Staying Productive During Outages

Being productive is difficult when everything is going well and in place for you to succeed. When something you rely on heavily like the internet or the power goes out it is all too easy to fall into the trap of assuming you can’t get anything done. There are a lot of things that you can do when faced with an outage that will help you remain productive or even improve your productivity.

Not everything you do in your day to day work moves the needle forward. Some things like unit testing, refactoring, etc are more to prevent productivity from being reduced. Other things that you do such as organization of your workspace help to improve your ability to be productive while not exactly productive themselves. When faced with an unexpected power or internet outage if you are prepared there are many things you can do to maintain or even improve your productivity.

Being productive takes effort and willpower to keep going when there are other things that are vying for your attention. The case is even more so when you are lacking essentials like power or internet. Staying productive during an outage requires you to have a plan in place well before the outage occurs. Then you have to trust in that plan and follow it. The tips here are not an exhaustive list of the things that you can do in an outage to remain productive. Use them as a guide to help you in creating your own plan for how you will remain productive when everyone else is at a loss because of an outage.

Episode Breakdown

No Power

Possible disruptions to your power supply.

A blackout happens when there is no power at all coming in. It is a total disruption of the power in a specific area. This can happen due to damage to power lines or transformers either from accidents or nature. They have little to no warning.

A brownout is when the voltage is reduced causing a partial outage of power. With these you may still have some power to run basic electronics but your high consumption devices will not work. These are typically planned by the power company and have some warning.

After a blackout the power may come back stronger than normal in what is known as a surge. This is a sudden increase in the voltage above what is normally expected. Sensitive electronics should be unplugged during a blackout or plugged into a surge protector to keep them from being damaged.

Use an alternative power supply.

Each of your computers should be hooked up to an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Don’t expect to be able to keep working while using one of these, but they will allow you time to finish up what you are doing and save any work so that you don’t lose it. If it is just the power that is out then you may be able to power a modem for several hours with one dedicated to just the modem and router.

Laptops are great because they are portable and they have batteries. Keep your laptop plugged in so that when the power goes out you can keep working using battery power. Make sure you have settings for battery mode and turn off nonessential apps to extend your productive time.

If possible you may consider adding solar panels to your house. Living in an area that gets a lot of sun will allow you to keep working even when the power coming into the house stops. Generators may be noisy and expensive but they can keep you running for a day or so during an emergency. If you live farther out from civilization it could take a while for your power to come back on.

Finally, go somewhere else that has power. If you are at home try going into the office if it’s close. If you are at the office you may see if you can work from home, assuming you have power at home.

Have a plan in place before the power outage.

Make sure you have the necessary supplies you’ll need to keep working while you are waiting on the power to return. When the office goes dark it can be very frustrating and somewhat dangerous to fumble around looking for supplies. Have an emergency kit or other preparation ready for when this happens.

You need at least one flashlight, preferably the lantern kind, and plenty of extra batteries. You don’t want to use the light on your phone, it’s fine for quickly finding your real flashlight, but drains your phone’s power and you will need that. Pen and paper are important for writing down ideas and what you were working on when the power went out so you don’t forget. You’ll also want to make notes on what works well and what doesn’t during the outage so you can adjust your plan accordingly.

Office phones need to be set to forward to a mobile phone if the power is out. Just because your power is not working doesn’t mean that your customers or even other parts of your business have stopped working.

Take time to complete tasks that don’t require power.

Filing paper documents is something that no one enjoys doing, but many of us have stacks of papers that need to be sorted and filed. Now is the time to do that. If you have enough light you may use the time the power is out to do some reorganization of your workspace or to even clean your desk. While this isn’t directly productive to the business it will make you work more efficiently when you do have power again.

Use your pen and paper to brainstorm ideas for improving your systems. So many of us are too busy working and focused on the next task at hand that we don’t take the time to think about how to improve what we already have. Use this time to come up with some ideas on how to improve your codebase, systems, or architecture.

Now that you have some time to think about your career on the clock, spend time reviewing your career goals. If they aren’t written down then write them and go through a review process to see where you are on your path toward those goals.

Get out of the office and take a break.

If it’s a short outage you may take this as an opportunity to get a little exercise and go for a walk. Not only will this get you out of a stuffy office, but it will also help you to clear your head so when you return you’ll be ready to jump back into working.

Along the same lines, if it’s around lunch time take an early or extended lunch break. If you are in the office use this as a chance to spend time with your coworkers. Getting to know each other will lead to better team cohesion and therefore more productivity.

Taking off the rest of the day will allow you to get some rest and enjoy some time away from work. This improves moral and will increase your productivity when you do come back the next day. Just make sure you have permission to take off early before leaving for the day.

No Internet

Causes of lack of internet access.

The most common cause of internet outages is have Comcast as an ISP, just kidding. Though service outages are the biggest reason for not having internet access, especially in your home office.

If you have an older modem and/or router then you may have internet coming into your house or work but aren’t able to access it because of an issue with the equipment. You may need to restart your modem or router or both because of a firmware update, especially if your ISP owns the equipment and you are just renting it from them.

Too many people trying to do too much can cause network congestion that will slow your service to a crawl and appear as if you don’t have access to the internet. This is not likely to be your problem in the office, but if you are at home you may check who and what other devices are using the internet.

Sometimes if you have a bad connection to your VPN it can come across as if your internet connection is bad. Check your speeds on and off the VPN to confirm it is the problem.

Keep working on tasks that do not require you to have internet access.

Most of us are web developers and think that we need internet access to be able to do our jobs. While that is true for full functionality, when the internet goes out you can still get a lot of work done.

Spend some time working on and updating your unit tests, if your test require the internet then you need to evaluate them because they are not true unit tests. Make it a challenge to see how much code coverage you can get while the internet is out. Use this as an opportunity to create mocks so that you can run your application without having to rely on talking to a database or API over the web. Like with unit tests, this will allow you to do integration testing without having to make calls over the internet.

Now is a good time to really dive into your CSS and make the app look nice. You may want to have a book on CSS handy or at least your phone near by since you won’t be able to look up stuff on the internet.

Use a mobile hot-spot to continue working.

Mobile hot-spots can be a lifesaver, especially when you can do most of your work offline and then just use it to push your code up to a git repository. Use your mobile hot-spot for staying in communication with your team while your internet is out, especially if you are remote. You can keep up with slack, teams, and email through your phone.

Another good use of your phone is to look up information. This can be done on the phone or through the hot-spot connected to your computer. You will want to stick to blogs and article or StackOverflow, don’t try to do video tutorials via your phone.

Mobile networks can be funny when using a VPN. Some will allow it and work well, but others will not work if you try to connect to a VPN. If you can avoid it, don’t use your mobile hot-spot for testing your application or making calls to APIs or database.

Watch your data usage when you are using your phone for internet access at work. Many plans while they don’t have a data cap will severely reduce your speed after a certain point. Use your data wisely.

Go somewhere that has internet access.

If you are working remote and live close enough you can go into the office and use the internet there. Your company may have a policy about this if the workforce lives close or you are not fully remote. On the other side, if you are in the office then use this as a reason to get some hours in at home. If your boss didn’t learn from the pandemic then here is another opportunity to show them how productive you can be when working from home.

You may not live close enough to go into the office, but if you are in school while working you could go to campus. Most colleges are set up for studying so you’ll be able to focus and get some work done. If you don’t mind spending a little money and noise doesn’t bother you then you can go to a coffee shop or internet cafe. You’ll want to be cautious of the WiFi at these locations. Also, some coffee shops have firewalls that will prevent you from accessing your works VPN.

Public libraries also have free internet, though they have similar security concerns as coffee shops. Both options only work if you are able to take your work machine with you as in you have a laptop or tablet from which you can work.

Use the down time to do some cleaning.

Since you still have power, use the time without internet access to clean up your desktop or the folders and filing on your computer. Unless you are extremely precise you likely have several files just sitting out there that need to be placed in the correct folder.

Don’t stop with your virtual desktop, clean your physical desk or workspace. When your work has come to a halt because of lack of internet connection use the time to tidy up the area in which you work. If it’s going to be a longer outage then take the time to organize your office space or areas within your office. Bookshelves can always be reorganized and there is almost always something that needs to be filed.

Finally, if you are at home you likely have plenty of chores or areas that need to be cleaned. Take a break from work and get some housework done. Do a load of laundry or clean your kitchen, doing so will help relieve stress so you’ll be better able to work when the internet does come back.

Have some offline training materials at hand.

It’s a good idea to have a stack of books at hand to read when you have down time. They don’t have to be about coding or computer science. Use this time to read up about leadership, business practices, or even management if that’s a career goal. This can also be a good time to work through some code katas. Though you will need to already have some since you won’t be able to look them up online.

You can also use this time to review material from courses you’ve previously taken. Maybe you didn’t finish some of the work, now is a good time to give yourself a review and finish it. Finally, take a moment to review your previous trainings. Look for holes or gaps in training so that when the internet is available you can look for ways to fill those gaps.

Tricks of the Trade

Understand the default state of things is “not working”. Prepare with that in mind, and stop the normalcy (normality) bias. It will improve your thinking and kill a lot of fear.