Working from home has become the new normal. Without a commute or office distractions, you should be crushing it every day.
If you’re not getting significantly more quality work done, then read on. Here are four ways to get the most from your remote work days.
1. Separate work from life
Drawing the line between work and life is a common challenge. There are a few ways I make the distinction.
Have designated “work from home” clothes. You know it’s time to exercise when you put on a pair of shorts and t-shirt and lace up your sneakers. These are your exercise clothes.
Likewise, when you put on your “work from home” clothes — whether it’s a pair of jeans and a t-shirt or sweatpants and a sweatshirt — you know it’s time to work.
Having work from home clothes is an idea that Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, writes about in his book Remote: Office Not Required, and I’ve been applying for years. It’s a simple way to get in the right frame of mind.
Find a work space, whether that’s a separate room or the kitchen table. The idea is to separate where you work from where you relax. So where you go to solve programming problems should be different from where you watch movies.
Both suggestions have something in common: they’re small mental cues that’ll help you get into the right mindset, which is critical for having a productive day.
Equally important is deciding when to end your day. For that reason, there’s one more way to separate work from life.
Have an “end of day” routine. Mine involves creating a schedule for the next day (see “create a daily schedule” toward the end of this article). This is another mental cue that sends the signal that it’s time to wrap up my work and plan for tomorrow.
2. Customize your work environment
One of the best parts of working remotely is the ability to customize your work environment: create a space that inspires and facilitates your best work.
When I worked in an office, I had no say about my work environment. I was assigned a desk right next to the customer support team. These representatives were always on the phone talking with customers.
As you can imagine, it was nearly impossible to zone out their conversations in an open office (particularly the ones on speakerphone). It was equally tough to block out the visual distractions.
Distractions were everywhere. There were no designated quiet spaces. I was trapped.
In an open office, distractions are pushed upon us. This type of environment makes it exceedingly hard to think, let alone get anything of quality done.
Remote work offers something different: control. You can customize your environment, so you can be at your best.
My work at home space is very simple. I have a standing desk that faces a wall. It’s next to a window, so I get plenty of natural light. The space is minimal and quiet. It’s the best setup for me.
“But I live in a small apartment,” you may object.
I did, too, for many years. Even then, I made my work environment a priority. I had a desk that faced a wall, which was next to a window.
It meant having less space for other things, but I was okay with that. We spend many hours each day working. So having a customized and designated work space that helps foster great work is worth it.
So put a painting on the wall. Set a plant next to your desk. Or simply close the door. Create a space where you can do great work.
3. Manage your energy
You can’t be at 100%, 100% of the time.
In order to get high-quality work done, you’ve got to have time to defocus. Give your brain a break from what you’ve put it through the past few hours, and let the information solidify.
Without defocus time, work quality suffers. That’s when mistakes happen and concepts get confused. Instead of taking one hour, the task takes two.
If you stop and think about it, there are all kinds of breaks when you’re at an office. You commute to and from work each day. You walk down the hall to a meeting, stopping to chat with a colleague along the way. You run down the street to get a coffee.
When working remotely, you’ve got to be proactive about your breaks. Once again, you’re in control: factor them into your day and use them productively.
What you do during your defocus time matters. The idea is to return to your work at your peak.
For me, it’s exercising. The physical activity gives me a mental boost, even if it’s just a twenty-minute walk outside. I return to my work mentally stronger and sharper. The mental fog has lifted, the sluggish feeling is gone, and I’ve got new ideas to work with.
Reading or meditating are other suggestions. Figure out what works best for you, then make breaks a priority. That way, you can focus again at 100%.
4. Create a daily schedule
At the end of the day, I open up Evernote on my computer and type out a schedule for the following day. So on Tuesday evening, I create a schedule for Wednesday.
- Priority tasks and when I’ll work on them
- Breaks (periods of defocus)
A daily schedule offers many benefits.
First, it gives your day some structure. You start your day knowing what you’ve got to do and when you’ve got to do it.
There’s no question whether you’re working on that new design. Or how long you’ll work on it. All of these details have been figured out in advance.
The guesswork has been eliminated. Just implement the plan.
Second, you’ll find yourself getting a lot more done. At the end of the day, you’ll see how much you accomplished, and it’s a good feeling!
The last thing I do each day is create my schedule for the following day. It’s a mental cue that once this task is complete, I’ve finished my work for the day.
Make it your own
I’ve been working remotely for several years now, and I’m constantly refining my routine and habits. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is noticing what helps me work at my best and what detracts from it.
So pay attention when you’re thinking clearly and full of ideas. That is, when you’re at your peak. Conversely, notice when your attention begins to drift, when your energy plummets, and when careless errors become more frequent.
Then, take action. Cultivate the habits that’ll help you work better. In fact, the best thing about working remotely is the chance to work the way you want to work.