It’s tempting, isn’t it?
The freedom of being a remote worker. The dream of having a job that allows you to work from Bali, Paris or wherever?
You are hardly alone!
Remote working, sometimes referred to as telecommuting, grew 79 percent, between 2005 and 2012 and now makes up 2.6 percent of the American work force. With both employers and employees seeking more work flexibility and mobility, it is only expected to increase in future.
And why not?
It has so many advantages over a ‘regular job’!
You avoid the painful commute in rush hour traffic, have time to hit the gym, enjoy comfortable working hours, have time to take care of your kids or your parents, and can even write that report in your PJs (although that is hardly recommended!). Best of all you can work in a role that might not be available in your city, or even your country.
Freedom, great career opportunities, more work-life balance – so many benefits, right?
But is it all rainbows and unicorns for the remote worker?
Ever feel tempted to finish that movie on Netflix or do the laundry in the middle of the workday? Not that you want to slack off, but organizing or disciplining yourself enough to get things done is tough, isn’t it? When your home is also your office, it’s easy to let boundaries blur between work and personal stuff. I have certainly been there!
How often have you been frustrated over a misunderstanding with your colleagues? Lack of face-to-face interaction with team members makes it difficult to communicate. Happens to all of us, right?
Or do you ever feel isolated? It is not uncommon to feel dispirited when your team is spread across cities and even different time zones. It’s just natural to wish for more human contact.
Time Doctor’s Secret Sauce to Kick-Ass Remote Work®
Up against multiple roadblocks in your remote working career? Relax, I have your back!
Because our entire team of 50+ people at Time Doctor are remote workers! We have been through several problems ourselves, and have figured out solutions. Our company is growing at a great pace in terms of revenues and team members – that’s a testament to our remote working model.
We have even patented our secret sauce. Noticed the (®)?
Ha! Ha! Jokes apart, today, I will spill the beans. I will tell you everything you need to know to become a rockstar remote worker.
Remote working isn’t rocket science. All you need to do is tackle SEVEN key areas to become a remote work ninja. Since this is the Ultimate Guide to Remote Work, we have dedicated a chapter to each aspect. You can read this sequentially or jump to the chapter that’s most useful for you.
Let’s go into these one by one.
Chapter 1: Communication and Building Relationships for Remote Workers
Ever feel frustrated that your colleagues are not getting what you are trying to say? Or, do people complain that you are not following them?
It’s a similar story for many remote workers.
Hardly surprising, right?
After all, effective communication is a challenge even in a regular physical office. That’s because communication is not just what you say (words), it is also how you say it (your tone) and your body language (facial expressions, gestures).
For virtual teams, the one big challenge in effective communication is the lack of everyday, non-verbal, face-to-face interactions. Non-verbal communication (NVC) provide cues that are essential in building trust between team members. Even when people aren’t actually saying it out aloud, NVC indicates what people are thinking or feeling.
Is he happy or annoyed? Is she on board or doubtful?
Not being physically present to explain a point through gestures or appropriate tone leaves a lot open to interpretation. This often leads to misunderstandings, conflict, and lost productivity.
However, people are still running multi-million dollar companies with remote working teams, right? So how do they manage to do it without getting into fights every few hours? Here are several powerful hacks to make communication for remote workers a breeze.
The Higher Purpose
Want to know the one key to cracking the communication code – that hardly anyone talks about?
Knowing what your company wants. In other words, understand your company’s goals.
How does this help?
Understanding your company’s goals helps you grasp the underlying context of every interaction. It helps you understand what your manager is looking for, even if they don’t articulate it that clearly themselves.
“If you are someone who can develop, present and implement plans versus always having to rely on the owner, you’ll become very successful in the organization,” says Dave Nevogt, Co-Founder, Hubstaff.
Understanding goals is not just a senior executive’s job. Even if you are a junior designer, being aware of these goals will help you do your job better. This is what makes the difference between a successful employee and an average one.
So how do you understand your company’s goals? Here are three simple ways:
Most managers will be happy to tell you about the company’s goals and the goals of your team & department.
Read the company’s recent press releases, interviews with founders and articles to get a glimpse into their world.
- Catch Up
When you first join the company attend as many virtual meetings as possible to understand your team, other teams and their key goals.
This will also familiarize you with organization processes, company culture and each other’s strengths and skills. This knowledge would be invaluable when collaborating with various team members on different projects.
As a remote worker, you will have three basic tools in your communication arsenal:
- Email – This is something that every company will have.
- Chat – Options may be Slack, Skype Chat, Google Chat, etc.
- Video Calls – You could use Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, etc.
You probably have a preference for one tool over another (we all do!), but you need to start choosing your tools wisely to be a communication rockstar.
How do you know which tool to use and when?
Here are some guidelines:
Email is not a conversation tool so don’t hold a dialogue over mail. Use it to send action oriented information, longer project updates and data. Don’t use it if you want a really quick reply or if you are planning a back and forth conversation. Save that for chat.
Make a conscious effort to become a good, clear writer. “A lot of your communication with teammates will be written, and you can make everyone better by being a good writer,” says Nick Francis, Co-Founder and CEO, Help Scout. Two simple rules of good writing are to write short sentences and to be specific about what you are trying to say rather than leave things to interpretation.
Why is this important?
Due to the lack of non-verbal cues in emails, our imaginations fill the gap for what the sender intended to say. And receivers often misinterpret work emails as more emotionally negative or neutral than intended.
“Remember that things have tendency to appear harsher when written. A great way to figure out if it sounds critical or sarcastic or negative is to read your email aloud at least once before pressing ‘send’,” says Mark Debono, Director at Systemato, a digital marketing agency based in the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta.
Keep a 30 second delay in your ‘send mail’ settings so that you can undo ‘send’ if necessary. You can do this very easily with Gmail. Go to your Gmail Settings > General tab and enable the Undo Send feature. Then select ‘send cancellation period’ to delay sending your email messages by 5, 10, 20, or 30 seconds. This will give you ample grace period to hit the “undo” button and prevent your missive from going out.
Most importantly, make a rule not to send emails (or tweet or text) when you are upset. It will save you a truckload of trouble and regret!
If you want to hold a conversational dialogue, chat using an instant messenger like Slack, Hangouts or Skype. Avoid email!
Since this medium allows back and forth exchange of statements, it is more direct. The message and response is quick which keeps the communication spontaneous.
This can be used to discuss specific aspects of any project or update your manager with ‘work-in-progress’ reports. When both of you are in the same time zone, it’s a great way to reach out if you want a quick answer. People usually take longer to respond to emails.
Misunderstandings also happen less frequently. You can explain things more clearly if you feel that the other person isn’t getting you. You can also ask questions on the spot rather than get into a back and forth email discussion spread over hours.
Direct link to web pages or documents relevant to the conversation can also be sent when using any chat tool to explain anything more clearly.
Matthew Miller, project leader at open source technology company Red Hat, recommends instant messaging (or chat) as one of the more effective real-time communication channels for virtual teams.
However, chat has its limitations. The bite-size quality of messaging and the lack of non-verbal communication leaves it unsuited to discuss complex matters. In those instances, you may be better off using a more organized, longer-form messaging tool like Twist, or using the last communication tool in your arsenal – the video call.
Want to discuss complex matters, a really sensitive issue or brainstorm ideas?
Get on a video call. Video calls allow you to voice your opinions clearly, express your emotions, ask questions and relay a whole new level of ‘cues’ through your voice inflection and facial expressions. The pitch of your voice and body language reveals elements like frustration, annoyance, and stress that are harder to detect in written communication.
Moreover, seeing your colleague adds a whole new level of mutual understanding to the discussion.
You should schedule video calls in advance and not make it a habit to ask for impromptu calls. This can work in your favor as it allows all participants to think about the topic in advance and come prepared.
Does the thought of using all these communication tools sound too complicated? Simplify it by trying out Mailbird, an email client for Windows that unifies all of your messaging and video call apps into one single interface in your inbox.
Be the Diplomat
Despite taking every precaution to communicate well, misunderstandings will arise. After all, we are only human! Besides, misunderstandings happen even in a physical office.
So how do you handle the next one?
First, check if any of these thoughts are going through your brain:
“He’s incompetent/ a moron!”
“She’s not doing her job!”
“He’s out to get me!”
“She thinks she’s the cat’s whiskers!”
Give him/her benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume that there’s a malicious intent or that he/she is an idiot. That will hardly help you solve your problem. In 99% of cases, it’s a case of people not understanding each other’s messages, motives or working styles.
Next, talk it over. If the miscommunication occurred over say email, get on instant messenger with the person and clarify via chat. If the wrong message got transferred over chat, make a video or voice call to explain.
Like I said before, communication is only part words and mostly emotional context (tone, body language). So, when in doubt, reach out and insert emotions into your words to get the right message across.
Most importantly, don’t wait for the other person to clear things up, even if you think he or she is in the wrong. Take the initiative to resolve the situation before it escalates into a conflict.
After all, both of you are part of the same team and working for a common goal. Nothing is more damaging for your (and everyone else’s) productivity than a conflict. Don’t let it get there.
Do your manager or your co-workers ever wonder – are you at work, are you attending a meeting, having lunch or perhaps even slacking off?
To work effectively as a remote worker, you will need to be more visible. You want to make sure your work is continually seen and valued.
Don’t shy away from seeking help from team members if you hit a roadblock in any project and ping others if you have ideas for their projects.
You must be proactive to show your presence and overcommunicate to build trust.
Its best to let your team members and supervisor know that you are “in office” by logging into Slack, Skype or any other collaborative tool.
If you plan to be “away from desk” for any specific length of time during your work hours, send a message to your entire team. Keep a “at lunch” or “in conference” message whenever appropriate to ensure team members are not left waiting for an answer when you are not near your laptop.
When you are taking a day off, don’t just limit yourself to telling your manager. Its best to inform your colleagues who interact with you regularly by sending them an email in advance.
Share your Progress
Ever get the feeling that people aren’t exactly clear about what you are contributing? That your work isn’t being noticed?
With no one to see if you are actually working, the last thing you want is for people to wonder what you are up to.
Make sure that the tasks that you are working on are clearly documented. This becomes easy if you use a task management tool like Todoist, Trello or Asana. If your company isn’t already using one, you might want to drop a suggestion about how it would make collaborating on tasks easier.
Share progress reports, review goals and bat around ideas (on a regular basis) with your manager over video or voice calls. Let him known when you are working on specific projects and send updates.
Regularly communicating your progress as well as listening to the progress of your team members can go a long way in building team spirit and showing how your work contributes to the overall team effort. It will also ensure that you are never far away from your manager’s mind!
One of the pillars of Formstack’s Culture Code is to communicate status. “Employees need to be sure their managers know if things are going well or poorly, if they need help or feedback, or if they feel out of the loop. Being a successful remote employee hinges on communication, so my advice is to over-communicate so all parties are on the same page,” says Chris Byers, CEO, Formstack.
Frequency of communication is also essential. Sending updates on a regular basis, responding to messages promptly, and being available at important times (especially when team members are in different time zones) builds trust and reduces communication roadblocks.
The Water Cooler
Do you miss those daily face-to-face interactions like sharing information at the water cooler or running into a colleague in the break room?
While these may sound trivial and even distracting, informal interactions fortify relationships, enable better project communication and create a sense of loyalty. To get around it you need to be deliberate about reaching out and connecting with your co-workers.
Join the next team call on Google Hangout or Zoom a few minutes early to chat and catch up. This will also help you overcome feelings of disconnect or isolation which might emerge as a side effect of being a remote worker.
Use the multiple channels in Slack to distinguish between work projects and fun interactions. The app also makes it easy to search through all your team’s messages, keeping you updated on conversations when you weren’t logged-in.
Reporters from The New York Times have found that Slack helps them stay connected to their newsroom while away on assignments.
The opportunity to see what others are saying not only provides an insight into how others are working — something that regular office workers take for granted —but it also enables a feeling of intimacy with co-workers. Slack can also integrate with a variety of platforms including marketing automation software and event management software.
Groove (helpdesk software for small businesses) uses Slack to brainstorm, pass files back and forth, compare notes on new releases, and much more.
“Each morning, our team members do our daily standup in Slack, so that we all know who’s working on what,” says Alex Turnbull, CEO and Founder of Groove. “Slack also serves as our virtual water cooler, giving our team a place to talk about anything, work-related or not, or even let off some steam”.
Have teammates across different time zones? How do you make it easier to work with them?
Use World Time Buddy to keep track of time zones while setting up meetings.
You could also find local times by adding concerned cities in the world clock feature on your iPhone or download the Miranda app (for iPhone). It helps you find the best time to connect with people across different time zones.
Then when you want to send a text or schedule a call with a team member in a different country, just check your phone to know his local time.
Or, search Google for the current time in most major cities around the world. You’ll get the answer right at the top of your results.
You can set your own time zone, and save the time zones you work with most to have an easy way to switch between them.
Another great tool is Google Calendar. It looks basic at first glance, but it’s packed with features that make it great for remote teams—or really any team.
Slack also makes it easy to track time differences. It lists each team member’s time zone, how many hours that is from your local time, and that person’s current local time whenever you click their name.
That makes it super simple to double-check before expecting an immediate reply. Or, if you attempt to message everyone in a group, Slack lets you know it’s late for some people before you hit “send.”
No brainer, right?
Use Hubspot sales or Mixmax to schedule your emails and send them out at specific times. This will allow emails to land in your client or team members’ inbox when they are most likely to access it.
If you must hand off projects across time zones, make sure to check in before you start your workday and make sure you’re on the same page as everyone else.
Have a process in place so that you don’t have to attend meetings between 10 pm and 7 am your local time. Talk to your manager if you work for a company. If you are a freelancer, ensure your clients understand this setup.
No matter how much you brag that you can survive on five hours of sleep, lack of sleep or overwork ultimately leads to plummeting productivity which will eventually affect your performance.
But occasionally staying up a bit late or getting up an hour earlier isn’t a bad trade-off for a job you love, so be flexible.
- Understand your company’s and your manager’s goals in depth. This will make it easier to understand what they want and facilitate better communication.
- Choose between email, chat and video call tools wisely so that what you want to say is what is understood.
- Make sure your work is continually seen and valued by sharing project progress regularly with managers and talking to team members.
Chapter 2: Staying Motivated and Beating Procrastination
Do you find it difficult to be as motivated while working from home, rather than at a regular office? Are there days when you just don’t feel like working?
Staying motivated and productive consistently every single day can be difficult in a remote job. You can make it easy by following these hacks.
The Motivation Mantra
The secret to staying motivated is simple – stop trying to stay motivated!
Yes, you heard me right. If you try to base your remote working job on motivation and willpower, you will most likely lose the battle. Instead take an approach that requires very little willpower – building habits.
A habit is something that you do without effort, something that does not require you to push yourself. You should be able to stay productive every day without making an effort to do so. Habits take a bit of time to form, but they liberate you from the need to push yourself everytime. You automatically get into the zone and get things done.
There are several habits that you can follow to keep your productivity levels high, but let’s start with the most important one – how you get started.
Your Morning Debut
Want a productivity tip from Tim Ferris?
Make your bed first thing in the morning.
Maybe, but it will give you a sense of achievement and control with minimal effort right at the beginning of your day. This feeling will propel you to take on the next task on your to-do list. Besides, making your bed prevents you from crawling back in to grab a few more minutes of shut-eye.
If you begin your day with a feeling of positivity and accomplishment, that feeling will keep you charged up for your entire day. On the other hand, if you begin your day by checking out your Facebook or Twitter feeds, you are unconsciously giving yourself permission to procrastinate for the rest of the day.
The Deloitte 2016 Global mobile consumer survey has found that 40% of people check their smartphones within 5 minutes of waking up. If you want to start your day with energy, don’t be part of the 40% !
If you wake up before your partner does, you can’t start making the bed! In that case, choose another activity as your wake-up ritual – like meditation, or writing in your morning journal in Evernote.
The important thing to remember is that how you begin your day sets the stage for your entire day. Use your first five minutes to kick off an excellent day!
Get Small Wins
Some remote jobs will require you to continually be in touch with your colleagues throughout the day. On the other hand, some might require you to get in touch far less often, perhaps not more than once a day or less. This is common on projects which last longer where you can deliver the output independently without help from others.
A lack of human contact can lead to a diminished state of alertness and motivation. What you need to do is have a system which will keep giving you regular doses of motivation throughout the day.
You can achieve this by getting small wins. The simplest way to do this is to break up your tasks into smaller sub goals. For example, if you are creating a 30-slide presentation, break up the task into:
- Writing the outline of the presentation
- Conceptualizing each slide
- Writing the text
- Incorporating the images
Achieving each of these steps will give you a sense of accomplishment and will keep you motivated.
However, simply accomplishing these steps isn’t sufficient to give you an extra dose of motivation. It’s imperative that you write down these steps or include them in your to-do list.
The point is to mentally give yourself a pat on the back for every single milestone.
Make a habit of mentally celebrating these small wins. The more wins you get, the longer you will be able to maintain a high level of alertness.
What’s the point of dressing up when you are working remotely? After all, there’s no one to see you, right?
Wrong. Clothing does not only impact how people see you, it impacts how you see yourself.
While it’s incredibly tempting when working from home to wear the most comfortable set of clothes, dressing casually can cause you to feel less focused and lazy.
Researchers at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University found that what you wear has a significant impact on your state of mind. In a series of experiments, the researchers found that wearing a lab coat that was pointed out as a doctor’s coat increased people’s attention. However, when people who wore the same coat were told that it was a painter’s coat, it did nothing to increase their attention.
“This theory supports the notion that we would stay more focused when wearing work clothes, and may be more cognitively alert than if we dressed down,” says Dr. Karen Pine, professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire.
So, if you want to switch on your work mode, start wearing shirt and trousers, or at least a pair of jeans. Just make sure you avoid PJs!
The Mid-day Temptations
While remote working may seem all about breaking free from the strict 9 to 5 schedule, working without any structure can seriously hurt your productivity, say Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, Co-Founders of Basecamp in ‘Remote: Office Not Required’.
Working remotely allows you the luxury of doing household chores in the middle of the day or catching up on a TV show, or a phone call with a friend. However, an erratic schedule can play havoc with your productivity.
Working per a fixed schedule allows your brain to build certain work habits. Those habits make it far easier for your brain to work at its productive peak.
The best way to set a schedule is to use a calendar to block off specific hours of the day for work and stick to that schedule every day. Something like making an appointment with yourself.
This might take time to get used to, but it’s an incredibly powerful technique that experts like Cal Newport swear by.
This is different from using a to-do list. For this technique to work you must block time in your calendar. Just a to-do list won’t do the job.
The Underrated Habit
There is one habit that you can build that can work wonders for your motivation.
You obviously picked a remote working gig because there are certain benefits – freedom, a good role, flexibility, it allows you to travel, whatever.
Just spend a minute a day feeling grateful for these benefits. Whenever you feel isolated or wishing that you could be part of a regular office, spend a minute feeling grateful.
Printing these benefits on a sheet of paper and sticking it on your workspace will help you to remember to practice your gratitude habit. Alternatively, use can use Coach.me, an awesome habit tracking tool, to remember to practice this. If you practice this continually for a few weeks, it can take your mental energy to completely new levels.
One of the simplest ways to get out of a slump is to listen to music. 77% of small and medium sized business owners believe that music improves employee morale.
If you are ever feeling low, listen to music that inspires you. Something that reminds you of your ‘big why’ – your long-term goals in life.
Besides, research has indicated that listening to music has myriad other benefits like increasing focus, stimulating creativity, reducing stress, aiding memory and more. While songs can often be distracting, listening to instrumental music is not.
Pick out a few instrumental albums that you love – be it Mozart or Joe Satriani – and include them in your playlist. Your favorite numbers can make your work a lot more enjoyable.
An Adrenaline Shot
What comes to your mind when you hear the word –‘workout’?
Health, losing pounds, building muscle.
Yet there’s one benefit of exercise that 99% of us never think about. It’s a super easy way to give you a shot of motivation.
If you are feeling lethargic or bored during the workday, get up from your seat and exercise for a couple of minutes. A bit of spot jogging, shadow boxing or 20 pushups is all that you need to get the adrenaline flowing. And with that adrenaline shot, it’s going to be tough not to be motivated!
Working from home means that you will have access to Netflix, Facebook and a dozen other sources of entertainment all day long. How can you avoid succumbing to these temptations and consequently falling behind on your work targets?
One of the smartest hacks is to include fun items in your to-do list. Make sure that you have carved out time for entertainment and social activities during your day.
If you know that you will be meeting friends in the evening, you will be far less likely to waste time on social media. Instead you will be fully focused on finishing your work on time. Besides, an active social life is also important to stave off the feelings of isolation that remote workers might feel.
Your plans don’t have to include anything grand like parties or nightclubs. But do set aside time for the things you love, like reading, playing your guitar or going for a quick walk around the park.
Working alone can get lonely. With no one to hold you accountable you may feel demotivated and directionless.
So, get someone to hold you accountable, or just to work alongside you. Jeff Atwood found that when he started Stack Overflow, programming on his own turned into a lonely job.
“I was coding alone,” he says. “Really alone. One guy working all by yourself alone. This didn’t work at all for me. I was unmoored, directionless, suffering from analysis paralysis, and barely able to get motivated enough to write even a few lines of code.”
His solution was to have a coding partner, someone he’d bounce ideas off and check in with about project progress. Work together, even if there is a time gap, and you’ll find that the adage “two are better than one” is still true.
- Have a morning habit – make your bed or meditate or write a journal – activities that give you a feeling of positivity and accomplishment and give you a great start to the day.
- Dress for work – wear shirt and trousers, or at least a pair of jeans. Avoid PJs!
- Use music to feel inspired and workout to get motivated.
- Keep a fixed schedule to remain more productive.
- Get an accountability buddy to kill loneliness.
Chapter 3: Productivity for Remote Workers
Are you getting less done than you want? Does your manager keep asking you to push yourself more?
When you are going to a physical office, your attendance counts a lot. Your presence makes people go a little easy on you. Since you are there you must be working, right? In fact, there are many people who get away with staying in office for long hours and looking busy, but not really delivering that much.
However, in a remote job, all that counts is your output. Therefore, what you need are a few tried and tested productivity tips that will help you get more done in less time, and will less stress.
This chapter will help you do exactly that.
The 99% mistake
99% of people are completely mistaken about how productivity works.
Most people think that more hours = more productivity. If you work for ten hours a day, you will supposedly get more done than if you work for eight hours.
However, it doesn’t really work that way. Especially not for knowledge workers. According to Chris Bailey, founder of A Life of Productivity, here’s how the productivity equation really looks like:
Productivity = Time x Energy x Attention.
For instance, if you work for 2 hours while your mind is wandering, or you are getting interrupted every 5 minutes (even if it’s for just a minute), you will certainly get a lot less done, than if you work for one hour with complete attention. More about attention in the next chapter, but for now, let’s talk about energy.
The concept of energy was popularized by Tony Schwartz, Founder of the Energy Project, which is a productivity consulting company with clients like Google, Sony, and several Fortune 500 companies.
Your body’s (and therefore your mind’s) energy levels rises and falls in 90 minute cycles. It’s called your ultradian rhythm. Your energy levels also fluctuate based on the time of the day. For instance, most of us experience an afternoon slump, when our energy levels are usually at its lowest, and thereby we feel sluggish or we prefer to slack off.
Exactly how do you use the concept of energy to skyrocket your productivity?
Here are four ways:
Stay on Rhythm
Because of the body’s ultradian rhythms, if you work longer than 90 minutes at a stretch, your efficiency will begin to diminish. Studies show that if you stay on any task for a long time without any diversions, you begin to lose your focus and your performance declines.
On the other hand, if you work intensely for 90 minutes and then take a quick break for five to ten minutes, this allows your body and your mind to take a breather and regain higher levels of energy. You will be far less likely to want to check out Facebook or cat videos on YouTube.
The Most Creative Zone
One of the biggest benefits of remote work is that you can begin work right in the morning. You don’t have to waste time getting ready to travel to office. Memory expert and blogger Anthony Metivier starts writing even before he gets out of bed! Craig Jarrow, author of Time Management Ninja, wakes up at 4.30 am and writes for an hour before he hits the gym.
This does not mean that you should try to clock in 12 hours of work a day! For instance, you could start early at 7am, but take a two-hour lunch break during which you can go for a walk in the park or pick up your kids from school.
Majority of people have more willpower and higher energy levels in the morning. If that’s you, make use of it for your most important work – work that requires high levels of analytical or creative thinking.
Besides, distractions and interruptions are at a minimum in the wee hours of the morning. This lets you check off a few tasks from your to-do list, enabling you to set a productive pace for the remaining day.
Your Battery Journal
What if you are a night owl? Does that make you less productive?
Not at all! Mike Vardy, President of Productivityist and one of the best known productivity experts in the world, happens to be a night owl. All I am stressing on is the importance of using your most productive hours wisely. Just work when your energy levels are the highest.
However, to make the most of working according to your energy levels you need to be aware of how your energy levels rise and fall throughout the day.
Keep a ‘battery journal’. Observe and note down your most productive hours over the course of a week. That will give you a clear picture of your energy waves. Then reschedule your work hours based on these productivity trends.
All tasks are not created equal. Some require a lot of analytical or creative thought, while some can bore you to death. Why not tackle your to-do list based on your energy levels?
Mike Vardy recommends that you tag each of your tasks with the levels of energy that task requires – high, medium or low and tackle them accordingly.
Here’s how to execute this method:
- Start by making a detailed list of the different types of tasks that you need to do. The longer the list the better.
- Assign an energy level to each task. The best To-Do list tools which are built around the GTD methodology allow you to add ‘context’s to each task. Contexts help you to classify tasks according to a particular type. Nozbe, one of the most powerful To-Do list tools, calls this ‘categories’. If you are using Nozbe, as soon as you create a new task, make sure you add an energy category to it.
- As mentioned in the earlier section, you should have already determined how your energy levels fluctuate throughout the day. If your energy levels are highest in the morning, use that time for your most important task, rather than make a routine report or a reply to routine emails. Do those tasks in the afternoon instead.
Nozbe will show you all the tasks that fall under a particular energy category. The image below is an example of how you can view all the tasks which require medium energy levels. You can use this approach to plan what time of the day you will work on each of your tasks.
The Google Hack
One of the biggest advantage of working from home is that you can take a nap in the middle of the day. A quick nap is one of the best ways to refresh yourself. Companies like Google recognize this and therefore keep sleep pods in their office.
However, take care to limit your nap time to a maximum of 25 minutes. Anything beyond will take you to a deeper level of the sleep cycle which lasts for 90 minutes. If you wake up any time between 30 to 90 minutes, you will continue to feel groggy for a very long time.
The Drucker Trick
Have you ever wondered – how long do you actually work every day?
With no defined office hours, this is a touch question for most remote workers!
Management Guru Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured, gets managed.”
Therefore, if you don’t know exactly how long you are working, you could end up either working too much or too little. Working too little will get you in trouble and working too much usually means that you are spending too many unproductive hours at work.
In addition to the number of hours worked in a day, you should also be aware of how long you are spending on each task. Unless you do that, you will probably end up spending too much time on activities that can be finished sooner, or waste time on tasks that do not add enough value to your goals.
Does the thought of measuring your time seem too complicated? After all, the last thing you want is to add to your daily list of tasks, right?
Agreed, which is why it’s best not to try to do this manually. Instead, make it simple by using a tool called Time Doctor. You can create different projects, and tasks within projects and measure how much time you are spending on each task and project. All you need to do is click a button when you start work, and the tool will measure your time.
Can’t be bothered to pause it when you take a coffee break? Time Doctor will automatically detect that you are on a break and take it into account!
Just try measuring yourself for a day. You will be surprised at what you discover about your work habits!
- Work intensely for 90 minutes and then take a quick break for five to ten minutes.
- Start early – you have more willpower and higher energy levels in the morning, unless you are a night owl.
- Be aware of how your energy levels rise and fall throughout the day and use it to work better during your most productive hours.
- Measure your work – number of hours worked in a day and how long you are spending on each task.
Any clue how damaging distractions can be for your productivity?
Believe it or not, according to a Basex Research study, the US economy loses $588 billion a year in lost productivity because of interruptions at work.
Does this even apply to a remote worker like you? After all, working from home means less distractions, right?
You won’t be disturbed by a colleague who is talking loudly on the phone but your kids might want to play when you are working or your flatmates might play loud music. You won’t be tempted to join an interesting conversation among two of your neighbors, but you might get glued to a captivating movie on Netflix, and before you know it, an hour or two has passed.
And you know what’s the worst bit, right?
Feeling guilty about wasting your time and wasting even more time thinking about it.
With no one watching, its far easier to succumb to distractions at home. That’s why you need to take active steps to make sure that you don’t lose valuable hours and have nothing to show.
The Extent of the Damage
Do you think that interruptions and distractions cost you only in terms of time?
They are far more damaging than you imagine! An interruption breaks your chain of thought, disrupts your short-term memory and wrenches you out of a state of focus.
If that happens too often, it prevents you from ever reaching a high level of concentration.
However, 99% of people don’t even realize how damaging these distractions are! They simply take their existing (lower) levels of concentration for granted!
Ok, but what’s the big deal about high levels of concentration.
What are you missing?
The obvious casualty of low concentration is speed and quality. You work at far lower speeds and you make far more mistakes. But that’s not all.
Higher concentration leads to deeper levels of creativity. You see solutions to problems that might otherwise seem impossible to deal with.
Both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet understand the importance of this heightened state of concentration and take concrete steps to create it. As a result, they have been able to build multi-billion dollar empires by recognizing opportunities and taking strategic business decisions.
The Focus Revolution
Productivity experts like Neen James, Chris Bailey, Tony Schwartz and many others have spoken about the huge benefits of focused work.
Michael Sliwinski, CEO of Nozbe, who also runs a super-productive remote team, says that one of the biggest benefits of working remotely is that you can insulate yourself from distractions and interruptions.
Let’s find out exactly how we can do that.
Georgetown University Professor Cal Newport is the bestselling author of the book, “Deep Work.” In this book, he talks about how successful people do their best work when they completely isolate themselves from distractions and interruptions.
I know that you can’t completely isolate yourself all the time, but can you do it for 2-3 hours a day? That’s all you need!
The key to doing this is to create a ‘Timebox’, a time (usually an hour) during which you will focus entirely on your work.
Here’s how to execute a Timebox
- Pick a task that requires high levels of focus. This would usually be something that requires the best of your analytical or creative skills. But in might also be something that requires high attention to detail.
- Pick a specific time for your timebox. It should be when people would normally not need you. It would naturally have to be when no meetings or calls have been scheduled. Mark this time in your calendar.
- Make sure that you have had a break of at least 10-15 minutes before your timebox. You shouldn’t begin your timebox when you are tired.
- Keep a bottle of water on your workstation so that you don’t have to get up if you feel thirsty.
- Have a bit of fruit before you begin so that your sugar levels are high and so that you don’t feel hungry in the middle of your timebox
- Let your colleagues know that you won’t be available for an hour. People should not begin to wonder where you have disappeared.
- Switch off your phone and close email and Slack.
- Do not keep any unnecessary tabs on your browser open. In fact, preferably close your browser if you don’t need it. For good measure close all programs that you don’t need.
- Work for an hour.
Does the list of conditions look too long?
Perhaps, but it’s completely worth it. If you practice this every day, you will soon be able to work at extremely high levels of concentration – and produce some of your best work ever.
Your colleagues might expect you be accessible. Make sure you let them know that you are going into a ‘deep work’ mode and will not be available for an hour or two. You can do this simply by posting a status update on Skype or Slack.
You should also have a conversation with your boss explaining how this will help your productivity. Most bosses will be happy to give you uninterrupted time for an hour or two a day. After all, they are interested in your output, not in your constant availability.
However, if you are in a role where people might need to reach you, ask a colleague to cover for you during that hour or two.
Silence the Opposition
Your phone is the biggest single source of distractions. Thankfully there are a few quick steps that drastically reduce its attention-killing power:
Permanently turn off all app notifications except the most essential. Make sure you turn off email, group chat notifications and news.
Uninstall as many apps from your phone as you can. Start with the apps you never use. Don’t forget your social media apps. It’s less painful than it seems. Yes – Instagram and Facebook need to go! They are too addictive.
You should also disable desktop notifications on your laptop – such as Slack and email.
Install Freedom, a tool that blocks several apps and websites across various devices for selected periods of time. It can also block the entire Internet for a while if you want. Writers like Seth Godin and Tim Ferris use Freedom to stay focused.
Strike a Chord
I have mentioned earlier that music is great for boosting your morale and productivity. However, some of us find music distracting while we work.
But there are tools that are designed to increase your concentration. Try out Brain.fm and Focus@Will. Both play music in specific wavelengths that are scientifically proven to boost concentration.
A third tool that does a great job of boosting concentration is Noisli. This plays several kinds of natural sounds that help us concentrate and get into create states – such as the sound of rain, a fan, on board a running train and more.
At least one of the above tools should be an essential part of your productivity arsenal.
This is usually the biggest distraction while working remotely, especially if you work from home.
Your friends and especially your family might not exactly think that a remote job is a ‘real job’. They might consider you to be available all the time. You spouse might expect you to do household chores in the middle of the day or your kids might expect you to read them a story. If you have flat mates, they might want to bring friends over while you are working.
Here are a few tips to manage interruptions and distractions from family members:
It’s important to explain to your family why it’s important not to disturb you while you are working, unless it’s important. Your family’s support is paramount of you want to be able to work productively from home.
However, don’t wait to explain it to them the next time they interrupt you. That might feel like a reprimand and make them feel upset. Instead, sit down and have a conversation about this over the weekend or in the evening. Ask for their ideas as to how you can work without interruptions.
Set a regular working schedule and inform everyone at home about it. Having a fixed work schedule is the easiest way to arrive at an understanding with your family as to when you should not be interrupted.
If you have a separate home-office with a door that can be shut, then keep it closed and put a “do not disturb” sign on the doorknob when you certainly don’t want to be interrupted.
If you don’t have a separate office room, then create a workspace in a room or at least a corner, where you are least likely to be disturbed by someone passing by. However, sometimes it just might be far easier to work from a co-working space or a coffee shop. (More about this in the next chapter.)
- Create a timebox, a time (usually an hour) within which you will focus entirely on your work.
- Tell your boss, colleagues and family members that you are going into a ‘deep work’ mode and will not be available for an hour or two.
- Disable mobile and desktop notifications such as Slack, Email, news, etc.
- Use tools like Brain.fm, Focus@Will or Noisli to increase concentration.
If you want to be a successful remote worker you can never ignore the importance of setting up the perfect workspace. This will have a tremendous impact on your productivity, your motivation and even your health and general well-being.
Your Rabbit’s Paw
Ever wondered why baseball players use lucky charms – rabbit’s paws, amulets, whatever?
Because charms actually work! Though not due to any metaphysical intervention or voodoo! Lucky charms help to switch on a state of high performance within the brain.
When they wear the lucky charm and ‘invoke’ it, it sends a signal to their brain – that it’s now time to get into a state of peak performance.
Seasoned remote workers use the same principle to stay on top of their game – by having a designated office space with a desk and chair. A designated space helps your brain automatically “switch” into productive mode by associating that physical area with a zone to get things done. A space allocated for professional work and nothing else.
“I had my biggest productivity gains when I started treating my work and personal areas as separate spaces. This helps set the frame for improved productivity. When you enter your home office, you don’t expect to take a nap or watch TV. Your brain gets spatially wired to think of the office as the place where work happens,” says Dmitry Dragilev, Founder of JustReachOut.
A separate work space is also necessary for setting expectations with your family members. When you are in your home office, it sends the message to the rest of your family that you are working and work time rules apply.
The most important thing to understand is that you will work far more productively if you are in a more ‘professional’ state of mind. Having a dedicated workspace is the most effective way to create that state.
Have a habit of working in bed? Not a good idea – at all!
Research is clear that working in bed leads to back pain over time. Ergonomists warn that working on a laptop in bed for more than an hour without adequate spine support or the neck bent forward too sharply is likely to cause aches and pains – and spondylitis in the long run.
Make sure you work from an ergonomic chair to protect your back from stress. If you develop spondylitis, it won’t be pretty.
The problem doesn’t end there. Working in the bedroom can make you less alert and even drowsy, especially after lunch. That’s because you are blurring the boundaries between your work and rest spaces and sending conflicting signals to your brain.
These conflicting signals can also make it difficult for you to fall asleep when you have really gone to bed. Moreover, working in bed also creates a habit of using devices too close to bed-time. This affects the quality of your REM sleep. Essentially, what this means is that even if you sleep for eight hours, it would not be sufficiently refreshing.
Lack of quality sleep is the most common productivity killer. Don’t fall into this trap. Stick to a desk and chair if you value your productivity and your health!
One Step Up
What if your home office is a desk next to your bed?
While this is better than working from your bed, you are still blurring the boundaries between your work and rest spaces, which will probably lead to compromised productivity and sleep.
Try to have a dedicated room for your workspace. That’s what I got last year and it has made a massive difference to my productivity.
If you don’t have a separate room, try to set up a workspace in the living/ dining room. It’s usually a far better option than the bedroom. Set up a divider screen between the rest of the room and your workspace to create visual separation. Try to avoid working on the couch or the dining table and get a dedicated desk. But if you have to work from the dining table, at least get an ergonomic chair. This is better for your back, but there’s another benefit. It’s another way to tell your brain that you are now in ‘work mode’.
Working in the living room workspace might be very distracting if you have kids or flat mates, in which case you might have no option but to revert to the bedroom.
If you have absolutely no choice other than the bedroom, separate your work area with a screen or divider. Make sure that you face the wall or a window when you are at your desk, and certainly not your bed.
Walk to Work
Many remote workers have a ritual that helps them make that transition from ‘home mode’ to ‘work mode’. They do that by ‘commuting’ to work!
If your work space is just a desk next to your bed, get dressed and walk out of your apartment for a bit. You can even take a stroll around your apartment block, grab a coffee and then walk to your “office” – i.e. the desk next to your bed!
But it works! This establishes a soft separation between home and office. Another trick that we picked up from Dmitry Dragilev – a champion remote worker.
The Java Option
An increasing number of remote workers are working from a neighborhood coffee shop or a co-working space.
Worried that this will add to your monthly expenses?
True, but might be just what you need to work productively and make your remote job a success. Additionally, It may boost your productivity in an unexpected way as ambient noise (like the low chatting and clinking of cutlery at a cafe) keeps you motivated. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that a moderate level of ambient noise is conducive to productivity and creativity.
By the way, you can always simulate that coffee shop experience at your home workspace by using Coffivity, a tool that plays the ambient sounds of a café!
Moreover, a change of environment also stimulates creativity and keeps boredom at bay. You can keep alternating between your home office, the nearby coffee shop and a co-working space to remain at your productive peak.
The Ideal Coffee Shop
A few things to remember when scouting out the best ‘remote working friendly’ coffee shop:
Avoid sitting near the door, the register, or the restroom. They tend to be distracting with people coming and going. The best spots are usually found in the corner. If you can’t find a corner seat, try sitting with your back to the above three spots. At least you will avoid the visual distractions.
Bring a power cord, but come with your laptop on full charge in case the power socket is not anywhere near the best table. You might also want to carry an extra battery with you.
Avoid coffee shops that have uncomfortable seats. They might cause neck or back problems over time.
Try to avoid chains that are always full. The store manager might not be happy to have someone hanging around the entire day, even if you order a few cups of coffee. Instead, try to find a shop that is more open to having someone use their premise as a workspace. A shop which is rarely filled will usually be far more welcoming. In fact, they will probably be happy to have you as a regular customer!
Basic coffee shop etiquette – avoid talking too loudly. Use a pair of headsets when on a call or take your call outside the shop. But be prepared to be around other people who might talk loudly. So carry a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
Lastly, have a backup internet connection in case of a downtime in the middle of a video chat with a client. While such incidents might be rare, it’s important to be prepared when all your tools are on the cloud.
The Workspace App
All this might sound complicated, but finding a great spot to work is easier than you think!
Use the Workfrom app that gives an insider’s guide to the best coffee shops, co-working spaces, cafes and bars around you. You can filter results with relevant needs like Wi-Fi speeds, opening hours, noise levels, seating capacity, whether there’s food and coffee, and a variety of other factors. Yes – there are apps build especially for remote workers!
- Have a designated office space to help your brain automatically “switch” into productivity mode.
- Don’t work from your bed, stick to a desk and chair.
- If working from your bedroom, separate your work area with a screen or any other room divider to create visual separation.
- Make that transition from ‘home mode’ to ‘work mode’ by walking to your work space. It could be out of the house and back or to a coffee shop or local co-working space.
When your office is few steps away from your kitchen table – or in some cases, is your kitchen table – it’s very normal to go for days without “clocking out”.
This is a sure shot route to burnout and major stress. To do your best work, you need to pay attention to life needs and prioritize them hand-in-hand with your workload. We have already spoken a bit about how to do this in the earlier chapters, but here’s where we put it all together.
Here’s how you can find your work-life rhythm:
When working in a regular office the getting dressed and commute to office act as a ‘start-of-work-day’ routine. Similarly, at the end of your working hours when you grab a beer with colleagues or take the subway home, it ‘clocks’ you out for the day.
Build similar routines that transition you into ‘start-of-workday’ and ‘end-of-workday’ when working remotely. Dress up in formals even though your office is next to your bedroom or make a cup of coffee before switching on your laptop.
To ‘log-out’ for the day, take a quick walk around your block, then come back and change into lounge attire. You can also sign up for an evening dance or yoga class or schedule something with friends to ensure that your work-day has to end.
Use a tool like Time Doctor to calculate how long you are working. Like we discussed under the ‘Drucker Trick’ section, you need to measure how much you are working to monitor efficiency.
As a remote worker, ‘always working’ is the usual reality. Decrease time spent on work projects if you see yourself doing more than 10 hour work shifts in a day.
A time tracker will also help you keep “consistent” work hours. This is not only beneficial for you – you’ll have a separation between personal and work space – it will also help your team know when you can be online.
It gets better if you start and end your day at a specific time every day. Having regular lunch, coffee hours and scheduling breaks in between also help.
‘Sitting is the new smoking.’ One of the worst things about having a remote job is that it can be a lot more sedentary than a regular job– which sort of makes you a chain smoker.
Researchers have established a link with long hours of sitting to higher risk of heart disease and blood pressure. While that’s a long-term problem, lets also not forget the more immediate problem of back pain.
In a regular office, you would be walking around the office, taking a quick stroll around the neighborhood during lunch or walking to your car or to the subway/bus stop. How do you compensate for this lack of exercise as a remote worker?
You may still be able to do a reasonable amount of walking if you work from a coffee shop or a co-working space. However, if you are working from home, your walks during the day would get limited to your trips to the bathroom or the kitchen every now and then.
One of the ways to get around this is to get a standing desk. Another simple trick is to put an alarm to go off every hour, then take a few minutes to do a few stretches, or walk around.
Remote work gives you the luxury of not leaving the house for extended periods of time. You can order in your meals and groceries, workout at home and stay connected with people over the internet.
However, unless you want to turn yourself into a recluse, make it a point to get out of the house at least once a day.
Meet a friend, go to the park with your family, get an errand done or go for a jog or at least take a walk. This will keep you far more alert and refreshed. A change of environment also stimulates creativity. Having a dog makes it necessary for you to step out of the house a couple of times during the day. So, if you love dogs, consider getting one!
Moreover, scheduling an end-of-day activity will let you “switch-off” your work mode and enter your personal-life zone!
Get your Eight Hours
Are you getting enough sleep every day? More importantly, do you feel sufficiently refreshed when you wake up?
Adequate sleep is essential for staying productive. But a remote job often hampers with it because lines between work and rest spaces and timings become blurred.
You need a around seven to eight hours of sleep every day. Adhering to a fixed bedtime is one of the easiest ways to ensure you get enough sleep. iPhone has a “Bedtime” feature where you can input the number of hours you want to sleep daily. It will then send you a reminder to get in bed 15 minutes before your bed-time. It will also wake you up when the stipulated 7 or 8 hours are complete.
Make sure you wrap up all work at least an hour before your bedtime. Your brain needs time to settle down into a ‘rest’ mode. Otherwise it might take you a while to fall asleep even after you have gone to bed. Stay away from all devices – laptops, kindles, mobiles, TV – 30 minutes before you hit the sack. The blue light from devices interferes with your quality of sleep.
Are you eating lunch at your desk? That’s a really bad idea.
Eat at your dining table or kitchen table, but avoid the habit of working during lunch. Read a book or listen to music, when eating alone, but don’t stare at your laptop or try to type while munching on the pastrami sandwich. People who eat at their desk usually overeat because they are less conscious of how much food they are consuming.
Don’t confuse the brain. Eat when you eat and work when you work.
Finally, if you work from your kitchen table, remove the laptop from the table during a meal. Another tiny step that goes a long way in separating ‘work mode’ from ‘eat mode.’
- Dress up in formals to start your day and change into lounge attire to mark its end.
- Use a time tracking software like Time Doctor to measure how much you are working to ensure you don’t overwork.
- Get a standing desk or set an alarm that reminds you to walk ever so often. For every 30 to 45 minutes of sitting work, get up and move for couple of minutes.
- Make it a habit of leaving the house for extended periods of time – it stimulates creativity.
- Get minimum 7-8 hours of sleep every day.
- Don’t work while you eat.
- Keep a healthy social life.
Now that you are equipped to become a remote working Ninja, where will you look to land that great telecommuting job?
There are few job boards and online platforms that list remote jobs. But before you dive into that, let me give you a simple tip:
Do not restrict yourself to jobs or positions listed as remote work.
There are thousands of jobs that can now be done remotely. According to a recent survey of over 3,000 business owners, 82% believe within the next 10 years many businesses will be built completely with virtual teams of online workers.
If you want to work for a company, a position or a specific job – even if it is not in the state or country where you live and the position is listed as full-time, on-site work – don’t rule it out.
Identify the concerned HR manager in your company of choice or the person who looks after the particular team that you want to work in. Connect with them either through LinkedIn, Twitter or better still find their email using a service such as Voila Norbert, Toofr or Email Hunter.
Write them a short, succinct message stating who you are and what you’re looking for. Finish the message with a direct statement asking if they have any open positions with remote work possibility.
From technical writers to tele-nurses; from managers to teachers – there are a whole host of careers where you no longer have to co-locate. Careers that were traditionally office-based have transitioned to telecommuting positions.
Here’s a list of 100 companies that are remote worker-friendly. (This is not an exhaustive list by any measure, just a starting point for you.)
Call your Network
Knowing the right person can open a lot of doors! If you go through a reference, a recruiter will be far more open to taking you on for a job, even if that role was not originally intended to be remote.
You probably already know a lot of people in your field. Connect with them and let them know you are seeking a remote opportunity.
Try local meet up groups using meetup.com to find like-minded people to connect with. The more people you meet, the more opportunities will come to you.
Facebook and Slack groups are also goldmines for remote work opportunities. Getting involved in Facebook groups focused on remote work, gives you the opportunity to infiltrate a small, but growing community.
Slack groups are important from an employer’s perspective. Your future CEO/CTO may be active on groups that are of interest to them.
There are plenty of online platforms for seeking remote jobs, but here are three that you should definitely check out:
Outsourcely is a free platform that makes it easy to find reliable and stable remote jobs from large Fortune 500 companies to small family owned businesses. You create your profile for free and can search jobs based on categories like web development or writing and content. They do not charge any fee when you get paid for your job, unlike some other platforms. Moreover, with their real-time communication tools built right in, you get to chat with prospective employers directly.
Flexjobs, on the other hand is a paid platform. However, if you can spare a few bucks it can come handy. They have a team of researchers who search hundreds of online job resources every day (including industry blogs, employer sites, reliable job boards, and more) to find professional, legitimate remote jobs. How this helps is that if the job gets listed on the site, the legitimacy of the company has already been researched. This protects you from online job scams and frauds. Moreover, they also provide the most direct way for you to apply to that job like the employer’s site.
The third option is Angel.co which is great place to find jobs in startups that are always eager to offer remote work options.
- Do not restrict your search to jobs specifically listed as ‘remote’.
- Use your network to find new positions.
- Get on Facebook or Slack Groups to locate interesting opportunities.
- Login to online platforms like Outsourcely, Flexjobs, Angel.co or Listiller to get reliable remote work.
Working remotely can save you loads of time, energy and money that is wasted on commuting every day. You can also be far more productive than in a regular office by using some of the hacks that I have spoken about.
What other tips do you have for making your remote working experience easier and more productive? Tell us in the comments section below.
About the Author:
Peter Banerjea is a productivity writer at TimeDoctor.com
- The Pros and Cons of Outsourcing -
- Everything You Need To Find The Best Freelance Invoice Template -
- What is Recruitment Process Outsourcing and How Does It Work? A Complete Guide -
- Excel Time Tracking: 4 Templates, Pros and Cons and Alternatives -
- Call Center Outsourcing: The 7 Step Checklist You Need -