6 tricks to help you be a productive remote worker

So you've decided to work remotely. You've exchanged your co-workers for your cats, and your work shoes for slippers. Then it hits you - without your cubicle or  open-plan office, how will you stay on task and be productive?

I've been working remotely for over ten years now. Out of necessity, I've come up with a few ways to stay focused and productive in the face of distractions.

1. Develop a Routine

When your office is your laptop, it's easy to work whatever schedule you feel like, which can mean no schedule at all. Before you know it, you stop showering and your verbal communication skills devolve into a series of grunts. Equally dangerous is overworking yourself. As work time bleeds into play time, you can find yourself in a perpetual "gray area" and will eventually burn out.

Another reason routing is critical is that it's helpful to your co-workers if they know when they can count on you to be available. If you start work at 9am one day, and 4pm the next, you won't seem dependable.

I personally stick with being online by 8:30am (preceded by a morning run when I'm up for it), and I insist on a lunch break at noon sharp. I'm offline by 6pm, sometimes earlier. Errands get run outside those hours, as does play time.

2. Daily Goals

Some people swear by the Pomodoro technique for time and task management. If that works for you, great! I prefer a much simpler plan of writing a daily To-Do list of things I hope to get done that day. Don't overdo it, and break things down into small tasks so you can feel some progress throughout the day. I'm currently using Wunderlist for this (it plays a satisfying "ding!" when you've finished a task), but I've also used a plain old notebook or whiteboard.

3. Dedicated Work Area - Sometimes

A lot of "remote working tips" articles stress the importance of finding a spot to make your "quiet work place." A lot of this advice is tied to establishing a routine and enforcing separate boundaries for work and play time (see above). However, I've also found exposure to other human energy is sometimes reinvigorating. Being stuck in a spare-bedroom-turned-office every day with your cats can get a little stale. If you're starting to feel like that, make sure you get out once in a while to a local coffeeshop or library, or find other remote working buddies to hang out with. You can use a site like workfrom.io to find a great office outpost for a day or other working nomads.


4. Turn off distractions

This is the rule I most frequently break. If you lack self control, use a browser like StayFocusd to keep sites like Reddit and Hacker News at bay. Turn off the Twitter client. If you have a young family at home, you'll probably need a separate space to focus on work, otherwise the lure of play time (or the obligations of parenting time) will too often bleed into work time.

5. Overcommunicate

Make sure your colleagues know what you're up to. Stay in the chat room and be connected. Use video calls often - a lot of the nuance of communication gets lost in pure text and humanizing your coworkers keeps everybody happy.

6. Reward Yourself!

Did you have a particularly productive day? Nailed a big item on that to-do list? Take a quick break! Go for a walk outside, spend a few minutes on Twitter, plan a vacation, or play with your kids if you have them. Humans work on a work/reward system, don't deny yourself the occasional dopamine!

Most Importantly, Enjoy Your Freedom

You took on working remotely for a reason. The isolation can seem daunting at first, but with discipline and consistency, the rewards can be fantastic. The reasons for giving up the commute are different for everyone - take a few minutes every day to remind yourself why it's right for you.

Cat Photo Credit (Creative Commons): Andrew Belenko

Laptop in Coffeeshop Photo Credit (Creative Commons): Robin Elizabeth