How to Stay Productive While Working Remotely
It’s the word that strikes terror into the heart of every person who finds themselves working from home because of the pandemic.
A lot of people can be terrified that they won’t be able to maintain the same levels of focus, motivation and output when they’re working or studying from home.
Whilst it’s true that it can be a challenge to adjust to working from home, there’s no evidence that it affects our productivity negatively at all. In fact, studies have shown that it can actually boost it.
Here are some simple steps that you can take to stay productive when you’re working remotely.
1. Create a clear routine
By setting a routine and sticking to it, we’re unconsciously telling our subconscious that we’re the one in control of our workday and not the other way around. With a routine, we are effectively ‘in control of our schedule’. This in turn helps us to put the day in perspective and to set achievable goals.
A routine doesn’t necessarily need to be really complicated – it can be as simple as just making sure that you’re at your laptop by a particular time each day and that you finish work at a particular time each day.
Of course, you can make your routine more sophisticated, like choosing particular times of the day for tea or toilet breaks, along with dividing the day into particular sections.
Here are some things to help you create a routine:
- Be clear and consistent with your start and finish times
- Designate particular parts of the day for particular tasks
- Break big projects down into smaller ones
- Give yourself a reward at the end of the week, for successfully following the routine!
2. Create a specific place in your home to work
Creating a specific place in your home which you’ll only use for work purposes will help you to build a routine around remote work and establish clear boundaries – in turn, boosting your productivity.
You don’t have to create an exact copy of your office, complete with broken photocopier and dodgy microwaves – just a space that’s comfortable, well-lit and warm. If you can, try to pick a location that has a lot of natural light – studies have proven that this can help to boost your overall productivity.
Here are some key things it might be useful to include in any remote working space:
- A desk (at the right height)
- A chair that gives you the right lumbar support
- Laptop riser
- A stable internet connection
3. Get enough sleep
It almost feels ridiculous to be writing this, but sleep is essential to your health and wellbeing.
Sleep has a physical function – to help your body maintain itself and to regulate your metabolism: the series of chemical processes that regulate how your body turns food into energy. It also has a mental function – to help your brain process information and memories.
In short, it’s a time where your body rests and recharges itself for the next day. As a result, how much sleep you get can directly influence your productivity. One recent study even found that sleep deprivation can actually mimic the effects of being drunk – probably something that you don’t want if you’re trying to be productive at work.
The NHS recommends that adults get between 6 and 9 hours of sleep each night. The exact amount will depend on you and your own body – some people need more sleep to function well, whereas some will need less.
4. Take regular breaks
If you’ve got a never ending to-do list, you’re unlikely to want to take time out of your day for breaks, where it seems like you aren’t doing anything productive – it can feel counterintuitive.
But, far from being unproductive, breaks are absolutely essential when it comes to improving your productivity, and for protecting your health. They help your brain and body to reset and provide a brief rest from activity, helping you to recharge. You wouldn’t try to complete a marathon by sprinting, after all, would you?
The guidance of the HSE, the UK government’s health and safety agency, says that it’s healthier to take short breaks often, rather than taking a longer break after a longer time. Aim to take at least one five-minute break per hour of work. If you can’t leave your desk and get up for a walk around, and absolutely cannot take a break, look away from your screen for a minute or two.
The average attention span of a person is just 14 minutes, so you might find that your focus and productivity start to drop after a while of working solidly without a break.
Here are some guidelines about breaks:
- Aim to take a five-minute break every hour – even if it’s just to make a drink or go to the toilet
- As a bare minimum, UK employment law states that most workers are entitled to an uninterrupted break of 30 minutes when you work for four and a half hours or more.
5. Try to eliminate (or reduce!) distractions
Some distractions are inevitable when working from home, like that neighbour who insists on playing Classic FM at deafening volume, the bin men or the traffic. And, for those things, there’s not much you can really do about the situation.
There will be some types of remote working distractions that you’ll be able to manage though.
Pets and children are generally two of the main ones that people experience when they’re working from home. You can reduce the risk of distraction by asking others to look after either whilst you’re working – although sometimes, this might be impractical and even impossible. If so, there are a few measures you can take to reduce distractions:
- Set a clear schedule
- Book meetings for times of the day that you know distractions won’t impact
- Be flexible and manage your time well
- Don’t stress too much! Your work will get done
For a lot of people, the biggest distraction when remote working is ourselves. With an information resource as large as the internet, it’s easy to get sidetracked from work and find yourself in a Wikipedia wormhole about sourdough or Komodo dragons – or maybe both.
One solution to this is to install a site blocker that restricts your access to particular ‘problem’ sites that keep attracting your attention, like Stayfocusd or SiteBlocker. You’ll be able to turn this blocker on and off, so that when you aren’t at work, you’ll be able to use the website as normal.
6. Plan your day as in you’re in the office/classroom
A good way to maintain your productivity levels when working remotely is to pretend that you’re still in your office or classroom!
A simple way to do this is to create a routine that mimics aspects of your normal work day. Keeping a similar routine to your normal work day will help you to minimise any disruption from the transition to remote work.
Make a list of your rough routine when you were going into the office or classroom each day, and try to emulate parts of that. For example, do you always make a coffee at 11am, without fail? Build that into your routine. Do you always have a chat with Barbara from Accounts at 1pm? Call or message her, or talk to someone else in your house.
You’re basically looking to recreate aspects of your workday that define, and also delineate, particular parts of your day – this will help your brain to adjust to the new way of working and maintain similar levels of productivity.
7. Know your most productive times of the day
Everyone has times of the day when they’re at their most productive and when they’re not. For Ernest Hemingway, it was the very early morning – just after dawn, with a whisky in his hand and cat on his lap. For Emily Dickinson, it was late at night in a dusty attic.
Identify which times of day you’re at your most productive and build your schedule around them!
Not a morning person until you’ve had your coffee? That’s absolutely fine. Schedule your most difficult, time-consuming tasks for the afternoon. Conversely, if you’re a morning bird and you start to power down after noon, put your most challenging tasks right at the start of the day.
This article has some great tips for finding out when your most productive times of the day are.
8. Establish and stick to boundaries
When you’re working remotely, it’s easy for the distinctions between work and home life to start to blur.
After all, you don’t have to commute and move from one location in your neighbourhood to another (unless you count from your bed to the sofa), so there isn’t the opportunity to clearly define the separation of ‘time and space’, as this great blog puts it, between work and home that we’re so used to.
This can prove a problem in the long-term, increasing the chances of burn-out, impacting on your home life and potentially affecting your mental health.
To reduce the risk of that happening, it can be useful to establish some simple rules that establish what times of the day whilst you’re at home will be used for work or for general life. An example of boundaries to think about include:
- Only doing work-related tasks between particular hours in a day (eg. 9am to 5pm)
- Not replying to work emails (unless they’re obviously urgent) after your working hours end
- Taking your allowed breaks and lunch-break in full
Maintaining a good level of productivity when you’re working from home can seem quite daunting, but, hopefully as this article has shown, there are some simple steps you can take to improve it!
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