Remote Work Productivity Guide: How To Maintain Productivity Without Working In A Typical Office Environment
From pets begging for attention to parents (or partners) bothering for seemingly trifling issues, working from home isn’t all fun and games. Without a typical office environment, the possible distractions are endless.
Read this guide to improve your productivity outside the office, with actionable tips you can put to use right away.
PRODUCTIVITY CHALLENGES IN REMOTE WORK: WHY THEY HAPPEN
While remote work certainly has its advantages — no commute (which translates to time and money savings), ability to tailor your work environment, the potential for better work-life balance — these pros come with some cons.
Distractions, indolence, and isolation — often coupled with difficulty to unplug from work-related stress and overworking to the point of burnout — can all seriously impact your productivity. So, maintaining peak productivity levels as a remote worker isn’t easy, let alone building and empowering a remote team to do great work.
That being said, with some proper preparation, careful planning, nifty tools, and actionable best practices, hitting new heights of productivity is totally doable. Let’s dive into the how.
HOW TO BUILD A PRODUCTIVE REMOTE WORKING ENVIRONMENT
Before we look at some tried-and-true tips to maintain peak remote work productivity, let’s look at the steps involved in building a productive remote working environment.
Step 1. Create a dedicated working space
When working remotely, it’s easy to become too comfortable on the bed or couch. This can quickly lead to lethargy, something that destroys productivity.
So, it’s not a good idea to work from your bed or the couch — spaces that your mind associates with leisure time.
Instead, set up a dedicated workspace that’s devoid of distractions — consisting of a clean, well-lit desk with nothing but the essentials you need to work productively.
You can set up a workspace in a spare room or the corner of your own room, as long as you treat it as a place for purely work-related activities.
Step 2. Set expectations with others in your home
Unless you live alone, you likely have people and/or pets around. But while it’s great to have the company of your loved ones 24/7, make sure they appreciate the fact that you are indeed working from home and have dedicated working hours.
If you share your workspace with another remote working adult, communicate clear expectations regarding when you’re available for chit-chat and which hours are work time.
So, in essence, make members of your home understand that you need a quiet environment to focus and work productively.
Step 3. Divide “work” from “home”
Along the same lines, working efficiently from home means treating your workday like you would when you went to the office. This includes:
- Setting office hours: Set things like household chores, errands, and family time aside for non-working hours.
- Giving yourself boundaries: On the flip side, it’s easy to let your work life seep into your personal life. So, set clear boundaries about when your workday ends.
- Managing notifications: Constant pings from your team won’t help your productivity. So when it’s time for deep work, mute notifications in your company’s chat app and read them once you’re done with your task. And, of course, it’s a good idea to disable social media notifications as well.
- Dressing up professionally: It may seem unnecessary, but the simple act of getting out of your sleepwear and dressing up, doing your hair, etc., can signal your brain it’s time to get things done, and thus, boost your productivity.
Simply put, try to separate your work life from your personal life and approach everything professionally, as you would if you were working from the office.
Step 4. Personalize your approach
While these steps and tips are sure to help, there is no universal approach to productive work from home. Everyone works differently.
So, adjust your approach to your needs. For example, if you know you can easily get distracted if you go to the kitchen for a quick bite, bring your snacks into your home office at the start of the workday. Of course, this is not to promote binging on unhealthy munchies — snack smartly!
Or, if having your fur baby beside you helps, not distracts, then go ahead. If reading a few pages from your favorite books every half an hour helps, feel free to have a stack on your work desk.
Step 5. Create to-do lists and structure your workday
Build semi-concrete plans to structure your workday, like you would in the office. These plans outline the tasks you need to complete in your working hours so you don’t get lost in the flow.
Creating a quick to-do list of tasks (with or without time limits) first thing in the morning will ease your workflow for the day. It’ll also keep you motivated as you cross tasks off the list and let you take breaks without guilt.
For this, you can build an Excel calendar to plan your day, week, or even the month ahead. You can also use a weekly schedule template to keep track of your task lists and establish a regular routine.
PRODUCTIVITY TIPS TO TRY
With a productive work environment and mindset in place, here are eight actionable tips for raising your remote work productivity.
1. Schedule screen breaks
Ultimately, your goal is to get the job done in the most efficient way possible. Gluing yourself to the screen even when you’re unproductive isn’t doing anyone any good.
So, consider scheduling 5-10 minute time-outs after every hour or so. You could take a break as a reward for each task you check off your to-do list (this also helps as an incentive), when you hit a creative block, or when you just can’t seem to focus and need to refresh your brain.
Stand up and stretch your muscles. Get a little (healthy!) snack in your belly, play with your pet, walk around a bit, socialize with whoever’s home (or on a quick call with a friend), and then get back to your desk. Avoid checking social media or any sort of mindless scrolling.
You’ll likely notice an instant boost in productivity and, as a result, get more done in less time.
2. Make time for human connection
Introvert or extrovert, humans are indeed social animals. When working from a nook in your home, you don’t have those watercooler chats and other random talks that make each day at the office a bit more engaging.
Fix this by being proactive in staying connected with your team. Chat with colleagues from diverse backgrounds and teams every day, even if it’s not work-related. Just knowing about their workload or what’s going on in their everyday lives will make a huge difference in chasing away feelings of detachment.
And of course, frequent texting over Slack/Skype or having quick watercooler video calls also indicate that you’re actually available and working instead of napping.
3. Use productivity tools
It’s 2022, and there’s a tool or app for just about everything. Especially tools for a pressing matter like productivity.
There are great planning tools like Trello and Toggl Plan, time management tools like RescueTime and DeskTime, and ambiance tools like IMissTheOffice (if you miss and need the office bustle to get work done). Take your pick!
4. Raise concerns with your team
As would be the case when working in-office, you’re bound to face some kind of challenge each workday, work or non-work related.
Openly raising your concerns directly with your manager is a great way to fix things fast. But if that doesn’t always seem like the correct course of action, talking about your challenges with close colleagues you can confide in can help you foster healthy team camaraderie.
For example, if you feel like the number or length of meetings is getting out of hand, chat about it with a coworker you’re close with. They likely share the same sentiment, and consequently, you won’t feel as frustrated as you would if you keep that thought to yourself.
5. Do transition activities
As talked about in the first tip, screen breaks are crucial. Work from home means no commute. And no commute means you have additional time to take breaks that help your productivity.
So when you finish a task, before you move on to the next task, do a transition activity that refreshes your mind. For example, taking a walk, yoga, stretching, meditation, journaling — whatever floats your boat.
These activities help you shift your headspace before beginning a new task.
6. Use exercise to clear your head
Exercise isn’t just beneficial for your physical fitness but your mental health as well.
Working out boosts blood flow to the brain, which helps to sharpen your mind. So the sense of fulfillment after a good morning workout will leave you more energetic and confident to tackle your workday with better efficiency.
Even a short (15-30 minute) workout raises your endorphin levels which consequently increase your happiness, creativity, and productivity levels. So, try to incorporate a morning workout routine which can be a blend of a walk or run and bodyweight exercises or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) at home.
7. Set priorities and stick to them
Priorities, they tease.
For a typical workday, we usually know what our priority tasks are in terms of either the timeline or the level of difficulty (or both). But many of us choose to tackle the easiest tasks first and tell ourselves that we’ll tackle the most challenging or weighty ones later in the day.
This is understandable, as you might think checking more manageable tasks off the list first can give you the motivation and tempo to tackle the trickier ones as you proceed.
But guess what? In terms of productivity, that’s usually a bad approach.
Because for most of us, the morning hours are the most productive ones. So we’re wasting our most focused hours on low-priority tasks, and by the time we get to the important stuff, we’re already down on focus and energy.
Thus, do this instead: eat the frog — identify the most challenging task for the day and do it first. Why? Because it’s liberating not to spend a good chunk of your day in constant dread of that scary task at the back of your head.
8. Plan your day around your productivity rhythms
Many remote companies allow a somewhat flexible work schedule where employees can set their own working hours, usually with some overlap with their team. This lets you tap into what’s known as your productivity cycle (or ultradian rhythm) and make better use of your most productive hours.
Similar to the well-known circadian rhythms that relate to sleep-wake cycles, the ultradian performance rhythms are all about following your body’s natural work-rest cycles to reduce fatigue and improve productivity.
Try to determine your daily peak performance hours, then structure your workday to fit your productive hours and reserve the slower hours for less demanding tasks. Additionally, group tasks together so you can get into a flow.
Optimizing your workday around your natural productivity rhythms can greatly reduce the stress that can occur when you struggle to finish a task and your brain simply won’t cooperate.
Check out this great guide on using ultradian rhythms to achieve peak productivity.
As you’ve realized by now, working from home isn’t as easy as it seems. Endless distractions, a sense of isolation, and the feeling of being “stuck in a rut” can make you glum and take a toll on your productivity.
But by applying these actionable tips and ideas in your daily routine, working remotely at peak levels of creativity and efficiency is very much possible while also improving your work-life balance.
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