As we discussed in Remote working: The beginner’s guide to telecommuting like a pro, there are five challenges that you need to overcome if you want to remote work or work from home successfully. The last one is all about staying productive and we’ve got lots of tips and tricks to help you stay focused and get more done.
1. Set some boundaries
To successfully work remotely requires discipline. If you’re working from home, it’s a good idea to get dressed and keep the same office hours. This will keep you in a working mindset and help you stay productive. That said, if you can get your work done in your PJs, then who are we to argue? It’s not a hard and fast rule.
“These days I have a shed to work from, but previously it was just a room in the house — room is probably a bit generous, it was a converted broom cupboard. I think it’s very important to have a specific physical place to be, whether that’s a cupboard or a corner of the kitchen table, and to have working hours. They don’t have to be set in stone, but time when family/friends know not to contact or pop round. For me, at least, it’s important to demarcate workspace and home space, work time and home time.” — Gary Marshall, Freelance Writer
2. Find the right place to work
I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t work with your feet up on the sofa with the telly on in the background. That’s one of the perks of working from home. But it can be a good idea to separate ‘home’ and ‘work’ spaces so that you can physically ‘leave work’ at the end of the day. This is often why some people don’t like working at home and prefer to set up camp in coffee shops, libraries or dedicated co-working spaces.
“I definitely need a dedicated space and ideally one with other working people in it. Just being at home is too distracting; I need the physical separation. I’m borrowing a desk in somebody else’s office at the moment and that’s a big help.” — Jon Hicks, Head of Audience Development at Gamer Network.
3. Identify and eliminate distractions
New environments come with new distractions. At home, there might be the lure of the TV, interruptions from kids, stopping to grab a snack from the fridge or seeing who’s knocking at your door. There’s also nobody looking over your shoulder while you waste time on Facebook or YouTube. Other working locations have other distractions — people chatting loudly in the coffee shop, restless students in the library or members taking phone calls in a co-working hub.
Wherever you work, identify your biggest distractions and eliminate them. Don’t work in front of the TV; designate a child-free home office space; have snacks/drinks close at hand so you don’t need to keep getting up and losing your flow; wear headphones to block out annoying background noise — music without lyrics is considered the least distracting if you need to focus.
“Concentration is just something I’ve learned to have. In a distracting environment I’ll do tasks that don’t need my full attention, and then do the intense stuff back in the office. Music helps me focus!” — James Morris, Web Media Producer and Lecturer
4. Work and move
Once you’ve set up camp as a remote worker, whether it’s on the sofa or in a Starbucks, it’s important not to get stuck in one place. Many of us don’t act on advice to take regular work breaks but doing so can help ease eyestrain, reduce body tension and combat fatigue.
Working in ‘time blocks’ can be an effective way to structure your day and to action multiple tasks. Try working for 45 minutes, with a 10-15 minute break; or in a longer 90 minute block with a half-hour rest period. Physically changing locations between blocks can also help you stop, switch off and then re-engage.
“I like the idea of a dedicated working space and that would be preferable. But, as I don’t have a study at home, I generally end up working in different places — the living room sofa, a dining room standing desk (technically a sideboard with a stand on it) or sitting at the kitchen breakfast bar (as I am now). I also find that it’s good to know when you are most productive (or when your concentration is highest). For me, that’s the morning. So I schedule meaty work for mornings and lightweight admin-style tasks for the afternoon when my focus starts to waver.” — Dean Evans, Writer/Editor
5. Use the best equipment
If you prefer to work remotely from public places like coffee shops and libraries, then it’s important to have a laptop or tablet with a good battery life. These days, the newest laptops claim to offer up to 10 hours of battery life, although 5-6 hours is a more realistic estimate, especially if you’re using the Internet or performing processor-intensive tasks. With new 2 in 1 devices like Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 and the Asus Transformer T300 Chi, there’s now no need to compromise on power, performance or compatibility.
6. Experiment and optimise
Ultimately, there’s no right way to work remotely. No perfect place either. Some people work best sat on a sofa with their feet up, others need the office-esque background noise of a public space or they can’t get anything done.
So it’s important to experiment to see what works best for you and what suits the type of work you need to do. You can do this by tracking the amount of work you do when you work remotely. Note down tasks as you complete them and then assess your productivity at the end of the day. — Dean Evans (@evansdp)
Got any tips for working remotely or working from home? What works for you? Share your experience with other IQ readers by leaving a comment below.