13 tips for staying productive while working remotely

Many people are now enjoying the benefits of working remotely. It is estimated that currently 38% of employees around the world now work in a hybrid office where they are remote at least part time, according to Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index.

In fact, by the year 2028, it is estimated that over 70% of teams will include remote employees. 

The perks are obvious, but many people struggle to stay motivated when no one is looking over their shoulder. It’s tempting to sleep in late and then pay the price for missing deadlines. It’s common to feel like you’re always on the clock.

Whether you’re an employee working remotely, self -employed and working from home, or a digital nomad, it can be challenging to stay productive. It means creating your own structure and goals and it’s up to you to design a workspace that makes you feel motivated. 

As a husband-and-wife team that has worked remotely on and off for the last 10 years, we thought we’d share our top 13 tips with you for staying productive while working remotely. 

1. Find a workspace you like 

It doesn’t have to be an office. It may be a quiet nook, a café buzzing with energy, a library or the kitchen bench. Think about what stimulates you and find similar places whenever you travel. It is best if it is something official that you associate with work however, rather than somewhere you relax and unwind. 

2. Create the atmosphere for work 

It may be energising music that helps you focus, or noise cancelling headphones. Or perhaps a coffee puts you in the mood for work. A study using 700 employees found that a positive environment can improve productivity by up to 12%.

This is hardly surprising, and all the more reason to improve your work environment and make it a place you’d like to be. 

3. Set a realistic goal

Your goal could be working for a certain time (30 minutes is a good start), or accomplishing a short task, like writing the introduction for an article. Whatever you’re working on, break it down into achievable steps so you experience success quickly. Teachers do this for their students, so it’s reasonable that this strategy would work for adults too. You are your own boss (at least some of the time when you’re working remotely) so treat yourself well.

4. Eliminate distractions

It can be easy to check social media at home with no one monitoring you. But the minutes can add up and slow you down. Try putting all your devices on silent, or logging out of all social accounts online. 

If you have family or others at home, it’s important when they know you are working. Just because you’re home doesn’t mean you’re there to socialise.

Checking email constantly can become another way to procrastinate. If your job doesn’t require you to be available 24/7, then you could check your inbox in between tasks as a short break.

5. Give yourself a reward

Be kind to yourself. Remote workers are often self-starters and self-motivated types, but they are not super-human.  There are probably other things you’d prefer to be doing. If you asked someone else for a favour, you’d probably pay them, or give them something in return. Do the same for yourself. Treating yourself to a latte or checking social media may be a big enough motivation to finish that pesky task. 

6. Have clear work hours

Not every time of the day is optimal for working. Find a time when you work best and try to do some work at that time every day. Maybe it’s first thing in the morning before children are awake. Maybe it’s when your toddler goes down for a nap. Or maybe it’s starting at 9am every day. Stick to your work hours if you can so you’re on autopilot and you’ll find it less difficult to motivate yourself.

7. Separate work and personal life

One of the biggest issues for those who work from home is the tendency to merge work and personal life, which is ironic as the main reason why people choose to work remotely is for a better work- life balance.

Setting boundaries can help you create a clear distinction between work and personal time. Just make sure you let colleagues know your work hours so you have time to unwind without being reminded about work, if possible. 

8. Stay one step ahead

The day before, write what you want to do the following day. At the very least, write down the first task of the day. The you’ll be able to get straight to work without too much brain effort.  

9. Be prepared

If you need internet, make sure the place you choose has a good connection. You might be someone who needs paper and a pen or sticky notes to jot down note. If you’re on the go, pack your charger as you might get on a roll and be forced to stop. So many things can interrupt a good work flow, don’t let unpreparedness be one of them.

10. Show off your work 

Some people find it encouraging to show someone their work when they’re done. Creative types might have something physical to show for their effort. Others may just let their collages or clients know they’ve completed a task. People thrive in community and working remotely doesn’t mean you need to be invisible. 

11. Break the day up 

Plan a change after you have completed your task, especially if your works involves being creative. It may simply be cashing in the reward you promised yourself, like ordering a latte. Or you may need to take a walk. Some people find switching to an unrelated task helps, or getting a domestic chore out of the way like hanging laundry or washing the car.

That way you’re still being productive, just in a different way, and you’re giving your creative mind time to process and refresh before exacting more from it. 

12. Keep in touch with current research and technology 

Know what’s going on in your field around the world. Being out of the office doesn’t mean you have to stop stretching yourself professionally. Find role models who are better than you at your job so you have professional goals you’re working towards. 

13. Start the worst task first

Try putting the hardest task first and rewarding yourself afterwards with a more pleasant one. Mark Twain famously said that if you have to eat a frog, then it’s best done first thing in the morning so your worst job is behind you for the day.

Making a remote work-life sustainable

With these 13 tips you’re off to a good start.  But how do you thrive as a remote worker day in and day out? 

It’s important to set big goals as well as small ones. Consider the big goal you’re working towards in the next 6- 12 months while working remotely. Is it something you’re convinced is important and worth your time? If it is, it will help you get up in the morning and you’ll be able to keep going day in and day out. Remind yourself of the goal regularly. Of course, it helps if the role is something you enjoy doing, something that is at least partly geared towards your interests and strengths. 

Humans thrive in community, like we mentioned before. Even introverts need people, albeit in smaller doses. A weekly zoom meeting over a coffee with colleagues may help you stay connected, as could a daily phone call or messaging while you work. Having a date when you will eventually meet face to face can help too, such as an annual conference with colleagues or others in the same line of work. 

Working from home is something that more and more people want to do. When surveyed, 69% of millennials said they would like to work at least partly from home, even if it meant giving up certain work benefits.

But no matter how much people crave the freedom of a flexible work life, it has its challenges. Taking the time to offset the pitfalls like setting goals, creating a pleasant workspace and eliminating distractions means you are giving yourself the best chance to remain productive for the long haul. 

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