I’ve worked remotely for Salesforce for two years — and most of that time, I’ve worked from home, not a coffeeshop or coworking space.
Certain jobs will never be suited for remote work. I’m thinking makeup artists, chefs, and dental hygienists, for starters. But plenty of careers in our increasingly digital world can be performed from anywhere with an internet connection.
For many, working remotely can actually yield impressive productivity benefits, thanks to the lack of in-office distractions, small talk, long lunches, and commuting time. I know I’m saving a couple hours each day by avoiding LA traffic. Much of that time savings goes right back into my work or other activities that enhance my productivity, like exercise. (More on that later.)
Of course, remote employees miss out on some in-office activities, so the arrangement is a trade-off. But with the right strategy for productivity, remote employees can still make a huge impact on their companies, grow their careers, and get a massive amount of stuff done.
Here are five of my best tips to stay productive while working from home.
1. Organize a must-do list each day.
Each morning, I like to start the day by creating a list of 3-4 important things that I must get done that day. So much of our time at work evaporates by answering emails, fielding last-minute requests, replying to chats, and participating in meetings. If you don’t watch it, you can spend your whole day just maintaining your work equilibrium instead of getting ahead of it. So I find that a short list of what I must get done every day is essential.
Once I complete the list, it has an added benefit of boosting my own sense of productivity and accomplishment. Because home-workers don’t have the same visual cues of entering and exiting an office every day, I can sometimes feel like I toiled away for eight hours and have nothing to show for it. (“I’m still right here with my laptop where I was this morning!”) An active checklist reassures me that I finished significant work.
2. When you hit a wall, take a walk.
I talked about staying healthy while working from home in a recent post. Taking a brisk walk is one of my favorite ways to reengage and refocus my brain in the middle of a long workday. Compared to sitting, scientists at Stanford found that “any form of walking could increase creative thinking by about 60%.” And surely you’ve heard the bad news correlating more time sitting with shorter lifespans.
These data points are huge. If you could take 15 minutes to do something that benefits both your brain and your body, why wouldn’t you? I often find myself hitting an early-afternoon mental wall, which is a signal to me that I need a little vitamin D and a short walking break. You can even multi-task and listen to a meeting or a work-related podcast while you walk.
3. Make a schedule that’s realistic, not idealistic.
Man, wouldn’t it be great to wake up every day at 5 AM, run ten miles, make pancakes and brew coffee, and start work at 8 on the dot? I know some people do it, but not me. I’m more of an average morning person — I don’t prefer to wake up before it’s necessary.
That said, I’m pretty sure that every article, ever, about working from home advises adherence to a daily schedule. Yes, it’s really important to have one when you don’t have to go into an office. But the best schedule is the one that helps you be your best, most productive self, while also being realistic. Figure out what rituals make you feel your best (see the next section) and build in time for them, but don’t commit yourself to something that feels reaching. You’ll just give up and feel down in the dumps.
Your schedule should also include what time you stop working each day.
4. Have your feel-good rituals ready.
What daily or weekly practices and rituals make you feel awesome, ready to take on the day, or prepared to tackle a big problem or conversation? Even though they’re not directly work-related, I have a feeling that these rituals also make you more productive. It could be something like:
- Brewing a homemade pour-over coffee
- Going to the gym or running
- Walking to your favorite fro-yo or lunch spot
- Listening to an uplifting or energizing playlist
- Switching to a different work environment
- Virtually chatting with a friend at work
- Throwing the ball around for your dog
When you work from home, small feelings of discouragement or hurdles can sometimes drag you down even deeper, because you lack the energy of an office to remind you that everything’s OK and, damnit, people like you. A few self-friendly rituals will pull you up and get you on productive ground. I have rituals that serve as different mental signals to me. For example, “When you finish this workout, it’s time to tackle the most difficult project of the day.”
If you’re a high-performing employee and you meet all your deadlines, don’t feel bad about taking a mental health break. You’ll be more productive if you rest for a few minutes than if you strain. Remember that your fellow employees in the office are taking breaks, too, but they’re in the form of walking to meetings or catching up in the breakroom.
5. Identify and solve your productivity-problem triggers.
Do a self-assessment of your productivity over a week or two. On your least productive days, what triggered the problem? Identify these triggers and come up with a plan to solve them. It’s an act of mindfulness and self-awareness that may benefit more areas of your life than just work.
To get your brain thinking of what this looks like in practice, consider these two examples of productivity killers and how to address them.
- Productivity problem: Procrastinated a project. Every time you started to work on it, your mind drifted because it was more comfortable to avoid it than deal with it. Solution: Why did you want to avoid the project so much? Uncertainty of the objectives? A disbelief that it was worthwhile? Once you’re honest about why you procrastinated, you can address the core issues and try to seek better direction or come up with an alternative project next time.
- Productivity problem: Towards the end of every week, seeing the laundry pile up is a major stressor and distraction. Solution: Make Wednesday nights laundry nights, move to a different room where the laundry is out of view, or create a fun game involving laundry and work. For example, in the time it takes to wash a load every Friday, challenge yourself to brainstorm 50 new ideas for a deliverable at work, or use that time to file expense reports.
How do you stay productive while working from home? I’d love to hear your tips. Send me a tweet: @youngheike.
5 Tips to Stay Productive While Working From Home