Put Your Media Center to Work

If you work from home, having a TV in the vicinity can be distracting. But that same TV could also be the unexpected source of some extra help in the productivity area, if you happen to have a media center PC hooked up to it.

Generally, I use my media center, which happens to be a Mac mini (s aapl), for entertainment, not for getting things done. But during the day, I can flip the switch and put that machine to work.

Media on Demand

My job requires me to pay close attention to what’s going on in the news. But no matter what job you do, it probably will prove helpful to stay on top of what’s going on in your field. If you find a good streaming source, playing that on the background while you work can be advantageous.

I queue up podcasts and even the occasional livestream on my media center. It keeps it off my work monitors, so I can choose to tune it out if I get too busy, but it also means I can quickly adjust my focus when I have some spare bandwidth. And I find that working doesn’t prevent me from taking in information I’m hearing at the same time.

Twitter Box

I sometimes find that if I use Twitter on my main work computer, my attention span is even shorter and more fractured than usual. By relegating that (and other) social media channels to the media center, I can check in when I have time, but it isn’t begging me to look at it.

You can just use your favorite Twitter app or the new homepage, which is pretty powerful, but I prefer using some tools designed for larger displays. There’s ParaTweet, for example, which is designed with presentations in mind. It displays tweets in real-time, and you can focus in on specific terms using filters.

Conference Call HQ

Many people use VoIP now for conference and other business-related calls. I’ve done it at my work computer, but it’s another case of having too much going on in the same place.

So for business calls, which require my complete attention and focus, I’ll turn to the media center. There are some great webcams out there with high quality mics built-in, and having a voice call routed through your home theater speaker system really helps make sure you hear what people are saying. Plus, you can sit on the couch and be at ease, which should lead to a calmer, more composed conversation.

Video calls also go to my Mac mini now, on those few occasions when I need to make them. A webcam mounted to the TV provides my end of the feed, while watching video calls on a larger display means I can pay better attention to people’s body language, which leads to fewer missed cues and other awkwardness that can come along with video chat.

Divide and Conquer

The media center may seem like primarily an entertainment device, and it is, but it’s also a great way to get low priority computer stuff off your plate. It’s accessible, but it isn’t screaming for attention. Likewise, since the media center isn’t where all your work is waiting, it provides the perfect communication tool. Just like you pay more attention on the phone when you’re not browsing the Internet, real time web-based communication works better when you do it on a machine that doesn’t have a thousand browser windows open.

If you use a media center as part of your web working setup, share your tips below.

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