Maintaining high productivity while working remotely can be a challenge. But the upsides of working remotely far outweighs the difficulty of staying on task.
Did you know remote workers make an average of $4,000 more annually than their in-office counterparts, according to one study?
And while many remote workers (and their employers) say productivity has gone up amid an increase in remote work from home due to the global pandemic, it doesn’t always feel that way.
As a remote worker, you’ve surely had “those days” when you feel like your non-job life got in the way of getting your work done: your doorbell rang too often; your kids were super-needy; the siren call of Netflix was just too strong.
So today, we’d like to share a few time-tested remote work tips for better productivity based on research and advice from long-time remote workers to help you stay more productive while working remotely—whether working from home or anywhere else.
1. Create a Dedicated Space
In order to be most productive, it’s important that you create a dedicated space for your work. If you work from home, having a room dedicated to work is ideal. But that doesn’t mean you have to convert one of your kids’ bedrooms into an office or that you have to fork over the money to remodel your home.
If finding a dedicated space in your own home isn’t a possibility, you still have options. Consider whether a relative or friend may have space to accommodate you, make use of local public space like a library, or sign up for a small room in a co-working space.
The goal here is to find a place where your brain can identify it’s time to work. It's difficult to get work done when your desk is in the same place to you do other things (like eat, sleep, or relax).
2. Set Clear Expectations
Once you’re set up in your dedicated space, it’s time to also set clear boundaries and expectations with the people who influence your work. Those two primary parties are your family (or whomever you live with in your house—including pets) and your coworkers (including your team and your boss).
Setting Boundaries with Family
If you work at home, something as simple as saying “when my door is shut, I’m working and can’t be bothered” can have a tremendous impact on your productivity.
Take time to set boundaries with your family, roommate or partner to understand and agree on where you’ll be working, how to know if you can’t be interrupted, and what your work hours are.
Setting Boundaries with Coworkers
The only way to make the first half of this equation work successfully is to succeed at the second portion: setting boundaries with your coworkers and boss.
They should also know when you’re “in the office” and when you’re unavailable. In businesses that haven't fully adopted asynchronous communication, teammates and bosses can come to expect an email or Slack response at all hours of the day. That’s just not healthy. Instead, establish a reasonable response timeframe (in both directions) to alleviate the 'drop everything' expectation, and ensure your personal time can be respected.
3. Focus on Difficult Tasks First
When you’re working remotely, you naturally have less in-person immediate accountability. Your boss can’t walk up behind you and see that you’re actually catching up on your favorite Hulu show instead of finishing up that important presentation.
That’s why it’s critical to keep yourself accountable. One great way to do that is to accomplish the most difficult (or undesirable) tasks on your to-do list first. While you might think tackling smaller, simpler tasks can build momentum, important research claims otherwise. Avoiding difficult tasks can cause an overwhelming pileup of important work which leads to fatigue.
Instead, break down important difficult tasks into manageable bites and take them on first thing in the day. This way, you also give your best energy to the project (before the workday takes its toll).
4. Systematize Your To-do List
Often, we feel less productive when our to-do list continues to grow instead of shrink. And while some studies show many of us are a sucker for a good to-do list, if they become unruly or never-ending, they can feel soul-crushing. The solution here lies in building a reliable system for yourself. Instead of having multiple to-do lists (one on your phone, one made of sticky notes, another in your head), consolidate all tasks into one place.
Then, when tasks come in, they all go onto one list (without exception). You can also use tools like ClickUp or Trello to set priorities, add details, create due dates, and lots more. You’ll find yourself getting more done when you have a system you’re devoted to following every time a new task comes in.
5. Automate Simple Tasks
As your to-do list grows, you might start to notice small, almost annoying tasks that seem to clog up your task list every day or week. One key productivity hack when working remotely is to automate the tasks you can. For example, if you’re a remote freelancer, you can automate tasks such as invoicing, payment collection or client communication.
If you work for a company remotely, consider using automation tools like Calendly to schedule meetings or set up rules in your email to automatically organize emails based on task or priority.
You can also explore thousands of potential automation tools like Zapier or IFTTT where you can connect some of your favorite and most-used work apps to get more done in less time.
6. Communicate Asynchronously
In addition to automating many of your remote work tasks, you should also offload your communication strain by focusing on asynchronously communicating with your team, clients, or boss.
The fact is, synchronous communication (where conversations must happen in real-time) just isn’t ideal for remote work. Instead, you can leverage tools like Loom, Slack or ZipMessage to communicate with your coworkers on each member’s timetable. This allows for fewer interruptions and a much more inclusive remote work-from-home environment.
7. Develop Meaningful Habits & Find a Routine
Finally, staying productive as a remote worker relies heavily on your ability to develop meaningful habits and find a good routine. If you have to re-convince yourself each morning to open your laptop and get to work, you’re doing it wrong.
In fact, James Clear, in his life-changing book Atomic Habits, explains just how much good habits impact your willpower:
“The power of a ritual, or what I like to call a pre-game routine, is that it provides a mindless way to initiate your behavior. It makes starting your habits easier and that means following through on a consistent basis is easier.”
Having to re-invent your schedule, your processes, and your work habits each day from scratch just leads to burnout and a major fall in productivity. Instead, build healthy, worthwhile habits like starting each day with exercise, only checking email and IM at fixed intervals once or twice per day, and leaving your desk to eat. The more habits you develop, the stronger your overall remote work routine will be and the more productive you’ll become.
These remote work tips are just the beginning when it comes to being more productive as a remote worker. To start, experiment with a few ideas above. See what works for you, your loved ones, and your workmates. Adjust as you go, learn from yourself, and track your productivity over time to measure improvement. Becoming more productive isn’t something you can achieve overnight, but little by little, you can make it happen.