did you choose (insert ESL company here)?
  • What are the best qualities of being a teacher?
  • How can you make a young professional but with no English background understand what an (insert object here) is?
  • How will you motivate your students?
  • What is an adverb and an adjective?
  • Explain what idioms are/pronoun/verb etc.,
  • Explain the meaning of (insert quote here—example: “barking at the wrong tree”, “not my cup of tea”, “piece of cake”, etc.,)
  • What makes you different from other teachers?

Tips for Being a Great ESL Teacher

No two teachers are the same. For example: Some are naturally good at teaching but may have modest English skills while others may be highly proficient in the language but struggle being teachers. 

The lesson? Each person has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. Here are a couple of tips to help you become a well-rounded online ESL teacher. 

Adjust to their pace

Imagine putting yourself in the shoes of your foreign student. As someone who can barely understand what is being said and gets lost in translation, it feels demotivating, right? You try to keep up, but it’s still hard. As someone who personally hates math like the coronavirus, I can relate to students having much difficulty keeping up. 

Be sensitive to their demeanor during sessions. If you feel like they’re not progressing as expected or having difficulty learning, ask them if they need help with a specific area. Tell them it’s completely OK to admit if they are having a hard time following so you can adjust your teaching. This is the best way to encourage them to keep learning. 

Be Resourceful

Use learning aids and other devices to make the session more engaging. Have cardboard cutouts of letters or animals that very young students (toddlers) will find amusing. Use colorful backdrops and utilize apps/software to create fun animations for the kids. 

Keep it fun if possible

As I’ve mentioned earlier, the more lively the session, the better the interaction and less awkward it will be for both parties, especially if you have an adult student.

Adjust to the situation 

No matter how “regular” your teaching session is on a daily basis, you’ll still encounter the occasional bumps and hiccups that go with any other job.  Maybe you’re having network problems, perhaps your student is being difficult, or maybe you’re not feeling well but still need to finish an important session. 

No matter what the situation is, be prepared to adjust. How dependable you are as a teacher speaks a lot about you as a person and will surely bid you well in the long run. 

Back-up lessons

My father used to say, “Mabuti nang sobra kesa kulang”, whenever I’m about to go someplace and need baon or when I’m preparing for an exam. In this context, it means that it’s better to be extra prepared. You’ll never know when you’ll need additional material to fill in the session (you quickly-blazed through today’s topic because your student learns fast or needs to switch to a more engaging lesson, for example). Having that back-up lesson ready gives you the peace of mind that you’ll always be ready to deliver.

Give Assignments

Give your students some material to work on during their free time. It will help them practice and develop their English skills faster. 

List of ESL Companies Accepting ESL Teachers with No Experience

Ready to teach English at home? The following companies accept applicants even if you don’t have formal English teaching experience. 

Weblio

Weblio Inc is a popular online dictionary provider in Japan. In 2014, they established an office here in the Philippines and started hiring home-based tutors to teach ESL to Japanese nationals.

Salary Rate: Per Lesson = 50 – 75 pesos ; Per Hour = 100 – 150 pesos

Students:  Japanese

Schedule: 8:00am-5:00pm PST M-F

Qualifications:

  • Must be 18 years old and above
  • Bachelor/Vocational degree is a huge plus.
  • Must be computer literate.
  • Fluent in both oral and written English

Requirements

  • Headset
  • Laptop or Desktop
  • Plain white background and good lighting.
  • At least 3 MBPS download speed & ping of not more than 30 ms.
  • TIN ID

Click Here to Apply at Weblio

Native Camp

Native Camp is based in Japan and is recognized as one of the largest online ESL teaching companies there. 

Salary Rate: Per lesson: Php55-60

Schedule: 24/7

Students: Japanese, Thai, Indonesian (and other Asian students)

Qualifications:

  • At least 20 years old
  • Proficient in English

Requirements

  • Desktop or laptop
  • Internet connection
  • Headset
  • Web cam

Click Here to Apply at Native Camp

Engoo Tutor (formerly known as Bibo)

Launched in 2013 as Bibo, this ESL company based in Japan started with 80 local tutors based in Manila, Cebu, and Davao. Fast forward a few years later, they expanded to other parts of the globe, having presence across an impressive 6 continents around the world.

Salary Rate: Php60 per lesson

Students: Japanese, Thai, Indonesian (and other Asian students)

Schedule: 5AM to 11PM

Qualifications:

  • At least 18 years old
  • Proficient in English

Requirements:

  • Headset and Webcam
  • Laptop or Desktop
  • High-Speed Internet Connection

Click Here to Apply at Engoo Tutor

51Talk

Established in the Philippines in 2012, 51Talk (pronounced five-one-talk) has helped thousands of Pinoys teach English to Chinese students. It’s one of the most well-recognized names in online ESL teaching in the country.

Salary Rate: Php55 per lesson

Students: Chinese (mostly kids)

Schedule: 6AM to 11:30AM

Qualifications:

  • Bachelor’s degree / Graduate of a 4-year course
  • Experience teaching kids / K12 / Early Childhood / Elementary (preferred)
  • English teaching certifications such as LET / TEYL / TESOL / TEFL (preferred)
  • Must have passion, energy, and enthusiasm in teaching

Requirements:

  • Headset and Webcam
  • Laptop or Desktop
  • High-Speed Internet Connection
  •  

Click Here to Apply at 51Talk

Oncub

Oncub is short for “online cubicle”, and is the brainchild of Korean founder Andrew Lee. He wanted to bring ESL teaching to South Korean students via the internet, a not-so-common strategy back then (2009) when students were usually taught in classrooms. 

Salary Rate: Php90 per hour

Students: South Korean

Schedule: 5-7AM ; 6-10PM

Qualifications:

  • At least 18 years old
  • Proficient in English

Requirements:

  • Headset and Webcam
  • Laptop or Desktop
  • High-Speed Internet Connection

Click Here to Apply at Oncub

Bizmates

Bizmates Philippines, Inc. is a SEC-registered company with headquarters in Japan. They boast of a significantly higher rate per hour compared to others on this list.

Salary Rate: Php140 to Php230 per hour

Students: Japanese

Schedule: 4AM to 9AM ; 9PM to 12MN

Qualifications:

  • Preferably with a Bachelor’s/Associate’s Degree from a reputable college or university
  • If undergraduate, must have at least 3 years of work experience in the relevant field
  • Excellent written and verbal English communication skills
  • Basic computer skills and above-average Skype skills
  • At least 3 years of working experience in any field.
  • Availability on weekends (4AM – 12MN) and weekday evenings (9PM – 12MN PHT) are a plus.
  • Between 23 – 75 years old.
  • Available to teach at least 10 hours per week

Requirements:

  • High-speed and stable internet connection (at least 1Mbps for download and 0.50 Mbps for upload) Direct DSL/LAN cable connection only (NOT WiFi)
  • Desktop/Laptop PC only (no tablets or smartphones allowed)
  • Latest FULL version of Skype for Windows or Mac
  • A working headset with microphone (with noise cancellation properties preferred)
  • Webcam
  • A quiet, well-lit area at home to conduct classes (preferably with a white background)
  •  

Click Here to Apply at Bizmates

Sankei

Sankei Online English is a collaboration of Sankei Digital (Japan), Transcosmos Philippines, and Human Holdings (Japan). 

Salary Rate: Php45 per lesson

Students: Japanese

Schedule: 5AM to 11PM

Qualifications:

  • Must possess at least college-level education
  • Must be able to speak English at native level
  • Fresh graduates are welcome

Requirements:

  • High-speed internet connection
  • Computer with webcam

Click Here to Apply at Sankei

Acadsoc

Based in Shenzhen, China, Acadsoc became one of the fastest growing online ESL companies with over 10,000 English teachers covering millions of students in China. They have branches in the Philippines, Hong Kong, London, and New York.

Salary Rate: Php50 per lesson

Students: Chinese

Schedule: 6PM to 10PM ; 10AM to 10PM

Qualifications:

  • Excellent English communication skills
  • Capable of teaching kids / K12
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher
  • Must be 20 years old and above
  • TESOL/TEFL certified applications are preferred

Requirements:

  • PC or laptop
  • Stable DSL/Broadband internet
  • Noise-canceling headphones and HD webcam

Click Here to Apply at Acadsoc

UNHoop

Japanese company Kensetsu System Co. Ltd. established UNHoop Philippines Inc in 2009 with the goal of becoming the best ESL online schools for students residing in Japan. Fast forward more than a decade later, the company is now manned by over 400 ESL teachers helping Japanese students get good at English.

Salary Rate: Php55 per lesson

Students: Japanese & Taiwanese

Schedule: 4:30PM to 9:30 PM

Qualifications:

  • At least 18 years old (work experience NOT required)
  • Solid English skills

Requirements:

  • Laptop or desktop
  • Stable internet connection
  • Skype account
  • Good quality headset
  • Web cam
  • Quiet room with a plain backdrop

Click Here to Apply at UNHoop

Rarejob

For more than a decade, Rarejob has conducted more than 10 million online ESL lessons to Japanese students via the help of 10,000 Filipino tutors they hired over the years. Today, Rarejob is recognized as one of the largest and most successful online ESL companies in Japan.

Salary Rate: Php55 per lesson

Students: Japanese

Schedule: 6PM – 12 MN

Qualifications:

  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • Basic computer literacy
  • Has good English proficiency
  • Has patience & passion for teaching
  • Must currently be residing in the Philippines
  • Can provide Philippine Tax Identification Number (TIN)
  • Must not be working for another online ESL school
  • ESL teaching experience is a plus
  • Can conduct lessons during peak hours (6PM – 12 MN) is a plus

Requirements:

  • Laptop or desktop
  • Headset with external microphone
  • Stable internet connection (LAN connection is a plus)
  • Speedtest Requirements:
  • Download speed: 0.3 mbps
  • Upload speed: 0.06 mbps
  • Ping test must be < 30 ms
  • Active Skype and email accounts
  • Built-in or external web camera
  • Quiet teaching environment

Click Here to Apply at Rarejob

UTALK

Based in China, UTalk is one of the fastest growing online ESL companies in the Philippines. Their main office is located in Baguio and has two offshore branches located in Quezon Hill and Abanao Square.

Salary Rate: Php60 per lesson

Students: Chinese

Schedule: 6AM to 11PM

Qualifications:

  • Must have reached at least college level/vocational graduate
  • Good command of the English language
  • Good multitasking skills
  • Computer literate
  • CELTA/TESOL/LET certificate is an advantage
  • BPO or ESL experience is a plus but not a requirement

Requirements:

  • Operating System: Windows 7, Windows 8.1 or Windows 10
  • CPU/Processor: Intel Core i3, i5, i7 or AMD Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7
  • RAM/MEMORY: At least 4GB or higher
  • Internet: Must have a minimum of 0.5Mbps upload speed and a minimum of 5Mbps download speed (DSL/Fiber).
  • Must be connected to LAN and no wireless
  • Headset: With a noise cancelling feature or a quiet environment 

Click Here to Apply at Talk

ISpeakBetter

ISpeakBetter is an app available for both Android and IOs that lets users sign up for English language courses. Their main market are students from the Middle East and South East Asia.

Salary Rate: Php70 per lesson

Students: Asian & Middle East

Schedule: 9PM to 5AM ; 10PM to 3AM

Qualifications:

  • Male or Female
  • At least 18 years old
  • Passionate in teaching English
  • TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certified-applicants are preferred

Requirements:

  • PC or Laptop
  • Stable internet (at least 5MBPS)
  • Headphones with noise-cancelling feature
  • Quiet workspace with light background

Click Here to Apply at ISpeakBetter

The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

Hello, Job, Goodbye. 

Eight months. Eight long months. It's been that long since I last posted on this blog. I'm tempted to say, "Busy sa client work e, walang time magsulat para sa sariling blog". But I would be lying. Truth is, I have plenty of time to work on personal projects. But I never did. Tamad din e. Porket walang bayad hindi na gagawin. Hehe. Pero tapos na yon, wala na ko magagawa about it. So on with this piece na lang.

So what the heck has been going on in the last couple of months since my last post? 

  • Still writing for Grit.PH 
  • Dropped a potential project with a few clients due to my lack of interest on the topic 
  • Worked on a great-paying writing  gig for 2 months but ended up getting dropped because I can't keep up with the schedule 
  • Paid for an online SEO course geared towards website owners 
  • Launched a new site but ended up not hitting my targets. Currently thinking of dropping it
  • Tried to hire a writer for this site but it didn't work out (I'm still not 100% certain on the content strategy of HBP)
  • Paid for an online course about email copywriting 
  • Offered my email copywriting services for free right after (for experience)  
  • Still a full time yaya to my two boys and only work a couple of hours a day  
  • Currently thinking of starting a new niche site that will be used for lead gen 
  • Did a quick writing project for an old client (like 5+ years since we last worked together. He sent me an email last December with the offer. I replied 10 days later. I really have some serious procrastination issues) 
  • Tired and jaded of working on coffee shops (bat kasi walang coworking space na malapit sakin na bukas ng 8am)
  • The rest of the day revolves around playing with my 2 boys until mommy comes home

Here's an honest piece of advice to anyone who wants to try working from home:

Mahirap din pala.

The commitment to work, lone wolf-style is starting to take its toll on me. 

Nakaka miss din ang routine and having friends to talk with. 

Nakaka miss din kumain ng madami kasabay and uminom ng impromptu after work pa minsan minsan. 

Nakaka miss din yung papasok ka lang tapos titignan mo kung ano task meron for the day. Kumbaga sasabihin lang sayo kung ano dapat gawin. Wala nang isip isip. Being a full time freelance writer, in my experience, requires that I plan each day for maximum productivity. Ano ba yung most important task for the day, ano dapat unahin, pano si simulan, pano hihimayin, pano research, etc., 

Proof that while it sounds easy being your own boss, mahirap din kasi ikaw lahat dapat magasikaso. 

I received a pm via Messenger yesterday from someone who read my Grit.PH article about freelancing. She said she was new to the world of freelancing and had a question (was hoping to get some advice) about BIR stuff. I assumed she was relatively young, maybe a few years out of college. 

Truth be told, I wouldn't recommend working full-time from home to anyone fresh off college. 

Parang sayang kasi yung experience to learn and interact with other people while you're still young. Mga moments that are best experienced with friends and colleagues. 

I'd advise trying out as many jobs as you can especially those that truly interest you. When you're older, you'll have a wider set of skills and talents, along with the experience and first-hand knowledge from doing all sorts of jobs. You'll never know which ones will prove to be useful later in your life, so learn as much as you can. 

But before I start to sound like a boring tito (which I am) spewing out life advice, lets get back to the gist of this piece:

Kumusta ang buhay homebased? 

For lack of a better word, my answer is: "Swabe lang." 

Swabe lang kasi hindi naman perpekto (IMHO walang ganong trabaho) at di din naman hassle. 

Hindi din ganun kadali as anyone working the regular 9-5 shift usually thinks. 

Madaming pros and cons. Bawat set up naman meron. May mga araw na nakakasawa din, may mga araw na thankful ka talaga (e.g napanood mo sa TV yung nakakaiyak na traffic sa edsa or pila sa MRT, baha, pag nakaka attend ng events ng anak mo sa school, mga ganon).

...but.. I'll still (always) choose it over my previous job, where I worked the graveyard shift for almost 7 years.

And here’s why:

Yung feeling na gusto mo yung ginagawa mo is the biggest perk for me.

When you're doing something you love, it makes everything a bit easier. Not to mention, the chance to earn more is always there pag freelance. Pag gusto ko rumatrat ng pera I take as many clients as I can then hustle like a madman. You can’t do that when you’re a regular employee. Itodo mo man or pumetiks, pareho pa din sasahurin mo.

And then of course, yung added benefit ng work from home ka. 

Nasa bahay ka lang, laging anjan for the fam, and you manage your own time, get paid more (with less working hours) - - swabe din talaga. 

Sa trapik (lalo na ngayon), hirap makasakay, layo ng biyahe, etc., talo ka na lalo na kung tipong 6 na oras ng araw mo napupunta sa biyahe. Malapit lang naman office ko non pero I know a lot of regular employee folks reading this knows what I mean. I have a friend working in Makati and he has to wake in the wee hours of the morning just not to be late at work. And do that on a daily basis, 5 times a week, would be unimaginable for me. 

Gastos pa sa pamasahe at baon. At syempre, yung sobrang pagod ng mala-Ang Probinsyanong eksena sa commute araw araw. Wala ka pa sa opisina amoy kahapon ka na. 

...pero...

...sa totoo lang, mamimiss mo din talaga yung structure ng regular employee job. 

Kasi sa home-based na trabaho, wala kang:

  • Ka-chisimisan pag nababagot ka na  
  • Proteksyon sa mga biglaang lakad/responsibilidad (since wala naman talaga ako sched, mahirap pumalag sa mga biglaang tasks (errands, tasks, chores, etc.,) unless may deadline talaga ko.  
  • Health card. Nakaka-miss din ang may health card lalo na pag inaabot ko na yung check-up/hospital fee sa cashier
  • Yung "feels" ng may ka team and prens sa opis 
  • Nakaka-miss din pala minsan yung fixed structure ng regular work, yung tipong papasok ka lang tas magtratrabaho. Sa home based kasi (applies sa mga hindi required magwork ng certain hours), lagi ako nag tatancha ng oras, nagiisip ng pinaka magandang gawin to maximize the few working hours of my day, kumbaga, kailangan mo talaga pagisipan ang gagawin mo. Sa opis pasok lang ako e.  
  • Nakakaumay din magtrabaho halos araw araw sa coffee shop. Magastos pa at nakaka dyabetis.  
  • Sobrang nakaka bato din talaga minsan. 

Maybe I'm just nitpicking. Pwede ako hiritan ng iba ng, "Arte mo tol kesa naman yung matrapik ka at mapagod buong araw".

Tsong, alam ko. I'm just saying walang perpektong setup. Kesyo home-based or regular employee job, may kanya kanyang pros and cons. Gusto ko lang siguro bigyan ng idea yung mga nagbabalak mag full time tulad ng set up ko. At least matatancha nila mga sarili nila at makapag handa sa papasukin nila. Hindi maliit na bagay ang mag resign at i-give up ang security ng regular paycheck (lalo na kung may pamilya ka). 

Dapat pagisipang mabuti bago sumabak sa work-from-home na setup. Expect na mahirapan makahanap ng gig sa simula, pwede umabot ng buwan bago ka magka steady ng trabaho. Kaya nga I always tell those who ask me, "Pre gusto ko din ganyan, mag quiquit na ko" na subukan muna on the side. Get part time gigs muna, alamin ang forte. Gawa ng maayos na profile, alamin ang best practices. Para mas may laban pag full time na talaga. Of course pwedeng pwede ka magquit agad ng day job and start na lang agad, buhay mo naman yan e. Just know that you’ll be more pressured to look for jobs and anxious to make it work ASAP pag wala kang game plan. 

Working from home is awesome. But it comes with a few disadvantages din. Knowing what your getting yourself into is important so you can set the right expectations. 

As for me? I don't see myself getting back to a regular employee job anytime soon. Because even though there are times na namimiss ko mga perks ng employee life, the benefits of working from home still outweigh them. But that's just me.

Remember, life zigs and zags. Just enjoy the ride and make the most out of each day. And whatever path you choose, always stay true to yourself and stick with what makes you happy.

A Work-from-home Pinoy Dad’s Little Secret to Productivity

My wife asked me the other day:

“Tapos mo na ba yung mga deadlines mo, hon?”

With a smug face I replied:

Sus, kahapon pa.” I was proud and feeling mayabang for finishing my urgent tasks.

“Ay very good—-galing hon… Uhm, tutal di ka naman pala busy, ikaw na magpaligo kay Max, ok lang?”

The smirk on my face was wiped in an instant.

“Naisahan na naman ako. Why oh why, do I always fall for that trap?”, I mumbled.

As I was scrubbing my 4-yr old’s kili-kili with soap, I thought about my current work-from-home schedule.

I thought long and hard about what worked in the last few months of working as a freelance content writer.

As of the moment, I have 4 clients. Two are based abroad and the other two are local.

Doing a quick mental math in my head I realize that I now work an average of 15-20 hours per week. Considering I used to have a regular 9-hour graveyard shift job just over a year ago (a total of 45 hours a week, not including prep and travel time), my current setup is simply so much better.

And here’s the kicker: I earn significantly more than my last full-time job. Plus, I no longer have expenses like food and gas.

Related: 5 Important Questions to ask yourself before Freelancing

I’ve been lucky. I’m now working with clients who are in for the long term. If I’ll be honest, the only thing that will probably end my fruitful relationship with them is my reliability and output. And anyone working from home will tell you that discipline is key if you want to make this whole thing work.

The only problem is, I’m not a disciplined guy when it comes to work. Believe me, I’m not being modest. One day you’ll see me spending all my hours just reading, running errands, and taking care of my kids, the next day I panic and cram like a college student with a thesis deadline.

So what’s my secret?

Now that I think about it, I realize I only have two things going for me in terms of productivity:

First is my ability and willingness to adapt to my current situation or schedule, the other is my routine of waking up early (between 4 and 5AM, even on weekends).

Where all the slacking–err–magic happens

Let’s take a look at why this worked for me.

A willingness to adapt to whatever schedule is handed over to you by fate (at any given time) lets you have a positive, “can-do” attitude. This, my friend, is uber-important.

At some point last year, I simply had no time in the day to work on my writing. My solution? Wake up extra early. For a few weeks, I rose at 2AM and worked until 6AM—or until I started to get hungry.

Instead of complaining and thinking, “Ang malas ko naman”, I looked at my dilemma as a challenge waiting to be won.

As Mark Manson explained it in his book, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”:

“Happiness comes from solving problems”.

Not from that new iPhone, not from your new car, your booked trip to South Korea, or whatever shiny new object that gives you that initial dopamine high.

Because, as Manson argues, the happiness from those moments are usually short lived. Once you get used to your new things, you’ll lose interest in them and look somewhere for that “new one”. It’s a never-ending loop de loop that have you running like a mouse in a wheel.

Remember the last time you really gave it your best to solve a really tough problem—whether at work or personal life—felt awesome, right?

Or that one time when you thought you were at the end of your ropes only to realize you had so much more left in your tank—like an aged boxing champ still lasting 12 rounds and winning. After the ordeal, you “leveled up”.

And that’s the beauty of adaptability—resilience if you will. Working from home may have its perks, but it comes with a lot of cons too.

As Spiderman’s oft-quoted Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

We work-from-home peeps have the power to control our working day. Literally. Unless you’re bound to your desk on a fixed sched (taking calls, for example), you can basically decide when you want to finish your work.

And while that sounds awesome, the trade-off is a bigger temptation to slack off. Instead of finishing this article, for example, I thought, “How about a quick episode of “You” first?

Or a 30-minute sesh gaming in my PC? Wait, there’s a Celtics game right now, gonna watch it first.

I’m not saying that people who work from home always succumb to such temptations. To those who have nerves of steel to resist procrastination’s call, my hat’s off to you. Seriously.

And that’s probably why I developed these two time-management “systems/mindsets” in the first place. Since I know that I don’t always have the time to work during the day nor the willpower to fight procrastination consistently, I have to develop a game plan that will allow me to bypass these two roadblocks so I can hit my daily targets.

My son deciding that writing down 379 words is enough for my workday

Time Management tip #1: Adaptability

System number 1 (adaptability) tells me to never be stuck thinking about my lack of time and instead always look for solutions.

Here’s a perfect example. A few weeks ago, our second son was born.

Today I woke up at 4AM, ready to make my cup of coffee and start working on my M.I.T (most important task). This has been my routine for the last couple of months.

But apparently our newborn likes getting up at around the same time—which I actually like because I get to play with him—but it also meant saying goodbye to my “prime working hours”.

Here’s what happened: After 45 minutes of daddy duties with the little man, I realized he was not slowing down. And, he was getting hungry. Not able to entertain him anymore, he burst into a  classic “u-ha” with tears which woke up his mom. To cut the long story short, the baby got his milk, was sent to Lala land in 30 minutes (I volunteered for the “pa-burp” part) and I can now start working.

I checked the clock: It’s quarter to 6. Feeling unusually tired (even after drinking kapeng barako), I gave in and decided to hit the bed again. After almost an hour of dozing, I wake up and make a cup of tea.

“Eto na talaga masusulat na ko”.

And while I’m content adding 500 words to an article I’m finishing, it’s really not up to par in terms of quantity with my usual output.

So, what to do?

Well, time to adjust. It’s time to come up with a new game plan—an alternate schedule to accommodate the inevitable daddy duties that may or may not happen randomly throughout the day.

Am I worried? Not one bit.

I know that I’ll find a solution to my current situation. I’m ready to adapt. And no matter what time constraints I find myself in, I always tell myself I’m still in a much better position compared to when I had to work at night and sleep 4-5 hours during the day.

In the end, it’s really about making the most out of my situation. That’s what my system number 1 is all about. To not panic and remain calm amidst ever-changing routines and schedules. As James Cameron (director of Titanic and Avatar) once said:

“Hope is not a strategy. Luck is not a factor. Fear is not an option”.

Freelancers and work-from-home peeps always get this comment: “Wow, sarap buhay ka sa bahay ka lang nagwo-work!”

In reality though, we’re like ducks who appear to float effortlessly on water. Beneath the surface though, you’ll see we’re paddling our feet like crazy.

Time Management tip #2: Wake up early

This article by Benjamin Hardy echoes most of my reasons behind waking up early. But mainly, it’s about committing to working on my most important tasks (writing articles) on a daily basis so I won’t get swamped with work.

Do I hit my targets regularly? No, not really. But it’s enough to not get crushed with a mountain of work. It’s still a work in progress, I can say I’m at 60% of the productivity that I’m aiming for.

My ideal workday is to simply have an uninterrupted 4 hours of writing time. That’s it, that’s all I want. Writing, as anyone doing it will tell you, gets tiring after a few thousand words (my daily limit is 2,000) and you won’t get much mileage after reaching your limit. At least that’s how it is for me.

Waking up early guarantees me 2 hours of solid writing time. Which means that I only have to “look for” the other 2 hours at some other part of the day. Usually, it comes in the form of 10/15/30 minute chunks scattered across the hours before and after lunch. The hard part is to find the discipline to identify these small chunks of time and force myself to write.

Yes, I force myself to write. I have to. Any work-from-home parent will tell you that each minute of the day is precious, so you really have to make each one count. I can’t wait to get inspired. And while this may sound horrible for a writer, it actually isn’t. In content writing, it’s really all about having tons of data and resources to reference and pull ideas from. I have a simple process of getting data and outlining them before I do the actual writing. So the only real hard part is coming with some fresh angle and present it in an entertaining and engaging manner.

Most of the research and outlining happens in the morning. Once I have a decent outline (with lots of data), I then start plugging in words as my schedule permits. Sometimes, I even use my phone to write my articles. Google docs is an excellent app for syncing your writing across your devices.

Combining my 2-hour work session in the morning with random small pockets of writing time throughout the day is essentially my daily routine.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but it works for me. At least for now. I still want that 4-hours of uninterrupted writing time, it would let me accomplish a lot more consistently. But only time can tell if fate will be kind enough to reward me with that working schedule. And with a new baby at home, it might take awhile before I get the luxury of such a schedule.

But hey, no complaints here. As I’ve said, I’m extremely thankful with my job right now. It’s hard to feel bad not having a more regimented schedule when you realize you won’t have to go through all the cons of having a regular 8-5 day job.

My last piece of advice to anyone working from home is this: You can make it work.

You just have to start with the right mindset and develop your own systems and routines that fits your situation well.

In time, you’ll appreciate a work-from-home setup despite all of its negatives, you just have to keep an open mind and have the discipline stick to your game plan—no matter what.

Working from home? Here’s how to choose a computer

Contrary to what most people think, you don’t need a high-end computer for work-at-home jobs. In most cases, an entry-level to mid-range PC can handle the usual array of tasks (word processing, spreadsheet, research, light photo, and video editing).

Here are the steps in choosing your next work-from-home computer:

Determine if you want a desktop or a laptop

Pick a budget

Check the components

Shop around for the best deals

Types of computers for freelance work

You have 2 main choices to choose from—Desktop or laptop. Laptops can be categorized into 4 more subsets depending on how and what you’ll be using it for. Let’s take a look at your choices.

Desktop or workstation

Provides the best price-to-performance ratio. If you have the space at home and would not be working outside (coffee shops, co-working space), this is probably your best bet.

For as little as Php15,000, you can get a full desktop package capable of light to moderate office workload.

Basic Laptop

Your regular workstation laptop. These are the most common ones and are cheaper compared to the next 2 options below. While portable, it’s still quite heavy. Perfect for work-from-home freelancers who need the flexibility to switch workspaces at home yet don’t really need the premium mobility from ultrabooks (more on this later).

Gaming Laptop

Your best choice if you’ll be working on graphically-demanding tasks (photo and video editing and other similar tasks). Basically, this is the most powerful laptop you can get your hands on, though it’s also the most expensive. This is because they come with uber-powerful processors and video cards that can rival desktop systems.

Ultrabook

The Macbook Air paved the way for thin and light laptops that have long battery life and sexy exteriors. The catch? They’re expensive. If you’re always on-the-go though or would like to work outside often, this type of laptop is perfect.  

Chromebooks

These are laptops that don’t come with your typical Windows OS. Instead, it’s powered by Google’s Android OS (same as the one you have on your phone). Note that you can’t install the usual apps for Windows so only buy this if you’ll be working mostly on Google Docs and other cloud-based apps and suites (provided they have Android versions). They’re relatively cheap though and make excellent back-up computers. In fact, I’m typing this article on an HP chromebook right now.

Can I work on tablets?

As someone who regularly uses a Chromebook for work, I’m tempted to say yes—however, I’d advise against it.

Why? Because as a main workhorse, tablets just won’t cut it. Sure you can buy a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and set it up like a regular laptop. But remember, we’re talking about work-related apps here. While you can find iOS or Android equivalents, the overall experience (able to run traditional apps, tab switching, typing, etc.,) is still not there yet.

 

My recommendation? Use it as a backup machine. As someone who owns a tablet, it’s a handy device for the occasional chat via Slack or Skype, and even Google Docs.

 

However, you’ll probably still need the flexibility of a regular computer. So better get one first and then use a tablet for light tasks.

 

Top components to look out for:

Processor

The heart of the machine. It’s the engine that drives the whole thing. The more powerful, the better. However, that doesn’t mean you should always get the most powerful one. Best to get one that fits your needs. You’ll just be wasting all that power if you’ll only be using it for Office apps and GDocs. What’s the use of buying a Lamborghini if you’ll only be driving it on traffic-heavy EDSA? Sayang lang.

 

RAM

Think of this as the source of energy for your machine. Here’s why: RAM or memory is needed to run applications. Think of it as fuel—without it, your car won’t run. Or if you have too little of it, it will stall and halt to a stop. As a general rule—try to get as much RAM as you can. Personally, I’d recommend getting at least 8GB. The operating system alone eats up a good chunk of the memory. (Windows, Android, iOS) So if you only have 4GB for example, in reality, you’ll be working only on 2GB. That’s why you experience the lag and hiccups. Your computer doesn’t have enough fuel to run fast enough.

Storage

The hard drive where you store your files and install your applications. Traditional mechanical drives are cheaper and bigger, though they’re much slower than Solid State Drives (SSD). I promised myself that the next laptop or desktop I’ll get will have an SSD on it. Why? It’s a whole faster than mechanical drives—it will load and run all your apps in speeds you’ve never seen before (If you’ve only been using traditional hard drives in the past).

Some computers offer a combo of SSD and mechanical drive. These are good too, it allows you to install Windows and apps on the SSD (so they can run faster) and the mechanical drive will act as storage for your files.

I’ve seen laptops with Intel’s “Optane” drive together with a mechanical hard drive. They claim it will make your mechanical hard drive run as fast as SSD. It’s intriguing and I personally want to test one as I believe the Optane + Mech hard disk is a bit cheaper than a stand-alone SSD. Not to mention, your 1-2 terabyte hard drives will find better use since the Optane will allow you to improve app load times and performance at a fraction of an SSD’s price.

Extra features (nice to have):

 

IPS screen

If you’ll be doing graphics work, try to get the biggest screen you can afford. I recommend getting an IPS screen too if you can as it’s brighter and clearer than traditional TN panels (at least in my experience).

Or you can just buy an external monitor and hook up your laptop to it. That’s what I did. I use it mainly when researching and outlining stuff, the extra screen works great and I no longer have to alt-tab between apps and tabs a lot.

Bluetooth

Nice to have since it allows for easy pairing with accessories like keyboard, mouse, headphones, and speakers. Even entry-level computers have these now so try to get one if you can.

Keyboard backlighting

Great if you usually work in the dark. Trust me, it will happen eventually. This is usually seen in more expensive models though, but some mid-tier laptops can be occasionally seen sporting these.

Good-sounding speakers

Having decent-sounding speakers allows you to listen to conference and Skype calls more clearly. Also, nice to have for entertainment purposes.

 

Work from Home Computer Price range

Here’s a breakdown of the options based on different price points. I’ve scoured Facebook for a couple of examples so you can get an idea on how much these things cost.

Entry Level (15k to 30k)

Your best bet for basic workload and office tasks. Machines in this category usually sport Celeron, Pentium, and Core i3 processors. Some will include a low-end dedicated video card, helpful for adding more oomph for light graphics work.

Don’t believe those who say you need at least an i3 or i5 for basic office or virtual assistant work. A Pentium and even a Celeron works well in most cases and allows you to save a few thousand pesos which you can invest into more RAM instead.

In fact, I’ve been using this ultra-cheap CPU as my main computer in the last few months and it’s been awesome. For less than 7k (it’s price at that time), I got a brand new CPU capable of all my writing/research needs. Plus, it’s super-small and energy efficient too. Paired with an IPS monitor, keyboard and mouse, you can get a similar set-up for less than Php12,000. 

If you’ll go with a Pentium, look for ones rated as N4100 or N5000, these are newer and faster generation Pentiums which can handle light to moderate workload like a champ.

Today’s entry-level processors provide great price-to-performance ratio if you won’t be gaming on it or use it for graphics work. In fact, my Chromebook runs on a Celeron N3050, a lot of smartphone processors are more powerful than this. However, it can easily run dozens of tabs and rarely experiences hiccups. They consume less power too and that’s why I’m able to use it outside without worrying about getting a seat next to a power outlet.

Usual specs you should see at this price point:

  • Celeron, Pentium, and Core i3 processors (INTEL)
  • Ryzen Series 3, 5 (AMD)
  • 500GB to 1TB hard drive or 128GB SSD
  • 4GB to 8GB RAM
  • 13.3 inch to 15.6 inch screen
  • Built-in Graphics Card or Entry-level Dedicated Graphics

Sample picks for Entry Level:

 

30k to 50k (Midrange)

You’ll have plenty of options on this price range. The most important thing though is to make sure you at least get 8GB of RAM. Anything else should be alright in terms of other components, it will mainly just be about choosing your preferred combination.

Usual specs you should see at this price point:

  • Core i3 and i5 processor (INTEL)
  • Ryzen 5 or 7 (AMD)
  • 256GB/512 SSD or 1TB to 2TB mech hard drive. Or a combination of both
  • 8GB-16GB of RAM
  • Low to Mid-tier Graphics Card

Sample picks for Mid-Range Level:

 

50k and up (High end)

At this price range, you can score ultrabooks (and Apple laptops) or get powerful gaming laptops for video editing and other graphics-intensive work. Desktop systems at this price point offer tons of performance as well.

Usual specs you should see at this price point:

  • Core i5 and i7 processors (INTEL)
  • Ryzen 7 or 9 (AMD)
  • 256GB to 512GB SSD or combo SSD with mechanical hard drive
  • 16GB of RAM or higher
  • Dedicated High-End Video Card

Sample picks for High-End Level:

My personal recommendation

Here are some of my best tips based on years of experience in buying and tinkering with PCs (medyo mahilig din kasi ako dito).

Note though that this advice applies mainly for folks who don’t demand too much performance from their computers, as I never had to do any graphics-intensive tasks. However, if you have the budget by all means go buy the best you can afford.

Here’s my very own laptop, an entry level Lenovo.

work from home laptop

 

I added some RAM to boost the capacity from 4GB to 12 GB. And it costed me just less than 2k for that significant upgrade. I chose an entry-level laptop for the following reasons:

  • Most of the stuff I do are word processing and online research (Chrome tabs) so I don’t need a high-specced machine
  • I picked a laptop over a much-more powerful desktop because I need the flexibility and mobility to move workspaces (let’s me work on different places at home)
  • If I had my own office at home, I’d prefer a desktop with multiple monitors for maximum productivity
  • You can buy a base model computer and upgrade both RAM and hard drive (switch to SSD) to get a dramatic increase in performance without spending too much (less than 5k)
  • I have a back-up Chromebook (which I bought second hand, mint-condition for just 8.5k) which I surprisingly use more often because of its portability, excellent keyboard and great battery life

Tip #1

Move 1-2 tiers down on processors and put the extra budget in more memory instead. If asked if which to pick, I’ll choose an i5 and 16GB ram combo over an i7 with 8GB. Why? Because at low to medium workload, you won’t be utilizing the full power of an i7 since the lack of RAM will cause a bottleneck.

So instead of paying extra for that horsepower, why not buy more RAM instead? More often than not, lack of RAM is what causes those hiccups. Only demanding tasks and games usually benefit from top-tier processors IMHO.

Side note: I’ve been hearing good things about the latest AMD Ryzen processors lately, so don’t be afraid to try out that option. It’s a great alternative and offers similar or even better performance than similarly-priced Intel machines.

Tip #2

Don’t be impressed too much with video cards, especially for laptops in the entry-level range. If the salesman says, “May video card na yan kaya mas maganda performance”. Here’s my honest take:

Kung WordPress, Chrome, or Office apps lang naman di kailangan niyan. Kayang kaya na ng built-in graphics ng processor yan. Makakanood ka pa din ng high-def videos without lag. Even some very light games are playable.

Tip #3 Consider build quality

For laptops, best to get something that you really like in terms of looks and feel. You’ll be using it on a daily basis, so better get something that excites you every time you use it.

The first laptop that I ever bought was an MSI. It felt so plasticky that it looked like a kid’s toy. While functional, I admit it didn’t have the same appeal as the next couple of laptops that I owned. The user experience on a hardware level is still important in my opinion. Since you’ll be spending money anyway and will use it for years, try to get something that fits your tastes too in terms of looks and build quality.

Where to buy your next computer

Physical stores: SM North Edsa Annex, Greenhills

Online: TipidPC, EasyPC (has a physical store near Trinoma), (Ace Laptop, Laptopkid, Circuit Base, Laptop Station, and others)

Update: July 2020

It’s been almost a year since I last posted this article and I’ve had a couple of changes in my own WFH setup. I also recently bought a new laptop for my wife (since she’s now also WFH on some days) and I thought it would be useful to share my findings with regards to using entry-level computers.

For my own setup, I bought a new 21.5 inch monitor (I also bought a clamp for it so I can swivel it to the side when not in use), a 2.1 speaker set, a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, a couple of pairs of TWS buds, and a 7th gen IPad. And a handy-dandy mini fan that also acts as a lamp and pen holder (special mention).

You might be wondering, “duh, where’s the upgrade for your actual computer?”

Well… as much as having a new laptop (or desktop PC) sounds awesome, I really don’t need it. My 3-yr old entry-level Lenovo is still alive and kicking. Same goes for my HP Chromebook with all its battle scars no thanks to my son swiping and tapping on its screen like there’s no tomorrow (I feel sorry for my new iPad already).

And I never got to add an SSD to it as I’ve initially planned. I checked some guides online on how to mirror your existing hard drive (so I can have an SSD + mech drive combo) but somehow I feel like I might mess the whole thing up. So I guess I’ll just leave it as it is.

So here I am at 2020, still with an i3 laptop and slow mechanical hard drive (but with 12gigs of RAM, thankfully).

Almost 3 years into working from home full-time and I’m still not seeing any good reason to upgrade it. I guess I just want to prove my point that you don’t need to spend much for a WFH computer. The most important thing when planning to buy one is to match the specs with the tasks that you’re planning to do on it.

I’m a Chrome guy, mainly. Google Docs and a dozen tabs is my workload. What I need mainly is lots of RAM. If you’re into video editing and graphics work or gaming (needs lots of processing power) then you really have no business looking at entry-level computers. You’ll need almost every component for that to be mid or high-end.

So before you buy your next computer, remember, it’s all about knowing what you’ll use it for. Which brings me to the next update I wanted to share.

Last week, I bought a new laptop for my wife. She’s been working from home lately and found it difficult to get some of the required apps/programs to work on my Chromebook.

So I asked her what she needed. And in her typical “bahala-ka-na-ikaw-naman-may-alam-jan-e” tone, she said she just needed to run Office 365, MS Teams, Outlook, Zoom/Skype. That’s it. And she said dapat mura lang kasi basic lang naman daw na laptop gusto niya.

And when I asked her, “gaano ka-mura?“, she replied:

Meron bang tig-15,000 lang?

If this was back in 2010 I would have said, “Meron… pero walang screen”.

But while she would have pinched me back then with that smug reply, surprisingly, you can actually score an actual laptop today at that price. I’m not kidding.

We’re not talking about those silly old netbooks from a decade ago. At between 15,000 – 20,000 pesos, today you can find a bunch of decent laptops online. However, note that you should only consider these if you’re absolutely sure you’ll be doing only the most basic of stuff. Chrome browsing, watching movies, basic office apps—among others. And these will likely sport the lowest-powered Celeron CPUs (N3060, N4000, N4100) so don’t expect much from them.

To be honest, I’ve considered getting a Teclast F6 Plus laptop months ago after seeing a YT video review of it online. At 17-18k, I thought it would be a good Windows machine backup. And with its convertible display (you can fold it and use it like a tablet, even comes with its own pen) and thin-and-light form factor, I thought it would have also made a great media-consumption device (Netflix, YT, reading and annotating PDFs, etc.,). But I never pulled the trigger and instead bought an iPad.

So when my wife asked me for a recommendation, I considered the Teclast right away. It comes with a Celeron N4100 CPU, 8GBs or RAM, 128GB SSD. Plus the touchscreen and tent-mode options. Pretty decent specs for less than 18k if you’ll ask me. Availability was an issue though as it was only available in Lazada (prolly available somewhere else too locally but I didn’t bother) and I’m not 100% sure if the N4100 can handle running all her apps at once.

Remember, I considered buying it for myself in the past because I’ll just run Chrome on it almost 90% of the time. And I know it will be usable enough for me since my Chromebook sports an even less powerful N3060 processor at just 4GBs of RAM. But I guess I shouldn’t really make a direct comparison since a Chromebook eats up less resources by default compared to a Windows machine.

But since she had other Windows programs to run, I kinda had second thoughts if the N4100 was enough and if both the RAM and SSDs of the Teclast run at good speeds since its possible they used older-gen components (I’m guessing they could have cut corners here to keep the price low but I’m not sure). Also, after-sales and warranty support could be an issue since it will be shipped from China.

So I scrapped the idea and checked out a few stores online. To cut the story short, we ended up buying this Lenovo from Gigahertz at SM North Edsa. Here’s the spec list:

  • CPU = Pentium N5000
  • RAM = 8GB
  • Storage = 512GB SSD
  • Screen = 15.6 inch

The price? 20,999 pesos.

Budget WFH laptop

You might be wondering, “How powerful is the N5000”?

And my simple answer is: “Powerful enough”.

Almost 2 weeks into using it, she found the entire experience smooth and lag-free. As an experiment, I used her laptop for a few hours to test if it can run without a hitch with all her apps and programs running at once while I’m working on a dozen tabs on Chrome.

I’m happy to report that it runs as smooth as a hot knife through butter.

It even feels snappier than my i3 laptop, tbh. But I’m pretty sure it’s because of the fast SSD that easily trumps my boomer-generation hard drive.

Budget and usage were my two main considerations when we were choosing a computer. I knew exactly how much we can spend and the type of workload its supposed to handle. To be honest, I probably would have had a harder time if I had a 30k budget since there’s a considerable wider set of options in that price range. But since I know exactly how much our max budget is, I narrowed my sights to entry-level models and went straight to each store to ask which ones were below the 20k mark.

One important thing I forgot to mention:

When we were hopping from one store to another, all my prospects were only sporting 4GBs of RAM. A huge no-no in my book. So imagine my delight when the person I was speaking to said they’ll upgrade the RAM for free! I think it was because we were paying in cash. But I can’t really remember. Upon learning of the offer, I immediately confirmed our purchase.

But what if there was no free RAM upgrade and all models within my budget comes with only 4GB of RAM? Here’s exactly what I’ll do:

Buy the laptop, buy a stick of 8gig ram and slap it in there. Installing RAM is easy, took me 10 mins to do and made me wish I did it sooner because of the massive performance gains.

Anyhoo, I’m gonna wrap this up by reiterating the most important things to remember when buying a work-from-home computer:

  • Match the specs with the tasks you’ll use it for.
  • Set a budget (and stick with it)
  • 8GB of RAM is the absolute minimum

In conclusion

Buying a computer for your work-from-home job can be confusing if you don’t know what to look for. Hopefully, this guide helped you in figuring that out. Remember, it’s all about knowing what you’ll use it for and figuring out which machine will allow you to work without a hitch. Good luck and happy shopping!

7 Major Lessons I Learned in (almost) a Year of Working from Home

It’s been one roller coaster of a ride since I turned my back on the regular 8-5 employee life. Here are some of the lessons I learned in my (almost) 1 year of working as a freelance web content writer from home.

Here’s the truth: Working from home is harder than it seems.

But the benefits far outweigh the cons of this setup.

Here are some of the things I learned in nearly a year of working from home as a web content writer.

freelance writer

  • Distractions are everywhere
  • Make a schedule (or see your hours go poof)
  • Apply the “One Thing” on Task Listing
  • Patience is a must (especially when you have a kid)
  • I learned how to cook (Nailing down the basics)
  • Discipline Equals Freedom
  • Learn how to allocate your resources the right way

Distractions are everywhere

Working from home has its perks. Too much actually, if you’ll ask me. Now that I think about it, each hour is basically a battle against procrastination. Why wouldn’t it be? There’s the TV. Using an el cheapo Android box, I can waste hours watching stuff on Netflix, iFlix (cheaper) or YouTube.

 

android tv

 

Or I can surf the net, endlessly consume content until the blood vessels in my eyes pop. And don’t forget social media—that one’s a biggie. (Kahit puro katarantaduhan lang yung videos na napapanood ko dito)

 

Sound trippin’ is nice too (bought some new earphones) and so does a reading book. I’ve also got a couple of games installed on my laptop (na di ko naman malaro kase aagawin lang ng anak ko)

 

The bottom line? It’s always tempting to slack off. There’s a lot of distractions. And it’s easy to give in especially since my job does not require me to sit down and work fixed hours. I don’t even have a schedule. Which brings me to my next point:

 

Make a schedule (or see your hours go poof)

I’ve been fortunate enough to have an uber-flexible job that allows me to literally work anytime and anywhere I want. However, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

 

See, I’m used to having a structure. A routine if you will. Prior to freelancing, my employee life followed the usual M-F, 9-hour workday. When I started freelancing, there’s no such structure in place. While that sounds amazing, it’s also a recipe for massive amounts of procrastination (petiks).

 

“If you don’t prioritize your time, someone else will”.

 

Cal Newport’s book, “Deep Work”, promotes “Time blocking” as essential to accomplishing important and meaningful tasks that move you closer to your goals. It’s about scheduling specific blocks of time each day to work on your most important tasks.

 

When you set a time block, you have to guard it against any distractions and interruptions. This is non-negotiable. If it means locking the door in your office or working on a park bench, so be it.

 

I once had to finish an article (deadline was within the hour) in the toilet simply because I can’t concentrate with my kid’s non-stop commentary on what he’s watching (or doing):

 

“Dadi tignan mo bilis o gusto ko yan o”

 

“Yaaan, yaaan. Yan talaga ang mabilis. Si Jackson Storm talaga mas malakas”

 

Can’t help it. I love the kiddo but you have to do what you have to do. Para din naman sa kanya yon talaga.

 

Applying Newport’s advice, I decided to build a schedule that will allow me to work straight for a few hours without my kid tugging on my shirt trolling me with his version of that Mama Sita TV ad jingle (Six pesos na laaang!)

 

I decided to wake up extra early between 4AM to 5AM. Why? Because nobody’s up yet and I like the silence of these wee hours.

 

This gives me a solid 2 hours of writing time every day. On days I can work outside (around 2-3 times a week), I get to squeeze in an additional 2 hours before lunchtime. And that’s it. The rest of the day gets spent on daddy duties, errands, and some house chores.

 

I rarely work at night. My brain is too fried to get anything useful out of it. If I have a deadline (read: 2 days late), I try to scrape a couple of hundred words in before I hit the bed.

 

It’s been a whirlwind of a ride this year in terms of changes in our household. Every once in a while, something comes up that requires me to adjust my routine. However, since implementing this schedule, I’m able to work on the most important and urgent stuff.

 

The lesson? You need to be super flexible when working from home. Adjust when you have to. Gumising kasabay ng pagbukas ng Emong’s Pandesal kung kinakailangan. As my friend Dennis likes to say, “Gawin mo, gago”.

 

Do whatever it takes to guard your working hours.

 

Apply the “One Thing” on Task Listing

Gary Keller’s book, “The One Thing”, teaches its readers to identify the “Macro from the Micro”. Simply put, it’s about identifying the next step on a goal that will ensure progress.

 

For example, if you want to learn how to drive (macro), you’ll probably think the next step is to sign up in a driving school. While that sounds like a plan, it’s still not a “micro”-oriented goal. To be effective, it should clearly identify the next step.

 

Following Keller’s advice, it should be, “Drop by the driving school later at 3PM to inquire and sign up”.

 

In my case, I use it as a screening tool in making my to-do list. If I have a lengthy article to complete, I break it down to several tasks. In this article, for example, there are plenty of step-by-step sections and tables to include. My to-do list for this piece will look like this:

 

work from home to do list

 

As you can see, it clearly identifies the next step. If I simply put “Finish Grit article” (which I used to do), here’s what will happen: I’ll open my laptop, stare at the screen, and then ask, “Now where was I?”

 

I’ll then proceed to read the whole thing to get up to speed. That’s only when I’ll start doing actual work. Whether it’s research or writing or a combination of both.

 

It’s more efficient if I know beforehand that I’ll be doing tables and knowing which sections to work on. That way, I can “prime” my brain (and mood) towards completing that specific task.

 

If a Wunderlist task list says, “Make data tables – Driver’s license article”, I’ll know exactly what to do. I’ll skip the intro and all other sections and go straight to making tables. No time wasted. Once done, proceed to the next clearly defined task.

Patience is a must (especially when you have a kid)

Having a child is an amazing thing. Absolutely one of the best feelings in life. Its also a nerve-racking experience, especially when they’re between the ages of 3-5. Here are actual sample conversations we have all the time:

 

“Diba sabi mo (insert some weird promise I made last week)”

 

“Hindeee, mamaya na” (When I ask him to pack away his toys)

 

“My turn!” – (Pagkabukas ko ng TV para manood ng NBA)

 

“Mamaya ka na mag-work” (Pag naghahabol ako ng deadline)

 

“Last 5 minutes na yan ha” (I tell him when he plays with my phone) he’ll respond with, “Dapat 10 minutes”

 

“Last 10 minutes na lang ‘nak, tapusin ko lang to (I tell him when I’m working) he’ll respond with, “Dapat 5 minutes”

 

And when I answer, “Nagwo-work si daddy para may makain tayo”

 

His reply: “Di ba kumain na tayo kanina?

 

Don’t get me wrong. I find it funny (most of the time) and love the little rascal to the bits. It’s just that it’s during this age when kids start to develop their thinking and never seem to stop asking questions.

 

They also start reasoning with you about a lot of things.

 

“Bakit pag si Mommy pwede?” (mag ice cream before bed)

 

“Diba sharing is good for you?” (When he wants to play on the laptop while I’m working)

 

Here’s the lesson from all of this: You’ll have to force yourself to be more patient with kids when you’re working from home.

 

It’s a physical and mental effort. You have to be always mindful when interacting with them to remind yourself not to snap when they put PlayDoh inside the ref for the nth time (“Para di matunaw dadi, ice cream yan e”) or when they keep tugging on your shirt when you’re working saying, “Dadi tignan mo si (insert cartoon character he’s watching at that time) anlupit oh!”.

 

One time I tried to sleep on the sofa without my shirt on only to rise up the next second after sand stuck to my back like sugar on a donut. Damn kinetic sand. Itatapon ko na talaga yan e.

 

There are times when I can tolerate it. When I’m doing research or outlining, I can bear the constant nagging. However, when doing the actual writing, it simply won’t work. I require silence when putting words down.

 

Working from home will require a great deal of patience if you have kids (at least from what I experienced) and you should expect the constant attention from them.

 

Remind yourself that they don’t really quite understand the situation of a work-from-home setup especially if they see that mommy works at an actual office while you work on a laptop, shirtless, with a week-old bigote and a beer gut.

I learned how to cook (a.k.a Nailing down the basics)

I’ve always wanted to learn how to cook simply because it’s a useful skill to have. Years ago, feeling inspired by some YouTube show, I went to the grocer and bought a bunch of ingredients. And a Mama Sita cookbook. I figured I’ll just use “instant mixes” to cheat my way to delicious ulamzzz.

 

Lo and behold, the Afritada tasted like crap (my ate’s words) and the chicken was undercooked. I remember the whole thing tasted like bell pepper. If Gordon Ramsey was there he would have dunked my face into the pan of simmering hot Mama Sita Afritada sauce. 

 

Nailing down the basics

Bonus life lesson: Instructions at the back of ingredients are bullshit.

 

Fast forward to 2018, I was ready to go at it again. But this time, with the help of Panlasang Pinoy. Yup, that dude in YouTube (who now has his own Knorr commercial) who cooks Pinoy ulam and specialties exclusively.

 

The first few tries were—to use coaching lingo—“Needs Improvement”. I realized cooking videos make it look too easy and you have to make smart guesses as you go along.

 

For example, the time it takes to make the meat tender. You can’t simply blindly follow the suggested duration of “boil it for 10 minutes”, or “sautee for a few seconds”. Just don’t. Take it from someone who once cooked pork adobo with the same juiciness of a car tire. 

 

Me: “Kala ko kase gusto mo medium-rare!”

Wife: “E kung ikaw kaya pakuluan ko?”

Kidding aside, it showed my complete ignorance when it comes to the basics of cooking.

 

Being a total noob, I based it on the actual time on the video itself. Only after realizing that sauteing garlic and onion requires “enough” time to bring out the flavors or boiling meat and potatoes depends on its type, cut, level of heat, and the amount did I understand that you have to understand the “whys and hows” of the basics first.

 

The exact measurements? I dunno. Here’s what I learned: When it comes to cooking, I don’t think exact measurements matter that much. As long as you have an idea of the proper ratio for ingredients, there’s a good chance you’ll get the right taste. Unlike baking (which requires absolute precision), cooking is more or less a freestyle performance (IMHO).

 

However, to get to at least a decent level of cooking (read: hindi lasang pork steak yung adobo – nagawa ko din to) you’ll have to go through a couple of failed batches. It’s inevitable. Unless you’re one gifted mofo, you’ll have to work your way through to get good.

 

Only by actually doing it will we get to learn. I remember Googling “how to reverse park” when I was a new driver. After watching a couple of videos and remembering to “make sure to align the side mirror to the parking space before moving 45 degrees up and then backing up”, I confidently tried it at the office parking lot.

 

With a couple of friends watching (hoping I would bump the next car), I said, “Tsong ganto kase yan, porti-payb degrees dapat”.

 

It took me 10 minutes and several tries to get it right. Sensing defeat, I tried to weasel my way out. “T@ngin@ng YouTube yan barbero amput@”

 

Dennis: Di yan makukuha sa panonood. Tanchahan lang yan. Basta gawin mo gago”

 

And it’s true. You can’t learn how to ride a bike by watching. I got a couple of bumps and bruises before I got the damn skateboard to move without me falling. Anyone who tried to learn to drive a manual car will tell you that working the clutch while “hanging” (road is inclined upward) is a pain in the butt and can’t be taught by simply watching.

 

You have to do it yourself. That’s how humans have been doing it for the last two thousand years.

 

Writing, believe it or not, is similar to cooking. You can’t learn how to write by reading.

 

Sure there are “recipes” (formulas, templates, styles to copy from, hacks, etc) that can get you started in a heartbeat. However, if you don’t understand why the hell you’re doing it (technique, formula) in the first place then you’re not really learning.

 

It’s like trying to understand differential calculus simply by memorizing formulas. Without context, these techniques are as good as nothing.

 

Back to cooking:

 

A few months in, I can come up with decent-tasting staples: Adobo, Nilaga, Tinola, Ginisang Gulay (with or without gata), Giniling with Patatas, Sinigang na Baboy, Sopas, Ginisang Munggo.

 

Iron Chef Quezon City Semi Finalist

 

As I’m typing this, I realized konti pa lang din pala (heh) but hey, it’s a start. I’ll admit though, I usually try to “outsource” all the prep work to my ever-patient wife whenever I can. I don’t have the patience to peel and cut ingredients.

 

That didn’t last, however. After taking a bite of a clove of garlic from the sopas I cooked, she asked why it wasn’t minced.

 

“Pinisa ko lang ng tinidor e, tinamad ako maghiwa”, I admitted. I was even proud of my technique because it saved me time. “Last mo na yan, she said.”

 

Since then she always asks me to mince the damn thing. Hay hassle. In hindsight though, it was another lesson why nailing down the basics is important.

 

Practice is essential. There are no shortcuts.

 

Discipline Equals Freedom

“Para sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan”, says an old adage.

 

Here’s my version for freelancers:

“Para sa ikauunlad ng kabuhayan, disiplina ang kailangan”

 

Whether it’s ditching low-balling clients, being consistent in clearing your daily tasks, resisting the urge to take in more clients, staving off distractions, and fighting everything else that will negatively impact my output—discipline is the key.

 

I’ll admit, it’s a work in progress. Saying I’m disciplined is one thing, actually doing it is another. One Sunday morning, I woke up around the usual time. But instead of going straight to the kitchen to brew a cup of coffee, I reached for my phone and checked Shopee. I wanted to know if their hyped-up, 11-11 Sale is legit (It was).

 

After endlessly scrolling through an endless list of products, I checked the clock and realized I spent 30 minutes on the damn thing.

 

And I still didn’t have anything on my cart. Except for an Aeropress I’ve been eyeing last week (which was not discounted that day, gademit), I really didn’t need to buy anything. (Ended buying one in Lazada)

 

I lost a good amount of time (which could’ve been spent writing) and messed up my routine. Clearly, I’m not as disciplined as I would like to be. Oh well. At least I still have the “wake-up early” routine going. Yup, even on weekends. I just need to make sure it’s always optimized for work.

 

“Don’t expect to be motivated every day to get out there and make things happen. You won’t be. Don’t count on motivation. Count on Discipline.”

Jocko Willink, Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual

 

Learn how to allocate your resources the right way

 

Some things I learned in the last few months:

 

  • Working 2 hours in a coffee shop nets the same result, if not better, than working 4 hours at home.
  • One client pays 5 times more than another for the same number of words.
  • A 10-minute power nap refreshes me better than an hour of watching Netflix.
  • A cup of brewed coffee perks me up better than a liter of 3-in-1 coffee mix. 

 

The Pareto Principle of 80/20 states that roughly 80% of the results come from 20% of the causes. Note that the actual ratio is not important, it’s merely meant to highlight the gist of this rule: imbalance. It also works vice versa (20/80) too. Here are some examples:

 

  • At one point, 20% of my clientele was the source of 80% of my income
  • 80% ng profit ng Andoks galing sa tinda nilang inihaw na manok: Liempo, fried chicken, beer, chicharon, and kanin make up the rest (20%)
  • Sa mga T-shirts ko sa bahay, may peyborit lang akong lima (30% ng T-shirt roster)
  • Sa 84 apps ko sa phone, pinaka madalas magamit ang: Email, Scribd, Kindle, Google Play Books, Pocket, Wunderlist, Podcasts, GDocs, Google News. (Note to self, uninstall lahat ng games na nilagay ng magaling kong anak)
  • 20% ng clients ko dati (previous job) ang nagbibigay sakin ng 80% ng mga problema

 

There are plenty of practical uses for the 80/20 rule. Once you identify the imbalance, you can adjust your actions and decision making to either maximize efficiency or remove the inefficiency.

 

I apply it when reviewing goals and targets for a specific time frame. For example, in reviewing my earnings for a quarter, I’ll ask myself: Which projects brought in the most profit in the least amount of time and effort? I then focus more time and energy on this particular client to get more articles done and improve the relationship.  

 

Or vice versa: This client has been taking too much of my time for little pay (in relation to other projects). I think it’s best to drop it.

 

What will this achieve? One, it makes you conscious with your decision-making.

 

When buying groceries, I double down on items we consume the most. It can help you decide which phone to buy (which features will I use the most?). It helps me decide which type of clothes to stock up on (T-shirts). Also works in deciding if I’ll try fixing the faucet or have someone else do it (I’m bad at it)—(Will it be more efficient to have someone else do this?)

 

The key takeaway is this: Identify which items or activities will get you the most value out of your time and money.

 

Analyze what gets you value the most then focus all your resources on it.

 

Let’s say you’re working from home when your wife tells you that there’s a leak in the faucet. If you’re not familiar with how to fix it, will you still try? Sure you can, it’s always useful to be handy on these things. But I bet it will take you a considerable amount of time to do it. And that is if you have the right tools for the job.

 

Will you halt your work and then attempt to fix it? Personally, I’ll give it a try. See if it’s a simple fix. If it isn’t, I’ll hire someone else to do it. Because when I think about it, I’ll probably spend 30 minutes to an hour trying to fix the leak. I have other better and more profitable uses for my time. Here’s what I’ll do: Call a pro to fix it, get back to my work, pay him when he’s done.

 

Instead of laboring for an hour without a guarantee that I can fix it, I’ll choose to get back to work that I’m good at and get paid. Think about it: If the handyman who fixed our faucet had a problem with his refrigerator, do you think he can fix it? Sure he can try, but he’ll have better use of his time if he just takes it to a pro.

 

Mind you, we’re not shunning the virtue of learning how to do things by yourself here. If I had the tools and the time, I would’ve probably tried harder to fix it. It would’ve been a worthwhile experience in itself. But the truth is, I prefer spending it with the fam or going back to work. It all boils down to our own preferences.

 

This applies in career too. If you’re good at something and bad at another, I say get your good better (specialize) than waste resources trying to even out your skills.

 

I remember reading Steve Job’s biography where it mentioned that he dropped out of college and took only the classes that interested him. One of those classes was calligraphy. He didn’t had the slightest idea how it would be beneficial in the long run, he simply wanted to learn more about it. It fascinated him. So he decided to spend most of his time on it. An excellent application of Pareto’s principle in my opinion.

 

This was taken from his legendary Stanford commencement speech:

 

Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.

 

Imagine if Einstein tried to get good at speaking foreign languages to “balance” his skills. His time studying it probably would have hindered his groundbreaking discoveries in science. Or if a sushi restaurant tried including pork specialties in their menu simply because a couple of customers expressed interest in it. I bet it wouldn’t be a hit. Identify the 20% of your actions that brings 80% of the results.

 

Working from home has been one hell of a ride. It’s been awesome, and I don’t see myself going back to corporate anytime soon.

 

Unless of course Mama Sita calls and wants me for their next commercial.