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Borrow this trick from pro broadcasters to stop work-from-home interruptions

Eight months after the pandemic was officially declared, many Americans are still working from home. The same goes for most of Kim’s staff, myself included.

If working from home is something you’re interested in, there are all kinds of occupations if you know where to look. Tap or click here for an extensive list of ways to make money from home.

Just be ready to make a few adjustments, especially if you have a lot of video meetings and other work-related calls while others are in the house. It wasn’t always easy in the beginning until I found a way to easily let everyone else at home know I was busy — a literal bright idea.

Alexa, activate the red light

While some meetings are scheduled, others happen without much notice and I don’t always have the luxury of telling my family to keep it down. Then it hit me to take a page out of your typical broadcaster’s playbook: those light-up “on-air” signs.

It was actually easier than I thought because I already had the foundation to make it work through Amazon’s Alexa. Everything else I needed was available on Amazon, as you can see below, including an Echo Dot smart speaker if you don’t already have one:

You can obviously use a regular lamp, too. I just went with something a little more low-profile. Now all I have to do is say to the Echo Show on my desk, “Alexa, activate the red light” when a meeting is about to start. When it’s over, I tell it to turn off.

Get the smart plug up and running

Once you have the equipment, find a good spot for the light near your home office where it will be noticed. I placed mine on a small table between the kitchen and dining room, right in front of the stairs to the second story. It’s a central location and out of the way, so the bright light won’t be annoying.

Depending on which smart plug you buy, whether it’s made by Amazon, TP-Link or others, directions for setup will vary. If you buy the TP-Link Kasa as I did, you’ll first need to download the Kasa Smart app from either the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

Once installed, follow the directions for creating an account and then the steps below for adding your smart plug.

  • Tap the + sign in the upper right corner of the app.
  • When asked what you would like to add, tap Device.
  • Tap Smart Plugs, then Smart Plug Lite / Mini.
  • Follow the app’s directions for plugging it in and making sure it’s blinking orange and blue.
  • In your phone’s Wi-Fi settings, temporarily switch to the option that begins with TP-LINK.
  • Return to the Kasa Smart App.
  • Once the app establishes a connection with a smart plug, you can name it and complete setup.

Setting up your new routines

If you have an Echo speaker or Echo Show, your Alexa app should have detected that you just added a new smart plug to your home network. Now it’s time to set up your new voice routine.

  • In the Alexa app, tap the More option on the bottom right of the home screen.
  • Tap Routines on the left, then tap the + sign in the upper right.
  • Tap the + sign next to Enter routine name and call it something like Meeting Light On — your choice
  • Tap the + sign next to When this happens, then tap Voice.
  • Type your phrase, which can be anything you prefer, like, “Alexa, I’m in a meeting,” or, “turn on the meeting light.”
  • Tap Next, then tap Add action.
  • Scroll down and tap Smart Home, then tap All Devices.
  • Look for the name you chose when setting up the smart plug and tap it.
  • It should be set to power on by default, so tap Next in the upper right corner.
  • On the next screen, tap Save in the upper right.

You’ll also need to create a routine for turning off the light using your voice, which you’ll follow the same steps above. This time, name the routine something like Meeting Light Off, and change the phrase to something like, “Alexa, the meeting’s over.” In the second-to-last step, make sure you to toggle the power button from on to off.

You can also set up schedules if you have meetings at the exact same time on various days. Again, follow the directions for creating a new routine above but instead of tapping Voice under When this happens, tap Schedule followed by At Time. Enter your days and times, then save it.

One more option to consider …

The meeting light has been quite a success at my house. So much so that my wife added a light outside her home office on the second floor. She went with a purple light bulb instead.

If you’re looking for more customization, forego the smart plug and buy a multi-color smart light bulb like this Philips option that doesn’t require a hub. Then you can set up colors based on importance.

For instance, a yellow light could indicate a regular staff meeting, while red could mean, “I’m on a call with an important client, so please don’t even let the dog bark.”

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