So you’ve landed the remote job of your dreams. Congratulations! Now the real work starts.
While there’s overwhelming research out there suggesting working remotely leads to better productivity, this doesn’t always happen automatically. Staying motivated and productive is almost an entirely new ball game when you’re working remotely - without a team around you, it can be easy to lose direction, then get bored and distracted.
Here are some of our favourite ways to make sure you stay productive, wherever you are. While these productivity tips are designed especially for remote workers, there’s no reason why you couldn’t apply these in an office setting either!
1. The standard rules apply
Just because you’re not working in a formal office, doesn’t mean there are no rules. Things like not surfing Youtube endlessly, or chatting away on Facebook during ‘working hours’ still apply. Turn off your notifications, put your phone away, and stop trying to multitask. You’ll not only be more productive, you’ll be happier for it (we swear).
It also helps if you apply principles to yourself as if you were working in an office. Research shows you should keep up habits you would have as if you were still going to an office. Things like changing out of your pyjamas in the morning into more serious attire, setting up a designated workplace for yourself (rather than working from bed), and even going on a daily coffee run for yourself helps you get into the right mindset to work, and also helps set the right boundaries. The last thing you want is to get sick of your own home because work life has bled into your personal time.
Mindset and motivation are particularly important when it comes to remote-work. Yes, you should be more productive because you’re in an environment of your choosing and making, but it’s also easier than ever to get bored and head down the hall to crawl back into bed. The key is feeling professional, no matter where you are.
2. Do your to-do list the night before
Working remotely often means you might only touch base with your team once-a-day, if not, less. Here at The Institute of Code, our courses keep various members of our team constantly on the go, so regular chats are often impossible to come by. That’s why being proactive is particularly important.
It’s easy to start relying on your boss swinging by your desk every few minutes, dropping piles of work on top of you. Hell, if your team stretches across time zones, you might not even hear a peep from your manager until you finish your work day. Sometimes, it’s just easier to just be reactive. But when your team is remote, staying reactive is not always a good idea.
One of our favourite life hacks for increasing your proactivity is to do your to-do list the night before. Going through what you accomplished is a satisfying way to wrap a day, and waking up with a ready to-do list helps you start your day with purpose (it’s all about mindset, see?). It also helps you not run out of things to do by preventing you from having to rely on instruction, especially if you usually make your to-do list up as you go along. All of this helps you work with more purpose and feel more proactive.
3. Work in public
Working in the cafe is probably the poster child for a liberated, make-your-own-schedule entrepreneur, life-coach or remote worker. It’s also often seen as an exercise in bad productivity.
But research actually shows working in a cafe can actually help you get more done for several reasons. Firstly, one study proved a low level of noise, like a cafe’s ambient noise, can actually help you focus better than if there was no noise. Secondly, you’ll also experience the Hawthorne Effect, where you behave better when there’s a possibility of people watching you. Even if the people surrounding you are complete strangers, their presences mean there’s less of a chance you’ll spend your time bumming around on Facebook.
4. Start your day right - nice and early
You’ve probably heard the benefits of getting up early too many times. It makes you happier, decreases stress-levels and increases your productivity. But when you’re working remotely, where one of the major benefits is flexibility, getting your work done early has another benefit.
It gives you the rest of the day to do things you’d rather do.
No-one likes to finish their work day, only to head outside when it’s already dark. As much as it’s tempting to wake up later in the morning just because you don’t have a boss keeping their eye on your punch-in times, don’t drag out your working day. This makes it harder to make time for anything else. However, by getting up early you start your working day earlier, giving yourself a better chance to get everything done way before the sun sets.
Imagine this - say you wake up at 5 AM, workout, eat breakfast, meditate, and start your work day at 7 AM. If you put in a standard 8 hour day, you finish work at 3 PM, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the rest of your day. But if you woke up at 9 AM, started work at 10 AM or 11 AM, you’d be finishing up around 6 PM or 7 PM. By then, all the sun would have already gone, and this would make anyone sad.
Eat your frogs early
There’s quite a lot of research out there suggesting willpower is a limited resource which depletes as you use it. For example, pushing yourself out of the bed in the morning, avoiding social media and going for a run, all use up willpower. The more willpower you use, the harder it gets to will yourself to do the things you need to do.
Because mental energy is limited, it’s a good habit to get into to do all the biggest, hardest tasks first. Pushing them until later on in the day decreases the chance you’ll get them done. So don’t procrastinate and eat your frogs first thing in the morning!
Almost all the most successful people in the world rise early and have a set morning routine. Some are pretty weird - many involve freezing cold showers, and yelling positive things at yourself in the mirror. Just read a few excerpts from Tools of Titans and you’ll see what we’re talking about.
Now it’s not necessary to incorporate all those habits into your own morning routine (you’d never start work at that rate) but having your own morning routine is important because - say it with me - it puts you in the right mindset. It gives you something to look forward to in the morning, which helps with waking up early.
One important thing to remember about building new habits is to not try everything at the same time - your habits will never stick that way. Try to take on only one new habit every 30 ish days. Research proves by limiting yourself to only one habit at a time, you have an 80% chance of retaining it for a year, whereas taking on 2 drops your chances to 35%. Taking on 3 or more and your chances plummet to 5% and lower.
For example, if you’re not already waking up early, that’s going to be your challenge for the next 30-days. Don’t try to add exercise or only eating lettuce for breakfast into the mix. Your motivation will stay a lot higher, meaning you’ll have a better chance at meeting your goal down the track.
For remote workers, especially those who travel frequently, an entire office has to fit into a backpack. That’s why you need to make everything you carry with you will help you get sh*t done. In order to help you do so, you need to invest in the right tools.
For the travelling remote worker, a good laptop is a must. Buying a cheap Chrome book might initially seem like a good idea - spending less money on your gear means more cash your travels, right? But slow computers are chronic enemies of productivity and if you get stuck somewhere where the WiFi is weak or suddenly your workload changes to demand more from your computer, your working days will be dominated by frustration rather than productivity.
For those who are mainly working from home, investing in a second (or a bigger screen) can multiply your productivity by helping you manage multiple windows easier. While multitasking is usually detrimental to your workflow, modern day work often means juggling multiple screens is often inevitable, so set yourself up to be in control.
There are also apps that can help keep you on track throughout your day.
- Newsfeed Obliterator - This Chrome add-on hides the Facebook Newsfeed in your browser. It’s not an uncommon habit for people to just type in “Facebook.com” when they get bored. The Newsfeed Obliterator hides the most distracting part of Facebook, so you don’t end up getting side-tracked mindlessly
- Pomodoro timer - A Pomodoro technique divides your time up into chunks. Usually, the schedule is set to 25 minutes of work, then 5 minutes break. This technique is great for helping you get focused by setting short ‘sprints’ of focus. The ‘default’ arrangement definitely not for everyone (coders, for example, who need long periods of intense focus, might find the breaks annoying), so you might need to do a bit of experimentation to find out what works best for you.
- Brain.fm - A little bit of sound is proven to help you focus better, so why not choose to listen to music that is designed to help you focus? Brain.fm plays ‘binaural beats’; music that is designed to influence your brainwaves to help you focus. Sound a bit sci-fi? There’s been extensive research demonstrating music’s ability to affect the brain’s ability to function. Just check out the research here, here and here.
6. Good Communication is Key
Working with a remote team or freelancing remotely is like maintaining a long-distance relationship. Time zones and distance don’t matter! It’s all about how effectively you communicate.
Just like any relationship, miscommunication and misunderstandings can make mountains out of molehills. It’s important you communicate everything clearly to maintain team transparency and to keep everyone updated with what you’re doing. This prevents work overlap or your client assuming you’re not getting anything done.
Many good remote teams aim to over-communicate to avoid missing out on details. However, it’s then very easy to get overwhelmed waking up to an overflowing inbox every morning and red notification bubbles everywhere. In order prevent inbox burnout, try to use specific communication platforms for specific reasons - for example, we use Slack for day-to-day messaging (we never email each other), Skype to video-call each other for meetings, Asana to manage our weekly sprints and daily to-do lists.
It’s also important to make sure you’re also setting an agenda and goal for each video call, or else short meetings turn into long, meandering conversations. For team members who are in different time zones, this can start to heavily impact their schedules and eat into productivity time.
Set up the right processes
The right habits and processes are what set high-performing teams apart. Even if communication can be hard to come by, committing to a few designated regular conversations can save a lot of time down the track.
- Daily Standups - A process first started by Agile development teams, a daily standup is where team members can update each other on what their daily tasks are. Standups should be kept extremely short and to the point. We use Slack app, Geekbot, to help us run stand-ups asynchronously.
- Demo days once-a-week - Two-minute stand-ups often aren’t enough to demonstrate the nuances of the hard work you’ve been doing. That’s why once-a-week, it’s good to have an extended show-and-tell session, where all the team members can catch-up and show each other what they’ve been working on.
- Team retreats - Team retreats, where team members fly in from wherever they are in the world and work together in person, is a vital part of team building for remote teams. It’s a good chance for team members to meet in person, and for the entire company to reflect on everyone’s achievements.
7. Get out of the house
Working from your home away from your team can get pretty lonely. For freelancers, it can also easily invite overworking and taking on more work than you should.
The only vaccine against overwork is to make sure you get out of the house every day. When you work from home, you won’t have a space to leave when you wrap up for the day, which can make your work hard to compartmentalise, making it easy for cabin fever to creep in.
That’s why is important to get out, whether it be for a run, or to see a friend. That ensures you get a mental break, so when you are going home, that means you have finished your working day, just as you would if you were commuting to and from a physical office.
These are 7 ways to stay productive, even when you’re far away from who you’re working with. If we are to believe the stats, remote work seems to be the future of the workplace, so start forming these habits early, and you’ll be ready to fire on all cylinders first thing in the morning!
Written by: Josh Li
Digital Marketer at Institute of Code