The option to work remotely is on the top of everybody’s wish lists these days. Almost two thirds of US companies have distributed or partially distributed teams, and studies predict this number will increase in coming years, becoming the majority of the workforce by 2027.
A key part of the discussion about remote work centers around productivity and flexibility. While some worry that without proper supervision their employees might slack off, a two-year Stanford study determined that working from home significantly boosted productivity.
Productivity, however, is not an automatic byproduct of working remotely or from home. One of the most difficult things about being a remote worker is that you have to create your own routine, and stick to it.
Here are nine suggestions to help you structure your time for a more productive, remote workday.
1. Block out your time the night before
Take a few minutes before finishing for the day to block out your time for the next day. This is a good way to plan your priorities ahead of time, when you are going to work on them, and where you want to spend your time.
Having a plan can also help keep you on track and focused on achieving your goals, despite any distractions that may arise.
2. Schedule uninterrupted focus time
When working from home, there are endless small things that can distract you, ranging from messages from teammates and emails, to personal tasks like pending chores or needy pets. As As part of your plan, make sure that you carve out some chunks of time for focused, uninterrupted work.
Apps like Forest and Zero Willpower can help by blocking distracting notifications until a determined time. Having a set end time can also help you focus without worrying about dropping the ball on other tasks.
3. Have a morning routine
Many people who work remotely are collaborating with people across time zones, and jump straight into whatever is at the top of their inbox in the morning. However, it’s easy to get caught up being reactive instead of proactive, which isn’t an effective way to start your day.
To avoid falling into this trap, set a morning routine. Doing the same thing before getting started can be a helpful signal to your brain that you are switching into work mode. For example, getting dressed or exercising first thing in the morning helps wake up the body and mark the transition into the workday, when it can otherwise be tempting just to open your computer in bed.
4. Take breaks
At times, working remotely can also cause you to work straight through the entire day because there is no set schedule. However, taking breaks is important for staying focused and productive. If you prefer to exercise during the day, you can schedule your exercise to break up work sessions. Going for a walk to stretch your legs gets you out of your physical workspace. Listening to a podcast or some music that gets you pumped up can help take your mind off of your work and can be a great mental break.
If this is something you struggle with, check out apps like TimeOut for Mac and Smart Break for Windows that lock you out of your computer for a set period of time, so you are forced to take the breaks you need.
5. Set a specific end time to your day
If your work space is your home, then the same space that acts as an office is also used for many other activities. Without a physical delineation of work and personal space, it can be easy to get caught up and regularly work late. However, this can lead to bad habits and burnout.
Pick a set time to end your workday, just as if you were working in an office and had to leave at the end of the day. It may feel counterproductive, but stepping away from work gives you more energy and focus when you do return to it the next day.
6. Determine when you are most productive
One of the benefits of working remotely is that you can often decide how to structure your day. Many people find that they have a certain time in the day where they feel more creative or productive. Pay attention to how you feel and create your schedule around that.
If you are not a morning person, then plan to use your mornings for answering emails or doing the tasks that are easiest for you. Then move into the work that requires your full brain a little later in the day.
7. Figure out where you work best
Some people flourish in noisy, busy environments, feeding off the energy around them and channeling it into their work. Others need silence in order to concentrate and get things done.
It could be that certain tasks lend themselves to a certain type of workspace, which gives you an excuse for a change of scenery in your day. Figure out what works best for you, and make sure you are working in an environment where you can be most productive.
8. Find ways to be social
According to Buffer’s 2019 Report on the State of Remote Work, one of the biggest struggles for remote workers is loneliness. Some people solve this issue by working from coworking spaces where they have a community of other workers. However, if you work primarily from home or regularly change locations, it’s important to build social time into your day. Schedule lunches or coffees with friends, or use it as an opportunity to network. If you’re in a new place, find a buddy with whom you can explore your surroundings.
Many companies organize conversation channels or virtual hangouts for their remote workers so colleagues can joke, chat, and bond over non-work topics. Make sure to take advantage of those opportunities, and create your own so that working remotely doesn’t become an isolating and demotivating experience.
9. Be willing to change up your routine for something special
One of the primary benefits of working from home is that you have autonomy and flexibility, so make sure you are taking advantage of it! All of the previous tips are meant to keep you on track during a regular week, but sometimes the best motivator is to shake things up.
For example, there might be a conference you attend that inspires you to look at your work in a different way. Or you might take a long weekend to explore and meet someone who is a great professional connection. Opportunities can arise in the most unsuspected places, so make the most of your flexible schedule and give yourself the chance to find them.
A truly productive, balanced work schedule
As technology allows more jobs to be done from anywhere, being productive while working remotely will become an essential skill. Planning ahead, setting boundaries, and figuring out what works for you can help keep you on track as you work from home.
At the same time, determining your own schedule lets you prioritize caring for yourself by taking breaks, staying active, and still being social. With a little practice, the result can be a dream come true: a productive, flexible, and balanced work schedule.