Working remotely has its perks. Whether you are freelancing or working remotely for a company, not being required to be in a physical office equals freedom. You don’t have to fake-work just to meet your schedule, you can set your own schedule, you can pick your own office, you can hop from country to country without having it affect your performance… and the list goes on.
But it also has its cons: You can end up working longer hours if you are not efficient, you get distracted more easily, you depend on a reliable internet connection, the lack of human interaction can be very boring… this list goes on as well.
I get distracted easily, I have to admit it. And after working remotely for so long, I had to come up with some hacks to improve my productivity and, why not, my “non-office” experience as well. Some of these hacks might not work for everyone, but they can be a good starting point and are adaptable to each one’s own needs.
Set a schedule for yourself
I know at first it can sound like something completely opposite to the philosophy of working from home, but it makes sense. For some of us who work or have worked with remote teams, we are sometimes required to be available or “on call” during certain hours in case something urgent comes up. Even if that’s not your case, I strongly recommend blocking a certain number of hours a day where you are going to work. And don’t let anything (or almost anything) get in the way of it. At the end of the day, what’s the point of working remotely if you can’t take advantage of the freedom?
I personally concentrate better early in the morning and like to spend the afternoon doing non-work related things (sometimes it’s not that simple, though). I would always work from 8am to around 2:30pm when I take a lunch break (Spanish lunch time) and then continue for a few more hours in the afternoon. The evenings and nights are for everything else but work: hanging out with friends, hitting the gym or just staying at home doing nothing. This actually brings me to my next point.
No one can work for over 8 hours a day without taking a few breaks along the way and still be productive. Some studies even show that working more than 40 or 50 hours a week is useless. I have sometimes pulled out marathon work sessions (up to 16 hours/day in some cases) without taking hardly any breaks and it is definitely counterproductive.
Take breaks before you start feeling tired. Decide what’s a good time interval for you (every 2-3 hours) and disconnect for a few minutes: go get yourself a coffee, run a quick errand, exercise, call a friend… but leave your workspace. Go outside, get some fresh air and try to keep your hands away from your professional email for a few minutes. I personally can’t take a break if I am in the same environment (or mood) I have been working in for hours.
Make a workspace for yourself
Along the same lines as the previous paragraph: differentiate between work and fun. Better yet, separate work from the rest of your life. Don’t work in the same room you sleep in, eat in, etc. If your apartment is big enough, dedicate a room strictly for work purposes and create your own home office. Just make sure it’s not your bedroom. Invest some money and get yourself a nice table, chair (you are going to be using it for a long time) and all the tools you might need.
If you can’t do that, then I strongly recommend you visit your local coworking space, a worker-friendly coffee shop (many of them are not happy with having you take over their tables for hours in exchange for just one coffee) or even a library if you don’t have to make phone calls. Again, this can also sound completely opposite to the philosophy of working from home, but once again, it makes sense: You still have the freedom to choose your workspace and change it as many times as you want. Whether you are living full time in one city or are hopping around from country to country, your “commuting” routine would be a lot better than for a traditional 9-5 job.
Define your priorities
Sometimes just writing a to-do list is not enough. Especially if you have too many items, you can easily get lost in it and start randomly performing tasks like a robot without following any order or prioritizing. Instead of the usual to-do list with random items one after another, you can use a matrix where you classify tasks into four sections depending on how important and urgent they are.
This is called Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle:
Another tool to organize your day and define your priorities can be Google Calendar. Or any other calendar you might use. You probably already use it to schedule calls or some external meetings. However, if it’s proving difficult for you to concentrate and get stuff done, it could be a good idea to use it to organize your tasks through the day. That way, if you have a tedious task you hate doing, you won’t keep postponing it until it’s too late.
Other people like to split their day in two or more blocks, i.e: schedule all their calls or meetings in the morning and dedicate their afternoons for back-office tasks. Whatever works best for you, every profession is a different world and requires individual preparation.
To all remote workers: What do you do to be more productive? Feel free to share your tips in the comments section below!