Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work was on the rise. After the pandemic, 88% of the organizations worldwide have encouraged their employees to work remotely…. or more specifically, from home due to the mobility restrictions and lockdowns, which can represent a bigger challenge to productivity: How to effectively focus on work from your house or apartment?
To address this issue, a few months ago we shared a checklist when starting to work from home in which a few productivities tips were included, however, since keeping a high productivity with a healthy work-life balance is one of the biggest challenges that many are experiencing when working from home we wanted to dig deeper into this topic, by giving a series of specific tips to improve it.
Let’s go through 10 tips to improve your work from home productivity:
- Invest in a Noise and Distraction Free, Comfortable Home Workspace
- Create and Stick to a Routine Taking your Energy Levels into Consideration
- Plan your work ahead list your to-do’s establishing Tasks Priorities
- Block “Focus Work” Time in Your Calendar and set a maximum Number of meetings per Day
- Run Meetings Efficiently and when there’s a real need
- Mute Alerts and Block Non-Work Apps During intensive Work time
- Take Breaks during your workday
- Practice Self-Care
- Track your time with Tools
- Do Cross-Accountability Checks with Colleagues
- Bonus: Work on something you love, somewhere you love too
1. Invest in a Noise and Distraction Free, Comfortable Home Workspace
Although it might sound pretty obvious, many people don’t realize the true advantage of setting up a devoted workspace. A workspace in your home will not only set you apart from all the happenings that are taking place at home that can become distractions, but also to better control your working times, and leave work “behind” and disconnect when you finish your workday by leaving your home workspace.
To make it as distraction free as possible, it would be ideal that this workspace is in a dedicated room if possible -one that others in your household know that they can’t enter to if the door is closed-, and if not, in a location that is as isolated as possible -a corner of your living room, for example-, although well illuminated, with enough light and comfortable temperature to be at during most of the day.
It’s also highly advisable to invest in a few essentials for a highly functional and comfortable workspace:
- “Do not disturb” rules: Let others know that if you’re sitting in your workspace you’re “out of reach” and they shouldn’t disturb you unless there’s an emergency (the same type for which they would call you to the office). Establish an easy to understand system, like putting a “Do Not Disturb” sign when you have a call or doing a task that requires “higher focus”.
- An ergonomic chair: Where you can sit comfortably, that can also help to have a good posture while sitting there during 8 (!) hours, and avoid issues with your back! We’ve gone through a few office chairs for your home office here.
- A small home office desk: That allows you to safely store work related documentation, with the ideal height also to work comfortably in a good posture. We have reviewed a few here too.
- A laptop stand: That will also highly facilitate good posture and airflow. We have gone through a few of the best ones in the market here.
- Noise-Cancelling Headphones: Ideally with microphones to help you isolate from external noise (especially when you don’t have a dedicated room to work from) and easily run online meetings with more privacy. We’ve also reviewed a few of the best known ones here.
Headphones in particular can be useful not only to isolate from external distractions, but also to help you better focus by listening to that music you know will help you to concentrate, like classical music, white noises, or even using apps and services like Brain.fm that offers functional music to improve focus.
John McGowan, Founder & Principal Consultant at Attribution Digital, says:
“Music that you don’t love and you don’t hate, just somewhere in the middle. Zero distracting lyrics (instrumental), and ideally adjusting the style of music to the type of work i.e. fast paced for urgent work, slower / atmospheric / downtempo for creative, considered, deep work…Understanding your distractions & removing them. Headphones for noisy environments, … enforcing strict Do Not Disturb times for housemates, family members, and nosey (friendly) pets.”
2. Create and Stick to a Routine Taking your Energy Levels into Consideration
To boost your remote work productivity, you must create a routine taking into consideration your own work schedule, your team/clients timezones, your energy levels, and of course, your non-work commitments, and once you establish one that you see that works well: stick to it.
Rachel Vandernick, Digital Marketing consultant, says:
“Adjust your working hours to your best brain power hours. Most of my work gets done 5am-noon, even though “standard” business hours are 9am-5pm because I do much better work in the morning!”
It’s important to create a routine that covers all parts of your life, and your own preferences and needs, leaving enough time for all commitments, allowing you to have a balanced schedule. When setting a successful routine identify:
- At what time in the day it’s easy for you to focus (are you a morning person and is it easier for you in the early morning or at the end of the day?) so you can block in your calendar to avoid any commitments and distractions
- When do you need to be available for your clients/team members to coordinate/communicate to block those times at the start or end of your day, to avoid going back and forth between “analysis/focus”
- Leave enough time to have breakfast, lunch, dinner time with your family, as well as to exercise and relax through the day at a consistent basis, know you won’t be doing any work related activity then and blocking those times as well in your calendar
- Clear start and end times for your workday, making sure that nothing before or after those hours are dedicated to work and set alarms to notify you about them.
These criteria should be fundamental to set a “functional” schedule that you can use at a day to day basis to keep you “on track” to make sure that you also have a balanced work-life day to day, avoiding burnout.
Itamar Blauer, SEO Consultant & Video Marketing specialist, says:
“Having a schedule. I feel like it can be very easy to lose track of how long we spend doing certain tasks (especially when WFH). That’s why it’s advisable to stick to a schedule to avoid burnout and/or spending too much time on the screens. Make sure to include exercise in there!”
3. Plan your Work ahead, list your to-do’s establishing Tasks Priorities
Plan your work schedule listing your “to-do’s” ahead each week and day, like this you will:
- “Free your mental space” by documenting the tasks you need to tackle, without worrying about forgetting them.
- Easily track your your day to day activities advancement while making sure that you focus on what actually matters to achieve your goals, by leaving enough time to execute those specified tasks, rather than just following up with emails or in online meetings.
You can use to-do apps like Todoist or Evernote to create and manage your tasks lists, and share it within your team if necessary with project management systems like Asana or Trello. Correctly documenting, and then prioritizing your tasks with reminders by using a trusted system is one of the main keys to productivity, and the base for the “Getting Things Done” productivity method.
Mike Ginley, SEO & SEM Specialist at American Eagle says:
“I use the Momentum Google Chrome extension. It gives a new view with a personalized dashboard (and super nice images). The To-Do list is a huge help. I map out my next day’s tasks before I log off so I’m ready to go in the morning”
It’s also highly advisable to use a tasks prioritization system, like the Eisenhower matrix to identify which should be the ideal order to go through them based on their importance and urgency, allowing you to do what is actually more impactful at every given time first.
Aaron Alter, Tech SEO & Search Strategist at Scout24, says:
“…tiered to-do list. Urgent (today, high prio (this week) & low prio (next week) helps manage tasks and keep track of everything.”
Once you have a complete list of your tasks connected to an ideal priority order, you’ll be able to go through them much more efficiently maximizing the impact of your work.
Simon Cox, Technical SEO Consultant says:
“…I have Things app on the Mac where I have lists of tasks I need to do – broken down into steps that I can tick off – that gives me my priorities. I also use Office Time time tracker that keeps me focused and gives me a way to bill time on projects.”
4. Block “Focus Work” Time in Your Calendar and set a maximum Number of meetings per Day
It’s sometimes too easy to get carried away and end up spending too much time whether on calls or emails rather on deep work that is what is going to have an actual impact on your productivity.
To avid this issue block some hours every day in your calendar to “focus or deep work” during which you shouldn’t take any calls, revise or write emails and you should block any alerts to not be disturbed. You should then also allocate certain specific “available” times for calls with clients/teams, with a number of maximum hours per day.
There are now even tools, like Dewo, that will help you to block time for “deep work” while helping you to schedule meetings to protect your (and others) time.
About this, Upasna Gautam, Product & E-Commerce at CNN says:
“Time blocking my calendar for “deep work” sessions and “shallow work” sessions. We can’t solve complex problems or create value without having space for undisturbed deep thinking. With constant digital distraction, mastering our focus is the key to efficient productivity!”
Although this can be more difficult to do when you work with clients or you are a manager who needs to coordinate other people too, it’s fundamental to establish boundaries to advance with your required “deep work” by:
- Letting them know during what times you will be available for synchronous text communication and they can expect a reply from you.
- Agreeing on establishing a number of expected hours to take to reply depending on the level of urgency of an issue (Less X hours for urgent, between XX-YY hours for “normal issues).
- Establishing a clear communications protocol, to properly tag each request a level of urgency and the best channel to use in each case.
Verena, SEO & Digital PR says:
“Timeblocking, setting boundaries with myself/clients regarding when I’m available, and pomodoro all help massively.”
5. Run online meetings efficiently and only when needed using a Communication Protocol
When you start working remotely there’s this tendency to over-communicate to “compensate” the lack of in-person interaction, which is why many end up with an excess of online meetings or conference calls requests, in many occasions without a clear purpose or agenda, and in others, to issues topics that could have been easily addressed through a few emails or asynchronous text messages via your project management tool.
Avoid this issue by setting clear communication protocols with your team as well as clients, clearly defining when there’s an actual need for synchronous communication and when it’s ok to communicate asynchronously, when an online meeting is actually needed, and when it’s better to just solve an issue over email, your project management system or even, via asynchronous video communication by recording a quick screencast with Loom or Wistia Soapbox.
Todoist has done a fantastic work in this guide about remote asynchronous communication, about why and how to start leveraging asynchronous communication to maximize your work productivity, rather than trying to communicate in real time for anything, disrupting your and others workday.
Some aspects to take into consideration when setting a communications protocol are:
- When and how to request an online conference call
- When to use text vs. video communication
- When to use synchronous chats vs. async project management system messages
- When to document a decision and who to put in copy
- Establish moderation, notification and mentions rules to avoid intrusiveness
Additionally, whenever there’s an actual need for an online conference call, it’s critical to make sure that they’re effectively run by setting some requirements, like having a clear agenda, and allocating just the actual needed time, depending on the issue.
Ariel Camus, Founder of Microverse, shared a few handy tips to run efficient meetings:
“Always have an agenda, designated note taker and time keeper, add columns to agenda for notes and action items, hold people accountable on action items, add links to discussion times for people to read ahead of time async. Change Google Cal settings to speedy meetings (25 or 50 minutes) so that you always have breaks between meetings to go to the bathroom, meditate, or prepare for next meeting”
6. Mute Alerts and Block Non-Work Apps During intensive Work time
Even if you allocate enough time to work, sometimes is more difficult to concentrate if you’re getting notifications from emails, messages or social media. Block those notifications during your “deep work” times!
Luke Carthy, E-Commerce Consultant, says:
“Switching on DND for 90 mins when I need to be in the zone and blocking out the world with Spotify and headphones really helps me. Emails can wait. Socials can wait. WhatsApp can wait.”
A few paid and free blocking/muting tools that you can start using are:
- FocusMe: Powerful and Proven Features for Regaining Control of Your Websites, Devices And Applications.
- Freedom: Block distracting websites and apps. Stay focused on what matters most.
- SelfControl: A free Mac application to help you avoid distracting websites.
- Cold Turkey: Boost your productivity and reclaim your free time by blocking distracting websites, games and applications.
- LeechBlock: Web browser extension designed to block those time-wasting sites that can suck the life out of your working day.
7. Take Breaks during your workday
It’s hard to keep focused for longer periods of times. The highest performers on average take breaks after 52 minutes. And the break lasts for about 17 minutes. Breaks and productivity have a direct connection.
Set reminders with applications like Wunderlist and Google Keep to take breaks after a specific period of time through the day. Use the breaks to disconnect from the “screen” and meditate, stretch your body, or even for longer breaks, exercise or go for a walk.
Hannah Butcher, SEO Strategist at re:signal, says:
“I take breaks for fresh air and exercise, and this always gives me much more energy when I come back to a task.”
If you’re not able to follow a break schedule for yourself you can use the Pomodoro Technique, setting a reasonable time (a “pomodoro” of 25 minutes by default) to achieve a task, followed by a 5 minutes break, then taking longer breaks (of 15-20 minutes) after 4 “pomodoros”.
There are many free and paid tools that you can use also to make sure to follow your “Pomodoro” schedule & breaks, such as the free Marinara Pomodoro Assistant for Chrome.
If you feel that you need longer periods of times to better concentrate and get stuff done, you can easily personalize your timings, while making sure to leave the necessary breaks through the day. Natalie Arney, SEO Consultant, says:
“I couldn’t do pomodoro as I prefer longer periods of concentration, but breaks are so important. Whether it’s to make a drink or snack, a dog walk, or just to relax!”
8. Practice Self-Care
Work in general can be stressful and frustrating at times, and that’s why you need to practice self-care on a daily basis, especially when you’re by yourself at home and you can’t speak with someone you trust or you can’t go to the gym yet.
That’s why it is fundamental to assign time blocks in your routine, before, after and also through the day for exercise, take power naps, connect with loved ones and friends, and have outside time to walk and/or refresh, as well as making sure that you sleep well.
David Iwanow, Global Search & Traffic Lead at Danone, says:
“I try and get in 30-60 minutes on my exercise bike each day… take a decent lunch break and when you have had a full day of meetings organize an early finish to decompress”
Self-care will not just boost your remote work productivity but will help you to keep going for longer. You can use of applications like Aura or Calm to practice self-care. George Driscoll, Digital PR at Root Digital, says:
“Get your 8 hours of sleep in. Having just finished the book ‘Why We Sleep‘, it’s on my mind more than ever.”
Sometimes it’s also about making a conscious use of the time we otherwise “waste”. For example, Ariel Camus, Founder at Microverse, says:
“Micro-meditations (eg. Following the breathing for 1-2 minutes) while waiting for stuff to happen (eg. tabs to load, code to compile) instead of using those waiting times to do something else that will disrupt your focus.”
Another way to practice self-care is through online life coaching with programs like Roar Together, that gives a community, support, exercises and techniques to empower and encourage.
9. Track your time with Tools
You can’t improve what you don’t measure. It’s then fundamental to monitor that you’re effectively following your set schedule and that you’re investing your time where you should.
Andy Chadwick, Co-Founder & Lead SEO Strategist at Snippet Digital says:
“I time everything I do using an app like @Clockify. I tag everything from calls to emails to whatsapping. At the end of each week I can really easily see where I’ve wasted time and continually make my day more efficient.”
Time tracking doesn’t need to be a tedious manual task and can be done automatically thanks to tools that directly integrate with your used tools and system, like RescueTime, Toggl, Harvest or Timely. Having a time tracker will also “nudge” you to focus on what you actually need to.
Elizabeth Linder, SEO Strategist at Kick Point, says:
“Setting a timer on my phone for the time I’d like to have the task done in. Forces me to focus when I know I only have “X” amount of time.”
10. Do Cross-Accountability Checks with Colleagues
An additional way to make sure that you actually follow the established schedule and get things done is by doing cross-accountability checks within your team, or with colleagues you trust, which might be especially useful when you’re self-employed and/or don’t have a boss who will likely keep you accountable.
Ariel Camus, Founder of Microverse, says:
“Create mutual accountability checks at the end of the day with someone else. For example, I have a shared calendar invite with my wife to workout every day at 7pm. We hold each other accountable. We do the same for lunch.”
If you can’t find someone by yourself to do accountability checks, you can use tools like Focusmate, a virtual coworking that allows you to work in tandem with someone else to have an accountability partner.
On the other hand, accountability checks will be easier when you work with a team, and you can agree to do them at a frequent basis -aligning them along your team’s workflow- even if not required within the organization to keep you accountable. Maria Sereda, Brand and Community Manager at Serpstat says:
“We have daily 15-minutes calls in Hangouts within our micro-teams where we tell what’s been done yesterday and what we plan to do today and we have weekly calls in Google Meet which we call “retro” like “retrospective” where we discuss the whole week. We work in 2 weeks sprints”
Bonus: Work on something you love, somewhere you love too
Although this might not be a direct productivity tip it’s certainly something that can highly end up affecting our work productivity: When we’re working at a company or in a team where we don’t feel comfortable anymore or when we end-up in a role in which we need to do many tasks that we’re not especially fond of.
I know well I’ve been there in the past myself many years ago when I wasn’t yet self-employed, and know how sad Sundays nights can become when you think that the next day you will need again to work on something you don’t especially like or will need to interact with people who you don’t feel comfortable with anymore.
James Patterson, SEO at American Eagle Outfitters, says:
“Find a job doing what you love and a team of people you genuinely enjoy being around. Productivity comes easy when you have both of those.”
It’s important to understand if you have a motivation issue that might be negatively affecting your productivity to try to solve it as much as possible, and if you can’t remember that thankfully, there are many more companies hiring remotely now for all types of roles, and you can find your next dream job in our free remote job board (now also offering remote jobs alerts that you can easily subscribe to).
I hope that these tips, methods, and apps can help to boost your remote work productivity. Start following them today and you won’t regret the decision. If you’ve got any tips and methods that are working for you, feel free to share them with us in the comments too!
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